Rethinking Masculinity: Men and Their Bodies
Rosalind Gill

Session 5 Masculinity in Crisis?

Intro Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4 Session 6

video Rosalind Gill looks at men's studies.
(2:18 min)
In one sense, masculinity has always been on the agenda: much of what passes as the history of the human race, the anthropology of the human race and the sociology of the human race is basically about men. But it was only when feminism made it explicit that this is the male as the norm, the male as representative of the human race, that we started to realise how masculinity had been unmarked and that we had better start studying it as a gender in its own right. This is quite a recent phenomenon, beginning only in the mid-to-late 1980s.

There are various kinds of men's studies that have come out of that moment. They are quite different, and I can identify about three. oetic, Robert-Bly inspired, very American masculinity studies, which is very celebratory, and very Jungian in terms of its influences and the emphasis upon men getting back to their roots and bonding with other men. That has had quite a powerful influence, especially in the US. Another type is the very anti-feminist men's studies, which has also emerged as part of that moment. You can see it in popular culture, in the campaigns against the child-support agency and the way that men's groups are trying to use equal-opportunities legislation to gain extra rights for themselves and to stop women having, say, segregated swimming sessions and the suchlike. It is also represented in some of the academic literature.

There is a third trend in men's studies, which I myself would identify with, and is probably more represented in Britain, Europe and Australia. This is a pro-feminist, feminist-inspired, critical men's studies, which actually seeks to look at masculinity in its own right, not to celebrate it, but actually to problematise it as well.

No crisis in masculinity

video Rosalind Gill is sceptical about the idea of masculinity in crisis
(1:20 min)
I would not say that masculinity is in crisis. It is just a sloppy, lazy label for a whole range of different trends, which get bundled together and treated as if there is a major problem. Obviously it makes a news story to say that men are in crisis. But what we often see is figures for divorce, unemployment, how boys are doing at school, figures about the decline of manufacturing--all of these are just pushed together to create a sense of crisis, where I would argue that they need to be looked at in their own right, and there may not be any relationship between them. If we want to take these things seriously, we better look at them individually rather than just wringing our hands and going 'Oh no. Men are in crisis'.

Judging by our own research, I would say that none of the men we interviewed felt that they were in crisis. It is interesting that it seems to be a label that comes across from the media and from some academics rather than from men themselves. They are not really going around with their heads in their hands: 'No. No. My life is terrible because I am a man'.

Masculinity by osmosis

video Rosalind Gill considers the process of learning masculinity (1:33 min)
What came out really clearly from our research is that learning about masculinity does seem to be a process of osmosis. Nobody teaches their children about masculinity except in that very general way, which is also very powerful, such as boys don't do this, girls do this. But, generally, men felt that they had imbibed it almost through their skin while they were growing up.


Thinking Point
Do you believe there is a crisis in masculinity?
Compared with women, I don't think the men had experienced any of the key moments that women have. For example we asked them 'Did your father show you how to shave?', and none of them had been showed how to shave. So there wasn't that kind of sense that women have very often of their mother taking them onto one side and talking to them about periods. They just didn't have any of those markers. Consequently, their definition of what it meant to be a man is quite different from women's definition of what it means to be a woman. It was frequently defined through their first sexual experience. They didn't have anything like a period to mark a rite of passage. So, first sexual experience was very important, as was earning their first wage packet. Of course these things can be deferred until quite late in life for a lot of boys and young men. And this raises some more very interesting questions.  

Session 6