Manliness in the Twenty First Century with James Doyle

Last Editorial Review: 10/23/2003

WebMD Live Events Transcript

What does it mean to be a man in the new millennium? Join James A. Doyle, founding editor of the Journal of Men's Studies, for a discussion about masculinity and the growing academic field of men's studies.

Event Date: 6/01/00.

The opinions given by Dr. Doyle are his and his alone. If you have specific questions or are concerned about your health, please consult your personal physician. This event is for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Hello and welcome to WebMD live! Our guest today is James Doyle, PhD. A professor of psychology at Roane State Community College in Tennessee, Doyle is founding editor of the "Men's Studies Review" (' and the author of  The Male Experience and co-author of Sex and Gender.

Today, we're talking about masculinity and the Twenty-First Century, or, "What does it mean to be a man in the year 2000?". Thanks for joining us, Doctor.

Dr. Doyle: I'm pleased to be here.

Moderator: If you don't mind, I'd love it if you could tell us a bit about yourself and your background in all of this.

Dr. Doyle: Sure. My background, basically, has been in psychology. I took my undergraduate degree, and took that in Aquinas University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. From there I went to Ohio, where I took my master's degree in clinical psychology. From there, I headed north to Minnesota to begin a counseling department at St. Mary's College in Winona, Minnesota. I spent two years there, and then traveled to Canada, where I pursued a doctorate in social psychology. I finished my education in 1973, and came back to the states to Pennsylvania, where I taught at St. Francis College for five years, then moved to Tennessee, where I've been for the last 22 years, again, teaching psychology. That's my background in education and teaching. My involvement in men's studies began with my doctoral dissertation, where I did a study dealing with male attitudes and what we used to call "psychology of the self-actualization model"; I looked at the male role. Since that initial interest, I've been writing and doing further research which culminated in the early 1980's, when I wrote my first text book on men's studies entitled The Male Experience. From there I became involved in a number of academic groups that were developing during the 1980's, bringing academics together that were interested in issues of masculinity and men's lives, and have been involved ever since, in some facet, with various groups. In 1992, I founded the first academic journal that was publishing original men's studies research titled the Men's Studies Review. We've been doing that ever since. That's my academic background, and in the area of men's studies.

Moderator: So, Dr. Doyle, let's start with the big question: What does it mean to be a man in the year 2000?

Dr. Doyle: That is the big question. Probably the answer is no longer as simple as it would have been for my father or grandfather, some 20, 30 or more years ago. In many ways, our fathers and grandfathers had a straightforward, or dominant, male model that they could emulate with their behavior, and in so doing could be fairly comfortable in knowing they were acting out in a true male fashion. That dominant male model, or what one men's study calls it, the Hegemonic male model, has really come under tremendous fire or scrutiny in the past 20 years. For most men today, there is no one model that they can use to inspire or emulate. There's this variety. So if anything, the man of the early 21st century is going to be many men. As I say, while we're in this transition from a single male model to many models, probably the most interesting aspect of men's lives is the confusion that many men feel, because the rules that governed what their grandfathers and fathers needed to be like to be considered men, those rules have been shunted aside, if not completely dismissed. There's been few models that have come forward that men can hold to. It's almost as if it's every man for himself now. That can be very scary.

Moderator: Would you mind giving us a brief history of men's studies?

Dr. Doyle: Sure. Men's studies came again pretty much out of the interest in women's studies that were present during the late 1960's and early 1970's. Most of the early men's studies scholars were involved in women's studies in some form or fashion. Probably if there was one theoretical seed bed for men's studies, it would have to be feminism. Most of the early men's studies scholars came out of that perspective, addressing the issue of the imbalance of power in our society between women and men. Thus, when they were looking at issues of interest to women, the collateral group, men, also demanded attention. If men, in fact, were the basic power within a society, then what did having power do to men? Many of these early men's studies scholars started focusing attention on men and their lives during these early days, and in focusing not on men as the generic model for the human race when we would talk about mankind,  they started arguing, "let's look at men as men, as half of the human race." 

Thus, these early writers and scholars started focusing on various features related to men's lives, the history of masculinity, for instance, or different social forces that influenced or shaped men's lives and the various forms of masculinity. Some of the early workers that were instrumental in directing or shaping men's studies were people such as Joseph Pleck and Harry Brod. These two individuals were probably the two most significant pioneers in men's studies. Very quickly, beginning in the mid to later 1970's, there were a number of other people who started again using the works of Pleck, Brod and others to begin teaching courses on campuses. In disciplines such as sociology, this was very popular. You had courses such as "Masculinity", and "Men's Lives" often presented as collateral courses, or elective courses, because there was no real ground swell within the academic community for large numbers of courses to develop. Men's studies in the early years was very, very small in terms of numbers of courses offered.

Moderator: Were these the "sensitive men"?

Dr. Doyle: I would say that would be a good description of the early writings, what we often refer to as the Alan Alda writing. Much of the emphasis in the early works were placed on getting men to look at their emotional lives, to free themselves of some of the constraints of, again, that dominant male role. Oftentimes, you would see in the literature this play of the Alan Alda against the John Wayne caricatures. So the sensitive male issue was very prominent in the 1970's and into the 1980's. With the 1980's, men's studies took a maturing focus. Other issues starting coming about. What I mean by that would be other groups. Some of the non-hegemonic, nontraditional men started becoming more prominent in the study of men's lives. The one group that probably made the most impact in the 1980's would have been gay men. Again, I think in terms of the history, the whole history of HIV, AIDS, and what was going on in the gay culture, many of whom were in the academic world and started writing -- that issue became more and more of a focus during the early to mid 1980's. 

The latter 1980's and into the 1990's saw another perspective evolving. That would have been what we today would call the mythopoetic, or the Robert Bly wing or contingent, which would have raised this whole issue about what many call the deep masculine spirit. What they argued was that there was not enough attention being directed towards the essentials, the core elements of masculinity, in the field, and that men needed to discover that deep masculinity within themselves. In many ways, what we see when we look back in the 1980's and early 1990's was, what is so common in so many of the social sciences, the debate between nature/nurture. Many of the early feminists-oriented men's studies scholars who were aligning themselves with society's pressures and social forces as shaping, or constructing, manhood,  were taking more of a nurturing approach, or today what we call the "constructionist viewpoint." Contrasting that group would have been the Robert Bly group, looking for this deep aspect within the male, to let that come out of the nature of what it means to be a man naturally, biologically. Today we call this perspective essentialism. What we have here is, even today, this ongoing discussion, not always without a bit of rancor, but we have the essentialist vs. the constructionist both arguing over what it means to be a man. However they answer that for themselves leads them to suggest what it means to be a man in the 21st century. Depending on which perspective you buy into,  it will take you down a very different path.

Moderator: Which do you, personally, think to be correct?

Dr. Doyle: My background has been formed more from the constructionist.  Being a social psychologist, sometimes I think I'm somewhat negligent in not taking more hard science. I may have been more aware of the arguments now coming out of the biological or evolutionary approach to personality, and therefore, masculinity. What does it mean to be a male biologically? No one can deny that men and women are different biologically. Through the essentialist, they would argue that those hormones have impact in terms of behaviors and emotions, and therefore, do give a certain kind of shaping feature to our makeup. But we also are social creatures. I'm not really trying to wriggle out of the question, but the more and more I read, the more and more I think that we are both a biological and a social creature. What that means, though, is that the answer just gets more and more difficult to grab. In our linear thinking, we have difficulty analyzing what it means to be a male. In a sense, both sources, biology and social structures, can be viewed simultaneously. We need to analyze by breaking things apart. I think we do a disservice when we do that. But it makes it so much easier to look at the male as "either/or", rather than "both/and".

Moderator: A lot has been said in the media about the loss of the father role for many of America's youth, and the effect that has had on our values. What do you make of this?

Dr. Doyle: In the last decade, there's been tremendous emphasis placed on the lack of the father figure in today's society. In a sense, what has been suggested is that many of today's problems are social in terms of children not having discipline, problems with breakdowns in the family structure, and to a great degree is related to the absent father, the absent father figure. This got tremendous play during the early and mid 1990's. What we're seeing today, is again, a kind of a reworking of the involvement of fathers in the family, and again seeing two views being presented. The one view looks at the role of the father, and suggests that he does not play as significant role as many would like to suggest. There's a debate that's been going on amongst some where the authors in a study suggest, given the research in the past 10 to 15 years, that the absent father, in and of itself, cannot be viewed as a causative factor of the problems going on in families. That one article generated all kinds of heat from many individuals arguing that although the research may suggest that the male role is not essential to a healthy family, they would argue that, in today's society, the male is needed more than ever before. So again, we are getting another two perspectives coming out in looking at the father role in terms of its importance in the family. Much of the current research continues to find that fathers continue to spend less time with children than mothers. However, the amount of time fathers are spending has been increasing in the last generation. So we're still not equal in terms of spending as much time with children as mothers, but fathers are spending more time than their fathers and grandfathers spent.

petermwolk_WebMD: My daughter is married to a German. Could you discuss cross-cultural issues in these areas?

Dr. Doyle: In terms of cross-cultural studies on men's issues, again it should not surprise any of us that the way various cultures define men's roles would vary across the board. Probably in terms of the European model, the European model is much like the North American model. In talking to a number of people from Europe, men involved in men's studies, much of what we see here in North America we would also find in the European community. For example, debating the issue we talked about earlier, essentialism vs. constructionism. I wouldn't think, in general, that a North American female married to a European male would find that significant of difference if the man was from Germany or France as opposed to Canada. On the other hand, if we were to talk about cultures in the Middle East, I think we would see significant differences in how they'd define masculinity. For example, a North American female married to an Iranian male would probably find the cultural differences significant in terms of the relationships between men and women, where we still in the Middle Eastern countries have very traditional views about what it mean to be a man, and in many regards there's the whole notion of power over the women. For North American women, that could be very difficult to adjust to, in terms of a cultural feature.

Moderator: Do you believe in the American Patriarchy? Are men still running the show here in the United States?

Dr. Doyle: I think it's not so much a belief, but evidence of it is, yes. There is American patriarchy in certain areas of our life. What I would suggest is that in certain segments, for example the business world, the male still has, in most instances, the upper hand. In terms of pay, in terms of positions leading to leadership, although significant strides have been made by women in the business world in the past 20, 30 or more years, we still do not see a business world where there is genuine equality. So your notion about American patriarchy -- I think in the business world, it is alive and well. In other areas, I think we see American patriarchy being challenged more in this generation than in previous generations. For example, the military being challenged amongst some religious denominations more than previous generations. But still, the American male, in even these areas, they still hold power.

Moderator: So, what are the challenges for the next generation? 

Dr. Doyle: I think the challenges are for young men. The ones I see in my classroom, the 18-23-year-old men, will be to again look for ways where they can find a sense of their own manhood without relying on those traditional models that are still present, but losing power. The challenge is, "How should I act? How should I relate to the men or women in my life, when there are so few new role models?" One area that I find most interesting is relationships between men, and men's friendships, which again, are one of the areas that we see in men's studies given more attention. What does it mean to have male friends? And can you again be more open to a deeply emotional friendship, or is it to be oftentimes with our grandfathers and fathers, what the old term used to say, instrumental, which means that men could only relate through their activities, and could only express their relationship through activities. For example, the two guys, best of buddies, who go hunting together,  who play baseball or golf together. But where one of them is absolutely devastated to find out that his best buddy has a serious medical problem, and was never aware of that. So I think the young men today are having to again, redefine what it's going to mean to be a real man in the 21st century. Using the same example of friendship, what it would mean to be close to another male, to have a nonsexual intimate relationship and be comfortable with that -- that I think is problematic for many young men.

fidel__WebMD: So can you break masculinity down into a set of key elements -- necessary and sufficient conditions to be a man? (beyond the biological ones, obviously)

Dr. Doyle: We could look at behaviors. What does a real man act like? How should he behave in a social setting? I can't do it with this format, but in my class when we are talking about male behaviors, I have different stances, ways of standing in front of the class, where I strike a "male" pose, then I contrast that with other poses that are less masculine. My students never, ever misinterpret the different stances. They know what it means to stand like a man, walk like a man, those aspects. The one thing we could say is that there are certain behaviors that we have suggested, but they are changing. They are male behaviors. Another area would be beliefs. There are certain beliefs that a man should hold to. A good example would be the belief that a male, in terms of what makes a man a man, does not in any way shape or form, act like, or think like, a woman. This is so basic to the male model, this whole area has grown around how to really insult a man -- all one needs to do is question him in terms of his acting like a girl. For most men, that immediately becomes extremely upsetting. So those beliefs -- that I'm not like a female, I have different behaviors as well as beliefs -- those in response to the question, would be the components. If one wanted to throw in the beliefs and attitudes, there are male attitudes also that distinguish a real man.

Moderator: Of course, no discussion about masculinity in the new millennium would be complete without a mention of the movie "Fight Club". Did you see it?

Dr. Doyle: I did see segments of it.

Moderator: What did you think?

Dr. Doyle: The glorification of violence was very upsetting to me. This has been a topic of very many of the list servers that I'm involved with, and that issue over and over -- the young men defining themselves, seeing a part of themselves come out in the use of violence. And of course, aggression or violence has been traditionally a core component of masculinity. That men are by nature more aggressive, more violent, and that although we can look for ways to control it, or direct it, but still that aggressive impulse is truly a part of our nature -- that bothers me. When I look at how we do glorify violence in our society, which becomes so appealing to so many of our young people, I am amazed at the popularity of  professional wrestling, the matches on TV, and the glorification of the truly aggressive male. When they pan to the audience and we see the fervor of so many young men looking towards these models as heroes. I'm worried by that. A lot of it is almost parody, though. It's also, what other kinds of areas in a young person's life do you see that intense fascination, that intense passion? That is, I think, symptomatic of looking for ways of expressing oneself. In this transitional period that we're in, many young people are reaching out for anything. My fear is that this aggressive model is extremely appealing

fidel__WebMD: What do you think of the idea that pro-wrestling and movie violence give men a safe outlet for aggressive urges that are no longer acceptable to act out?

Dr. Doyle: That is, again, what I think would be considered what we would call the catharsis. Freud came up with the idea that a person who allows his emotions to come out in a safe setting,  like professional fighting, hockey, football, etc., that by standing in the stands screaming and yelling, you could get a release. And that in everyday life, the energy that you released was gone, and it was good for you to scream and yell at the game. That is the catharsis model. The research on that has been extremely, I won't say negative, but it's been equivocal not of great support that people are benefited by going to these emotionally charging activities and feeling better afterwards. If anything, some of the most violent behaviors happen after the game. I was thinking of the recent news of the game in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the fans literally went wild. Oftentimes, you see in the Southeast and Southwest, high school football is extremely popular. One of the features that get an awful lot of attention are the fights that break out after the game. If  going to the game and watching this release of pent up energy would be beneficial, then one should see a very calm and peaceful crowd leaving the stadium.

Moderator: Well, sir, it's certainly been a pleasure having you by. Do you have any closing thoughts?

Dr. Doyle: My one passing note would be that today, what it means to be a real man is so individual, I think we all now have the opportunity to chart our own individual way of being a man, and the variety is endless. I find that liberating, and appealing, that there's not some kind of form that I need to report into to come out as the man. There's a variety of ways I can express my humanity as a man. I find that very liberating.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Moderator: Our guest today has been James Doyle, PhD. A professor of psychology at Roane State Community College in Tennessee, Doyle is founding editor of the "Men's Studies Review"  (' and the author of  The Male Experience and co-author of  Sex and Gender.

The opinions given by Dr. Doyle are his and his alone. If you have specific questions or are concerned about your health, please consult your personal physician. This event is for informational purposes only.

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