Photo by Corey Wilson for St. Norbert College.
Harry Brod was a huge figure in the field of Masculinity Studies. And I don’t mean that just physically, although his size and girth ensured that at every conference, every meeting, he would be noticed.
Harry was among the few scholars who managed to fuse his academic interests with his activist sensibilities. He resisted the arbitrary separation of research and activism, and as a result he was both mentor and teacher, colleague and comrade, to so many over the years.
The child of Holocaust survivors, Harry was trained as a philosopher. After receiving his B.A. from New York University in 1972, he went to UC San Diego, where he was among the last cohorts of graduate students to work with Herbert Marcuse. Under Marcuse’s direction, he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation about Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, a dense tome that sets notions of freedom in larger social and moral contexts.
Even then, however, Harry became active in California anti-sexist men’s politics, attending some of the first California Men’s Gatherings, and thinking about how to engage men around men’s violence against women.
With a doctorate in Hegelian philosophy and an activist streak a mile wide, Harry found a permanent academic home hard to come by. After a couple of years at Cal State, San Bernardino, he was among the founding instructors in the Study of Women and Men in Society (SWMS) program at USC, and then held positions at Kenyon College, Harvard Law School, University of Delaware, Penn, and Temple before finally settling in 1999 at the University of Northern Iowa.
Along the way, he wrote or edited eight books, delivered hundreds of lectures, and also served on the National Council of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism. His first collection, The Making of Masculinities, was among the first efforts to define the new field of Masculinity Studies. His edited book A Mensch Among Men delineated a specific place for Jewish men in profeminist activism and thought. And his co-edited (with Michael Kaufman) volume Theorizing Masculinities brought forth what was, at the time, the most sophisticated thinking in Masculinity Studies defined by its accountable relationship to Women’s Studies. And, he was one of the founding editors of Men and Masculinities.
It was, ironically, in the middle of Iowa that Harry found support for both his engaged teaching and his activist work (not coincidentally connected to his change in departments from Philosophy to Sociology, and meeting Karen Mitchell, his partner of 18 years). It was here that he wrote his most well-known crossover book, Superman Was Jewish?, which located the origins of superhero comics in the experiences of Jewish immigrants; where he developed the filmed lecture Asking for It: The Ethics and Erotics of Sexual Consent, which offers the most careful exposition of “consent” around sexuality and sexual assault prevention; and where he worked with activist groups on campuses and in the community to address men’s violence against women.
Such a recitation of Harry’s accomplishments do an injustice to his dazzling wit, creative theorizing, erudition, and playful approach to ideas. His off-the-cuff feminist history of Valentine’s Day, the sexism of St. Patrick’s Day, the mind-body dualism of the necktie, or how to think, really think, about “consent,” were indelible. By turns Talmudic and funny, Harry was the essence of the public intellectual.
Harry Brod was also a huge presence in my life. Both politically and intellectually, Harry was a mentor, collaborator, political ally and dear friend. I will miss him greatly.