There is abundant evidence that masculinities are multiple, with internal complexities and even contradictions; also that masculinities change in history, and that women have a considerable role in making them, in interaction with boys and men.
I have been an interested observer of masculinities all my life, but began to think of this as a researchable issue in the late 1970s. At that time, anyone interested in power structures could see that the feminist challenge to patriarchy must mean changes in the lives of men.
A research project on secondary schools, described in the Education section, crystallized this idea. Interviewing boys, teachers and parents, we could see active hierarchies of masculinity in school settings. The term ‘hegemonic masculinity’ was first used in a 1982 report from this project, and my first essay on men and masculinities was published in the same year.
I didn’t think of it that way. My theoretical concern was the gender order as a whole; masculinity was one piece of the jigsaw. As an empirical researcher, I was very conscious of the thin base of evidence on which all discussions of masculinities rested at that time. So I set up a fieldwork project, which was denounced by a right-wing group in federal parliament, before it even began.
The project turned out well, with a series of papers that described the dynamics of masculinities in different social settings. Eventually this became the core of the book Masculinities. I had been reluctant to write such a book, as I thought the genre of ‘Books About Men’ – astonishingly popular in the early 1990s – fostered the illusion of one fixed natural masculinity. When I did start writing, the draft was promptly rejected by a well-known US publisher.
Other publishers kindly launched the book in 1995, and it seemed to meet a need. It has been very widely cited, translated into six other languages, and went into a second edition in 2005. It is in fact my best-known work, and I am charmed that it is cited in places as diverse as Voprosi Filosofii (Problems of Philosophy), the Shakespeare Quarterly, and Social Science & Medicine.
Social research on masculinities had obvious implications for practical problems, including violence prevention, the education of boys, action on men’s health, and the promotion of gender equality. With different groups of colleagues, I have written reports and papers that gather the research findings and concepts together to help activists and policy makers in all of those fields. A number were collected in The Men and the Boys.
The most ambitious project came in 2003-04, when I worked with United Nations agencies to survey research and prepare policy ideas on 'the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality'. This led up to a policy document adopted at a meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, in New York. It was fascinating to see the diplomats in their natural habitat, and to see other bureaucracies in action. It is hard to know how much influence such documents have. But there have been more efforts to create international projects concerned with changing masculinities and improving gender relations. I have given some help to a project in South-east Asia on engaging men in violence reduction. The interview below was done at a meeting of this project.
Work with the United Nations made me think harder about the international dimension in masculinity research. In 1998 I published a conceptual paper on ‘Masculinities and globalization’, that suggested new patterns of masculinity might be emerging in transnational spaces. This needed empirical testing, and in more recent work I have been exploring managerial masculinities in the global economy, with colleagues in Chile and Japan, José Olavarría and Futoshi Taga.
By now the theoretical framework from the 1980s had become a bit ragged. The idea of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ in particular had been fiercely debated. I re-evaluated this concept in 2005 in a joint paper with James Messerschmidt in the United States, which has been very widely cited.
Connell, Raewyn. 2014. Margin becoming centre: for a world-centred rethinking of masculinities. NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, vol. 9 no. 4, 217-231.
Most of the international literature on gender and masculinity uses conceptual frameworks derived from the global North. This paper discusses the significance of coloniality, the global archive on masculinities, and Southern perspectives on issues about men and masculinities.
Connell, Raewyn. 2010. Im Innern des gläsernen Turms: Die Konstruktion von Männlichkeiten im Finanzkapital Feministische Studien, vol. 28 no. 1, 8-24. English version: Inside the glass tower: the construction of masculinities in finance capital. Pp. 65-79 in Paula McDonald and Emma Jeanes, ed., Men, Wage Work and Family, New York & London, Routledge, 2012.