“In 1977, there was an issue of the African studies journal Cahiers d’Études africaines devoted to women (Vidal 1977c). In the foreword, Claudine Vidal told of the obstacles that it had been necessary to overcome in order to complete this project, which was new in two ways, because it involved asking women to write about women in Africa. Her initiative provoked many outraged reactions among her male colleagues: “‘When will there be an issue on homosexuals?’ […] ‘Will the issue on w… [whores] be coming out soon?’” (Vidal 1977a). However, apparently, nobody thought of seriously asking the question: when will there be an issue on men? Perhaps Vidal’s colleagues thought they were well-represented in research literature, but it is also clear that they did not think this category needed examining.
In fact, for a long time, the point of view observed and reproduced by social science researchers, although implicitly presented as applicable to all, was a mainly masculine one, particularly in on-site anthropological research. As emphasized early on by Denise Paulme (1960, 9), “ethnographic research is almost always conducted with the help of and among male elements of the population alone, so the resulting image is, broadly, the one that men alone have of their society.” The development of feminist studies and then gender studies, from the 1970s onwards, exposed this androcentric distortion of the gaze, and offered a means of correcting it, by increasing the number of studies on women. In doing so, it partly helped to maintain a long-standing blind-spot in social science research (both in Africa and elsewhere): the analysis of constructions of masculinity (Cornwall and Lindisfarne 1995).”
The paragraphs are extracted from the article “Examining Masculinities in Africa and Beyond’, by Christophe Broqua and Anne Doquet, which appeared in a special issue of Cahiers d’études africaines 1/2013 on Masculinities. You can read the rest of the article here.