MFS Modern Fiction Studies 49.2 (2003) 396-398
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Judith Kegan Gardiner, ed. Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia UP, 2002. xi + 386 pp.
When so many essay collections seem uncomfortably patched together, tapestries of the vaguely related and not entirely congruent, it is refreshing to encounter a collection as well constructed and cohesive as Judith Kegan Gardiner's Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory. The essays are diverse and often demanding, ranging in style and scope from R. W. Connell's "autobiographical documentation of gender" to Marlon B. Ross's thought-provoking desire to "push the cultural logic of race castration [. . .] as it collides with the cultural logic of rape." The book, then, has a dual purpose. It takes stock of a complex history of theoretical debate—a project begun in Gardiner's introduction and furthered by the opening two essays—and it seeks to push beyond reiteration to new possibilities in critical thinking about gender. The aim is to take nothing for granted, and the project's introduction promises to "question both the model of a static hegemonic masculinity and the political efficacy of celebrating various alternative masculinities."
The volume boasts an impressive range of contributors, with essays by Michael Awkward, Isaac D. Balbus, Harry Brod, King-Kok Cheung, Nancy J. Chodorow, R. W. Connell, Judith Kegan Gardiner, [End Page 396] Judith Halberstam, Judith Newton, Fred Pfeil, Sally Robinson, Marlon B. Ross, Calvin Thomas, and Robyn Wiegman. The fourteen essays are thematically paired, offering a series of more focused dialogues within the volume's overall structure of debate. For example, Gardiner's argument that age might function as a "clarifying analogy for thinking about gender" is set alongside Pfeil's account of the boy-into-man trajectory discernible in the film career of Tom Hanks. Pfeil's delineation of what might be termed Hank's stealth patriarchy is followed by two essays linked through the subject of pedagogy. Robinson's account of a woman's experience of teaching men about men is complemented by Brod's argument for the benefits of approaching the subject as "superordinate studies." These are thought-provoking and constructive essays, and their concern with the practice of masculinity studies is typical of the book's "pedagogically friendly" tone.
The volume as a whole exhibits a sharp awareness of the development of critical thinking on gender, even if the contributors exhibit some marked disagreements in their readings of this history. These disagreements are fruitful and provide timely reminders of the strategic goals that have shaped academic feminism and which underpin contemporary gender theories. Awkward, for example, is concerned that contemporary critics are failing to acknowledge their debts to the pioneering 1970s work of critics such as Elaine Showalter and Alice Walker. Balbus, by contrast, takes significant issue with the influential early work of Nancy Chodorow and tries to build a new synthesis by combining psychoanalytic theories of narcissism with feminist mothering theory. It is a very positive feature of the collection, however, that all the contributors provide extensive referencing for both current and earlier debates, and this attention to detail lends considerable classroom potential to the book.
The opening and closing pairs of essays exemplify this combination of accessibility and innovation. Wiegman's lively survey of developments in feminist theory is followed by Thomas's essay which, after contextualizing the relationship between masculinity studies and feminism, pushes on to search for new metaphors or modes of analysis that might help make masculinities "visible." For Thomas, the links between the corporeal male body and the body of writing might provide this fertile new territory, but for Halberstam the missing component is female masculinity. Why is it, she asks, that "the topic of masculinity and feminism has been reinterpreted as men and feminism?" The final pairing of Ross and Halberstam is particularly strong and brings the volume to a provocative close. While Ross works to expose the relations between sexual and racial violence at both symbolic and literal levels, Halberstam uncouples an insufficiently [End Page 397] examined link that is too easily assumed as fundamental to masculinity studies...