Thursday, July 7, 2011

R.W. Connell – "Masculinities": Degendering and recomposing hegemonic masculinity and gender relations

 In chapter 10 of "Masculinities" (practice and utopia) R.W. Connell suggests the strategy of "degendering" as a means for social justice in gender relations. Degendering is not to be carried out just at the level of culture and institutions but should also work on the bodies themselves. The mission of such degendering politics is according to Connell to bring about change in the practice of bodily reflection and working through the agency of the body in order to find new ways for men to use their masculine bodies.

The argument for dgendering echoes out of the feminist debate about equality and difference and the fear that equality would result in assimilation. For Connell the same problem holds for the will to criticize hegemonic masculinity that, if indeed degendered, might lose some of its more positive things and throw out the baby with the bath water. For Connell, in order to call for social justice in gender relations we must call for difference and degendering at the same time. Research and Connell's discussion shows that gendered traits and practices are common to both genders and the symbolic reintegration of these can be rather simple: body builders can work at kindergartens, lesbians can wear leather jackets etc.

Forms of Action
Following Andrew Tolson Connell points to the fact the various men's groups (the general men's liberation movement) are problematic in the sense that you cannot adopt emancipatory strategies if you are the dominating group. Anti-chauvinistic male politics that seeks social justice actually works against the interests of those man who take part in it, and such a stance should aim at breaking men's unity, not reinforce it.

But for Connell such a form of politics is still possible, especially outside pure gender politics. Male solidarity for males' sake is problematic, but solidarity (with women) for other sakes has a lot of potential for change in gender relations. The crossing of class and gender politics (and ethnic politics as well) is especially interesting for Connell for the possibility it holds for unity which is not absolute male unity. Instead of a men's movement this will be a politics of alliances, with the struggle for social justice depending on the intersection of interests.
Education for Connell is one of the prime sites for this degendering politics. She holds that every education program must address a variety of masculinities and the crossing of race, ethnicity, nationality and class. Connell calls for a reorganization of knowledge from the point of view of the oppressed and for the pluralization of sources in education programs. Another requirement is the capacity for empathy often so lacking in hegemonic masculinity.