[Breakingthesilence] Masculinities, violence, and peacemaking
kevin at eyfa.org
kevin at eyfa.org
Sam 3 Avr 12:45:22 CEST 2004
this article is a bit more academic (in the magazine it will be
accompanied by an article that is more subjective and practical as to what
masculinity work actually is) but i like the way that it puts the issues
of male aggression into a broad political context that includes issues
such as corporate domination and militarism.
again, i have this article in spanish too.
Masculinities, violence, and peacemaking
Though women have often manufactured weapons and serviced armies—and in an
age of nuclear weapons are equally targeted— it is historically rare for
women to be in combat. The twenty million members of the world's armed
forces today are overwhelmingly men. In many countries all soldiers are
men; and even in those countries which admit women to the military,
commanders are almost exclusively men. Men also dominate other branches of
enforcement, both in the public sector as police officers and prison
guards, and in the private sector as security agents.
In private life too, men are more likely to be armed and violent. In the
United States, careful research by criminologists establishes that private
gun ownership runs four times as high among men as among women, even after
a campaign by the gun industry to persuade women to buy guns. (The average
percentage of US men owning guns, in surveys from 1980 to 1994, was 49%.)
In the same country, official statistics for 1996 show men accounting for
90% of those arrested for aggravated assault and 90% of those arrested for
murder and manslaughter. These figures are not exceptional.
There is a debate about the gender balance of violence within
households, and it is clear that many women are capable of violence (eg
in punishing children). The weight of evidence, however, indicates that
major domestic violence is overwhelmingly by husbands towards wives.
Rape is overwhelmingly by men on women. Criminal rape shades into
sexual intercourse under pressure. The major national survey of sexual
behaviour in the United States finds women six times as likely as men
to have an experience of forced sex, almost always being forced by a
Further, men predominate in warlike conduct in other spheres of life.
Body-contact sports, such as boxing and football, involve ritualized
combat and often physical injury. These sports are almost exclusively
practised by men. Dangerous driving is increasingly recognized as a
form of violence. It is mainly done by men. Young men die on the roads
at a rate four times that of young women, and kill at an even higher
ratio. Older men, as corporate executives, make the decisions that
result in injury or death from the actions of their
businesses—industrial injuries to their workers, pollution injury to
neighbours, and environmental destruction.
So men predominate across the spectrum of violence. A strategy for
peace must concern itself with this fact, the reasons for it, and its
implications for work to reduce violence.
There is a widespread belief that it is natural for men to be violent.
Males are inherently more aggressive than women, the argument goes. "Boys
will be boys" and cannot be trained otherwise; rape and combat—however
regrettable—are part of the unchanging order of nature. There is often an
appeal to biology, with testosterone in particular, the so- called "male
hormone", as a catch-all explanation for men's aggression.
Careful examination of the evidence shows that this biological
essentialism is not credible. Testosterone levels for instance, far
from being a clear-cut source of dominance and aggression in society,
are as likely to be the consequence of social relations. Cross-
cultural studies of masculinities reveal a diversity that is impossible
to reconcile with a biologically-fixed master pattern of masculinity.
When we speak statistically of "men" having higher rates of violence
than women, we must not slide to the inference that therefore all men
are violent. Almost all soldiers are men, but most men are not
soldiers. Though most killers are men, most men never kill or even
commit assault. Though an appalling number of men do rape, most men do
not. It is a fact of great importance, both theoretically and
practically, that there are many non- violent men in the world. This
too needs explanation, and must be considered in a strategy for peace.
Further, when we note that most soldiers, sports professionals, or
executives are men, we are not just talking about individuals. We are
speaking of masculinised institutions. The organisational culture of
armies, for instance, is heavily gendered. Recent social research
inside armed forces in Germany and other countries reveals an energetic
effort to produce a narrowly-defined hegemonic masculinity. Similarly,
organized sport does not just reflect, but actively produces,
particular versions of masculinity.
We may reason, then, that it is in social masculinities rather than
biological differences that we must seek the main causes of gendered
violence, and the main answers to it. How are social masculinities to
be understood? In grappling with this question, we are able to draw on
a new generation of research, to which I now turn.
In recent years there has been a great flowering of research on the nature
and forms of social masculinities. This research, and accompanying debate,
is now world-wide. It has moved decisively beyond the old concept of a
unitary "male sex role" or a fixed "masculine" character structure.
Empirical studies of the details of social life are necessarily complex,
but some important general conclusions do seem to be emerging from this
research as a whole. I will condense them into seven points, noting in
each case some implications for peace strategy.
1) Multiple masculinities. Different cultures, and different periods of
history, construct gender differently. In multicultural societies there
are likely to be multiple definitions of masculinity. Equally
important, more than one kind of masculinity can be found within a
given culture, even within a single institution such as a school or
Implications: Violent, aggressive masculinity will rarely be the only
form of masculinity present, in any cultural setting. The variety of
masculinities that are documented in research can provide examples and
materials for peace education. Edudcation programs must recognise
diversity in gender patterns, and the tensions that can result from
2) Hierarchy and hegemony. Different masculinities exist in definite
relations with each other, often relations of hierarchy and exclusion.
There is generally a dominant or "hegemonic" form of masculinity, the
centre of the system of gendered power. The hegemonic form need not be
the most common form of masculinity.
Implications: Large numbers of men and boys have a divided, tense, or
oppositional relationship to hegemonic masculinity. Clear-cut
alternatives, however, are often culturally discredited or despised.
The most powerful groups of men usually have few personal incentives
for gender change. Other groups may have stronger motives for change.
3) Collective masculinities. Masculinities are sustained and enacted
not only by individuals, but also by groups, institutions, and cultural
forms like mass media. Multiple masculinities may be produced and
sustained by the same institution.
Implications: The institutionalization of masculinity is a major
problem for peace strategy. Corporations, workplaces, voluntary
organisations, and the state are important sites of action. Collective
struggle, and the re-shaping of institutions, are as necessary as the
reform of individual life.
4) Bodies as arenas. Men's bodies do not fix patterns of masculinity,
but they are still very important in the expression of masculinity,
which constantly involves bodily experience, bodily pleasures, and the
vulnerabilities of bodies.
Implications. Peace education may often be too much "in the head".
Health, sport and sexuality are issues which must be addressed in
changing masculinity. Active construction.
5) Masculinities do not exist prior to social interaction, but come
into existence as people act. Masculinities are actively produced,
using the resources available in a given milieu.
Implications: The process of constructing masculinity, rather than the
end state, may be the source of violence. No pattern of masculine
violence is fixed, beyond all hope of social reform. Equally, no reform
is final. It is possible that gender reforms will be overthrown and
more violent patterns of masculinity re-introduced.
6) Division. Masculinities are not homogeneous, but are likely to be
internally divided. Men's lives often embody tensions between
contradictory desires or practices.
Implications: Any pattern of masculinity has potentials for change. Any
group of men is likely to have complex and conflicting interests, some of
which will support change towards more peaceable gender patterns.
7) Dynamics. Masculinities are created in specific historical
circumstances. They are liable to be contested, reconstructed, or
displaced. The forces producing change include contradictions within
gender relations, as well as the interplay of gender with other social
Implications: Masculinities are always changing, and this creates
motives for learning. However, as any agenda for change is likely to be
against some groups' interests, controversy and conflict is to be
These lessons are mainly drawn from research on local patterns of
gender. In thinking about a strategy for peace, however, we must go
beyond local contexts, and think at a global level too.
The colonial empires from which the modern global economy developed were
gendered institutions, which disrupted indigenous gender orders, and
installed violent masculinities in the hegemonic position. This process
was the beginning of a global gender order, and the colonisers'
masculinities were the first globalising masculinities.
In turn, the process of decolonisation disrupted the gender hierarchies
of the colonial order. Where armed struggle was involved, the use of
western military technology also involved some adoption of western
military masculinity, and further disruption of community-based gender
World politics today is increasingly organised around the needs of
transnational capital and the creation of global markets.
Neo-liberalism speaks a gender-neutral language of "markets",
"individuals", and "choice", but has an implicit view of masculinity.
The "individual" of neoliberal theory has the attributes and interests
of a male entrepreneur. Institutionally, the strong emphasis on
competition creates a particular kind of hierarchy among men. Meanwhile
the increasingly unregulated world of transnational corporations places
strategic social power in the hands of particular groups of men. Here
is the basis of a new hegemonic masculinity on a world scale.
The hegemonic form of masculinity in the new world order, I would
argue, is the masculinity of the business executives who operate in
global markets, and the political executives and military leaderships
who constantly deal with them. I call this "transnational business
masculinity", and I think that understanding it will be important for
the future of peace strategies.
Peace strategies and masculinities
There are many causes of violence, including dispossession, poverty,
greed, nationalism, racism, and other forms of inequality, bigotry and
desire. Gender dynamics are by no means the whole story. Yet given the
concentration of weapons and the practices of violence among men, gender
patterns appear to be strategic. Masculinities are the forms in which many
dynamics of violence take shape.
Evidently, then, strategy for peace must include a strategy of change
in masculinities. This is the new dimension in peace work which studies
of men suggest: contesting the hegemony of masculinities which
emphasise violence, confrontation and domination, replacing them with
patterns of masculinity more open to negotiation, cooperation and
The relationship of masculinity to violence is more complex than
appears at first sight, so there is not just one pattern of change
required. Institutionalised violence (eg by armies) requires more than
one kind of masculinity. The masculinity of the general is different
from the masculinity of the front-line soldier, and armies acknowledge
this by training them separately. The differing masculinities that are
hegemonic in different cultures may lead to qualitatively different
patterns of violence.
Some violent patterns of masculinity develop in response to violence,
they do not simply cause it. An important example is the "protest
masculinity" that emerges in contexts of poverty and ethnic oppression.
On the other hand, some patterns of masculinity are not personally
violent, but their ascendancy creates conditions for violence, such as
inequality and dispossession. The case of transnational business
masculinity has already been mentioned.
A gender-informed strategy for peace must, therefore, be sophisticated
about patterns of masculinity. It must also be designed to operate
across a broad front, broader than most agendas of sex role reform
would suggest. The arenas for action to reduce masculine violence
Development: Schooling, child rearing and adult/child relationships in
families, classrooms, play groups, etc (including the issues commonly
thought of as "sex role modelling").
Personal life: Marital relations and sexuality, family relationships,
friendship (including the role of sexual and domestic violence in
constructions of masculinity).
Community life: Peer groups, neighbourhood life, leisure including sports
(including youth subcultures as bearers of violent masculinities).
Cultural institutions: Higher education, science and technology, mass
media, the arts and popular entertainment (including exemplary
masculinities in broadcast sports).
Workplaces: Occupational cultures, industrial relations, corporations,
unions and bureaucracies; the state and its enforcement apparatuses
(armies, police etc).
Markets: The labour market and the effects of unemployment; capital and
commodity markets both international and local; management practices and
What principles might link action across this very broad spectrum? I do
not think we should follow the model of gender reform that demands men
adopt a new character, instantly become "the new man". Such hero-making
agendas deny what we already know about the multiplicity and the internal
complexity of masculinities.
Rather, strategy for peace needs to be embedded in a practicable
strategy of change in gender relations. The goal should be to develop
gender practices for men which shift gender relations in a democratic
direction. Democratic gender relations are those that move towards
equality, nonviolence, and mutual respect between people of different
genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and generations.
A peace strategy concerned with masculinities, then, does not demand a
complete rupture with patterns of conduct men are now familiar with. Some
of the qualities in "traditional" definitions of masculinity (eg courage,
steadfastness, ambition) are certainly needed in the cause of peace.
Active models of engagement are needed for boys and men, especially when
peace is understood not just as the absence of violence, but as a positive
form of life.
The task is not to abolish gender, but to re-shape it; to disconnect
(for instance) courage from violence, steadfastness from prejudice,
ambition from exploitation. In the course of that re-shaping, diversity
will grow. Making boys and men aware of the diversity of masculinities
that already exist in the world, beyond the narrow models they are
commonly offered, is an important task for education.
Though the hierarchy of masculinities is part of the problem in gender
relations, the fact that there are different masculinities is in itself
an asset. At the lowest level, it establishes that masculinity is not a
single fixed pattern. More positively, multiple masculinities represent
complexity of interests and purposes, which open possibilities for
change. Finally the plurality of gender prefigures the creativity of a
democratic social order. For men, the democratic remaking of gender
practices requires persistent engagement with women, not the
separatism-for-men which is strong in current masculinity politics. The
"gender-relevant" programmes now attempted in schools, which do not
necessarily segregate boys and girls but attempt to identify gender
issues and make them the subject of conscious debate, are important
examples. Educational and social action must be inclusive in another
sense too, responding to the differing cultural meanings of gender and
the different socio-economic circumstances in which students live. A
programme apt for suburban middle-class students may be very
inappropriate for ethnically diverse inner-city children in poverty, or
rural children living in villages.
No-one with experience of struggles for peace, or of attempts at gender
reform, will imagine these are easy tasks. Recognising the interplay of
masculinities with strategies for peace is not a magic key. In some
ways, indeed, it makes familiar strategies seem more complex and
But it also, I believe, opens ways of moving past obstacles which both
peace movements and the movement for gender democracy have encountered.
Dr Connell works at the University of Sydney.
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