Factive's Blog

Participating in the conversation about gender, safety, and communications in the workplace.

Non-Violent Masculinities. The Missing Picture.

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

What does diversity have to do with extractive industry disasters?

Yassmin Abdel-Magied argues that a lack of diversity was responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010.

“Was there anyone else around the table who thought differently and who didn’t just think differently, but was included enough and was valued enough so their different perspective was valued, to actually challenge that bias?”

“Everyone around the table came from a similar world and a similar perspective. They all thought the same. They all cared about the same things. And so we ended with one of the worst ­tragedies in our industry.”

Read the full article HERE.

Factive’s Director and Principal Consultant, Dean Laplonge, is currently exploring the link between masculinities and mining disasters for a chapter in his next book. To discuss this issue with Dean, contact him through our website.

Gender Smart Solutions in PNG

Factive continues its work with the International Finance Corporation and the Business Coalition for Women in Papua New Guinea to support Gender Smart Safety in workplaces.

A new article published in the Annual PNG Industry Overview 2017-18 by Energy Publications provides information on the services and training programs the Coalition offers to member companies.

The impetus for the development of the Coalition’s Gender Smart Safety resources was the realisation that some women were being overlooked for career development opportunities simply because their employers felt they could not guarantee their safety on particular worksites. 

Importantly, we equip PNG businesses with a sustainable approach to improving women’s safety by training their own teams and giving them tools to conduct women’s safety audits.

To read the full article online, click HERE.

Investing in women is smart business

Dude, It’s Not Your Testosterone

Cordelia Fine does it again. Her previous book Delusions of Gender presented a compelling criticism of biological interpretations of gender. Weak research methodologies, poor interpretations of scientific studies, and a cultural desperation to cling to sex differences are, she claimed in that book, responsible for sustaining the myth that there are hardwired differences between men and women.

Fine is a scientist. She relies on evidence, facts, data. She writes in easily accessible and simple terms, to help dispel popular myths about sex and gender.

In her latest book, Testosterone Rex, she presents case study after case study to show that testosterone in men (or a “lack” of it in women) is not the primary determinant of how they behave. Testosterone has long been of interest to scientists in exploring sex and gender differences. Recent studies show that earlier assumptions about how it contributes to men’s violent and aggressive behaviours are false. It does not determine men’s differences from women. Context and experiences do.

So what happened? How did we get to think this way? And why do we still think this way?

Through looking at the practice of reproduction, we created two sexes: men and women. These two different kinds of bodies are necessary for reproduction to occur. But that’s where it ends. The vast majority of our human experiences do not relate to reproduction. We actually spend very little time involved in this act, if at all. And yet, we have forged—and we continue to force—a link between the two kinds of bodies that can reproduce and everything else these bodies can do. We have imagined linear pathways between the experiences of bodies that produce semen and being male; and between bodies with ovaries and being female. We have determined that if a body can produce semen, it will (or should) behave in a particular way. And if a body has ovaries, it will (or should) behave in an entirely different way.

When we continue to view reproduction as the foundation of all human behaviours and experiences, we ignore those bodies that don’t fit into this model. Intersex and transgender bodies disappear. We also miss out on recognising the diversity of experiences that are not just possible, but are actually lived by those bodies now identified as men and women. Fine compels us to reflect on this for a moment, and to think about all the different ways that men and women actually have lived and live. Not just in our time, but across history. Not just in our own culture, but across cultures. We see astounding diversity in what me and women can and do experience, and there is no clear demarcation of what it means to be a woman from what it means to be a man. The only system that needs men and women to be utterly different is reproduction. Nothing else.

But still, we are desperate to hold on to the idea that men are dictated by testosterone. Our cultural system of sex/gender which creates a neat binary of bodies and experiences is pervasive and highly disciplining. It is upheld by our education, political, legal, religious, and social systems. There must be men and there must be women. There must be a singular kind of masculinity for men and a singular kind of femininity for women. But these singularities come from the idea that there are two kinds of people because we only ever considered reproduction which needs two kinds of bodies. And this is the rex part in Fine’s argument. The idea of sex differences is king, but it is also extinct. The science shows this to be fact.

This book is great! It is recommended reading for anybody who wants to understand how sex and gender differ, and why it is that the idea of sex determining gender is false.

Fine’s ideas are useful for Factive’s work in two areas. Firstly, she devotes considerable time in her book to discuss the issue of gender and risk. Our research and work to explore the impacts of gender on risk-taking for men in mining, and women’s safety in workplaces, are validated by Fine’s position. What determines risk and safety is not sex; it’s not how much testosterone a person has (which, as Fine points out, is never stable in a single body anyway). It’s context. How much risk am I expected to take? What am I risking and what could I win?

Secondly, Factive has long sort to offer an alternative to the narrative that numbers of women and men can be used as a signifier of diversity in workplace. If, as Fine argues, there are no differences between the sexes (other than in the act of reproduction), this too validates our position that diversity in workplaces comes through gender culture change, and not through counting sexed bodies. Increasing the number of women in a workplace is part of addressing inequities in access to job opportunities for women. But having more women does not automatically produce less aggression, less risk-taking, or less violence in a workplace. It does not automatically produce a safer or more communal workplace. Men can and do live differently to the dominant model of hyper-masculinity. Some men are not motivated by an outdated narrative of testosterone.

Factive wishes to thank Icon Books for supplying a review copy of Testosterone Rex.

UNFPA Report on GBV in South-East Myanmar

Congratulations to the UNFPA team in Myanmar on the publication of the report from the 2016 study into gender based violence in Myanmar’s Mon, Kayin, and Kayah states.

This assessment is the first of its kind to be conducted in the south-eastern region of Myanmar. It is an important contribution to ensuring the full inclusion of women and children in Myanmar’s political, social, and cultural systems, with a specific focus on the issue of gender-based violence (GBV) and its impact on these groups in south-eastern Myanmar.

Factive is proud to have been involved in the study through the work of its principal consultant Dean Laplonge.

The full report can be read here.