In the article “Rethinking hegemonic masculinities in conflict-affected contexts”, staff from International Alert explore what gets missed when we focus only on violent masculinity. Preventing and responding to violence by men against women is key to creating empowerment for women. But as the authors argue, there are many other forms of non-violent masculinities which exist. We fail to notice these when we jump to the simple conclusion that (all) men are violent.
The authors explore this issue within the context of conflict, drawing on studies from Lebanon, Nepal, Colombia and other countries. Here, we explain what they say, and then consider what their argument encourages us to consider when looking at gender in male-dominated workplaces.
The authors explain the term hegemonic masculinity. First introduced by the academic Raewyn Connell in 1987, it refers to how certain practices of masculinity gain power and legitimacy by ensuring that other practices of gender (including, as examples, femininity and homosexuality) are always seen as weaker. It is a complex term, mainly because what is considered to be a dominant practice of masculinity can change depending on who’s there, where they are, what they are doing, who they are with, when they are doing it, and more. As the authors argue, the term has however often been used to oversimplify masculinity as always violent and always dominant.
The authors argue there are three kinds of non-violent masculinity which get ignored when we assume that masculinity and violence naturally go together.
Thwarted masculinities. This is when men are unable to meet the expectations of what it means to be a man in their culture. When there are no jobs, or when conflict forces people to leave their homes, this can mean many men “fail” to do what they are expected to do—work, provide for the family, provide protection for their children.
Vulnerable masculinities. Men are vulnerable to attack during conflict even if they are not engaged in the conflict. They can be ridiculed for not doing what men should be doing—working or fighting. They can also be subjected to sexual violence, because this is seen as a way to strip away “manhood” and deny them “proper” masculinity.
Non-heterosexual masculinities. These men are already vulnerable because they are often outcasts in their societies. They may be seen as an extra unwanted burden during conflict, or even part of the “evil” that is causing the conflict. They are rarely provided with assistance, even less so than women and children, because they are often invisible to humanitarian agencies.
In Factive’s work on gender issues in workplaces, we find that men can respond negatively to projects which focus on empowering women. This is because they see—rightly or wrongly—that the project sets men up to be the bad guys. They hear, for example, that a particular project wants to address violence against women, and see that they—as men—are being read as the violent ones. In some cases, this is true. Some men are violent. Violence against women is an issue we see everywhere we work. But the men we work with also regularly ask: Why are our needs not being addressed? Why are you assuming that we are okay as men?
Looking beyond men as dominant and violent allows us to think about how men might also be vulnerable even in contexts, like male-dominated workplaces, where it might appear on the surface that being a man means being safe.
What happens to the thwarted men who can’t live up to the expectations of what it means to be a man in their workplace? What if they aren’t physically strong enough? What if they are not good at using a particular piece of machinery?
What are the experiences of the vulnerable men? Are younger male employees exposed to workplace initiation practices which are abusive? How does the vulnerability of men get attacked or supported?
Where are the non-heterosexual men in these workplaces? What visibility do they have or want? To what extent do workplace policies and practices address the needs of these men?
Myrttinen, H., Khattab, L. & Naujoks, J. (2016). “Re-thinking hegemonic masculinities in conflict-affected contexts”. Critical Military Studies