Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 29, May 2012
Anthony Synnott

Re-Thinking Men:
Heroes, Villains and Victims

Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7546-7709-3 (hbk), 297 pp. £65.00

reviewed by Yves Laberge

  1. Dr. Anthony Synnott is a professor of sociology at Concordia University in Montréal and a prolific author.[1] His most recent book in gender studies could have been titled 'Revalorizing men in the post-feminist era.' During the months following its publication, Professor Synnott's book created a commotion and a worrying debate in some of the Montréal daily newspapers and blogs, opposing feminists and moderate readers, including men and women on each side. After more than two years, some portions of these odd debates can still be found on the Internet. As in many controversies related to the release of a provocative book, most of the angry readers had not read the book, but they wanted to express either their indignation or approval regarding this work, its ideas and even its author. Sadly, there were many misunderstandings, exaggerations and some unfair comments in these blogs, mostly by people who had never held Synnott's works in their hands.
  2. First, because many misguiding comments have been made regarding this book, it would be important and fair to explain what Anthony Synnott's perspective is and is not. Synnott's Re-Thinking Men: Heroes, Villains and Victims is a scholarly work about social representations, stereotypes, clichés, prejudice against men and women; it aptly demonstrates how some men can be scapegoats or victims of prejudice against men in general. And this phenomenon is not just the opposite movement from some hypothetical 'women seeking revenge against the oppressive men'; it is far more complex and unpredictable, as men can also be violent against other men and not only against women. But as the author argues, 'we are more sensitive to the injustices against women far away' (p. 235).
  3. Synnott's book comes in seven chapters. In the first half, the author identifies five models of gender: the Romantic model, Patriarchal model, Misandric model, Post-Modern model (or chaos theory), and the gender/class/ethnic conflict model (p. 59). The book's title is explained towards the last chapters, when the author criticises the 'tough on crime policies' in the USA and pleas for a reform of justice and laws which statistically target more men than women: 'our legal systems continue to put men away into horrendous conditions as if they were garbage. We need to re-think men, and our policies towards them' (p. 235). In many passages, Anthony Synnott questions the radical movements related to feminism and some of their scholarly writings, asking if it might be possible that someone has gone too far? Using various examples, mainly from books and magazines, Synnott conceptualises the 'demonization of men' and the 'angelization of women' (p. 75). Furthermore, Synnott indicates that men can be victims as well from violence made by men and women (p. 76).
  4. Using data and statistics, Synnott brings in some gender differentiation related to health and lifestyles: 'Men drink more, smoke more, use illegal drugs more, and start all of these usages at younger ages than women; they also have poorer nutrition' (p. 226). Furthermore, Synnott adds that 'boys are 2–4 times more likely to suffer from learning disabilities'; and in the USA, young boys are being more medicated than girls, especially those who are seen as being 'too active' (p. 230).
  5. On the other hand, Anthony Synnott's book is neither a plea for a male supremacy nor for a return to the 'old dominance' of males over females; in fact, the author would be the first one to admit and point out that these oppressive moves against women do still exist. However, in order to appreciate Synnott's demonstration, the reader must be able to seize and appreciate nuance in a scholarly demonstration.
  6. Using concepts borrowed from sociology and political science, Anthony Synnott relates feminism with power and ideology. Therefore, 'portraits of women as heroes negate the ideology of women as victims, which is surely a more positive self-concept and an ideological advance' (p. 80). Elsewhere, Anthony Synnott demonstrates that new forms of sexism against men now seem to be accepted and legitimated in popular discourses: 'The origins of this new sexism as an ideology lie partly, therefore, in some of the feminist thinkers from the 60s to the present, and have been institutionalized in popular culture' (p. 155).
  7. It is clear that Anthony Synnott is not against feminism; he criticises some exaggerations in radical feminism (the misandric model) that implies sexism or prejudice against men (p. 80). Synnott has written two books against misogyny two decades ago (p. 162).[2] Nowadays, he has to fight a similar challenge in the opposite direction: misandry (p. 162). However, being simultaneously a man and a critic of radical feminism can sometimes be an uncomfortable position.
  8. Anthony Synnott criticizes as well other sociologists in gender studies such as Michael Kimmel, who wrote that «Men are in power» (Kimmel, quoted by Synnott, p. 220). Here, Anthony Synnott indicates that most beggars, prisoners,and the dead bodies in battlefields are indeed men (p. 220). Synnott criticises Kimmel once more in other passages, accusing him of following political correctness (p. 254).
  9. However, I have two quibbles about this scholarly text which sometimes is written like an essay. Anthony Synnott often uses in his demonstrations cases and examples that can be seen as unusual, exceptional or unique. For example in his section on 'Female violence,' his long enumeration of female murderers in US history are isolated and became famous because they were tragically opposed to the usual model of 'women being victims of men' (pp. 240–45). This reversed situation can happen as well, and seems to be as shocking and horrifying, no matter if the killer is a woman or a man.
  10. My other quibble is the fact that Anthony Synnott sometimes used unreliable sources in his scholarly book; for example relying on Maclean's magazine's list of the most important Canadians in history is absolutely misguiding since their list does not even feature any person from Québec, as Synnott rightly acknowledges (p. 124).
  11. In my view, Anthony Synnott's Re-Thinking Men: Heroes, Villains and Victims is arguably the most thought-provoking book in gender studies in the past decade. I suspect many scholars would have liked to write it, but very few could have dared to. Anthony Synnott's knowledge of feminist theories is impressive; as such, he provides a useful 'who's who' in gender studies. Hence, I suspect Synnott's book might even be used in classes by radical professors to demonstrate what their opponents' arguments are and how to detract them. In the academia, being a radical does not imply that radicals cannot go wrong, and that is exactly what this welcome book demonstrates with wit and nuance. Anthony Synnott even goes beyond Pierre Bourdieu in his book La domination masculine.[3]
  12. Anthony Synnott should be seen as a pioneer in men's studies in Canada, while professor Victor-Laurent Tremblay published the first analysis of men in Canadian literature[4] and Jason Laker edited the first anthology dedicated to the representations of men in Canada.[5]


    [1] Anthony Synnott, The Body Social: Symbolism, Self and Society, London: Routledge, 1993; Synnott, Shadows: Issues and Social Problems in Canada, Toronto: Prentice-Hall, 1996.

    [2] Synnott, The Body Social: Symbolism, Self and Society, and Shadows: Issues and Social Problems in Canada.

    [3] Pierre Bourdieu, La domination masculine, Paris: Seuil, collection Liber, 1998.

    [4] Victor-Laurent Tremblay. Être ou ne pas être un homme. La masculinité dans le roman québécois, Ottawa: Éditions David, 2011.

    [5] Jason Laker (ed.), Canadian Perspectives on Men & Masculinities. An Interdisciplinary Reader, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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Last modified: 26 April 2012 0949