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
|Session 5 Masculinity in Crisis?
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.
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
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.
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.
||Do you believe there is a crisis in masculinity?