Thursday, July 7, 2011

R.W. Connell – "Masculinities": A Whole New World

After examining the masculine protest type in chapter 4 of "Masculinities", R.W. Connell turns to address a radically different type of masculinity in chapter 5 of "Masculinities" titled "A Whole New World", the "wimps" – men who have tried to reshape their masculinity following feminist critique. In this chapter Connell surveys the life stories of six heterosexual men who were involved with environmental activism, a field that she correlates with the rise of feminism.

All of the men in Connell's study initially tied themselves at least to some extant to hegemonic masculinity. Yet all these men have developed what Connell terms "heterosexual sensitivity" that at least in one case study evolved out of identification with the mother which led to identification with other women, and all men had some significant role played by powerful women in the course of their early lives. 

The men all became active members of the environmental movement in different ways. Connell describes how it offered them a powerful mixture of personal relationships and cultural vision. She argues that being active served a number of needs such as solidarity, moral action a sense of personal value. For Connell, this type of activity performed a valuable function in the production of gender politics.

Connell argues that the environmental movement challenged the hegemonic masculinity on a number of its principles, such as a practice and ideology of equality, an emphasis on solidarity and collectiveness, a practice and ideology of personal growth and one of organic wholeness. But while being fertile ground for challenging hegemonic masculinity, these aspects still needed the help of feminism.

Some of the men in Connell's study experienced feminism with guilt, and most of them interpreted it as relating to personal relationship and not large scale politics. The encounter with feminism prompted a process of personal change and redefinition of the men's masculinity. Connell notes that the moment of separation from hegemonic masculinity was for the men essentially a passive choice, as opposed to the assertive control of hegemonic masculinity. They also gave up on their careers to become more dependent on others, women of course included. Giving up on the benefits of hegemonic masculinity was for these men a way to develop new desirable characteristics, especially emotional openness and sensitivity.        

Raewyn Connell – "Masculinities", 1995
Chapter 6: A Very Straight Gay
Chapter 7: Men of Reason