Thursday, July 7, 2011

R.W. Connell – "Masculinities": Live Fast Die Young - summary

In chapter four of Masculinities ("Live Fast Die Young") R.W. Connell examines the life stories of young working class men. She notes how the working class was usually viewed as sexually conservative but to the contrary it was the working class who historically brought about new family structures.
Connell argues that conditions in the capitalistic workplace influence the construction of masculinity and examines contemporary patterns of employment and their implications on masculinity.

The narratives of all the young men interviewed by Connell display similar starting points and some similar characteristics such as the importance of family ties in the lower labor market, a tendency for radical pragmatism , an experience of violence, both initiated (and sometimes glorified) and state violence. Most of the men in Connell's study experienced the education system as foreign power and have begun to shape their masculinity in relation to this power, sometimes leading them to meet the power of the police and corrective systems. Connell concludes that state power is not an abstraction in the lives of these men, but rather a concrete material power.

Connell argues that heterosexuality is enforced on the men interviewed, although some of them have experienced homosexual relations and one of them eventually discovered himself as a cross-dresser. The ideology which surrounded the life stories of the men in Connell's study is characterized according to her by strong contradictions and tensions such as a scornful attitude towards women and admiration of them.
Connell employs Alfred Adler's concept of masculine protest as resulting of an experience of helplessness in early life and manifested later on with exaggerated and sometimes aggressive claims to power.
The biographical narratives in Connell's study indicate similar starting points but diverge later on in life. Masculine protest is a masculinity which borrows themes of hegemonic masculinity and co-opts them in the context of poverty and hardship. Some of the men had a relationship of cooperation with hegemonic masculinity and enjoyed its benefits while others rejected it and have moved outside of the common masculine identity.

According to Connell the key to understanding the differences between the men in her study is the political nature of their process. Most of the men were deprived of the benefits of patriarchy due to their low starting points, if they accept this lose they justify their deprivation, if they protest against it they are blocked by the state's power. One of the ways to resolve these tensions described by Connell is to embrace marginality in a highly extrovert manner. Another strategy is to completely distance oneself from hegemonic masculinity. An interesting note that Connell makes is that despite the chauvinistic attitude of some of the men in her study, many of them actually experience domestic equality. 

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