Thursday, July 7, 2011

R.W. Connell – "Masculinities": Practice and Utopia

Chapter 10 of R.W. Connell's Masculinities discusses the meaning of knowledge about masculinity to questions of social justice in gender relation. For this end Connell holds that both existing practice and possible utopia are in need of scrutiny.

Connell research in Masculinities showed some changes in awareness towards gender relations starting from the 70's; however she holds that patriarchy is still very much the order of the day in contemporary western cultures, and that the change in historical consciousness is not yet manifested in the breakdown of the institutional and material structures of patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity.

The discussion of gender relations in the past two centuries are close, according to Connell, to introduce the demise of masculinity as we know it, with the wheels of change already in motion. Even reactionary stances regarding masculinity acknowledge the fact that masculinity is the subject of social transformation and is something which is currently under negotiation. Connell argues that no one assumes, and no one can any longer assume, that man and masculinity are just what they are.

In surveying the possible purposes of political action in the field of gender Connell distinguishes liberal pluralism and postmodernism. Both approaches according to Connell fail to bring into account the importance of practice, and not just politics or consciousness, in generating change or sustaining the current state of affairs. In the context of gender relations working towards social justice means to undermine straight men's favorable positions in social structures. This does not mean striving for uniformity, and Connell relies on Michael Walzer and his notion of complex equality in order to imagine the possibility of gender equality. Masculinity, in other words, does not need to be abolished but rather repositioned in the political and economical structure.  

But focusing on hegemonic masculinity's material and political gains alone will, for Connell, miss the point. For patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity, as demonstrated again and again throughout "Masculinities", in sustained through bodily division which are themselves sustained through reflexive bodily practices. The social organization of these practices into a patriarchic gender order is the cause of the hierarchic social order. All this leads R.W. Connell to argue for the strategy of degendering – the dismantlement of hegemonic masculinity and the decomposition of gender relations. 

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