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Masculinities

‘Masculinities’ are not the same as ‘men’.  To speak of masculinities is to speak about gender relations.  Masculinities concern the position of men in a gender order.  They can be defined as the patterns of practice by which people (both men and women, though predominantly men) engage that position.

In pop psychology, and a lot of popular belief, masculinity is set in concrete, fixed by the genes or by God, and impossible for women to influence.  'Boys will be boys', 'all men are like that'.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is abundant evidence that boys differ widely, masculinities are multiple, 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.  Anyone interested in power structures then could see that the Women's Liberation challenge to patriarchy must mean changes in the lives of men.

A close-focus research project on secondary schools, described in the Education section, crystallized this.  Interviewing boys, teachers and parents, we could see active hierarchies of masculinity in some 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 managed to get funding for a study of social theories of gender.  The research assistant job was taken as a job-share by John Lee and Tim Carrigan, both knowledgeable about gay theory and politics.  The fit was perfect, and we were soon developing a synthesis of ideas about masculinity from psychoanalysis, feminist theory, gay theory, and structural sociology.

This was published in 1985 in a long article that appeared just as a wave of interest in questions about men and masculinity was building up internationally.   Our paper was widely cited, several times reprinted and translated, and was seen as a founding text of ‘the new men’s studies’.

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 as a waste of public money, 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 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.

The new 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 prepare policy statements on 'the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality'.  This involved moderating on-line seminars, giving the background report at an ‘expert group’ meeting in Brazil, and then giving the opening statement 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.  But it is hard to know how much influence this work has.

Work with the UN reinforced the importance of 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 a joint paper with James Messerschmidt in the United States.

I am currently doing more conceptual work about masculinities, informed by the southern theory argument; and I'm giving some help with a South-east Asia project on engaging men in violence reduction.  The interview below was done at a meeting of this project.




A SELECTION OF TEN

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.

Report from the new life-history research on corporate masculinities, published in a leading German journal; even in the finance industry, the heartland of the new capitalism, there is a strong pattern of gender hierarchy.

Connell, Raewyn and James W. Messerschmidt. 2005. Hegemonic masculinity: rethinking the concept. Gender and Society, vol. 19 no. 6, 829-859.

A history of the concept and its uses, a review of the debates around it, and an attempt to re-state it in a more precise way. Widely cited in recent years; the concept is still useful, it seems.


Based on work done for the United Nations, argues the necessity of including men and boys in gender equity policy, explores the problems of doing so, and relates the practical issues to the research findings about masculinities.

Connell, Raewyn. 2000. The Men and the Boys. Sydney, Allen & Unwin; Cambridge, Polity Press; Berkeley, University of California Press.

A collection of essays and papers, exploring globalization, policy studies on education, health, etc., and some more life-history data from Australia.

Connell, R, T Schofield, L Walker, J Wood, D L Butland, J Fisher, J Bowyer. 1999.  Men's Health: A Research Agenda and Background Report. Report published by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care.  Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia.

Policy research, pure and simple: a comprehensive survey of the available Australian research bearing on men’s health, and its implications for policymaking.  The differing situations of different groups of men (for instance in workplaces, in class background, in sexuality) are a key to good health policy.

Connell, Raewyn. 1996. Teaching the boys: new research on masculinity, and gender strategies for schools. Teachers College Record, vol. 98 no. 2, 206-235.

My attempt to work out the implications of the new masculinity research for understanding gender relations in schools and planning good educational practice; proposed the idea of ‘vortices’ or sites of intense masculinizing practices, such as discipline systems and school sport.

Connell, Raewyn. 1995. Masculinities. Cambridge, Polity Press; Sydney, Allen & Unwin; Berkeley, University of California Press.  Second edition, 2005.  

A critical survey of Northern thinking about masculinity, a theoretical framework, reports on interviews with four groups of men, reflections on the history of masculinities, and a discussion of masculinity politics. Translations: Italian, German, Swedish, Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew.

Connell, Raewyn. 1992. A very straight gay: masculinity, homosexual experience and the dynamics of gender. American Sociological Review, vol. 57 no. 6, 735-751.  

Report of a set of life-history interviews, showing the complexities of Sydney gay men’s relationships with conventional masculinity, and the varying ways they negotiated the gender order.

Connell, Raewyn. 1990. An iron man: the body and some contradictions of hegemonic masculinity. In M. Messner and D. Sabo, ed., Sport, Men and the Gender Order, Champaign, Human Kinetics Books, 83-95.

For a long time, this was the only individual case study of masculinity I published.  It explored the life of a surf sports champion, and showed how difficult an exemplary masculinity was to sustain in everyday practice; it also had interesting material on embodiment.

Carrigan, T, Raewyn Connell and J Lee. 1985. Toward a new sociology of masculinity. Theory and Society, vol. 14 no. 5, 551-604.

A critique of ‘male role’ literature and Books About Men, and an outline of a new theoretical framework, this paper helped establish the idea that there are multiple masculinities, and that the power relations of gender operate between groups of men as well as between men and women.