Transforming Masculinity and Gender Inequality

Transforming Masculinity and Gender Inequality Free Essay

Gender studies became widely spread in recent years. Currently they turn a big amount of attention to the research of male features and masculinity as inseparable characteristics of the male social group. One of the most important theoretical problems within the gender studies field of expertise is a typology of maleness. This issue arises due to the fact that the cultural and social environment constructs masculinity differently. The famous Australian scientist R. Connell (2005) stresses that there is no single way of identifying masculinity, which is found everywhere, since there is the multiplicity of its expressions. In this regard, the scholar fairly states that “a single man’s lifestyle or a single canon of masculinity cannot exist” (Connell 2005). The explanation of this statement is very evident: there are no completely similar personalities and opinions among different people. However, there is a strong need to develop a typology of manliness and analysis of its specific types to observe its transformation within the Gender and Development framework in the Global South. Also, it is important to analyze men’s participation in actions towards establishing of gender equality. In the literature devoted to the gender studies, there is no single or common typology of masculinity, as well as there is no clear reason for its isolation or marginalization, although the set is determined by the types themselves. Therefore, the paper claims that the transformation of maleness by changing cultural or social norms that guide men’s behavior have already happened, and there is no point in addressing the structural basis of gender inequalities when concerning masculinity.

            In traditional society, hegemonic (or as it is often referred to as ‘dominant’) masculinity is mainly personified by the patriarchal type of maleness, the main features of which were a high social status, power, strength, and patronizing or dismissive attitude towards women as objects. In modern society, the traditional masculinity can be regarded as one of the real-life practice(s) of hegemonic manliness (Heise and Kotsadam 2015). It is characterized by such features as a high level of competitiveness, professionalism, financial independence, autonomy, heterosexuality, homophobia, and ‘double standards’ in the norms prescribed to a man by the other men who are on the lower levels of social stratification, as well as by women.

            Along with hegemonic masculinity, Cornwall, Harrison, and Whitehead (2007; 2008) distinguish the so-called “masculinity partners,” “complicit” form of masculinity. The “complicit” type of manhood is a kind of masculinity, which is due to lack of strength or desire promotes the idea of demotivation to reach the top of the male hierarchy. The hierarchical system of society belongs to the essential ‘participates’ of masculinity, in spite of lower social status and inferior position. Nevertheless, it allows to enjoy certain social advantages (Cleaver 2002). Thus, according to the place occupied in the system of social stratification, two types of masculinity can be identified: hegemonic (or dominant) and ‘complicit’. Nonetheless, it is clear that for the analysis of actual practice this is not enough, and the question of the typology of this criterion remains open within the issue of transformation of manliness.

In terms of the Global South and transformations which masculinity has undergone in the 21st century, there appears another type of manhood. To characterize the leading type of maleness in contemporary society, it is important to use the term ‘natural masculinity’. It arises under the influence of the gender order changes, which resulted in the fact that traditional masculinity is transformed into the natural one. Natural masculinity is believed to be a set of norms and beliefs that differs the ‘normative standards of men’ from greater variability patterns of male thinking and behavior, departures from the stereotypical image of the ‘real man’ to the image of the ‘natural man.’ Natural masculinity may allow such unmanly qualities as emotion, the recognition of man’s right to be uncertain, concern for the future, the possibility of different attitude towards families and children, sexuality and violence (McIlwaine and Datta 2003). The natural masculinity essentially shifts from work to family and applies a strict dichotomy, which states that ‘work is the world of men, while the family is purely woman’s world’. However, the modern man can quite cope with the role of the father and householder and a woman is able to be realized in her career aspirations. The same type of masculinity is characterized by a different attitude to the authorities: the man is not concerned about not feeling powerful. Consequently, natural type of manliness can be of a greater assistance comparing to the first two kinds in accomplishing the tasks of gender equality.

Under the influence of globalization and Gender and Development thinking in modern society, the attitudes of men towards their appearance are constantly changing: a visit to the beauty salon, the use of cosmetics and perfumes, and other actions that considered as more feminine ones are not condemned; they are rapidly becoming more normal. A special impact on this field has been produced by media and new opportunities of education (Cleaver 2002). As a consequence, the transformation of masculinity is not to be based on the inequality comparison. Oppositely, the natural masculinity, thus, allows a man to be feminine and preserve the traits which are proper to men (Wanner and Wadham 2015). In this regard, it is possible to claim that this natural masculinity is neither a crisis of masculinity nor ‘failed masculinity.’ Thus, the modern concept of a gender perspective in the manhood is characterized by the dynamics, i.e. the transition from the natural to the hegemonic masculinity which, in turn, transforms into other forms of maleness.

The ‘transnational masculinity’ also possesses some features: punctuated by self-centeredness, a limited loyalty to the corporation and a steady decline in responsibility for others (except for demonstration of loyalty and responsibility to create the desired image). The essence of the transnational masculinity involves accent on the long career, which manifests itself in the so-called ‘workaholism’ and a commitment to professional values. Its central moments are rationality and responsibility instead of ambitions and aggressiveness. The representatives of this type of masculinity are willing to pursue their goals by any means. An example is the ‘head of the exploiters.’ Such men make their subordinates work in such a way that allows to achieve any working objective. At the same time, they can only manage the process without participating in it, finding the cases of failure of the guilty and punishing them, thereby stimulating a more intense activity (United Nations Development Programme 1995).

Another important aspect within the framework of Gender and Development thinking is marginalized masculinity. In accordance with the investigations in this field, marginalized masculinity describes the status of men, whose social position depends on their acceptance and approval of the members of the dominant group. The representatives of this type of masculinity can be men and boys from poor families or from ethnically stigmatized segments (as a rule, they are African Americans, immigrants, etc.). The category of marginalized manhood also includes invalid masculinity (which is mainly referred to as ‘disability’). Being disabled – both physically and/or mentally – has certain ambivalence in the eyes of traditional society: on the one hand, it represents a violation of the norms of physicality and low social status; on the other hand, representatives of this kind of manliness are characterized by the sympathy because of their vulnerability. Frequently, the marginalized type of masculinity is referred to as protest masculinity, the characteristic of some socially and ethnically marginalized men. Its shape can be very different, but most members of this type present themselves as fighters for the revival of true masculinity as opposed to feminized, intellectualized, and homosexualized Western civilization.

In this regard, the question of men’s involvement in actions towards gaining gender equality is significant. Due to the changeable nature of masculinity in the 21st century, more and more men are engaged in feminist movements, which stand for the equal treatment of both men and women. It is necessary to note here that such a situation is mainly observed in the West, while the East continues to suppress the feminist movements showing the fact that these are the men who rule the world and do better in the gender gap due to the fact that they are the leaders in this field. As a consequence, women should obey the order which is established by men. Fortunately, such a despotic situation is not typical for all the countries. According to the 2004 UN commission on the status of women, such a situation is unacceptable in the modern world. Such a claim is frequently supported by the Western men who mainly tend to treat women as equal and do not want to be engaged in the gender discrimination issues. For instance, such a case should be concerned within this claim: in 2014, the feminist organizations, which stood for the gender equality, such as Femen and others, were actively joined by the men from France and Belgium (Edström 2014). This illustrates the fact that men have a more active position toward the feminist movements for gender equality than they used to have in the past. Certainly, the newcomers to the gender equality movements are not that experienced in negotiations and other aspects of the movement; however, still, they are engaged and ready to contribute to the development of equality to overcome gender discrimination. Also, it is important for participants of these movements to erase various fears of the fact that women can possibly lose the power and a status they have already achieved within their equality struggles.

Thus, gender is a social construct since it is formed due to people’s ideas. The main task is to conduct gender boundaries between what is ‘male’ and what is ‘female’.  Due to this, people are forming their views about both sexes. For example, sexual differentiation can be determined with the help of the garment purposed for each of the subjects. Although in modern culture this phenomenon is also applied to fashion, it is not that simple. In recent decades, the image of men actively changed under the influence of various socio-cultural influences flowing from one to another stage of transformation. Among the most important socio-cultural phenomena that affect the change in the way a modern man lives and behaves can be highlighted by fashion.

Today, in the framework of the Gender and Development thinking the fashion inherently plays an important role in every human life, both of women and men. This happens due to several reasons. Firstly, it is a fact that the essence of the differences between the images of the ‘male’ and ‘female’ has traditionally been one of the main features of fashion. Further, in the modern social and cultural situation, this difference is gradually being erased. Fashion style of ‘unisex’ is currently becoming one of the most popular trends of recent decades. On the other hand, not only women’s process of masculinization occurs, but men are beginning to obtain more feminine traits of behavior and appearance. Thus, the trend of convergence of the sexes and, therefore, the transformation of the image of the male as an example of following the modern fashion continues to grow. Brands create high-fashion clothing, which is aimed at representatives of the new socio-cultural communities, where there are no clear boundaries, what is male and what is female.

The changes in the concept of hegemonic masculinity are mainly based on the fact that not all men are initially focused on the choice of masculinity as the main and only guide. This group of men is not really vast, which correlates with hegemonic masculinity and its superiority, power, fearlessness, and minimum of emotions. At the same time, every kind of manliness has some similar traits such as, for example, a natural manifestation of fear. This hegemonic group of men forms the male habits. The main characteristic of this group is the introduction of such concepts as ‘natural’ masculinity. It should not be confused with the crisis of masculinity as a set of events, which are associated with the failure of standards of hegemonic masculinity.

The tension in the formulation of the question of masculinity as a historical problem is created on the basis of the methodological discussion, which has been generated by the actual conceptualization of gender paradigms. First of all, to work with the sources, the researchers of gender issues face the need to choose a perspective and way of reasoning, which is the most pragmatic when dealing with historical documents. The ‘default denial’ mode comprises those theories and approaches (e.g., the gender performativity theory), which are difficult to ‘prove’ in practice by the analysis of documents (Sweetman 2013). On the other hand, the ‘comfortable’ for working with documents positivist methodology is recognized as archaic heritage, which is convenient to use. Hence, it is possible to claim that the bearers of hegemonic masculinity, defined by Connell (2005), can be not only real people, but also movie heroes and artistic characters. Hegemonic masculinity ‘lives’ in symbols and signs. It is usually formed in situations where there is a certain correspondence between cultural ideal and institutionalized power. In this sense, the upper echelons of the state apparatus and the army can be considered as carriers of hegemonic masculinity.

Hegemonic masculinity is historically changeable. It is credited with specific individuals, but in fact it is a collective work, which is created and maintained by social institutions, such as the family, the tribe, the shop, and the state (Chant and McIlwaine 2015). Since the carrier of the hegemonic masculinity is not a person, but the social institutions in which people interact with each other, the interaction between different masculinities may be relations of power, production, friendship / hostility, subordination, and protest. The concept of hegemonic masculinity, proposed by Connell (2005), shaped the methodological framework of historical research on masculinities. Also, it identified the stress field of theoretical discussion and the degree which increases with the accumulation and analysis of the empirical material, including historical one.

The main criticism was designated by the authors who are focused on five fundamental positions: the basis of the concept of masculinity, the problem of ambiguity, the intersection of the meaning, the question of how to objectify concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity,’ which is the subject of masculinity, and how ‘hegemonic masculinity’ corresponds / should be related to the pattern of ‘gender relations.’ Taking a constructive and fruitful criticism, the authors found it necessary to reconsider the concept, while maintaining the basic aspects of the plurality of manliness and masculine hierarchy. In addition, Connell (2005) has a strong conviction that hegemonic manhood is more concerned with prestige and social power than other forms of masculinity. The position the ‘dominant masculinity’ is based on is not only the force; it also depends on the cultural context legitimizing discourses on marginalization of alternative forms of masculinity (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005). For instance, the GAP depicts the essential reasons for marginalization of men: the negative attitude toward women and violent actions, improper understanding of the gender roles and performance of the gender discrimination. These are two essential reasons why masculinity and men are marginalized. However, the very simplistic and one-dimensional understanding of hegemonic manliness as a ‘global domination of men over women,’ should be abandoned (Connell 2005). The concept of hegemonic masculinity as dominated should be taken as ‘other’ (the other men, bearers of other canons of masculinity).

Such methods of formation of masculinity create a hierarchical system. Man / men may like to take dominance and submission to the desired formats of the ‘hegemonic masculinity’ and abandon them (Edström 2014). Acceptance or rejection in this case depend on a whole range of circumstances, and the process is volatile and unstable throughout the life of men and / or women who belong to various social groups.

The construction of masculinity works in the categories of variability and differences such as age, social status, nationality, marriage, religion, sexual preferences. Yhis methodological approach is developed fruitfully in the historical field (Chant and McIlwaine 2015). Currently, it appeared to be truly revolutionary, for example, when displaying the men in family practice, sexuality, life and work strategies, love, friendship, fatherhood, sonship, education, etc. The current situation in the aspect of gender equality has been significantly changed: the gender roles have swapped and men are less engaged in discriminating women comparing to 1990s. The image of manhood which existed in the 1990s used to be based on old-fashioned northern ideas of men being providers and women being housekeepers. These ideas were popular since 19th century when the colonialism still existed. The attempts which have been made by GAP, UN commission, and other gender equality organizations show that the sharp difference between masculinity and femininity is being deleted: men can live in a women-like way as well as the women can resemble men.

            To conclude, the paper has shown that, firstly, the issue of masculinity ‘touches’ the fields and scopes of sociology, psychology, philosophy, and historical perspective, which is mostly subsidiary and illustrative. Secondly, the history of male is to be actualized through analysis of the recent past. This is due to the fact that Western scholars are trying to understand the modern world order, and to find the sources and reasons for creating modern standards of hegemonic masculinity. It is possible to claim that the crisis of masculinity is one of the historical sources for the process of problematization of this theme. Thirdly, the problem of men in historical perspective is put to a large extent within the framework of the methodology of social history, evolutionism, positivist discourse, history of everyday life. It looks like the process of institutionalization of ‘feminology.’


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