Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

On the Functionality of Marginalized Masculinities and Femininities: An Ethnography on Organizational Power and Gender Performances

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

On the Functionality of Marginalized Masculinities and Femininities: An Ethnography on Organizational Power and Gender Performances

Article excerpt

This ethnography tells of the social construction of masculinities and femininities in The Group, a charismatic social change movement. While sex essentialism led to sex-segregated jobs and only two authorized gender performances, men performing hegemonic masculinity and women performing emphasized femininities, alter-natives existed. Alternative gender performances-for example, men performing emphasized femininity, men performing marginalized masculinity, and women performing hegemonic masculinity--were functional to organization. While these alternative gen-der performances were allowed, they were not acknowledged in the sex essentialist organizational discourse.

This ethnography attempts to show how an organization has authorized versions of gender performances in its organizational discourse (Telford, 1997), while at the same time has alternative gender performances that are permitted but not acknowledged. In the subject organization, the definition of which types of gender performances are authorized and which are deviant is a result of patriarchial authority. Organizational and occupational cultures define its authorized gender performances that may differ slightly or significantly from the current Euro-American, heterosexist, middle-upper class, Christian-Judeo norms.

The discourse of sex essentialism unquestioningly assumes that biological sex and gender performance are inseparably linked, and that sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, and physical ability play no role in gender performance. From a social constructionist perspective (Cheng, 1996; Garfinkel, 1967; Kessler & McKenna, 1978; Lorber, 1994; West & Zimmerman, 1987), sex does not predetermine gender behavior performed, social order does (Garfinkel, 1967; Kessler & McKenna, 1978), as in the case of the organization under study, The Group (a pseudonym), a charismatic cultic Christian revisionist communal social change movement.


In 1923, The Group was founded in the U.S.A. after the founder, also referred to as Spiritual Leader I, "came into consciousness" (enlightenment) after experiencing days of rapture that were preceded by a period of severe depression. He was a working-poor class, grade-school educated, son of a Christian preacher, Euro-American male. His later more public emergence occurred during the American Great Depression of the 1930s.

The founder stated that The Group's revolutionary social change mission was to "assist in the spiritual regeneration of humankind" (to act as a change agent to save humankind from its own evils). In 1946, Spiritual Leader I founded his first "unit" (commune), from which "mailings" (transcriptions of his addresses) could be mailed, and where residential "classes" (resocialization) could be held and members could live communally to "prove out" his vision. After the founder died in a plane crash in 1956, the Spiritual Leader II succeeded him. During his thirty-three year tenure, Spiritual Leader II built a worldwide organiza-tion of twelve "units" in western Caucasian Christian dominated countries and five front-stage (Goffman, 1958/1969) organizations. These organizations presented themselves to the general public as non-profit foundations interested in business ethics, educational improvement, holistic health, and media responsibility. On the back stage, the purpose of these front organizations was to feed recruits into a global chain of patriarchal Christian revisionist charismatic communes (see: Cheng, 1997a).

At the peak of membership in the 1980s, total membership was approximately 2,300 members.(1) About 30 percent (690) of the members lived communally as "unit members" (permanent full-time residents) in "units" that ranged in size from approximately 20 to 150 "unit members." About five percent (115) of the total membership lived in "centers" (suburban and urban communal homes). The rest of the membership lived non-communally in cities and held jobs in conventional society. …

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