Male Studies 101: the Titanic

Image: WikipediaThe 93rd anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, considered one of Canada’s defining moments as a young nation, was commemorated at the National War Memorial last Friday.

The Queen issued a statement honouring the memory of a “truly remarkable generation.” The Prime Minister hailed Canada’s “fierce warriors … rock-ribb’ed patriots.” The G-G spoke to the 8,000 attendees of a war “in which an entire generation of young people courageously braved gunfire.”

But of course, it was not “young people” who “braved gunfire,” it was young men.

You’ll see the same tendency in reports of coal mine disasters: “Miners” are trapped, “rescuers” race against time, “families” await word. If you didn’t know better, you’d think miners, rescuers and families were a mixed bag of men and women, when in fact the first two — the ones taking the risks and facing the terror — are almost invariably men, while only the third — anguishing, but alive and well — are women and children.

And yet, consider: Reportage around the Montreal Massacre did not speak of “engineering students” — the focus was entirely on the women as women. Men are what they do, women are who they are.

I can see “Gendered Disparities in Media Discourse” as precisely the kind of subject that is likely to be studied in the discipline of Male Studies, a historical first, launched this week at Wagner College, Staten Island, N.Y.

Interest in creating a program in Male Studies may have been spurred by weariness with feminism’s misandric myths. But its subject matter, one hopes, will unfold organically along rigorous scholarly lines. Perhaps it will venture into the three “Ps” of normative masculinity: man as progenitor, protector and provider — and what happens to cultures that assign a low value to these roles. I would urge Male Studies specialists to go where the evidence leads — into areas such as intimate partner violence.

As it happens, the inauguration of the Male Studies program coincides with the 98th anniversary — April 15 — of the sinking of the Titanic. As another putative course, “The Titanic and Male Honour Codes in Western Civilization” would open up a fascinating discussion on values around the perceived worth of men’s lives and women’s lives.

As most people know, when the Titanic sank, 75% of women and almost all the children were saved as against 20% of the men. That husbands and fathers should privilege their families’ lives is taken for granted in the West. That the male crew went stoically to their deaths for strangers, simply because of their sex, is an extraordinary idea when you think of it.

That is the irony at the heart of the Titanic story. These heroes had been brought up in the very heart of the same robust, supposedly misogynistic patriarchy that feminists today use as a bogeyman to frighten young girls with. I think we should welcome the prospect of an academic program that will analyze the patriarchy in the more complex and objective light it deserves.

Canada has a special relationship with the Titanic. Of the 1,522 lives lost, 209 bodies were transported to Halifax. Three city cemeteries there contain the graves of 150 victims.

Our nation is full of memorials, via the Montreal Massacre, attesting to the suffering and death of women linked to men’s lower nature. Tutorial question: Would it be a fine thing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic in 2012, with a memorial in Halifax attesting to the rescue and survival of women and children linked to men’s heroism? Discuss amongst yourselves.

is a columnist for Canada’s National Post. She writes and lives
in Montreal.


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