Thursday, July 7, 2011

R.W. Connell – "Masculinities": men's bodies - summary (part 2)

part 1 - 2 

R.W. Connell, in chapter two of "Masculinities" titled "Men's Bodies", argues that physical experiences shape us, with the example of sports in which masculinity is manifested in the pattern of developing and working the body. The institutional organization of sport dictates defined social relations: competition and hierarchy for men, exclusion or subjection for women. Sports serves, according to Connell, as an instrument in the hand of hegemonic masculinity in its war against feminism as a symbolic proof of men's superiority. The same aspect can be found in manual labor which specified a type of tough masculinity the although, as illustrated in Paul Willis's "Learning to Labor", served for class exploitation, has also served to prove men's superiority. But also the link between masculinity and manual labor, with its economic roots in the industrial period, has changed with the shift to post-industrial modes of production, and with it masculinity is also changing.

Connell argues that the body is an inevitable element in the construction of masculinity, but its inevitability does not fix its position. The bodily process combines with the social process to become a part of (both personal and collective) history and a possible object for political interference. This does not mean that we have to go back to the perception of men's bodies as a passive platform, for the body has a variety of means to oppose social symbolization and control.

Connell draws attention to the simple fact that there is no one human body, but a lot of bodies which are in a constant state of change in their personal courses in time. Men's bodies, according to Connell, not only change but also have the capacity to object and refuse various suggestions to participate in social life.  
Connell brings biographical stories of men who had their life course imprinting a permanent mark on their body. She quotes Michel Messner who noted how the use of the body as weapon (in relation to sport) eventually leads to violence directed to the body itself. All this, as well as the bodily price of industrial workers, emphasizes for Connell the materiality of the body in relation to its participation in social practices.         
Connell argues that social gender theory in fact excludes the physical body by viewing it as just an object for symbolic imprinting, but not as a participant in the gender game. Therefore Connell wishes to argue for the statues of bodies as action agents in social processes.  Connell's point is that once bodies function as both objects of social practice and its agents, and in the conditions in which that practice creates the structures that define and appropriates the bodies, we are faced with a pattern that exceeds the formula accepted in social theory. Connell calls this pattern a practice of bodily reflection.

In this reflection man is at once inside and outside his own body, performing while being aware of his performance in relation to social conventions. The bodily reflection moves from the personal to the social, and the way the body functions influences the way it is constructed, and vice versa. For R.W. Connell practice generated the reality in which we live, and practice always involves the body and its materiality. The world which is created through the gender practices of bodily reflection is a political sphere, and so gender politics is for Connell a politics manifested in the body. 

part 1 - 2