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American Sociological Association: Michael Messner Award Statement
Michael A. Messner, Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California, is the 2012 recipient of the Jessie Bernard Award. Mike Messner is a leading sociologist of gender. He is widely regarded as the leading figure in the study of gender and sports. In his many books and articles he has addressed head on a fundamental conundrum in the struggle for gender equality, illustrated through sports as a pivotal site of gender politics. Why is it that women’s increased equality in every arena of sports has led to dramatic increases in participation at every level of sport, and yet failed to transform the public’s relationship toward, and media coverage of, women’s sports? He has addressed all institutional levels of this intellectual terrain. It’s All for the Kids (2009) focuses on women and men volunteer coaches of youth soccer leagues. Power at Play: Sports and the Problem of Masculinity (1992) assesses masculinities through the social and physical hierarchies of sports. Professor Messner won the Outstanding Book Award from the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport not only for Power at Play, but also for Taking the Field: Women, Men, and Sports (2002), which underscores the immense challenges and contradictions between liberal feminist claims of gains in equality and cultural and institutional analyses that reveal complex struggles for women’s progress in the still male-dominated institution of sport. He is the only scholar to have won this award twice. He has also done a good deal of scholarship focusing on masculinities and contemporary men’s movements more broadly, as in his 1997 book, Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements, or his 2007 Gender & Society article on the masculinity displays of Arnold Schwarzenegger (more recent events in the former Governor’s life have provided other examples of masculinity displays), and his 2005 Signs article on the imagery of the “male loser” in beer and liquor ads shown at mega-sports events such as the Super Bowl.
His writings have also been central for feminist teaching; Men’s Lives, published originally in 1989, has now gone through eight editions and remains one of the most widely used and valued feminist texts, very influential in interdisciplinary teaching on men and masculinity. He himself is also an accomplished teacher, having won several teaching awards at USC.
Professor Messner has held a wide variety of administrative positions through which he has worked to institutionalize feminist research and pedagogies. He has served as the Director of Graduate Studies and as Department Chair in the USC Department of Sociology. He has also served as the USC Gender Studies Program Interim Director, as well as the Director for the USC Center for Feminist Research “New Directions in Feminist Research” faculty seminar. His work is not limited to the academy; in addition to dozens of talks for community organizations, he has brought his expertise to the service of several community organizations, such as Children Now, a statewide child advocacy organization; the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Men’s Resource Center for Change, serving on Advisory Boards for both of these organizations; and the California Women’s Law Center, for whom he served as an expert witness in a suit to provide equal recreation facilities for girls in Los Angeles. He has launched critical longitudinal media analyses with the Amateur Athletic Association, generating reports on divergences between women’s structural progress in sport and both overt and subtle sexist media coverage of their accomplishments.
Professor Messner has received many professional recognitions. He has been a President of the Pacific Sociological Association, President of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, Chair of the Sex and Gender Section, the SWS Distinguished Feminist Lecturer, and a recipient of the Career of Distinguished Service Award by the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport. He was named one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Sports Educators” by the Institute for International Sports. He has served on the Editorial Boards of many key journals, among them the American Sociological Review, Gender & Society, Sociological Perspectives, Men and Masculinities, and the Journal of Sport and Social Issues.
As a colleague of Mike’s wrote: “Sociology is often a grim subject, documenting oppression, marginalization, and the disappointment of hopes. Messner is the kind of intellectual who can face these realities, but can also see the humane and democratic possibilities in human institutions such as sport.” Mike Messner inspires all who work with him to do more and better feminist work, both in the academy and beyond.