Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Studying Men and Masculinity

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Studying Men and Masculinity

Article excerpt

Feminism has challenged existing gender arrangements and intellectual orthodoxies. However, there is a strong tendency to assume that "gender" issues are issues about women. Feminist thought has sometimes reinforced this tendency, because feminist research has focussed on the lives of women. We must also examine men's gender practices, and the ways the gender order defines, positions, empowers and constrains men.

Men in gender relations

For a generation, the new feminism has challenged existing gender arrangements and intellectual orthodoxies. The challenge has led, inevitably, to questions about men in gender relations.

The inevitable has not always been obvious. Indeed, there is a strong tendency in many discussions to assume that "gender" issues are issues about women. Most politicians, bureaucrats and journalists assume that men are the norm, and that "gender" is about the way women differ from this norm. Thus gender issues in the public realm often in practice boil down to questions about the special needs of women. Feminist thought has sometimes reinforced this drift, because feminist research has, by and large, focussed on the lives of women. There have been good reasons for this, given the historic exclusion of women's experience from patriarchal culture.

Yet gender is inherently relational. Even if our understanding of gender is no more than "sex differences," there are always two terms in a difference. And a closer look at gender shows much more complex patterns than simple difference. Gender is also about relationships of desire and power, and these must be examined from both sides. In understanding gender inequalities it is essential to research the more privileged group as well as the less privileged. This requires more than simply an examination of men as a statistical category (though it is useful to do that, too). We must examine men's gender practices, and the ways the gender order defines, positions, empowers and constrains men.

The gender positions that society constructs for men may not correspond exactly with what men actually are, or desire to be, or what they actually do. It is therefore necessary to study masculinity as well as men. By "masculinity" I mean the pattern or configuration of social practices linked to the position of men in the gender order, and socially distinguished from practices linked to the position of women. (For discussions of this concept, see Clatterbaugh, 1998; Connell, 2000.)

Masculinity, understood as a configuration of practices in everyday life, is substantially a social construction. Masculinity refers to male bodies (sometimes symbolically and indirectly), but is not determined by male biology. It is, thus, perfectly logical to talk about "masculine" women, when women behave or present themselves in a way their society regards as distinctive of men (Halberstam, 1998).

Conceptions of gender

Masculinities are necessarily defined within a conception of gender. Approaches to gender in terms of sex roles, sex categories, and gender relations, yield different views of masculinity, which I will now briefly examine. (For further discussion of these frameworks, see Connell, 2002.)

Role theory is an approach to social analysis based on the power of custom and social conformity. People learn their roles, like actors, and then perform them under social pressure. "Sex role" theory explains gender patterns by appealing to the social customs that define proper behaviour for women and for men. Applied to men, sex role theory emphasizes the way expectations about proper masculine behaviour are conveyed to boys as they grow up, by parents, schools, mass media, and peer groups. This theory emphasizes the "role models" provided by sportsmen, military heroes, etc; and the social sanctions (from mild disapproval to violence) that are applied to boys and men who do not live up to the role norms.

This is a plausible approach to some issues about masculinity. …

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