After his divorce more than a decade ago, Leonard Duroche began contemplating the relationship between fathers and sons, particularly his own. That reflection was a turning point in his career and prompted Mr. Duroche, a German professor at the University of Minnesota, to offer a course called "The Making of the Modern Male."
This new class is one example of a small field on college campuses: men's studies. Interest in examining what it means to be male is growing as more universities offer courses on men and professors in disciplines ranging from history to English integrate the study of men in their teaching.
Men and women who take "The Making of the Modern Male," which focuses on masculinity in the post-Enlightenment period, read novels such as "Huckleberry Finn," "Death of a Salesman," and poetry by Robert Bly. Students chew over topics from domestic violence to pornography. Many men say the class "has changed how they look at themselves and the way they deal with women," Duroche says.
Scholars say men are reevaluating their roles in society and questioning or rebelling against stereotypes that label them as macho or insensitive.
The feminist movement has also had some influence as men seek to replicate the kinds of consciousness-raising discussions women have had. And the academic focus on men coincides with the men's movement, groups such as Promise Keepers (a Christian men's group), and books and journals on the male experience.
"Men are beginning to think more about how society makes men indispensable ... or the ways we make our lives more difficult, by overworking, or whatever," says Duroche. "A lot of men want to change that.... In other cases they want to understand the relationship with women and other men - fathers, friends - better."
Men's studies is emerging only slowly on campuses. "I don't see this as having the kind of transformative effect on the curriculum as women's studies had," says Michael Kimmel, sociology professor at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.
In the past two decades, women's studies programs have cropped up at more than 600 schools and have forced other disciplines to re-examine the study of women. No university offers a degree in men's studies. But course numbers are increasing, from about 40 in 1984 to more than 300 today, says the American Men's Studies Association in Northampton, Mass.
More commonly, colleges are starting 'gender studies' programs to bridge the gap. Saint John's University, an all-men's college in Collegeville, Minn., started one two years ago with Saint Benedict, a nearby women's school. Now it offers courses such as "Men's Lives in Literature and Film," which covers books and films from Hemingway's "In Our Time," to "Born on the 4th of July."
While the course draws a majority of men, many men's studies courses attract more women. "In our introduction to genders studies we get almost 50-50 men and women," says Michael Messner, an associate professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. "The upper-division courses like 'Men and Masculinity' is where men drop out. It has something to do with the fact that men feel kind of insecure about taking courses in those areas. They feel that by signing up it would be a public admission that they don't know everything about masculinity."
But for some students, taking a men's studies class doesn't require courage. "I'm interested in thinking about what it means to be a man, especially in the post-'60s era when there are serious critiques of masculinity and a challenge to the way men acted in the past," says Andrew Walzer, a grad student at the University of Minnesota.
"I've learned a lot.... I'm beginning to think about how to not be as isolated around other men ... and hopefully I don't go around treating women in authoritarian ways," he says.
So far, there are few fears of an academic war between the sexes.
Men's studies teachers say they're not trying to compete with women's studies. "The study of men and masculinity ... has been a way to support and expand the things women's studies scholars have been doing," Professor Messner says. "But I think there is an element of backlash from others that women's studies and feminism have gone too far ... that now we need to carve out more space for men."
Most women's studies professors aren't wary. "We think the fact that men have begun looking at themselves is all to the good," says Sally Kitch, chair of women's studies at Ohio State University in Columbus. "It's not a threat here."