Thursday, July 7, 2011

R.W. Connell – "Masculinities": The Social Organization of Masculinity - summary

After illustrating how main currents of research (psychoanalysis, social sciences  and gender role theory) have failed to produce a coherent science of masculinity, R.W. Connell concludes that the problem is that masculinity is not a coherent object of study, at least not if taken in isolation. Connell therefore devotes chapter three ("The Social Organization of Masculinity) of "Masculinities" to a methodological declaration of intent for the rest of her book, mapping her object of study and defining masculinity as collection of practices within a system of gender relations.

Definitions of masculinity
R.W. Connell argues that the term masculinity in its modern use is derived from European individuality that evolved with the growth of colonial empires and capitalist economy, and therefore masculinity in the sense that we use it is a relatively novel concept. As she suggested in chapter 2 of "Masculinities", masculinity for Connell is a relational term which is always defined in opposition to femininity.
Connell locates four main strategies for defining masculinity: the essentialist strategy, the positivistic, the normative (a standard of masculinity) and semiotic definitions, all rejected by Connell who nevertheless borrows from the semiotic approach the idea the masculinity exists in relation to a complex symbolic system.

Gender as constructing social practices
According to Connell, gender is a manner in which social practices are organized. These practices relate to the processes of reproduction and human bodily structures. The practice of gender in not limited to isolated actions but to branched arrays referred to by Connell as collections of gender practices. 
Connell describes how institutions are gendered not only as a metaphor but also in an active manner. The state, for example, is gendered since state organizational practices are constructed in relation to the field of reproduction – the fact that it is still mostly men who hold key position of power in the state is not only the reason for the state's masculinity, but also its outcome.

Connell quotes Gayle Rubin who perceived gender as a complex structure in which several logical systems conjunct. Connell therefore proceeds to argue that masculinity includes different systems, and this inevitably leads to internal contradictions and historical change.
For Connell, in order to acknowledge gender as a social pattern it must be viewed as a product of history as well as the producer of history. The last two centuries have been characterized by the rise of gender politics, with the male group looking to sustain its privileged position and the female group looking to undermine the existing structure of power relations. Patriarchy instills men with financial, political and symbolic gains, and the politics of masculinity is therefore not only a personal matter of identity, but also one which relates to questions of social justice.

Connell argues that the ideology of patriarchy legitimizes violence towards women and subordinated forms of masculinity as a result of the hegemonic masculinity's superiority over them. Furthermore, violence is a male institute which usually functions between men (like in war). Violence of minority men is the rebellion of masculinities which were marginalized by hegemonic masculinity. Violence is according to Connell a part of the system of domination, but it is also a sign of the system's weakness, for it wouldn’t have to resort to intimidation if its legitimacy was not questionable. Therefore Connell argues that today's masculinity is, in Jürgen Habermas's terminology, crisis inclined with the collapse of the legitimacy for the patriarchic order. The main point R.W. Connell makes here is that changes in gender relations over the past centuries have led to far reaching changes in the practices of masculinity.

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