Workshop on scholarship on men, masculinities and gender, March 2011

The Centre for Research on Men and Masculinities recently held a highly successful two-day workshop on the state of play in the critical study of men and masculinities. The workshop, held over March 17 and 18 in Wollongong, highlighted the state of scholarship on men and gender, fostered research links and potential collaborations among researchers at UOW and around the country, and launched the Centre as a hub for masculinities-related research around Australia.

The Centre for Research on Men and Masculinities (CROMM) aims to advance the critical study of men and masculinities. While CROMM’s institutional home is the Institute for Social Transformation Research at UOW, it is intended to have a national reach. CROMM’s inaugural event featured keynote presentations by scholars at the leading edge of national and international research on men and gender, including Raewyn Connell (University of Sydney), Chris Beasley (University of Adelaide), Gary Dowsett (La Trobe University), Bob Pease (Deakin University), Romit Dasgupta (University of Western Australia), and Toni Schofield (University of Sydney). Other participants and presenters included PhD students, community-based researchers, and policy makers. The event received positive media coverage on WIN TV, ABC Radio, and in the Illawarra Mercury.

The Centre for Research on Men and Masculinities is co-directed by Richard Howson and Michael Flood, both at UOW. They and other CROMM-associated researchers at UOW have initiated or are planning a series of activities, including research grants (an ARC Discovery Grant on transnational masculinities, an intensive writing program involving international scholars, and a project investigating ‘men living gender equality’), a second public event titled Engaging Men in Building Gender Equality, intensifying CROMM’s links to domestic and international research centres, and building CROMM’s role as a national research hub.

CROMM Workshop

Some of the workshop speakers (L-R): Raewyn Connell, Bob Pease, Richard Howson, Gary Dowsett, Chris Beasley, Toni Schofield, Michael Flood.

The workshop in detail

Richard Howson and Michael Flood, the Co-Directors of the Centre for Research on Men and Masculinities (CROMM), provided a welcome and overview. Michael Flood placed the event in its wider context, the development of scholarship on men, masculinities and gender. He noted that a wide-ranging scholarship on men and masculinities is now well-established, offering an increasingly diverse and sophisticated theorisation of men and gender relations. The critical study of men and masculinities is visible around the world, is grounded in diverse disciplines and theoretical frameworks, and overlaps with policy, programming and activism regarding men and gender. Moreover, the development of the field is accelerating, with new journals, handbooks and encyclopedias, the proliferation of texts on men and gender, and new research centres. Scholars in Australia have been at the leading edge of this work, and seven academic conferences or workshops on men, masculinities, and gender have been held in Australia since 1991. However, there has been no network or centre devoted to this field, until the advent of the Centre for Research on Men and Masculinities (CROMM). Flood outlined CROMM’s aims, infrastructure, and current and planned activities and events.

In introducing the 2011 workshop, Flood also highlighted a delightful sense of history. He attended the first academic conference on men and masculinities in Australia, which took place in 1991 at Macquarie University, and at least three of the presenters at that conference, 20 years ago, also were presenting at the 2011 event: Raewyn Connell, Gary Dowsett, and Bob Pease.

Flood noted that the event involves contributions by a variety of researchers, from senior scholars who have made longstanding contributions to scholarship on men, masculinities and gender, to PhD students and others. The workshop involved a mix of activities: keynote addresses, shorter paper, and interactive workshops.

Raewyn Connell gave the workshop’s first keynote address. She described the typical narrative of how the field of scholarship on men and masculinities has come into existence. She then problematised this, describing the narrative as an almost perfect illustration of a modernist epistemology, one which risks framing men and masculinities as pre-formed categories and concepts and assuming a single linear story of progress. Connell highlighted scholars, authors and others outside the West making contributions to which we should pay attention, highlighting the global power differentials which are their context. She also noted that men and masculinities research must grapple with its relationship with popular, fake knowledges of men and masculinities and deal with the policy fiascos which result from non-academic understandings.

Chris Beasley gave the second keynote address, examining the state of masculinities scholarship and its relation to contemporary gender/sexuality thinking. She provided a thoughtful spatial map of Masculinity Studies in relation to scholarships on gender and sexuality, along such axes as modernism and postmodernism. Beasley noted for example that much Masculinity Studies is based in a weak modernism and shows comparatively little engagement with postmodernism. This means that Masculinity Studies is the ‘odd man out’, with a growing gap between Masculinity Studies and feminist and queer scholarships. This has implications for dialogue and coalition, with divergent tendencies in theorising and differential adherence to gender categories themselves. Beasley asked then, if Masculinity Studies is ‘pro-feminist’, in what sense is this the case if feminism itself has largely abandoned the theoretical agenda which is dominant in Masculinity Studies?

We moved then to the first of the three themes into which further papers were organised: Men Changing – Men and gender equality. Gary Dowsett opened this in giving the third keynote address, focusing on men, sexuality and relationality in late modernity. His and Duane Duncan’s paper asked how men are organising their intimate sexual and relationship lives, in the context of broad changes in intimate life. The Men and Relationships Study (MARS) involves individual life-history interviews with heterosexual and gay men in Melbourne. Dowsett highlighted for example how the heterosexual men’s accounts challenged the conventional limits of heterosexual masculinity, with relationships now a site in which some men perform new kinds of masculinities, although heteronormative practices prevail elsewhere. While the heterosexual men had few others with which to discuss their intimate lives, the gay men described a much greater social infrastructure supporting their sexual expression.

Focusing on ‘straight allies’, Andrew Gorman-Murray framed men’s involvement in equality through the prism of friendships between straight and gay men. He described literatures on men’s friendships, politically active straight allies of LGBT people, and geographies of friendship, using these to investigate ‘everyday’ friendships between gay and straight men.

Mario Liong examined how young college men in Hong Kong perform masculinities through the consumption of “leng mo”, that is, images of amateur female models. While young men discuss and share “leng mo” images, they seek to avoid the stigma of “otaku”, a person seen to have an obsessive and dysfunctional interest in a particular hobbie or media form. Liong explored how men offer divergent displays of masculinity depending on the relational context, from male peers to family and female peers and girlfriends.

Toni Schofield’s keynote address centered on men and gender equality in policy and public institutions, using the case study of the public health workforce. She noted how few men are present at the ‘coalface’ of the health workforce, while many are at the apexes of health organisations. She asked what institutional processes prevent men from entering and staying in nursing and allied professions, while sustaining men’s overrepresentation in those positions with the greatest authority.

The second theme of the workshop was Men Hurting – Men’s violence and health. Bob Pease opened this section with a keynote address on Masculinity Studies and men’s violence. Reviewing Masculinity Studies and feminist scholarship regarding men’s violence, Pease noted both the contributions of various masculinities theorists (Connell, Hearn, and Stark) and their limits. He emphasised four issues often neglected in work on men’s violence: structural violence, men’s violence against men, intersectionality, and ‘ordinary’ men’s violence. Pease critiqued ‘public health’, ‘ecological’, and ‘risk’-focused models for addressing men’s violence against women, concluding that there is a troubling gap between feminist theory and critical studies of men on the one hand and men’s violence prevention on the other.

In response, Michael Flood highlighted both the ways in which Pease’s critique has shifted his understandings and framing of violence prevention and his points of disagreement with this critique. He acknowledged the value of recognising both perpetrators and ‘perpetuators’ of violence, noting that this raises the question of diverse practices among men in relation to violence and control. Flood noted the tensions between activist and academic engagements in the field of violence against women, and for example the challenge of inviting men into personal support for violence prevention efforts while staying true to critical analyses of gender, power and violence.

Focusing on recent scandals involving allegedly violent behaviour by AFL footballers, Rob Cover examined questions of footballers’ identities and bonding and how these are performed through citations of particular norms. Cover suggested that Butler’s ‘ethics of the vulnerable’ may be mobilised to encourage players’ recognition of the vulnerability of others.

Joyce Wu provided a critical examination of the ways in which NGOs in Afghanistan, Pakistan and East Timor engage with men to address violence against women. She noted how these may rely on overly simplistic representations of feminist understandings and neglect the practicalities of men constructing gender-egalitarian relations with women.

Rob Foskey reported on the ‘Mature Men Matter’ project and other research regarding the wellbeing of rural men. She described the use of interactive theatre and other processes within workshops for older rural men, noting the ways in which men’s stories challenge hegemonic stories for example of ageing as dependency and passivity.

Roger Patulny explored patterns of social disconnection among Australian men, as part of a broader examination of the gendered bases of social exclusion and disconnection in Australia. He noted for example that, contrary to some expectations, fewer men than women report having largely same-sex friends and men are more likely to have mixed-sex friendships.

The workshop’s third and final theme was Men Moving – Migration of men across borders and into technologies. Romit Dasgupta gave the first keynote address in this section, tracing shifting masculinities in contemporary Japan. The white, middle-class configuration of the ‘salaryman’ has receded with economic recession and rising unemployment, and to some degree there has been an aesthetic rebranding of masculinity. Diverse formations have emerged, such as the feminised and sexually passive ‘herbivore’. What is not clear is the extent to which masculinity’s fundamental underpinnings are being challenged, with some arguing for the persistence of a ‘metrosexual’ or ‘transvestite patriarchy’.

As a discussant, Mark McLelland emphasised the value of drawing on non-Anglo theorists and theories and of contesting theory from the anglophone metropole, giving examples of Japanese debates regarding categories of sexual identity.

Barbara Pini examined intersections of masculinity and rurality, drawing in part on her research on gender relations in the mining town of Kalgoorlie and in the mining industry more broadly, and locating this within her work on geographies of ruralities, gender, and sexualities.

Emma Cannen documented the ‘mutual hypermasculine politics’ of US President Bush and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. While under Bush the US was portrayed as a security state embodying man as protector, Chavez articulated a persona as righteous, charismatic maverick. His discourses of racialised paternalism have been problematised by Obama’s election.

Michiel Baas and Richard Howson then gave a keynote address on transnational masculinities, using as their case study proposed research on Indian male students’ mobility and practices of accommodation in Australia. This research looks at the transnational dimensions of Indian students’ lifestyles, building upon the observation that the majority of Indian students end up applying for permanent residency after graduation. Gender has been identified as an important aspect of transnationalism particularly in terms of establishing this new and complex type of membership with a society. In practical terms this project will investigate how transnationalism and gender (masculinity) influence and inform social accommodation, integration and related processes.

Wafa Chafic examined the positioning of Australian Muslim men in Australian political and popular discourse. She detailed the links between policies and legislation regarding immigration, citizenship and anti-terrorism and political rhetoric regarding refugees, Indigenous and Muslim men.

The workshop also involved several participatory sessions. One focused on “Building the field: Strategies for advancing scholarship on men and masculinities in Australia and around the world”. Our discussion ranged across three broad questions: (1) What practical steps can CROMM and other individuals and organisations take to build the field of scholarship on men, masculinities and gender? Steps canvassed include a Facebook page, annual events, edited collections, open-space technology, collaborations with the Fay Gale Centre for Research on Gender (Adelaide) and other entities, and more. (2) What is the character of this ‘field’ itself, and what are its relations or overlaps with such domains as feminism and feminist scholarship, Gender Studies, and Sexuality Studies? Participants urged for example that we be reflexive regarding what ‘building the field’ may mean politically. (3) How should scholarship on men and gender contribute to, examine, and be shaped by policy-making and programming regarding men and gender? Participants noted that there are larger agendas in which ‘men’ figure in Australia, in relation to men’s health, violence, fathering, and so on, and that we must look at who else is ‘playing’ and what is going on.

A second participatory session focused on scholarship on men and masculinities in a changing university context. Participants canvassed the significance of the ERA (Excellence in Research for Australia) exercise, particularly with regard to problematic rankings and subject codings of journals related to masculinities, gender, and sexuality. (Update: CROMM Co-Directors Flood and Howson sent a submission to the ERA enquiry, later in March, arguing for changes to the ways in which gender-related research is coded.)