“What’s the Matter with Men”: Mason offers class on masculinity, male identity

Mason students in the “What’s the Matter with Men: Problems and Possibilities” class break into small groups to talk about topics like toxic masculinity, the backlash against feminism, and the political gender gap. Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications

This fall, 25 students in George Mason University’s Honors College enrolled in a class focusing on the changing status of men in American history.

The Honors 130 class, titled “What’s the Matter with Men: Problems and Possibilities,” was a new offering focused on topics like toxic masculinity, the backlash against feminism, the political gender gap, formerly incarcerated men, health and mental health, and fatherhood.

“I’d like to see my students coming away from this class with an understanding that there are a host of men’s problems that need to be addressed,” said adjunct professor Andrew Yarrow, who received his doctorate in American history from Mason in 2006. “These problems are affecting many men in the United States and that ends up hurting men, women, children, and the country’s economy and politics.”

The class was taught in-person through lectures, discussions and a variety of group projects, including a survey of campus attitudes toward men and masculinity.

Mason history alum and adjunct professor Andrew Yarrow teaches Honors 130 “What’s the Matter with Men: Problems and Possibilities.” Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications

“From this class I have become much more aware of the complex social issues that face men,” said Katherine Camberg, a junior majoring in global affairs. “Hearing my peers' perspectives on gender roles was surprising and informative.”

Michael Balasa, an Honors College junior majoring in economics, said that he’s enjoyed the class, especially when it came to surveying students about gender bias on campus and then evaluating the results.

“Our results were very provocative,” Balasa said. “People at colleges and universities tend to have more of a modern view of masculinity and believe that you can decide what masculinity means for you. Men who are more inclined to have a traditional view of masculinity might have trouble with the post-secondary education culture.”

Balasa’s group also found that students who identified as conservative politically tended to embrace a more traditional notion of masculinity.

“One problem that men face is that many of them are still under the spell of traditional ideas of masculinity, which makes their lives more challenging,” said Yarrow, a public policy consultant and author who has written extensively on men in U.S. society.

“We have seen the ugly misogyny and the far right men’s rights movement. I want my students to understand that while what some men are saying and doing is wrong, there are reasons for it—that there are men in this country struggling and suffering.”

John M. Woolsey, director of faculty and curriculum development at the Honors College, said the course is representative of the broader inquiries Honors College students are exploring in Honors 130: Identity, Community and Difference. The Honors College plans to offer the class again next fall, said Woolsey.

“The course places our notions of these concepts of identity in historical context and encourages students to collaboratively pursue their relevance for the contemporary moment,” Woolsey said.

Ekrem Kaya, a freshman majoring in computational and data sciences, said that it’s important to destigmatize conversations about masculinity.

 “[Mason] should consider having more than one section of this class and opening it up beyond the Honors College,” Kaya said.