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He's Seeking a New Chapter in Attitudes Toward Men

February 22, 2001|MARTIN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A bookshelf of one's own. Actually, an entire book section--that's what Marc Angelucci is pushing for at his local Barnes & Noble. For the past month, the 32-year-old attorney has been collecting signatures in hopes of persuading the giant book chain to reserve space for men's studies.

Those primed by decades of gender warfare might retort that the bookstore already stocks plenty about men's studies. Take a look in "history," "business," or any other category that has long been dominated by men.

While understandable, such a response misses the point, Angelucci said. His campaign is not borne of a "Well, women have a section so why don't we?" mentality. Rather, it comes from an earnest desire for self-enlightenment among men and a reduction of harsh rhetoric aimed at men from women.

"Male-bashing has too often been given a free ride," he said. "I saw a greeting card recently that read, 'If you can hear a man whining, you're not pushing [the pillow] hard enough.' "

Confusion about the relatively new academic field isn't surprising or uncommon to academics who specialize in gender studies. In explaining what men's studies is, sociology professor Peter Nardi of Pitzer College has found it's best to first clarify what it is not: "It's not about people who have been studied and surveyed extensively [in the past] at the expense of women. Rather, what it is is studying men in terms of their masculinity. Studying them not as a demographic category, but with a sense of how they act, feel and think as a result of society's expectations and definitions about masculinity."

Men's studies titles would include "Iron John: A Book About Men," by Robert Bly (Vintage Books, 1992); "Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man" by Susan Faludi (William Morrow, 2000); and "Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons From the Myths of Boyhood" by William S. Pollack (Owl Books, 1999).

At first, Angelucci's views may sound like those of an "angry white male." But other than being white and male, he hardly fits the profile. He's putting his top-notch legal education to work as an advocate for the mentally ill, not corporate America. (His brother is autistic.) He's also not a Republican or a Democrat. Instead, he describes himself as a Green Party member with socialist sympathies.

In fact, the term "angry white male" is a symptom of the problem, he says. The label, routinely tossed around in the mainstream media, promotes a negative stereotype of white men as over-privileged whiners. The media would never so carelessly use such a derisive term for minority groups--and it shouldn't, Angelucci contends. He simply wants the same standard applied to men.

In addition to writing numerous newspaper articles, he has mailed a batch of 1,000 signatures--about evenly split between men and women--calling for a men's study section to Barnes & Noble corporate headquarters in New York. And he is gathering still more.

Nina J. Gutin, a Los Angeles psychologist, recently added her name to the petition. Gutin argues that men's emotionally austere socialization discourages them from seeking help for medical and mental health concerns.

Her family's charitable foundation recently funded a study about men's health called "Asking for Directions," which found that 9 million men haven't seen a doctor in five years; men between the ages of 25 and 44 have a life expectancy that is seven years shorter than women; and men show higher rates of cardiovascular disease, ulcers, hypertension, migraines, substance dependency, mental illness and suicide.

"Men feel incredible pressure to present themselves as invulnerable," said Gutin. "Anything we can do to chip away at that stigma is healthy."

The past few weekends have seen Angelucci with pen and petition in hand in front of the Pasadena Barnes & Noble garnering hundreds more signatures. He's encouraged that the book store's main competitor, Borders Music & Books, has had a men's studies section for more than a decade.

"I've only received a form letter in response so far," laments the Los Feliz resident who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UC Berkeley as a philosophy major and from UCLA law school. "I'm going to keep going for a while longer anyway."

The petition drive notwithstanding, Barnes & Noble has no immediate plans to establish a men's studies section, according to Debra Williams, the bookstore's director of corporate communications. In its defense, Barnes & Noble says it already carries many of the titles that would constitute a men's study section but does so in other categories, such as "self-improvement" and "family and child care." Also, Williams said, many publishers and authors fear that being placed in men's studies may limit their audience.

"We stay abreast of changes in society," she said. "We do intend to keep Mr. Angelucci's feedback in mind."

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