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Silent Men

 

Masculinity research in Denmark lives a shadowy existence on the fringe of mainstream academia, while colleagues in the other Nordic countries enjoy more of the limelight.

 
FORUM/6.7.2000 Even though men's issues were momentarily pushed into the background by a spate of publications by young, radical Danish, Swedish and Norwegian neo-feminists, men and masculinity have received much media attention during the 1990's. And 6 months into the new millenium the question of masculinity is still hot: The crisis in masculinity, modern men, paternity leave, father's rights, wussy boys, etc. The list of men's issues is long and still growing and you would think there was plenty of cause for comment from the academics who work in the field of masculinity research in Denmark.

Hans Bonde, lecturer at the Research Unit for Sports, Body and Health at the University of Southern Denmark, however, is probably the only masculinity scholar who regularly comments on men's issues. The rest of the tiny handfull of men who actually term themselves masculinty scholars keep out of the limelight and do not contribute to headlines and do not engage in public debate - which ostensibly loses any and all analytical perspective.

Rudi Rusfort Kragh, historian at Roskilde University Center and currently working on a thesis on long-term unemployed men in their 50's, was a key figure in establising the Danish Network for Research on Men and Masculinity in 1992. He offers this explanation for the anonymity of research on men and masculinity in public debate:

- We are keen to insist that the research on men and masculinity is not a men's movement. We want to keep academics separate from politics. It is the politics of men's issues, however, that dominate the media with interest groups such as The Association of Fathers, The Society for the Protection of Men, The Society Against Alimony Payment to Former Wives amongst many others. If politicians and research associates cannot distinguish between research and politics and get us confused with various men's movements, we lose credibility in the academic world.

- And credibility within academia is what we are struggling hard to gain. They see us as activists, that are just out to politicize. We have no ambition to reach out to the media by sending a press release for instance to the effect that The Association of Fathers has completely misunderstood the law, or whatever. The men's and women's movements and politicians can fight these issues out amongst themselves, while we analyze and interpret what is going on, says Rudi Rusfort Kragh.

Adding to its problems, masculinity research does not have a recognized platform from which to speak. While women's research has academic journals, centers and study programmes, masculinity scholars have to work within their field at an activist level, while pursuing an academic career in other fields.

The recently held 4th Nordic Workshop on Research on Men and Masculinity could have provided a breath of fresh air. 30 to 40 researchers were gathered to discuss, debate and join in workshops on Nordic Welfare Models and Understandings of Masculinity. In line with their desire to work quietly, however, the press was not invited nor were any statements released to the press concerning the state of affairs of masculinity research in Denmark.

This begs the question why the community continues to let Carl Mar Møller and his cronies monopolize the debate on men and masculinity. Why don't they raise their voices and toss a few nuances into the debate?

Jørgen Lorentzen, a masculinity researcher at the university of Oslo, has followed his Danish colleagues at close hand for many years and their struggle to gain acceptance. According to Lorentzen the community in Denmark is not yet mature enough for anybody to be able to make public statements with any great authority:

- There isn't anybody with enough research experience who can take the stage. It takes quite a while before one feels enough confidence to face the media and the Danish community is clearly at a much less developed stage than communities in Norway and Sweden. Denmark doesn't even have a center for men's studies. Masculinity research is not institutionalized. It is very difficult to assert any kind of authority, because there is no position of authority from which to speak and one easily participates in public debate only on behalf of one's self. And that is a very vulnerable thing to do within a new community, says Lorentzen.

According to Lorentzen the Danish debate was derailed before it really started moving and Carl Mar Møller and his cronies have more or less deliberately obstructed the way for researchers who work seriously with a critical perspective on men and masculinity.

- There's seems to be a wrong perspective on the issue of what men's movements are all about in Denmark because of individual men who have gone public with wierd viking banquets and the like. I haven't seen anything like it in any other European countries. And they have received so much attention, says Lorentzen. He is quick to point the finger at the media for their part in creating this scenario:

- Danish media thinks that Carl Mar Møller and his band of merry men are interesting, funny and strange. They make good copy, while they don't seem to be at all interested in covering research undertaken by men and women, who work seriously and critically with the masculinity. This is a huge problem, according to Lorentzen.

Rudi Rusfort Kragh agrees that both tv and print media contribute to promoting the spectacular rather than the serious. Mar Møller and the writer Martin Østergaard are for example inventive front-runners, who fit perfectly into the newsy needs of journalism:

- Mar Møller has been around for the better part of 10 years and doesn't seem to be running out of steam yet. The image of Carl and his band of naked men making merry in a muddy field leaves a more lasting impression in people's minds than a critical comment in one of the serious dailies about him just being a media phenomenon. It simply gets lost in the maelstrom.

Rudi Rusfort Kragh acknowledges that holding back from commenting in the media for fear of being identified with interest groups and for fear of vulgarizing academic analysis allows too much space for other actors. He nevertheless maintains his position that it is more important to expend available resources in getting masculinity research recognized as a serious discipline and to gain respect for the field within academia.

Recently a journalist at one of the big dailies in Denmark wrote a commentary challenging this approach. Her point was that there isn't enough status in the field for researchers to risk their reputations going public. Rudi Rusfort Kragh agrees with her:

- It's very hard for men to call themselves masculinity scholars - it's like putting a potato in your mouth. Men have their own hierarchies and there is more status in saying you are a historian working with the history of the labour movement, rather than saying you are masculinity scholar studying the brotherhood of the labour movement. It is very foreign for men to think of themselves in gender terms - particularly for the age group which dominates the universities, says Kragh who nevertheless has "come out" and calls himself a masculinity scholar. Things are changing, however, particular among younger men according to Kragh.

One of these younger men is Niels Ulrik Sørensen who has a degree in International Development Studies and History. He has often wondered why men rarely if ever perceive of themselves in gender terms. His thinking is more or less along the lines of research on men and masculinity, and although he does not belong to this community of researchers he will be coming out with a book in the fall of 2000 called Pikstormerne (Prick Attack), where around twenty younger men will be writing about themselves from a gender perspective. He has launched himself into the debate because he was surprised that the Swedish book fisseflokken (Cunt Cascade) yet again was a debate on, by and for women:

- Of course it's a relevant book. But it would be much more far-reaching if men also were in the field and made themselves heard. Gender is something that both men and women play at and change is easier if both parties are tuned into it. I quickly realised however, that men lack a platform, a position from which to speak. So I came up with the idea that a male counterpart to "Cunt Cascade" could act as a platform and that's why I started gathering material for the book.

- I must admit that I also felt compelled to question the image of masculinity that is conjured up by the only visible male actors in the gender debat in Denmark namely Carl Mar Møller, Martin Østergaard and their cronies. I was convinced that not all men are dying to return to traditional positions of masculine identity, which they portray as the correct and definitive answer to all men's problems. And it seems that I am right, says Niels Ulrik Sørensen. He doen't want his book to be seen as opposed to feminism and is hopeful that it will add to a constructive debate, which men haven't joined in on until recently.

Even though Rudi Rusfort Krag will never gain fame and fortune as a spokesman for masculinity research in Denmark and doesn't have any snappy book titles on the way, he is entirely in agreement with Niels Ulrik Sørensen that mudslinging and trenchdigging between the sexes is obsolete. The way ahead lies in cooperation and dialogue. He finds it extremely galling that some men maintain that they, rather than women, are the oppressed sex. That points the debate in the wrong direction and away from the fact, that women are subject to a range of oppressive conditions.

- Men and masculinity as a field of research is not a question of showcasing men and how great we are and that we're just critized all the time, and how awful that is, etc. The victim position is not were I stand. My frame of reference is this: If equal opportunity is to be achieved and if we want an understanding of what men really are, it is necessary for men to take a critical look at themselves. This is not just a question of acknowledging that men are more powerful in society and that that is a problem for women: Taking a critical look at ourselves also means acknowledging that having power is a problem for men as well. Because of this, men are for instance more prone to various health problems. Unfortunately when a man says something to this effect, a lot of other men think: Yeah, yeah another feminist speaks!

Jørgen Lorentzen from Oslo has also observed that it is not just men and masculinity research that has a problem but the entire field of gender research. Many former leading feminists have renounced earlier standpoints and have found other directions within academia according to him.
- The community has grown smaller and academic focus on gender has grown weaker in Denmark, while it has grown stronger in Sweden and Norway. The last time I was in Denmark I also experienced that there was an entirely different focus in the discussion on gender. While Danes have a liberal kind of approach to the discussion with a fair amount of emphasis on aesthetics, the discussion in Sweden and Norway is more political, ideological and ethical. The gender political debate of the 70's was much more acrimonious in Denmark and perhaps today's anonymity is a reaction to this - a reaction to an ethics of opposition that they simply don't want to deal with. Today we are in a situation where we have to move away from acrimony and strife. If we are to develop further we have to work together - but, granted, it's difficult to shift from a morality of opposition to a morality of cooperation.

Jørgen Lorentzen would like to see men and masculinity research working together with women's research to create a common field that can be termed gender research. He would also like to see the focus on gender gaining more influence within exisiting fields.

Rudi Rusfort Kragh is confident that this is already happening:
- I have noticed that more and more disciplines within the social sciences are starting to discuss masculinity. You see it in academic journals and short articles here and there. It's seen as a category that one perhaps should consider working with - even amongst researchers we don't know. There is a growing awareness of this field and that means that men and masculinity research and the masculinity perspective is being snuck in and spread out to other fields like anthropology, sociology, ethnography and languistics.

Being snuck in the back way, however, is not enough. In Sweden there is a center for men and masculinity research and in Norway there is a professorship in the field. In Denmark research is fragmented and exists as a kind of satellite where researchers meet in yearly workshops, and over a beer and have little more to do with each other the rest of the time, when they return to their regular positions. What does Rudi Rusfort Kragh then envision for the future development of men and masculinity research in Denmark?
- It could be interesting to have an academic journal that could reflect what men and masculinity research in Denmark is working with right now and also to establish a Danish center for men and masculinity research as a place which maps men's lives and worlds. More importantly however is to create research positions within this field. If that happens research on men and masculinity will be an actual discipline with exams, a titel, etc. so that you can be classified as an academic within the field and thus divorce it from the political level.

He already sees the signs that things are moving in the right direction: NIKK (Nordic Institute for Women's Studies and Gender Research) has employed a coordinator within the field of research on men and masculinity and Nordic Council of Ministers has worked out a plan of action for men and equality, for more men and masculinity research and more awareness of research in the field. Perhaps men and masculinity researchers will also be represented in the newly reshuffled Danish Equal Status Council. What is needed now, is for universities to take notice of the prevailing winds and employ researchers in the field of men and masculinity research.

Annette Bjørg Koeller is a freelance jouranlist and a regular contributor to FORUM.

Translation: Annette Nielsen
 



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