Thursday, July 7, 2011

R.W. Connell – "Masculinities": Masculinity Politics

Politics of Men and Politics of Masculinity
R.W. Connell opens chapter 9 of "Masculinities", titled "Masculinity Politics" by indicating the fact the public politics is masculine politics in almost every sense. Even in western countries women are still heavily underrepresented in power position, with a variety of formal barriers and hidden strategies to keep them out of the public sphere. Feminism has failed to mend to inequality but did manage to draw attention to it, and men's position regarding gender relations has become an object of politics.

Connell defines masculinity politics as all those process and struggles regarding the male gender and its position within gender relations. It is masculinity in need of an answer. Masculine politics for Connell wishes to trace the production and accumulation of gendered power, which for her stands at the base of some of the most crucial political questions of our time.

As stressed time and time again in Connell's Masculinities, there is no one masculinity but rather a number, not unlimited, of masculinities which are surveyed throughout 'Masculine Politics":

A therapy of masculinity
The challenges brought about by the feminist attack on patriarchy have led to the formation of a type of masculine politics which focuses on healing the wounds caused to heterosexual men by changes in gender relation. Connell describes the emergence of therapy groups and literature which attempt to reconcile men's denounced position and to soften their guild caused by feminist criticism.

The therapy of masculinity, according to Connell, is not so much about supporting the reform of gender relation as it is about finding a relevant political position within it. The foundation of this politics is that of cooperative masculinity (Masculinities, chapter 3), which does not comply but does cooperate with hegemonic masculinity. In this stance, the men do nor bear the blame for the wrongs of hegemonic masculinity, but are also not oppressed by it. The therapeutic practice and the images of the mytho-poetic movement tend to narrow the gap between men and women and to allow for adaptation in the field of personal relationships, unlike the more inflexible types of masculine politics which follow.

The Gun Lobby: Defending Hegemonic Masculinity
For Connell to preserve to rule of hegemonic masculinity is to preserve a whole institutional and ideological system. She relates to the example of the gun lobby and the NRA which has strong masculine characteristics and which ties masculinity with firearms and heroism. Despite some evidence against the link between masculinity and the heroic violence, Connell holds that the images of male heroism bear cultural relevance. They produce epitomes of masculinity which are an essential part of the politics of hegemonic masculinity. Defending hegemonic masculinity is not a unified campaign, but rather one which takes place in a variety of, often contradicting, contexts and institutions, all working to preserve men's prominent role in all spheres of society.   

Gay Liberation
R.W. Connell holds that the main alternative to hegemonic masculinity in western recent history is that of gay masculinity, and that the most explicit political opposition to hegemonic masculinity was articulated by the homosexual liberation movement. The initial objectives of the gay movement regarded mostly private rights, but have slowly, especially with the breakout of AIDS, began to form a politics of pressure groups reminiscent of those of ethnic minorities, seeking collective rights. Connell argues that masculine politics is inseparable from the gay presence around it. Yet the homosexual community is not an automatically opposition to hegemonic masculinity, but rather an alternative which has a presence that prompts a dynamic of change and negotiation within masculine politics.

Exit Politics
The concept of practice implies that social action is always creative, and for Connell this means that straight men can also resist hegemonic masculinity and fight patriarchy. The men liberation movement attempted, since the 70's, to create new gender relations based on social justice. Though ambivalently accepted by feminism, attempts to organize male movements in support of the women and gay liberation movements, "refusing to be a man", have been prevalent. This anti-chauvinistic politics sometimes resorted to gender vagueness such as cross-dressing and drag shows as a form of cultural protest. Connell argues that masculinity is shaped in relation to a comprehensive structure of power and in relation to general symbolization of difference. Anti-chauvinistic male politics is directed towards to former, while crossing gender lines is directed towards to latter. According to Connell exit politics operates at the edges of mass sexual politics, as the possibility of negating hegemonic masculinity. For Connell this type of masculine politics represents the most significant chance for change in the gender order of our time. 

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