As spring has gradually turned into summer, the world seems to be slowing down a bit. I notice that instead of focusing on my writing like I should be, at least for a few more weeks until my summer holiday starts, I find my mind drifting and I’m distracted by the blue skies (okay so they’re sort of grey today, but still), the fragrant flowers, and the chirping birds outside my window. The words of one of my so called opt outers echo in my head: “It’s so much about being efficient… I don’t know if that’s the life I want to live.” So with my body, mind, and soul longing for lazy summer days, I thought I would share with you some of my summer reading plans.
Since the work of a researcher never ends, I will start with academic books. I have a couple of books on masculinities on my desk that I’m looking forward to digging my teeth into (not literally): Men’s Lives by Michael S. Kimmel and Michael A. Messner; and The Gender of Desire: Essays on Male Sexuality by Michael S. Kimmel.
The reason these are on the top of my list is that I have just embarked on my postdoctoral research project on men opting out and these books represent a door to a whole new world that I can’t wait to start exploring. I could intuitively understand what was going on as a woman studying women, but the situation is different now.
The concept of masculinities is relatively recent in gender studies. While focus has typically been on women, it is only during the past decades that researchers have started to explore different types of masculinities. So let me tell you about Catherine Hakim, who developed Preference Theory, which many of you may have heard of. She argues that the main reason women don’t reach top positions in any great numbers is their preferences. That is, according to her, many prefer to focus on family rather than on a career. Now I have dedicated many blog posts to why it just isn’t that simple, that there are a multitude of forces and reasons beyond preference that hold women back or have them ‘choose’ one thing over another, so I won’t go into that now.
But relevant to the study of masculinities, Hakim also argues that the reason society is patriarchal (that is, mainly men have the power) is that women are so diverse in their preferences and therefore make lots of different choices, while men are basically homogeneous, that is have very similar interests. Let me run this by you again just so that you can take this all in: she argues that women are diverse and men basically all want the same thing (and no, she is not talking about sex, at least I don’t think so). I mean really. Men aren’t all the same. They don’t all want to live their lives the same way. They don’t all share the same dreams. Just like women are a diverse group – just like there are many different femininities – there many different masculinities too. And in case anyone is still unsure of where I stand regarding this: no, I don’t agree with her.
Next on my list is Framed by Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World by Cecilia L. Ridgeway. This book is apparently one of the most important contemporary books on gender, and it supposedly tackles big questions in an accessible way, so I’m looking forward to that. This book is relevant for my research on how opting out can lead to greater gender segregation. For that I’m also going to acquaint myself with the literature on silences – on what’s not said. Women who opt out often insist that their decision was completely their own, that their husbands (if they are married) have said that they will support them no matter what they decide. However, what is becoming all the more clear to me as I go through transcripts of interviews, is that while many of the husband say they support their wives, they don’t actually do very much to alleviate their wives’ situations. They generally don’t take a more active role at home so that their wives might feel less overwhelmed. They basically do nothing, except of course provide moral support (and financial support if their wives end up quitting work altogether, but that’s not what I’m talking about here). So through their silences and non-actions they are actually saying quite a lot. Perhaps not consciously, but still. So I need to know more about that.
But my summer is of course not only going to be about work; I plan to mix in a lot of novels as well. I love novels and I basically devour them whenever I can (which is all the time). I have just ordered a copy of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker, which I’ve heard is wonderful. And I discovered Kim Thúy a while back; I read her book Rú and really enjoyed that, so I’m going to read Mãn next. Also, I’m waiting for Go Set a Watchman* by Harper Lee to be published in July (yes, it’s a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird!).
If you have any books to recommend, I would love to hear from you. I constantly need more good books to read!