Masculinity, Law, and the Family

By Richard Collier | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1


On law and masculinity


Why another book on masculinity? It is becoming difficult to keep up with the books and articles exploring the social construction of masculinity. Each week, it seems, sees the publication of another. Yet amongst this now considerable literature addressing masculinity, it is curious that there are few texts which take as the specific object of study the relationship between masculinity and law. What follows draws on this existing literature on masculinity—variously termed ‘the new sociology’ or ‘critical studies’ of masculinity 1 —but its object is quite specific and novel. It is an attempt to theorise the relation between masculinity and legal discourse and to explore the construction of masculinity in areas of law pertaining to the family. Specifically, it seeks to unpack representations in law of male sexuality (Chapters 3 and 4) and paternity, fatherhood and men’s violences (Chapters 5 and 6). It is a book which attempts to ‘defetishise’ the law—to engage in an analysis ‘whereby the given is shown to be not a natural but a socially and historically constituted, and thus changeable reality’ (Benhabib 1986:47).

Though the focus of this book is law and the family, and the ways in which roles therein are differentiated according to gender, the conclusions have implications for legal studies generally as well as for gender studies and the sociology of masculinity. The book is, in short, not just concerned with the relationship between masculinity and law; it is about the very ideas and understandings we have of masculinity, law and family life—and of what it is to be a man in our society.

Given that the problematic, contested and political nature of masculinity and male sexuality has long been identified by feminist


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