Thursday, July 7, 2011

R.W. Connell – "Masculinities": men's bodies - summary

part 1 -

In chapter two of "Masculinities" titled "Men's Bodies" R.W. Connell deals with the relation between the male body and masculinity. At the beginning of "Men's Bodies" she negates the argument, widely held in different spheres in society, that men cannot change on account of them having a sort of essential nature. She describes how true masculinity is always perceived as something which stems from men's bodies – true masculinity is engraved in the male body or expresses something in regards to that body.

 For Connell such views represent the strategic array of modern gender ideology, and therefore the sociological task of understanding masculinity starts with understanding the male body and its relation to masculinity and gender. The tendency of research in this field was for the most part shifting back and forth in the discussion of nature versus nurture, with a compromise which holds that both biology and society partner together in the shaping of genders. Connell thinks that all three approaches are wrong.

According to Connell sociobiology has replaced religion in justifying hegemonic gender ideology. However sociobiology cannot produce sufficient evidence to the existence of biological determination of sex differences and is faced with a vast array of contrary evidence in the form of cultural and historical diversities in the construction of gender. For Connell the source of this false biological approach is in the metaphor of the body as a machine which is build or programmed for certain activities, a metaphor which is false as much as it is prevalent. The reason for this distortion is that ideology precedes biological research. Accordingly, Connell describes how medicine, as in the cases of sex change operations, works to reconcile the body with gender ideology. 

Connell uses Bryan Turner's term of "body practices" to argue that society, through sports, fashion and finally even plastic surgery, works to produce the male or female body in accordance with its perceptions.
Social semiotic approaches position themselves in the opposite end of the sociobiological approach. Instead of the body as machine metaphor they offer the body as a field of battle in which social forces meat, a metaphor of the body as canvas drawn upon and imprinted with signs. But for Connell the semiotic approach has its own problems, with the stress on the signifier threatening to eliminate the signified, and to lose the sex in the discussion about sexuality.   

Does this mean that the path that combines biology and social construction theory is the way to go? Connell says no and holds that two errors do not make a right. To begin with, the two approaches are incommensurable. A social process can develop an initial biological difference, but also transform it completely to the point of erasing it. For Connell a compromise cannot be found between biological determination and social determination, but in any case Connell asserts that any theory of gender cannot escape the presence of the physical body and therefore any theory in masculinity studies cannot escape the presence of men's bodies.
part 1 - 

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