Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

"There's No Teleology to It; It's Just about the Spirit of Play": Men, Intimacy, and "Late" Modernity

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

"There's No Teleology to It; It's Just about the Spirit of Play": Men, Intimacy, and "Late" Modernity

Article excerpt

How do men conduct their sexual and relational lives in contemporary Australia? Certainly, their circumstances have changed. Australian women now have increased autonomy compared with earlier generations and demand equality in public and private life. There has been a broad shift towards an ideal of intimacy founded on emotional disclosure and reciprocity, while changes in definitions of family and in family forms are reflected in rising divorce rates, single-parent families, sole-occupant households, de facto relationships, and the increasing acceptance of sexual minorities. As the title of this paper (a quote from one of our participants) implies, the certainties that characterized modern intimate life, and buttressed a hegemonic male sexuality defined by action and virility, are perhaps less present in contemporary men's experiences of sex and intimacy.

This paper emerges from a pilot study designed to explore the ways Australian men are conducting their intimate and sexual relationships in light of these social changes in personal life. (1) Maybe, what is happening for Australian men might reveal something about what is happening to men in other advanced, post-industrial cultures? In particular, we sought to re-examine assertions that men are largely incapable of thinking about, or unwilling to reflect upon and discuss, intimate aspects of their personal lives (Levant & Brooks, 1997). Such assertions reproduce a familiar portrait of men that depends on either a "male sex drive discourse" (Hollway, 1984) or a limited sex role theory of masculinity (see Connell, 1987, 1995). This familiar portrait is dull to the social and historical context in which men make sense of their lives as men--a context that is clearly changing. Men are likely to experience their sexual and relational lives as sites of tension and complexity, wherein established patterns of gendered behavior, particularly in heterosexual relationships, come into conflict with changing expectations of how men should comport themselves and organize their sexual and intimate relationships.

There certainly remains an ongoing and salient sexual "double standard" in many Australian men's and women's lives. Indeed, men are still freer than women to engage in varied sexual and relational behaviors that have negative implications for women (Flood, 2003; Kimmel, 2005). However, there is also evidence of changing patterns of relationship organization, and this has implications for how men might experience intimacy and sex (Allen, 2003; Richters & Rissel, 2005: Roseneil, 2000). In this paper, we seek to elucidate some of these tensions and shifts in the lives of a small sample of men in Melbourne, Australia. We asked similar questions of gay and heterosexual men, and present our findings side by side--for, as Dowsett (1993) has previously argued, any conceptualization of masculinity that does not include gay men ultimately fails to explain the ways sexuality and gender intersect in the lives of all men--gay, straight or otherwise.

Men, Intimacy and Late Modernity: A Theoretical Perspective

Psychological and behavioral research mostly describes men's emotional restrictiveness and views men as socialized into a male social (or gender) role that requires adherence to an active and assertive sexuality if a successful masculine identity is to be achieved (Jansz, 2000; Levant & Brooks, 1997; Levant, Hall, Williams, & Hasan, 2009). As its worst, this model of male sexuality pathologizes men as a singularity, with little exploration of the diversity of their sexual identities and relationships or sex practices. The model also ignores shifts in norms and ideals pertaining to sexuality and gender over time.

A solid critique of these approaches to gender and masculinity is well established (Connell, 1987, 1995; Segal, 2007). An understanding of masculinity as a configuration of practice, rather than a fixed gender role, offers a stronger account of the historicized contestation and remaking of masculinity (Connell, 1995; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). …

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