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Pedagogical Issues and Approaches Encountered in a Psychology of Men Course.

Key Words: men's studies courses, pedagogy, consciousness raising, male students

The growing phenomenon of the introduction of men's studies courses in the college curricula, and indeed, the rapidly developing field of men's studies itself, brings with it unique pedagogical issues. The following discourse is based on both individual experiences in teaching a Psychology of Men course and the small but growing body of literature. This paper discusses four pedagogical issues. The issues are applicable to gender courses whose subjects are not exclusively male but male inclusive (e.g., Gender Role Development in Children; or Men, Women and Madness-courses I also teach). The discussion includes identification of four pedagogical issues, the establishment of ten course goals involving these issues, and approaches that facilitate the achievement of the ten goals.

The four pedagogical issues involved in a men's studies course are:

1) The effect of a disproportionate number of female students in the courses and the development of a male perspective and male voice.

2) The need for movement from men-as-objects to men-as-subjects of study and the necessity of dealing with students' egocentric simplicity and/or resistance.

3) The need to address the political aspects of men's studies.

4) The imperative need for a historical and cultural context.

It is not my intention to suggest that these four issues address comprehensively all the issues faced with the introduction of men's studies courses into the curriculum. They do, however, represent persistent issues I have encountered in teaching a Psychology of Men course. For the sake of identification and discussion, the four issues are presented as variables standing alone. In application they are fluid, melding at times, and, at other times, seemingly standing in isolation. The process of encountering, identifying, interpreting, analyzing, and dealing with these issues is still in development. Just as men and men's studies exist at any given point in time, so too does this process.



Although the larger enrollment of female students in any course is not unusual, the presence of more women than men in men's studies courses may result in a classroom atmosphere that is decidedly female. Kimmel (1987) reported that the enrollment of males in his course on men maintained at a constant 25 percent despite the number of students enrolling in the course substantially increasing with each offering of the course. The task is to dissuade the development of men's studies as women-studying-men and afford students, both male and female, a male perspective. Authenticity of male voice needs to be instilled and supported. The following are three goals with approaches used for reaching these goals.

Goal 1: Dissuade the Development of a Women-Studying-Men Perspective. Although the perspectives women hold toward men are varied, a common female perspective focuses primarily on women in relationship with men in which men are cast into the role of oppressor or symbol of patriarchal oppression. The abyss between men and women is seen as wide and deep with combatants poised on either side in the war between the sexes. The mindset of "opposite" rather than "other" sex is firmly entrenched by traditional research and education as well as popular culture. This is the perception many female students and male students bring into the classroom at the beginning of the course. Information on the rationale for and development of men's studies as a separate domain of study within gender-conscious scholarship (i.e., scholarship with an awareness of the traditional standards of masculinity within a culture, male norms being based on a small number of historical figures in the public sphere, and a focus on the meaning of being a man) proves beneficial in bringing students to an understanding that men's studies is a relatively new and dynamic approach to understanding the private sphere and inner experiences of the majority of males (August, 1994).

Men's studies challenges the old gender unconscious scholarship that held the public sphere of a minority of historical male figures as the norm for masculinity (August, 1994)--indeed, it may be added, the norm for humanity. The concept of gender needs to be clearly constituted. The course, Psychology of Men, is more clearly the Psychology of Masculinities (Brod, 1992). When speaking of males and men, students need to understand that masculinity constructs and influences the subjective experience of men and boys. It is through the vehicle of gender that glimpses of everyday male experiences can be understood. The use of gender as focal point for the new study of men serves to defuse and dismantle the women-studying-men perspective, promotes exploration of this new topic by men and women together, and eventually ends the war and begins the peace talks. Once an understanding of men's studies is secured, a sense of breaking new ground along with high energy and enthusiasm develops. Students bring topics from other courses and everyday lives into class. Application of the didactic becomes automatic. Often students report that they cannot look at the world in the same way they did before starting the class. Although problematic at times, it is a welcomed perspective.

Goal 2: Develop Male Perspective(s). Having moved into the definition of male and masculinity(ies) ascribed by men's studies, the development of male perspective becomes possible. The immediate question that arises is what is it, and where can it be found? Although description by negation is not an approach I commonly employ, the following syllogism serves the purpose well: Male perspective is gender conscious; stereotypes are gender unconscious; therefore, stereotypes are not male perspectives. Discussion on stereotypes including etiology, possible truth, purpose, existence, and role they serve follows. This exercise is conducted with humor as a release valve for risking to say what we have all learned from the dominant culture. I usually start off with the question, "What are men?" This addresses, among other things, the position that we are all students of our cultures and therefore operate from stereotypes. A little disassociation helps--"I don't believe this, but culture says it is true," or, "I'm not like this, but culture says men are" can add to the candidness of the exercise. To bring the point even closer, I suggest that instead of saying, "men are," the students name themselves (if male) or a man who is known well and cared about (if female). This brings in the exception-to-the-rule phenomenon that accompanies stereotypes (e.g., "men are restricted in expressing emotion except for my husband who is sentimental and romantic"). Once the stereotypes are discarded, the exceptions remain. When asked what we know now about men, students can understand the concept of male perspective as what is subjectively experienced by individual men.

One more piece that fits nicely with the exploration of stereotypes is the exploration of sexism. Instead of asking if we are sexist, a more appropriate question might be, "How sexist are we?" This is addressing both individual and institutionalized sexism. Sexism toward the other sex is an easily understood concept. Sexism within a sex takes a bit of getting use to. The introduction of the following terms helps balance the idea of sexism; misogyny, misandry, gynephobia, androphobia, androcentric, and gynocentric. A discussion of how sexism manifests itself as discrimination would follow.

Goal 3: Establish Authentic Male Voice. Finding and claiming voice is a subject that has been well discussed in reference to women's studies and certainly appears to parallel in many ways the search for authentic male voice. An ongoing debate in academia deals with authority of voice. Who can speak "of" men, "for" men, and "as" men (Roof & Wiegman, 1995) needs to be explored as means of establishing both male voice authority and authenticity of male voice. Authority of voice confronts the hegemonic masculinity tradition of a small and elite group of men being held as the norm. A point that is well made in searching for the male voice is the myriad of voices that struggle to be heard. Issues of race, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation, education, differently abled, and age are some of the variables that need consideration. The question, "Who can speak of, for, and as you?" helps develop the complexity of the answer. The additional question, "Who can you speak of, for, as?" further complicates the issue of authority and authenticity of male voice. The immediate reaction is to focus on the many differences within a gender group. The frustration of seeking an answer will lead to searching for commonalties within and eventually between groups. Part of the answer depends upon context. Some conclusions students have arrived at include: the individual is the authority of his/her personal experiences and his/her voice is authentic for those experiences but not necessarily for the experiences of others; the instructor has scholarly authority of the subject regardless of his/her sex, but may not have authority or authenticity of the male experience; context is crucial to understanding/evaluating authority and authenticity; recognized commonalties contribute to authority but not necessarily authenticity; and multicultural knowledge is essential in understanding the voices of others. Although no definitive answers may be reached in these exercises, a consensus that there are many voices that have both authority and authenticity and a need to be heard develops along with an appreciation for the complexity of men's experiences.


A main goal in men's studies is the movement of focus from men-as-objects to men-as-subjects. Students will often move from men-as-objects to an egocentric simplistic perspective (i.e., "the-world-according-to-me" mindset) or a resistance to accommodating a perspective that is new/foreign to them (i.e., "this-is-how-it-has-always-been" mindset). The progression from object to subject often involves emotions, sometimes strong emotions. Progress can be achieved through incremental steps dealing with emotions while learning more about the process of gender socialization. The move from men-as-objects to men-as-subjects requires challenging the "dominant male paradigm" (McLean, Carey, & White, 1996). The traditional definition of masculinity is no longer descriptive of or applicable to a large segment of men in this culture. The definition of masculinity and male role models are in flux. The security that comes with predictability is gone. The void has not been filled with a new male paradigm. Indeed, this void may never be filled with a monolithic model. The following are three goals with approaches used for reaching these goals.

Goal 4: Dealing with Egocentric Simplistic Perspective. Although an aim of men's studies is to move from a men-as-objects to a men-as-subjects perspective, often the first response to men as subjective experience is a radical swing to an idiosyncratic stance. This can rapidly progress to a "the-world-according-to-me" mindset. A distinctive feature of this mindset is the generalization of personal experience to universal dimension. The egocentric perspective is not based on reason or logic and is often over-personalized (Roof & Wiegman, 1995). The mindset is based on personal opinion supported only by the individual's own evaluation. When viewed as a developmental stage, this perspective serves as a stepping stone to subjectivity. Challenges to the mindset and the requiring of scholarly support work well in moving the student along. The question "Where does that statement, thought, belief come from?" begins the personal analysis necessary in development from object to subject. An analogy I like to use is one that discusses the postimpressionist school of pointillism (e.g., Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte). If you stand far enough away from the painting, you see a picture, but you have no knowledge of the construction of the work. If you now step closer to the painting, you will note that the scene is composed of dots and small brush strokes. Stepping away from the painting, you once again see the scene, and you are amazed because the totality is composed of hundreds and thousands of individual dots and strokes. You never again are able to look at the painting without the knowledge and marvel of the complexity of its composition. No single dot represents the gestalt of the painting, and the painting is nothing without each individual dot. Just as each dot supports the gestalt of the painting, each subjective experience supports the perspective of subjective male experience. And, just as no single dot is representative of the whole painting, no one subjective male experience is representative of the totality of male experience. As students read and discuss male experiences and work at forming or not forming consensus, they may refer to the process as fill-in-the-dots.

Goal 5: Identifying and Dealing with Resistance to New/Foreign Perspectives. As students confront new and/or foreign perspectives, the development of a this-is-how-it-has-always-been mindset is a common defense against the introduction of alternatives to well-established beliefs. White's (1996) challenge to foundationalist thought and the three assumptions on which it is based can serve as an instrument of exploration of alternative perspectives. White defines foundationalist thought as dominant in the culture, relatively recent, and reflective of Western culture. The three assumptions of foundationalist thought are: 1) the assumption of objectivity; the belief that it is possible to make an objective explanation of the world free from bias or influence of historical or personal context; 2) the assumption of essentialism; the belief that it is possible to reduce the complexity of nature down to basic elements, and once this is achieved universal truths can be known; and 3) the assumption of representationalism; the belief that descriptions of the world mirror the reality of the world and life.

White goes on to enumerate consequences of foundationalist thought and in particular the assumption of essentialism. Foundationalist thought can be found in many academic disciplines, and indeed, to even challenge it may be seen as a radical and unwise departure from established pedagogical practice. With respect to masculinity, it "... is argued that masculinity is an essence that exists deep in the psyche and which has been repressed, and which if not reclaimed will surface in wild ways, accompanied by violent and other destructive acts" (White, 1996, p. 166). The assumption of essentialism has been involved in patriarchy and its assumption of male superiority and the rights that ensue. Based on its "truths," other masculinities have been marginalized or directly censured, leaving the long-established rigid male gender role as the only viable option. Application of White's challenges to foundationalist thought when applied to students' resistance can serve as a vehicle to analytical thinking. The truth statements that foundationalist thought produces often appear to be stereotypes--certainly the universal nature of the truths opens the door for critique. The three assumptions when put in differing historical and social contexts do much to help loosen the students' grip on the desire to hold onto a this-is-how-it-has-always-been mindset.

Goal 6: Dealing with Emotional Reactions. Reactions to new areas of study are to be expected. I have found that emotional reactions by students are inevitable when engaged in a Psychology of Men course. Three emotions, namely, anger, sorrow, and helplessness/hopelessness, stand out with respect to these courses. At first students may be quite dumbfounded by the information to which they are being exposed. "Where has this information been all my life?" and "Why haven't I come across it in other courses?" are questions that are asked over and over again. It seems incredulous that information that has such profound bearing on their development and experiences has been "kept" from them. Often the first emotion is one of anger. Much of their life experience takes on new or clearer meaning. Exclamations of, "I didn't know that," "I thought I was the only person to feel this or think this," and, "Did you know this?" are very common. The students' anger may take aim. The other sex may be seen as a deserving target. Arguments with boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses occur somewhere around two weeks into the semester. The university or traditional approaches of education may become targets. This is especially true if no other courses have addressed gender issues. History courses in particular take hits. The students may become angry with themselves for being so naive or "dumb" for not having recognized any of this information before taking the course. Although anger represents a stage in the development of acquisition of knowledge and consciousness raising, the anger needs to be addressed. Anger, although appropriate and predictable, needs to be dealt with so further development can take place; otherwise, the student may become developmentally stuck.

Sorrow is a second emotion that students may experience. It is often the result of the realization that the world is not what it was believed to be. The sorrow can be seen as an intellectual coming-of-age. Experiences may take on new meanings in retrospect. Along with sorrow may come a third emotion, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Although not of clinical severity, they can have a transitory effect on students. Thoughts of being manipulated and at the mercy of the culture may come to the front. A resurgence of anger may be a reaction to these thoughts. Not all students experience these reactions. For many the information they are learning supports what they thought all along, or the information gives voice and name to theories they hold. "I knew that, but I didn't know what you called it," may be the reaction of some students. It is delightful to see students light up with the recognition that their thoughts are actual theories or areas of study. Although learning about men's studies and gender studies may be the impetus for many of these feelings, learning about the actual processes of socialization of gender can be a catalyst for growth and result in a catharsis of emotions. Taking the mystery out of gender and putting it in the context of everyday living and learning serves the working through of emotions. This is not to say that all of the emotions felt by students will dissipate or vanish, and this might be a good thing. It says that learning has been a life-changing experience that will contribute to future learning and experiencing of the world. It also instills a healthy amount of cynicism, and that, too, can be a good thing.


The political aspects of men's studies include: 1) consciousness-raising aspects, 2) polity of theories/perspectives advanced, and 3) possible emancipatory effect and consequences. Men's studies are political, and the political aspects need to be addressed through coursework. With consciousness raising a developmental format can be established. Political standpoints of theories can be balanced by the presentation of politically diverse perspectives. Emancipatory effects and consequences can be investigated and factions of the men's movement and organizations examined. The following are three goals and approaches used for reaching these goals.

Goal 7. Consciousness-Raising Aspects. The term by its very nature connotes the 1970s and groups of women gathering to talk and discover the reality of their experiences and situations. Although no longer the seventies and with the gathering, talking, and learning taking place in classrooms, the process and end results of consciousness raising are quite the same. Consciousness raising runs parallel to the acquisition of knowledge, knowledge that is termed "oppositional knowledge" (Lather, 1991, p. 151). Most students enter the course gender unconscious or only slightly conscious of the important role gender plays in the development, understanding, and experiencing of individuals. Much of what has already been discussed in this paper is part of the process of consciousness raising. The goal of consciousness raising in a pedagogical sense is not to turn people against what they had previously held as truth. Its purpose is not to instill propaganda masquerading as new knowledge or to bias or jade students. Consciousness raising is in fact not a direct goal of men's studies, but rather a byproduct of the acquisition of knowledge that runs contrary to the established, traditional, gender unconscious body of already learned knowledge. Lather (1991) describes the process of consciousness raising as starting in ignorance of a given body of knowledge. With the introduction of this body of oppositional knowledge, two possibilities present themselves. The first is rejection of the oppositional knowledge, at which point consciousness raising does not take place. The second possibility is acceptance of the knowledge. This results in either liberation, anger, and action, or burden, hopelessness, and fear. In either event consciousness has taken place. If not dealt with, consciousness raising can complicate pedagogical goals. My approach is to address the process of consciousness raising at the beginning of the course. This serves two purposes: it brings the process into the open so it can be viewed as part of gaining knowledge, and it prevents students from feeling isolated and hesitant to talk about what is happening to them. I depart from Lather in that I do not agree that the results are either liberation or anger: and action or burden, hopelessness, and fear. It is more typical to observe a mix of all or most of the emotions in students as they progress through the course. The emotions of anger, sorrow, and helplessness/hopelessness have been discussed above. To these I certainly would add fear, which is often expressed by students in class. The feelings of liberation and wanting to take action do not always develop, and when they do it is after the other emotions. The process as described is not necessarily linear in nature. As new information is encountered, previously felt emotions may be felt anew. I view this process as dynamic. I set aside class time for discussion of what is going on with the students in relation to the material being covered in class discussions and reading assignments. Some venting along with a dollop of humor helps to clear the air. Many students find these times to be very self-affirming.

Goal 8. Explore the Polity of Theories/Perspectives Advanced. There is no getting around the fact that men's studies is political. Factors that contribute to the politicization include: challenging the traditional definitions of masculinity and at times the pedagogical methods of the academy; the close ties between the men's movement(s), men's studies, and those involved in men's studies; and the political issues addressed in theories and perspectives. Although at times an overused phrase, the personal is political. In this instance, masculinities are political. Students and professors bring their political biases into the classroom and class discussions. Theories and perspectives are biased. All of this contributes to the polity of men's studies courses. Here as in consciousness raising my approach is to deal with the issue directly. I do this in the form of setting ground rules for class discussions and interactions. It is made very clear that discussion and debate of topics and issues are welcome. However, criticizing or attacking a person is not tolerated. A student can argue that a perspective lacks support and reason, but the holder of the perspective is not regarded in the same manner. There is the need to understand varying viewpoints. Therefore, an overview of the men's movement(s) and the history of men's studies are required. A format that I find works well is wondering "what if" or "what it would mean if" only one of the perspectives we've studied was correct in all cases. Students, like most all humans, are uncomfortable with ambiguity. They want to know which theory or perspective is the right one. Without being given the correct one, they may complain that there are no answers or that all they do is end up confused. A common complaint is that there is supporting and contradictory research for any perspective examined. This is an excellent opportunity to remind them of the complexity of reality, the variety of understandings of any experience, and the results of evolving research, knowledge, and testing techniques in the field. The goal is not to find the correct perspective, but to analytically examine each perspective and understand why some are found attractive or believable and not others. Indeed, it is crucial that students be exposed to a wide variety of theories and perspectives to insure a clear representation of the differing factions in the field. I'm big on the development of analytical thinking. I believe it is a hallmark of an educated person, and one of the goals I hold for men's studies courses along with all other courses is the development of this ability.

Goal 9. Consider Emancipatory Effect and Its Consequences. Although not a new concept, the acquisition of knowledge, particularly knowledge outside the mainstream, dominant, and culturally prescribed, can have far-reaching effects. Two variables influence the effects: the knowledge itself and the processes learned in relation to the knowledge. As has been discussed, oppositional knowledge can serve to shake the foundations of perceived reality--the world as believed to be. When oppositional knowledge serves to answer the previously unanswerable or explain the previously unexplainable, earth-shaking results may occur. Students report feeling as though they have been told a secret or have been given the answer to a deeply felt question. This may result in students' perceiving themselves in a different light. No longer gender unconscious, the students may feel a sense of liberation, emancipation, or empowerment. Often the students will comment about no longer feeling naive or gullible. "Now I stand up for myself," or "I don't have to let this happen to me anymore" will be answers to inquiry about the effect of the course. Most students do report a positive change in their outlooks and experiences. The students are overwhelmingly positive about the course.


Men's studies cannot be studied in isolation. The understanding of men's experiences requires historical and cultural context. Gender, race, class, sexual orientations, religion, nationality, and age all need to be considered within historical and societal parameters. The following is one goal with approaches used for reaching this goal.

Goal 10. Contextualization of Men's Experiences. By its very nature men's studies is multidisciplinary and multicultural. Major historical events and shifts in masculinities can be paralleled with a focus on events with particular impact on men. Focus on the daily experiences of men--past, present, public, and private--within social and historical context demands a reconceptualization of men's history. History may be deconstructed and then reconstructed when men go from objects to subjects of study. It is crucial to men's studies that this be done. Brod's (1992) definition of men's studies makes this clear. Men's studies "... is the study of masculinities and male experiences as specific and varying social-historical cultural formations" (p. 40). To study only the major historical figures in the public sphere is no longer acceptable. To study men's experiences without historical and cultural contextualization is meaningless. Along with the texts required for courses I teach I also require historical materials. I find there are numerous excellent resources available that are written specifically for men's studies and gender studies. And, I will add, the number of excellent works is growing.


Being involved in the teaching of men's studies is both exhilarating and challenging. When I suggested development of the Psychology of Men course, it was well received, welcomed, and supported by my department head and colleagues. The course was seen as innovative with merit and a logical next step in the development of gender courses for inclusion in the curriculum. I understand this is not necessarily the case on other campuses. There are four rationales that I suggest in support of the introduction of men's studies courses into the curriculum.

The first is that men's studies provides a balance with women's studies courses. Men's studies needs not be seen as in competition with women's studies; in fact, men's studies can act as a separate discipline that complements women's studies. Both perspectives can serve the greater understanding of human experience.

The second rationale is that men's studies promotes multidisciplinary and multicultural pedagogical goals. In addressing men as subjects of study, the examination of varying meanings of masculinity and experiences of being a man require exploration into race, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, and religion.

The third rationale is that men's studies can correct the myths and misinformation that hegemonic masculinity in the academy has established as normative male experience. This allows for the inclusion of marginalized males.

The fourth rationale is that men's studies addresses important social issues including the family, violence, men's health, relationships between men and women, men's sense of alienation from self and others, and the changing definition and meaning of masculinity. Whatever rationale is presented, it does seem the inclusion of men's studies courses into the curriculum deserves serious consideration.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Joanne K. Urschel, Purdue University North Central, Swartz 210C, Westville, IN 46391 or


August, E. R. (1994). The new men's studies: A selected and annotated interdisciplinary bibliography (2nd ed.). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

Brod, H. (Ed.). (1992). The making of masculinities: The new men's studies. New York: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall.

Kimmel, M. S. (1987). Teaching a course on men: Masculinist reaction or "gentlemen's auxiliary." In M. S. Kimmel (Ed.), Changing men: New directions in research on men and masculinity (pp. 278-294). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Lather, P. (1991). Getting smart: Feminist research and pedagogy with/in the postmodern. New York: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall.

McLean, C., Carey, M., & White, C. (Eds.). (1996). Men's ways of being. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Roof. J., & Wiegman, R. (Eds.). (1995). Who can speak: Authority and critical identity. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

White, M. (1996). Men's culture, the men's movement, and the constitution of men's lives. In C. McLean, M. Carey, & C. White (Eds.), Men's ways of being (pp. 163-193). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Joanne K. Urschel is an assistant professor of psychology and gender studies at Purdue University North Central where she is campus coordinator of women's studies. She has taught courses in psychology of men; psychology of women; gender development in childhood; and men, women, and madness. She is developing a course in gender and multiculturalism to be taught in the fall of 1999. Urschel received her bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Valparaiso University, a master's degree in clinical psychology from Roosevelt University, and her doctorate in counseling psychology from Indiana State University. She completed an internship at Danville Veterans' Administration Hospital, Danville, Illinois, with rotations in drug and alcohol treatment, neuropsychology, and in-patient services. Urschel is a nationally certified counselor, a member of the board of directors of American Men's Studies Association, and a member of the American Psychological Association. (

JOANNE K. URSCHEL Department of Social Sciences Purdue University North Central Westville, Indiana
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Publication:The Journal of Men's Studies
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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