Men’s Studies



Every now and then somebody will say, “How come there need to be women’s studies classes? There are no men’s studies classes, are there? Hm? Are there?” The answer, of course: There are men’s studies classes. They’re called “history.”


I was reminded of this dispute when I read the book pictured above, The Celts: A History, by Peter Berresford Ellis. Mr. Ellis is a well-known scholar with multiple books on Celtic history to his name. He also writes historical fiction under another name. The book is a short overview and seemed at first glance to be just the thing to satisfy my curiosity.


My interest in the subject came about something like this:

·       Much cultural wailing about the decline of marriage and the rise in out-of-wedlock births

·       May 1 (Beltane) was coming up

·       I remembered once reading that in the old pagan days, young women and young men performed the fertility rites by, er, frolicking, about the Beltane fires

·       And the resulting Beltane babies were much cherished

·       So I wondered what sort of family structure allowed the cherishing, rather than the reviling, of the babies, and how babies and everyone else were cared for

·       Then I checked this book out of the library


Scanning the table of contents, I found the book included Chapter 6: Celtic Women. Well, you may be certain that if there’s a chapter devoted to women, the rest of the book is about men. It’s also a very dry recitation of facts that are hard to incorporate into one’s own knowledge store because they are laced with people and place names that are unfamiliar and unpronounceable.


Things I learned about: ancient Celtic rulers and warriors; Celtic farming implements; Celtic chariots and battle tactics; Celtic road building; Celtic architecture; Celtic religion; and several other topics. Things I did not learn about: How families were formed; who lived together; how children were cared for; how food was prepared; whether men were involved in caring for the children they sired; what happened to women and children when husbands and fathers died; what work women in general did while men were building and driving chariots into battle; and other things I wondered about. The closest I got to any of this information was the author’s assertion that Julius Caesar’s description of polygamous Celtic families did not accurately represent them.


So what was in the chapter on Celtic women? A dry recitation of facts about the handful of Celtic women who were known to have been rulers and warriors. Apparently, women are only interesting when they are doing typically male things.


To be fair, the matters that interest me do not leave artifacts to be dug up and studied, like the iron-age plows and the graves of the prominent. And maybe whatever I once read about Beltane babies was invented new-age mumbo jumbo. But maybe somebody knows about daily life in Europe in the six or twelve centuries B.C., and I just picked up the wrong book. I need the women’s studies version.




19 thoughts on “Men’s Studies

  1. I am loving this post. I agree with you. Family and social structures would seem to be one of the most important, if not the most, aspects of cultural history. The oversight is fairly blatant, now that you mention it, and the reason seems pretty obvious. Yep, loving this post. PS I am eager to hear about whatever you are able to uncover, if anything.

  2. See? This is why the Women’s Studies house at my undergrad institution had the banner spelling woman with a Y and a fist. They couldn’t find any of the information they wanted in the history books and they were pissed.

  3. A lot of the things you described as the questions you posed are things I would look for in the anthropology section or sociology section. They usually have very detailed work there on the roles of women, their social status, etc. To call history “men’s studies” is like calling soldiers “armsMEN” because most soldiers are typically male, or calling police officers “policeMEN” because most police officers are typically male. More or less disingenuous I think. It is important, though, that gender studies exist, but yes, it should look at both genders, as well as those who fall outside the heteronormative. 

  4. @Erika_Steele – Ordinary women are invisible, past and present, it seems.@distractedbyzombies – I’m going back to the library to see what else they have. Fingers crossed.@turningreen – I’m considering adopting that y spelling, because I’m pissed     .     too.@ordinarybutloud – That’s what I think, but we seem to hold a minority opinion about that.@QuantumStorm – I’m not clear on the point you are making. Police officers have commonly been called policemen because they were, in fact, mostly or all men. That doesn’t seem disingenuous, just no longer accurate. Referring to history classes/books as men’s studies because they focus so heavily on male lives, even though there were *just as many women there*, is simply my commentary on the slant.

  5. @transvestite_rabbit – Well given that history focuses on events, the fact that many of the event-makers happened to be male doesn’t mean it’s men’s studies in the same way women’s studies is treated. Not so much as a slant as it is just reporting the events as they happened. Unless you can demonstrate that they willfully left out most of the important female players, your argument is disingenuous by implying that calls for men’s studies should be dismissed. That’s the point I’m making with my policemen analogy; the fact that many of history’s important people are men does not mean it is okay to call it men’s studies, any more than it is accurate to say “policemen”. And then by your argument I could posit that we would need to include the everyday men, and those who don’t fit the gender binary. 

  6. @QuantumStorm – The reporting of events is always inherently slanted, in history and in current news. This author repeatedly notes that some of what we know about the Celts was written by the Romans after they pretty much wiped the Celts out, and therefore can’t be trusted. By the same token, the events in history that have been deemed important reflect male activities and a male viewpoint. As far as I know, there’s not much in the way of calls for men’s studies. The argument is used to suggest that women’s studies should be discontinued, because it is “unfair” that there aren’t similar classes about men. But the field of women’s studies is a response to the systematic exclusion of women’s lives and women’s experiences from so much of scholarship. When you say they’ve not been excluded, they just haven’t done anything important, you reveal the effect of that pervasive bias.

  7. @transvestite_rabbit – I never said women haven’t done anything important. What I’m saying is that just because many of the important ones happen to be male, at least in the eyes of history, which focuses on sequences of events, doesn’t mean it’s men’s studies. If a certain field of study focuses on certain aspects, naturally they will hold more importance than others. I would argue that women’s studies is more gender-focused than history is, and about as gender-focused as men’s studies is. If history focuses on those who cause significant changes, and deems them as “important” for study, and they happen to be men, that is not indicative of a gender slant. You are taking a factor that is coincidental as far as deeming what is important for history to study, and making it a necessary factor, even though historical studies don’t have requirements that those worthy of mention be of a certain gender, or even within the gender binary. And yes, there is a slant especially in current events. This is one collection of examples: 

  8. You definitely picked up the wrong book.  This is not my area of expertise, but for the early period you mention, I would start with “A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present,” by Bonnie Anderson and Judith Zinsser.   The sources/artifacts claim is an old excuse.  Don’t believe it.  There is plenty of archaeological evidence and material history related to domestic life, gardening, religious rituals, etc. that reveal tons about women’s lives.  I am going to recommend two books by historian Gerda Lerner – “The Creation of Patriarchy” and “The Creation of Feminist Consciousness.”  OH MY, if you have not read these books, you are in for a big treat.  🙂  

  9. @DrTiff – Thank you, Tiff! It seems one of those books (The Creation of Feminist Consciousness) is sitting on the shelf at my local library branch as we speak. I will pick it up today. The others will be transported to my local branch in the next few days. Clearly, I should’ve asked you first, even though you are a professor of men’s studies.

  10. @DrTiff – So I went to the library, looked at The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, and said “D’oh! I think I have this book at home.” I checked it out anyway, but yeah, I found it at home. I have apparently owned it for many years but have never read it. On page 4 it says: “It is helpful to distinguish between history–events of the past–and recorded History–events of the past as interpreted by succeeding generations of historians. The latter is a cultural product, by which events are selected, ordered, and interpreted. It is in recorded history that women have been obliterated or marginalized.”  Yeah! Exactly!

  11. I too love this post, even though its sort of intelectual.  I have had NO sleep in two days, so I’m having a hard time, but I’m pretty sure you just enlightened me.

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