Thursday, July 7, 2011

The male role- gender role theory and masculinity (in R.W. Connell/ Masculinties)

R.W. Connell discusses the gender role theory as emerging, among other things, from the fact that empirical studies failed to find significant psychological gender differences, disqualifying the traditional chauvinistic notion that women were inapt for certain activities and should be denied them (such as academic activities).

The gender role theory explains gender differences against the expectations formed by society for different behaviors in social situations, therefore viewing gender as the product of socialization. Unlike psychoanalysis as described previously by Connell, gender role theory leaves room for change in gender relation, provided that the social structures and conventions which construct gender roles change.

The first wave of gender role theory assumed that society and its differentiated gender roles exists in harmony. But the second wave feminist approach of the seventies undermined this take on gender roles and viewed socialization and the internalization of gender roles as repressive. Gender role study thus became political, arguing that gender relations are (and should be) transformable.   

At that time a new wave of writing began to emerge arguing that masculine gender roles are also repressive, calling men to free themselves from society's expectations of how they should behave, appear and conduct themselves. This approach held the men, and not only women, are subjected to social pressure and repression, with Pleck holding that the perception which anchors identity in gender role prevents individuals who breach their traditionally allocated gender role to challenge this role, or otherwise they are doomed to feel inapt.

R.W. Connell criticizes gender role theory as suffering from logical vagueness and as problematic in terms of its application as a framework for social analysis. This is because gender role theory uses the same terms to describe varying situations without taking into account personal variables or social relations of power. Therefore Connell believes that gender role theory fits situations with a fixed script of gender behavior, and otherwise as a hubristic, yet problematic, metaphor.

Another critique offered by Connell against gender role theory is that the root of it is biological, not social, turning it into binary polarizing system which does not account for power relation and ignores questions such as race and ethnicity. Connell also notes how gender role theory seldom related to homosexual gender roles as a result of its polarizing approach.

Gender role theory, for R.W. Connell, has a fundamental difficulty perceiving issues of power relations, and resistance to power, for example, is regarded through the framework of "normal" versus "deviant". Gender role theory indeed allows and welcomes change, but it places change outside of the dialectics of gender relations (for instance in technological changes).

see also: Connell/ The Science of Masculinity

suggested reading:
Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective (5th Edition)