Masculine Identity Negotiation in Everyday Australian Life: An Ethno-Discursive Study in a Gym Setting

By Gill, Peter; Teese, Robert et al. | International Journal of Men's Health, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Masculine Identity Negotiation in Everyday Australian Life: An Ethno-Discursive Study in a Gym Setting


Gill, Peter, Teese, Robert, Sonn, Christopher, International Journal of Men's Health


Identity formation and negotiation is a key contributor to the health and wellbeing of men and much is still to be learnt about how identity processes operate in everyday life. This study used an ethno-discursive methodology informed by critical discursive psychology to investigate adult male identity in an everyday gym setting in inner city Melbourne. Analysis of interview data showed that men identified with shared hegemonic definitions of masculinity, such as autonomy, independence, and potent heterosexuality. Our ethnographic analysis also showed that the men used reflective processes to negotiate, subvert, and exaggerate these discourses. The findings further demonstrate the utility of safe male environments such as gymnasiums and men's sheds where men can share friendships, common activities, and negotiate masculine pressures.

Keywords: masculinity, identity, ethnography, discourse analysis, ethno-discursive, men's health

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Gender plays a significant role in social life and social organisation, and so too does the extent to which one identifies with one's gender identity (Beasley, 2008). Research demonstrating the existence of multiple masculinities (e.g., Connell, 1995; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005; Edley & Wetherell, 1997; Finn & Henwood, 2009) has drawn further interest to the discourses of hegemonic masculinity and the impact associated with aspiring to or performing hegemonic masculine discourses such as strength, individuality, stoicism, rationality and heterosexual potency. Masculine discourses can be understood as socially constructed and communicated meanings regarding being a man that inform and permeate conversations and behaviours (Wetherell, 2007). Research has indicated that men rejecting traditional masculine discourses in favour of other masculinities may still compare themselves to hegemonic discourses (de Visser, 2009; de Visser & Smith, 2006, 2007; Edley & Wetherell, 1997). Furthermore, whilst distancing themselves from certain hegemonic discourses and behaviours, they may focus instead on how they are masculine in other ways, embodying and performing other elements of hegemonic masculinity (de Visser & Smith, 2007; de Visser, Smith & McDonnell, 2009). Research also suggests that men may embody different masculine discourses according to context (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). Such findings leave open a need to further investigate the links between masculine discourses and the subjective experiences of men, and how they deal with potential conflicts with hegemonic masculinity. These experiential accounts of the identity negotiation process may be critical in mental health outcomes for men.

Previous research has demonstrated that hegemonic masculine discourses (e.g., strength, stoicism) can contribute to negative physical health outcomes for men (Creighton & Oliffe, 2010; Evans, Frank, Oliffe & Gregory, 2011; Lumb, 2003; Mahalik, Levi-Minzi, & Walker, 2007). For example, Corboy, Macdonald and McLaren (2011) found that men experiencing serious health concerns would often, in line with the negotiation of their masculine identity, downplay their health concerns, and minimise symptoms and the need to seek medical attention. Lumb (2003) argued that "men's health is significantly socially constructed, meaning that masculine values and practices, as well as men's location in social structures and environments, influence their health outcomes" (p. 74). In particular, it has been argued that certain groups of men (e.g., the working class, low socio economic status) are more likely to experience negative effects associated with this process, as exemplified through poorer health outcomes and increased vulnerability to psychological conflict related to the internalisation of hegemonic scripts (Evans et al., 2011; Lumb, 2003). Whilst past research and government initiatives have noted these effects, the lived experiences of these men have been largely ignored by academics (Evans et al. …

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