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UF Law professor asks the ‘man’ question

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Do feminists see women as a diverse group in need of support and men as only one thing: male and privileged?

A new book by University of Florida Law Professor Nancy Dowd, “The Man Question: Male Subordination and Privilege,” (NYU Press), says it’s time to change this perspective and apply the feminist anti-essentialist view to males as well as females.

Dowd explains that feminism is credited with getting us to “ask the woman question” in virtually every discipline and in public policy, to question women’s status and to challenge women’s absence. Feminism readily acknowledges that all women are not created equal, and many factors, including race and class, help define individuals. Men receive a less-nuanced analysis.

“The core message of the book is that gender analysis is not just for women and girls; it is also for boys and men,” said Dowd, UF Law’s David H. Levin Chair in Family Law and director of the Center on Children & Families. “That means asking the man question, both when we are aware that men are at the heart of the issue, and when we tend to overlook them.”

In the book, Dowd draws from masculinities scholarship as well as feminist analysis to examine issues of manhood and masculinity. She ultimately demonstrates how both subordination and privilege is constructed for men and boys. She suggests how “the man question” should be asked, and then explores some examples of where this leads; including for boys, education and juvenile justice; and for men, fatherhood and adult male survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

As these questions are asked, it is critical to see differences among men, rather than treating all men as alike. We need to not only ask “what about men?” but also “are all men alike in this situation?” Dowd said.

“Sometimes some men are more disadvantaged than others, particularly along lines of race and class,” Dowd said, illustrating her message by pointing out the disproportion of boys and men in the juvenile justice and adult criminal justice populations. Those men and boys in the system are also disproportionately men of color, she said.

Ultimately, Dowd seeks to expand our understanding of privilege and subordination by incorporating the study of masculinities into feminist theory.

“My prior scholarship had focused most recently on fatherhood, which combines my interest in family law and gender issues,” Dowd said. “In the course of writing a book on fathers, it was clear to me that masculinities were a critical barrier to shifting fatherhood toward a care-giving, nurturing model.”

Dowd also credits her law students for challenging the norms of gender analysis that pointed out the need for the book.

“Gender analysis is all about equality and justice, and once you begin that scrutiny, it is not limited to one particular group or category. The equality of all is essential.”

Dowd is also editor and a contributor for the book, “Justice for Kids: Keeping Kids Out of the Juvenile Justice System,” which is scheduled for publication next year. She is the author of two previous books – “In Defense of Single Parent Families” and “Redefining Fatherhood” – and co-author of two books – “Feminist Legal Theory: An Anti-Essentialist Reader” and “Handbook: Children, Culture and Violence.” Her areas of expertise include Constitutional law, family law, feminist jurisprudence, employment discrimination and civil rights. She can be reached at 352-273-0930 or View her faculty page here.

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Published: September 8th, 2010

Category: News

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