Rethinking Masculinity: Men and Their Bodies
Rosalind Gill

Session 3 The Research: Men and their Bodies

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[Gill]
video Rosalind Gill talks about the research into men and their bodies.
(4:25 min)
We actually know very little about men's sense of their bodies. Over the last decade interest in the body has grown considerably across the social sciences. But it has largely been a theoretical interest. So we have some of the major figures in these disciplines writing about the male body, but they are not actually concerned with how ordinary men talk about their bodies today. They are more concerned with reflecting on how the major social theorists of the past conceptualised the body. So there is this lacuna in our knowledge of how men actually talk about their bodies, how they feel about their bodies, whether or not they feel embodied.

The interview sample 

We set out to interview 140 young men in four different locations in the UK. We tried to get a mix of north and south, Welsh locations, and a mix of urban and rural. Above all, we wanted to get a sample that was characterised by differences. One-hundred-and-forty is not a huge sample, and 'one cannnot make too-great generalisations from that number, but we wanted to have a sense of the diversity of experiences as a basic characteristic. The sample is therefore very marked by diversities of various kinds. Our age range, which was 15-35, and class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation were all very important to us.

We interviewed the men in one of two ways. We either did what we called an 'individual life history' interview, where they sat down one-to-one with the interviewer, taking us through their childhood right up to the present day (the interviewer was nearly always Carl MacLean, but occasionally was Rosalind Gill). We also interviewed them in focus groups, with three or four other men, bouncing ideas off each other. The kinds of things we touched upon included everything from growing up, their experience of boyhood, their relationship with their siblings and parents, to their aspirations for the future in terms of jobs, careers, education, whether they wanted to become parents at any point, and so on. In among that mix of biographical questions were a number of questions specifically concerned with bodily practices: everything from dieting, to using the gym, to whether they would have their nose pierced, and also their reactions to body images of men.

Responses to the body images of men

[Gill]
video Rosalind Gill discusses the range of different responses
(1:36 min)
Turning to this issue of responses to representations one of the most surprising things was the range. We didn't anticipate finding quite so many different responses. We were all familiar with the argument that men were feeling pressured. We knew that some of the sample would find the images appealing in a sexual way. However, we weren't prepared for the range of other responses: criticism of the images' uniformity, anger about the images, boredom with the images. In total we found eight different ways of responding.

It wasn't just that some of these men said 'Oh yes I feel pressured' and others said 'I don't like these images because the men are so narcissistic'. It was that the men actually moved between different responses so that the same man could actually potentially inhabit all eight different responses. He might at one moment say 'Actually these are really sexy, I find them quite erotic', and at another moment say 'But honestly! God they put so much pressure [to be like them]'. We didn't actually find an individual who embodied all eight, but that was a real potential, and many of the men did move between two or three of what we've called discourses or repertoires or ways of responding.

Case Studies: Ways of Responding
Rosalind Gill and her fellow-researchers categorised the range of different responses to images of men's bodies into eight "types": the aspirational; the pressurised; the resentful; those who viewed body culture as shallow anyway; those who criticised uniformity; those who considered such representations as irrelevant; the narcissistic; and, of course, the desirous. This feature allows you to explore the range of different responses, with examples of the some of the respondents' actual answers.

 

 


 

 

 

Session 4