Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

The Politics of Gendered Emotions: Disrupting Men's Emotional Investment in Privilege

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

The Politics of Gendered Emotions: Disrupting Men's Emotional Investment in Privilege

Article excerpt

Introduction

Much of the populist writing about heterosexual men (Bly 1990; Keen 1991; Biddulph 2004) has focused on their emotional inexpressiveness and restricted emotionality as key arenas of change for men. Connell (2000) has termed the set of interventions that respond to men's restricted emotionality as 'masculinity therapy', whereby men are encouraged to overcome their emotional illiteracy and face their vulnerabilities to achieve higher levels of intimacy with women, children and other men. One of the implications of this form of masculinity politics has been to underplay and sometimes ignore male privilege and men's social dominance and to portray men's difficulty in expressing emotions as a form of victimhood that contributes to their physical and mental health problems (Sattell 1989; McLean 1996). While populist writing about men focuses on men's emotions and neglects their social power, critical masculinity studies and profeminist masculinity politics have neglected the role of emotions in men's lives (Rutherford 1992; Seidler 1997; Petersen 1998; Connell 2000).

In contrast to the populist writings about men referred to earlier, profeminist perspectives (Pease 2000a; Connell 2005; Hearn & Pringle 2006; Ruspini et al. 2011) locate men's lives in the context of patriarchy, hegemonic masculinity and the social divisions between men. Profeminist approaches involve men in taking responsibility for their own and other men's sexism, and a commitment to work with women to end men's violence (Douglas 1993). They acknowledge that men benefit from the oppression of women and draw men's attention to the privileges they receive as men and the harmful effects these privileges have on women (Thorne-Finch 1992).

Profeminist masculinity studies have also been critical of the association of emotions such as rage and anger with men's violence, as these are argued to provide excuses for men to deny responsibility for their actions (Gondolf & Russell 1986; Hearn 1998; Pease 2002a). However, profeminist activists and critical masculinity theorists have often failed to grasp the importance of men's emotionality, especially in relation to their emotional attachment to privilege, for perpetrating violence and maintaining unequal gender relations.

In this paper, my aim is to explore men's emotional investment in male supremacy on the basis that men's emotional attachment to power has been neglected in critical studies on men and masculinities. Towards this end, I revisit the literature on men and emotions, as it pertains to heterosexual men in the West, in the context of understanding men's privilege and unearned advantage.

In conclusion I outline pedagogical strategies that I have used in memory-work research and patriarchy awareness workshops in Australia that have elicited men's emotional responses to gender injustice. I locate these strategies within a 'pedagogy of discomfort' (Boler 1999) and I suggest that such strategies may be useful in challenging men's resistance to acknowledging and addressing male privilege and abusive practices in Western contexts more broadly.

My references to 'men' throughout this paper pertain specifically to white, straight Western men, whereas the mainstream literature on men and emotions tends to discuss men as a homogenous category that fails to acknowledge diversity and difference in men's lives. While critical masculinity studies has moved beyond the assumption of a single unified masculinity, most of the literature on men's emotional inexpressiveness and its association with dominant forms of masculinity is premised on an unstated presumption of heterosexuality and whiteness. There is little acknowledgement in this literature on the emotional expressiveness of gay men or the influence of race, ethnicity or regional location on men's emotions. Thus, the reader needs to be reminded that the references to men in the literature on male inexpressiveness refers to white, straight men in Western contexts. …

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