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Men's Studies — What is Masculinity? Considering Various Ways of Life for Men

Tsuyoshi Ishihara
Associate Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

I have given a class entitled Introduction to Men's Studies for about three years. Hearing the title, Men's Studies, you might think that the majority of students attending this lecture would be men. About half of the students in a typical year, however, are women. This is quite different from the situation in which male students hesitate to attend lectures associated with Women's Studies. Simply put, this reflects a growing awareness of female students who are eager to learn about the other gender.

Since this class is designed as a seminar with a limited number of students, I can have close communication with students, which often provides learning opportunities for me as well. Students are especially more acutely aware of current trends and the latest information. For example, I learned from my students about sweets that were created to target male consumers, such as Otoko Ume Candy (plum candy for men) and Otoko no Sweets (sweets for men). These sweets, of course, represent a viable market strategy for cultivating a new male-oriented market amid the current prolonged economic stagnation. But if introducing such areas, which have traditionally been unfamiliar to men, helps to change their lifestyles, this is a welcome development.

The environment surrounding men, however, is not always as sweet as these carefully conceived confections for men. While the number of double-income families has increased against the backdrop of the current economic downturn, the average time men devote to housework and child rearing is 0.48 hours, still one of the lowest levels among developed countries. Compared to 7.41 hours for women, this is a woeful figure (source: White Paper on Labor 2006 by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare). What Japanese society needs from men now is active participation in housework and child rearing, not a new affinity for sweets. Actually, men's participation in housework has become a regular topic of interest in recent years. In fact, a range of cookbooks specifically targeting men have been published, and cooking classes for men are held nationwide. I have often heard similar trends such as husbands taking paternity leave. Cooking and child rearing are activities that require time and effort, so they are truly valuable in that they can provide depth in men's lives beyond their regular jobs. I would venture to say, however, that cooking and child rearing are the most creative and enjoyable aspects of housework. Though both cooking and child rearing are actually hard work, they usually provide a profound sense of fulfillment. For example, when your family eats the dishes you have carefully prepared and they say “This is delicious!,” or when you see your child growing day by day, these experiences are truly rewarding. On the other hand, many aspects of housework are inconspicuous and thankless, such as throwing away kitchen garbage, replacing the vacuum cleaner dust bag, cleaning the toilets, cleaning the drains in the bathroom and kitchen, and washing away dirt from the joints. The question, then, is how many men have been willing to participate in these kinds of housework. Looking back on it myself, the answer is uncertain.

In addition to the gender equality issue as discussed above, it is also an important theme in men's studies to consider what has traditionally been regarded as masculinity. When I ask students what masculinity is, for example, they often say, strength. I then ask them to describe a strong man. Their answers to this question vary, including a patient man, a (physically) powerful man, and a brave man. At this point, I pointedly raise full-time househusband as an example of a strong man. A full-time househusband, who takes the trouble to clean the toilet and the drain outlets, is surely a patient man. He also has enough physical strength to feed a baby several times in the middle of the night and to play with a child. Above all, there is no doubt that a full-time househusband is a brave man because he can overcome the still deep-seated prejudice surrounding him—that is, that a man's role is as breadwinner —and maintain his way of life as a househusband.

Regarding masculinity from a broader perspective leads us to reconsider our past way of life as well. Especially the so-called winning men, who have received recognition for their own masculinity, are reluctant to doubt their perceived masculinity. Even so, there are a few male students attending the Men's Studies class with the purpose of confirming the traditional masculinity-that is, that men should work hard outside the house, have patience, and keep their complaints to themselves. I tell such students stories about men suffering distress, who cannot talk about business failure even to their family because they do not want to show their weakness, and who ultimately become mentally unstable, or in the worst cases, commit suicide. Then, most students are shocked at the fact that masculinity can cause people to die, and they begin to reconsider ways of life for men. The most rewarding moment for me in giving this class is when such students reconsider traditional values about masculinity and adapt an attitude of accepting various ways of life for men.

Tsuyoshi Ishihara
Associate Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

[Profile]
Professor Ishihara was born in 1971. He graduated with a graduate degree from the Department of English Language and Literature from the School of Education at Waseda University, and received his Doctorate from the Doctoral Program in the Course of American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. After working as a full-time lecturer in the Department of English on the Faculty of International Liberal Arts at Otemon Gakuin University, and as an assistant professor in the Department of English Language and Literature in the School of Education at Waseda University, he took up his current position in April 2008.

[Books]
Mark Twain in Japan: The Cultural Reception of an American Icon (University of Missouri Press, 2005), winner of the Shimizu Hiroshi Award of the Japanese Association for American Studies
Mark Twain and Japan: The Transformation of an American Icon (Sairyusha, 2008), winner of the Incentive Award of the Japan Society for Children's Literature and of the Tohoku English Literary Society Award.

[Joint book]
Theory and Practice in American Studies: Cultural Politics in the Multiethnic Society (Sekaishisosha Co., Ltd., 2007)

[Other works]
Serial columns “Waseda English” (The Sankei Shimbun, April 2009 to March 2010)
Radio “Waseda English” (The Nippon Broadcasting System, Inc., April 2009 to September 2009)

[National associations]
Japanese Association for American Studies, American Literature Society of Japan, Japan Society for Children's Literature, and Japan Mark Twain Society

[International associations]
Modern Language Association, American Studies Association, and Mark Twain Circle of America

[On Campus]
Gender equality promotion member at Waseda University (April 2008 to present) Assistant Dean of Student Affairs of the School of Education at Waseda University (September 2008 to present)