Race and Theories of Masculinities

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network http://www.europrofem.org 


Précédente Accueil Remonter Suivante


46en_mas ... Masculinity

Race and Theories of Masculinities

Submitted by Phil Robinson
M.A. Candidate, Carleton University
Phone: (613) 562-4031
Email: M.A. Candidate, Carleton University
Phone: (613) 562-4031
Permanent Mailing Address:
13 Wolf Crescent, RR #2
Bolton, Ontario, L7E 5R8

*This paper was originally written to fulfill the requirements of 53.544, Race, Ethnicity and Class in Contemporary Societies taught by Professor Daiva Stasiulis, Carleton University.

Table of Content:

Why is it important to study racialized masculinities?
Non-Feminist Theories of Masculinities
Profeminist Theories of Masculinities
Work That Explicitly Focuses on Race and Gender
Discussion and Conclusion
References Cited


The second wave of feminism during the 1960s and 70s has been followed by a stream of "men’s movements" that have, to differing degrees, attempted to come to grips with issues of male identity. While many of these movements avoid issues of power and inequality that have been articulated by feminism, others have attempted to respond to the challenges put forth. The most promising of these movements is the profeminist men’s movement, whose theoretical and political writings comprise the majority of what’s often referred to as the "New Men’s Studies" (NMS). By following the emancipatory visions articulated by feminist writers, these men have worked to denaturalize and problematize masculinity and patriarchy in an attempt to reduce its hegemonic salience while simultaneously trying not to reinstate men as the primary topic within studies of gender.

Recently, the NMS have begun to enter what Brod and Kaufman term the second wave (1994). This direction has expanded the focus from an assumption of a single, unified masculinity to paradigms that attempt to recognize difference amongst men and between masculinities. This is not an entirely new position; men’s literature has noted differences between men prior to Brod and Kaufman’s announcement of the "second wave." However, aside from simple acknowledgement of variance, much of the NMS literature has not incorporated men who are less privileged along lines of sexuality, class or race. While class and sexuality have received increasing levels of attention, concerns are currently being raised by men of colour and white men regarding the continued absence of men of colour from the majority of profeminist men’s literature (i.e. Awkward 1998; Mirande 1997). Alfredo Mirande has chronicled specific instances within profeminist men’s literature where men of colour are missing, which has led him to the conclusion that attempts to denaturalize men are still primarily focused on white men. In this regard, Mirande points out the irony of a movement that calls for an end to hegemony and simultaneously creates it within itself (1997). Other men have noted that much of the discourse has focused on a false Black–white dichotomy (Messner 1997:64), thereby ignoring non-Black men of colour and potentially creating static racialized "archetypes" that preempt attention to the diversity amongst men.

The discussion I will be presenting here is more exploratory than conclusive. The literature exploring both masculinities and race is scant and yet remarkably varied, especially when compared to the increasingly voluminous writings combining feminist analysis with anti-racist discourse. My hope is to be able to delineate and highlight some of the key issues involved for the purposes of revealing potential new sites for coalitions and inclusive politics. I will begin by exploring the many reasons for studying masculinities that are marginalized along racial lines. In the interests of providing a more holistic view of men’s movements and approaches to race, I will attempt to provide an outline of non-feminist men’s movements and theoretical positions and the positions they take towards issues of race. The foundations of profeminist men’s theories will then be explored, including their approaches to racialized difference amongst men. The role of race and racism in the construction of masculinities will then be discussed with particular attention paid to the experience and writing of Black, Latino, and Asian men. In order to avoid the pitfalls of viewing racialization as a process that only affects people of colour, I will periodically insert accounts regarding the racialized construction of white masculinities. Finally, I will attempt to account for the potential future prospects of NMS in regards to providing a more comprehensive understanding of oppression based on gender and race.

. It should be noted that I will not, and cannot, attempt to create a "grand theory" that incorporates all forms of all masculinities at all times and all places. While numerous scholars have begun to write on the importance of studying the histories of masculinities, including the influence of Europe’s imperialist project (Connor 1993, 1995b), I have limited this paper to the study of contemporary masculinities. This is not to suggest that these histories are unimportant; indeed they are central in the development of contemporary racialized masculinities and have been seriously understudied. However, such an undertaking is beyond the scope of this paper. A similar point should be made in terms of geography; I will be focusing primarily on North American societies. While imperialism and globalization have made studying masculinities as isolated and culturally pure impossible (Connell 1993), it would be erroneous to assume the discussion here can be applied to non-western societies. Masculinity, as I will discuss throughout this paper, is a socially constructed project that is inherently resistant to broad generalizations across time and space.

A brief note on my use of terms is needed at this point. I use the term male to refer specifically to people who are biologically male. Men or man will be used to refer to people who are biologically male and who are socially recognized as belonging to a particular gender that is socially differentiated from the concept of women and is located in a privileged position of power relative to women. Masculinity, then, will be used to refer to the social appropriation of specific characteristics attributed to men and not to women. These characteristics, their reproduction and consequences are inherently related to issues of power, including both men’s power over women and some men’s power over other men. At this point it is important to note that in using the terms men and masculinities I am in no way attempting to legitimize or naturalize the connections between specific characteristics and biological sex, nor do I intend to re-enforce their salience within structures of power.

My use of the term race is similarly not intended to indicate a belief in the independent existence of biological "races." Rather, race is used to refer to the social construction of distinctions based on arbitrary and changing characteristics. I have chosen to use it simply because I am unaware of any other terms that are socially recognized as referring to the racialization experienced by many people of colour and some whites. It is entirely relational and is both a function and a result of gross disparities in power. Again, my use of this term is not intended to proliferate its naturalization.

Why is it important to study racialized masculinities?

There are numerous reasons to include issues of race and racism within any studies of masculinities. For starters, many theorists have argued that masculinities are not solely constructed within men’s power relationship over women. Rather, writers such as Messner and Hondagneu-Sotelo (1994), Kimmel (1993), Funk (1993), Brod (1994) and Kivel (1992), amongst others, have described men’s social power and identities as constructed both in relation to women and in relationships between men. Stoltenberg has stressed that masculinity is inherently rooted in patriarchal structures of exclusion and the exercising of power over people who are defined as the "other," which includes both (feminized or not-masculine-enough) men and women. To be a "real" man, Stoltenberg argues, requires someone else to be less than a man. Furthermore, he believes that the construction of masculinity is at least partially rooted in the fact that men create their identities and act in accordance with their perceptions of other men (Stoltenberg 1989; 1993) – hence, for instance, a man may be isolated on a desert island yet will behave as though other men are watching and may contest his masculinity at any time. This constant competition and re-creation of masculine gender displays is considered most damaging to men who do not have the power to attain it, such as men of colour (Miedzian 1991:300). The patriarchal dividend – the benefits that men accrue, as a class, in the oppression of women – are thereby not divided equally amongst men, with men who are least empowered attaining very little (Connell 1995:148-9; Espiritu 1998:35). Masculinies, power, and the rewards of patriarchy are seen as being relational.

Hegemonic masculinities –those with the most power – are also in a position to define the terms by which masculinity can be attained. Historian Robert Griswold has noted that many middle-class men adopted a "sensitive" identity to differentiate themselves from working-class men, especially since declining wages prevent some professional men from differentiating themselves through property ownership (1993:252-4). While Griswold was looking primarily at social class, Messner and Hondagneu-Sotelo expand the underlying premise that hegemonic masculinities may use various gender displays, such as the sensitive "New Man," to project negative masculine traits onto "subordinate" and racialized men. Their contention is supported by their observation of students who ascribe "traditional masculinity" to poor and non-white men (1994). Similarly, Connell has commented upon the methods used by hegemonic men to prop themselves up by denigrating "other" men:

…a certain remasculinization of the periphery has occurred – felt as a threat by the masculine elites of the metropole. This has led to a striking media and government preoccupation with the hypermasculine figure of "the terrorist";… This figure is now merging into the equally threatening figure of "the fundamentalist. (1995b:144)

In short, Connell is discussing the ability of men with power to assume a position that casts the "other" as a primary threat, thereby circumventing critiques of powerful men’s actions and statuses and positioning them as "the good guys."

The ability of hegemonic men to acquire and use power over men of colour is in itself a sound reason to study racialized masculinities. By studying the experiences and perspectives of those with less power, the authority of hegemonic masculinities can be decentralized and problematized (Cornwall and Lindisfarne 1994:45). In addition, studying from "the bottom up" allows for the deconstruction of white hegemonic masculinities and the role that "whiteness" plays in the construction of some masculinities.

Another reason to study racialized masculinities has been put forth by Mirande. He argues that masculinities displayed by men of colour should not be seen as a sub-category of the normalized white masculinities. His research supports this by indicating that there is a great deal of variation within specific racialized groups of men, and that much of what is typically considered to be generalized masculine traits are in fact very culturally specific (Mirande 1997:147). In other words, subsuming racialized masculinities within a model based on white experience cannot necessarily provide an adequate analysis of non-white masculinities.

Finally, the topic of racialized masculinities needs to be studied simply because of the increasing recognition that there are multiple systems of inequality that cannot be reduced to one variable. A non-reductionist approach is crucial in order for any form of oppression to be studied and fully understood because identities and power are constructed and contested within many overlapping social arenas.

Despite the apparent obviousness of the many reasons to study racialized masculinities that are outlined here, it is surprising how little work actually incorporates such a perspective. In fact, many of the authors referenced in the preceding discussion, despite discussing race as a factor in the creation of hegemonic and subordinate masculinities, do not incorporate race into their analysis beyond the mere recognition of variance.

Non-Feminist Theories of Masculinities

Before delving into the theoretical positioning of the profeminist NMS literature, it would be wise to first take a look at some of the theories of masculinity that either predate it or have developed concurrently and, in part, act as impetuses for NMS’ current directions. The attention (or lack thereof) paid to race within these theoretical positions will be highlighted.

There has been, and still is, a widespread belief in biological gender essentialism. I do not want to waste paper presenting biological evidence in order to refute this form of essentialism, but I will make a couple of brief points. First, as Connell (1993:605), Fausto-Sterling (1992) and Coltrane (1994:45-6) contend, comparative social research has shown that there is no such thing as a universal masculinity that has existed across time and space. It simply does not exist. Furthermore, research positing the existence of such an identity has been widely criticized as being unscientific (Fausto-Sterling 1992). Such claims as those made by supporters of biological essentialism do not address issues of race; rather, they tend to erase non-European forms of masculinity by establishing ahistorical creations as universal norms.

Another approach that has been widely criticized is known as "sex-role theory." This approach posits that there are distinct roles for men and for women, although the basis of these roles tends to be elusive, shifting between psychology, biology, interpersonal relations and "macro-sociological character" (Carrigan et al 1987:146). Furthermore, sex-role theory’s functionalist approach ignores issues of power, inequality, and research that has shown there are more differences within genders than between them (Segal 1993:626-7). In terms of race, this approach does allow for distinctions between "white male roles" and "black male roles," but these are based upon stereotypes and reflect the generalized functions men perform within the family or work.

"Men’s liberation" or "male therapy" approaches began to emerge during the 1970s as men became increasingly challenged by feminism. The focus was to explore men’s subjective personal experience, to challenge definitions of masculinity that were hurting men and women, to celebrate male bonding and reassure men that there was nothing inherently bad about being male. On one hand, this approach was associated with feminism in that men were becoming conscious of their own identities as men. On the other hand, issues of power and inequality were avoided in lieu of personal development. The category "men" was also unchallenged and problematic in that there was no attention to issues of race or class, resulting in an assumed universality of experience.

Growing out of the men’s liberation perspective came the mythopoetic men’s movement. This movement has acquired a substantial following amongst white, middle-class and middle-aged men primarily because of its ability to provide a degree of certainty about what it means to be a man. It was started by Robert Bly, whose book Iron John expunged a belief in an essentialist, ahistorical and unchanging "deep masculinity" that is composed of archetypal patterns that can be retrieved through ritual and mythology. These rituals can, according to Bly, restore male initiation rites and counter the "feminization" of contemporary males. I will not go into detail as to the movement’s specifics, nor will I pursue the rather simple path of critiquing the numerous faulty assumptions and circular logic employed by the movement. However, it is noteworthy to consider two of the main criticisms of the movement in regards to how it fails to account for men of colour or for the racism that it is seen to perpetuate.

To begin with, the mythopoetic movement’s assumption of a "deep masculine" is problematic because it neglects to consider the possibility of socially and historically constructed masculinities. In doing so, it "provides little insight into how masculinity is formed or how it can be changed, and it seems to lack a willingness to explore historical or cultural differences" (Clatterbaugh 1995:531). This leads to a second, perhaps more relevant criticism having to do with the location and subsequent retrieval of the "deep masculine." This "inner essence" is believed to exist within non-western, pre-industrial societies and can be acquired by attaining a "tribal understanding" through "primitive" rituals that romanticize the "untouched" nature of native wisdom. This process, referred to as "imperialistic fantasies" by Savran (1996:141), is "an attempt to reconstruct ‘traditional’ male identity using reworked myths of ‘racial’ and landscape difference from the colonial era" (Bonnett 1996:280). Kimmel considers this to be a racist appropriation because,

the mythopoets adopt what we might call "Redface" – the appropriation of putatively Native American rituals that allow privileged white men access to that set of emotions – community, spirituality, communion with nature – that they feel themselves to have lost and have therefore displaced onto Native American Cultures. (Kimmel 1996:320)

Native author Beth Brant has gone one step further and described this misappropriation of Aboriginal culture as a "rape" (Brant 1994:33). However, Bonnett is much more hesitant in criticizing the mythopoetics, noting that while he feels they have taken a reactionary standpoint towards the changes men have experienced during the last few decades, he also sees the transgressive potential of their appropriation – an act, he adds, which is not conclusively wrong because there is no pretense of authenticity (1996). I would argue that Bonnet’s stance is problematic for two reasons: first, the mythopoetics, through their appropriation of Native rituals, are classifying and defining the "other" in a way that is essentialist and simply inaccurate; and second, the "transgressive potential" is limited to a one way transgression that can only occur precisely because the men involved in the mythopoetic movement have privilege – while middle-class white men can "play" with Native rituals, there are few "Natives" who have the privilege of "playing" the role of a middle-class white man.

Michael Kimmel has noted the re-emergence of rightwing Christian theorizations of masculinity as evidenced in the rise of the Promisekeepers. This organization, which is by far the largest "men’s movement," aims to re-introduce what Kimmel has referred to as "Muscular Christianity." Complete with a "recasting [of] Jesus as a religious Rambo," this movement asserts, as televangelist Jerry Falwall has claimed, that "Christ wasn’t effeminate. The man who lived on this earth was a man with muscles… Christ was a he-man!" (Kimmel 1996:312-3).

The basic tenants of the Promisekeepers are to reinvigorate a strong, compassionate and responsible form of masculinity and to reinstate men as the head of the household. While many critics note the positive aspects articulated in the desire for a masculinity that is more in touch with its feelings and is communicative, the Promisekeepers nonetheless aim to provoke a shift in power from women to men (assuming, as they do, that women have assumed many forms of power that belong in the domain of men). Furthermore, the Promisekeepers are vehemently anti-choice and view gays and lesbians as abominations.

In regards to issues of race, the Promisekeepers have managed to attract a level of diversity that is greater than most other men’s movements. This is a direct result of one of their "seven promises," which aims to reach "beyond any racial and denominational barriers" in order to "demonstrate the power of biblical unity" (Wagenheim 1995). Kaufman has sarcastically pointed out that "it is a good thing that an organization led by right-wing whites speaks out against racism" (1997), implying as others have that the organization’s goal of racial equality is not represented in the leadership or in the organizations practice. While no concrete information is available on the operationalization of the purportedly anti-racist "promise," the organization’s universalistic and ethnocentric notion of a masculinity that requires the worship of God and Jesus Christ is inherently limited in terms of its potential ability to incorporate non-Christian men of all racialized groups.

One final non-feminist approach shall be touched upon briefly. The "men’s rights" approach has increasingly garnered support from a largely white, middle-class and middle-aged constituency of divorced fathers and other men who feel that feminism has led to a situation in which men are unfairly victimized. This group’s members have cleverly attempted to adopt the vocabulary of oppression and "rearticulate the social and political discourses that have made sense to diverse sectors" of society (Yudice 1995:271). I will not attempt to deconstruct the "set of empirical inversions that make the rational mind reel" (Kimmel 1996:300-1) inherent in the men’s rights approach, except to say that I am supportive of Ellis Cose’s statement on the matter: "The truth is that men are not so much victims of feminism, female anger, or female hypocrisy as of the inability to stop self-destructing" (1995:43). In regards to race and racism, the men’s rights approach has no clear stand. On one hand, the attempt to reverse the discourse of oppression implies that the largely white membership would take an oppositional stance towards anti-racist initiatives, especially if they were perceived to threaten white men’s power. On the other hand, there is a possibility that the movement could, in specific instances, side with men of colour who feel that they have been treated unfairly due to their gender. Regardless of which direction this movement takes, and doubtless it will likely take both at different times and locations, the overall approach of the men’s rights advocates is ill-founded.

Essentialist, sex-role, men’s liberation, mythopoetic, rightwing Christian and men’s rights approaches are by no means the only theoretical positions that profeminist men have been responding too. However, the movements outlined above are included in part to contextualize the profeminist men’s movement and to suggest that, despite some failings, the profeminist men’s movement does offer a theoretical framework that is by far more conducive to incorporating an analysis of race and racism than any other available models of men and masculinities.

Profeminist Theories of Masculinities

There are a variety of theoretical positions taken by profeminist men. In the interest of brevity, I will attempt to provide an overview of the main foundations that transcend most profeminist male writers’ work.

Two of the basic foundations of profeminist men’s work have been perhaps best articulated by Connell (1995a). The first is the centrality of masculinity as a structure of power. This foundation posits that men, as a class and regardless of individual difference, collectively hold power over women in three primary ways. First, men hold power over women through power relations as embodied in patriarchy and the overall subordination of women. This is a somewhat general and ill-defined term that is related too and yet distinguished from Connell’s proceeding considerations. The second point is that power is exercised by men through production relations and the gendered division of labour. Lastly, Connell distinguishes the importance of what he calls cathexis, which consists of the practices that shape and realize the gendered construction of sexual desire.

It should be noted that most profeminist writers contend that men have power regardless of whether or not they feel powerful. Kaufman has termed this as men’s contradictory experiences of power (1994), by which he is referring to the fact that many men do not experience a subjective sense of personal power yet simultaneously have and exercise power both as individuals and as a class.

The second primary foundation elaborated upon by Connell is the symbolism of difference (1995a). This term refers to the construction of masculinity through the oppositional positioning of femininity. In Stoltenberg’s words, as mentioned previously, to be a real "man" requires someone else to be less than a man (1989;1993). While Connell and others acknowledge that this symbolism of difference is used to feminize men who are defined as "other," I am not convinced that the masculine-feminine dichotomy is the only way in which this symbolism is constructed. For instance, I am hesitant to suggest that all racialized "others" are constructed in terms of being "more-or-less feminine." This approach seems to reduce racialized oppression to a mere function of gender-based oppression. In other words, this position doesn’t allow for an analysis of racism other than that which occurs within a framework that focuses primarily on gender.

Connell’s categorization of relations between masculinities consists of four typologies. The first, hegemonic masculinity, is defined as the current

configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees (or is taken to guarantee) the dominant position of men and the subordination of women. (1995a:77)

Hegemonic masculinity, then, is established through a "correspondence between cultural ideal and institutional power" (1995a:77). The second typology is that of subordination, which recognizes that there are "specific gender relations of dominance and subordination between groups of men" (1995a:78). Connell positions this relationship primarily in terms of sexuality, stating that "The most important case in contemporary European/American society is the dominance of heterosexual men and the subordination of homosexual men" (1995a:78). The focus on heterosexual-homosexual relations is common within the NMS and is problematic when race is excluded, although Connell does address race within a forthcoming typology. The third typology is that of complicity. Connell views this as including those "Masculinities constructed in ways that realize the patriarchal dividend, without the tensions or risks of being the frontline troops of patriarchy, are complicit in this sense" (1995a:79). The final typology, that of marginalized masculinities, are differentiated from subordinated masculinities in that Connell locates marginalized masculinities outside of the "relations internal to the gender order" (1995a:80). Marginalization refers to the relations between masculinities in different classes or racialized groups.

By differentiating these relations amongst masculinities, Connell is trying to show that masculinities are at the same time relational to each other and to women, that they should be viewed as projects that are constantly being constructed, and they are as much collective projects as they are individual ones (1995b). There is a need for clarification, however, in regards to the positioning of men of colour – are they outside of the relations of gender, or are they racialized within the relations of gender? I would argue that race exists as a separate phenomenon and exists within the relations of gender. While men of colour and racism are gendered, it would be false to assume that all racism can be accounted for within a gender-based framework. As I have mentioned previously, I am concerned about the reductionist nature of assuming that all racism can be analysed as a function of gender. There is clearly a need to elaborate upon this within profeminist men’s writings.

Brod has suggested that the "relational nature of gender" should be seen "as site and result of interactive negotiations amid structures of domination" (1994:89). These structures are discussed by Hearn and Collinson, although the approach to unities and differences between men take a poststructuralist approach and are reduced to what they term social divisions. According to Hearn and Collinson, these differences in "masculinities may reproduce other social divisions while at the same time those other social divisions reproduce masculinities" (1994:110). This statement is elaborated into three related points, the first of which is that masculinities can simultaneously be assertions of particular social locations and forms of resistance to other social divisions (1994:110). Using Connell’s symbolism of difference, this point suggests that men may develop gender displays to counter institutionalized oppression (a consideration which will be elaborated upon in the next section). The second point raised by Hearn and Collinson is that social divisions may be mediated by different masculinities (1994:110). So, for instance, middle-class white men may attempt to self-differentiate themselves from poor men by gender displays that emphasize material ownership. Finally, Hearn and Collinson point out that masculinities and social divisions should be seen as coexisting, as "simultaneously and reciprocally referring to each other" (1994:111). In other words, neither masculinities nor other elements of men’s identities should be seen as discrete and isolated from each other; rather, they reinforce each other in ongoing and changing ways.

Hearn and Collinson do acknowledge some of the potential problems with their poststructural approach, including the potential that their anti-foundationalist perspective may undermine any basis of knowledge for exploring social divisions (1994:114). Similarly, they express a concern that a focus on inequality will be replaced with an emphasis on "diversified pluralism" (1993:114). What is positive in their approach is the non-essentializing stance they take. However, the absence of structurally mediated power relations is troublesome, as is evident from their list of the basis of differences amongst men. This list includes the following items: age; appearance; bodily facility; care; economic class; ethnicity; fatherhood and relations to biological reproduction; leisure; marital and kinship status; mind (mental ability); occupation; place; religion; sexuality; size; and violence (1994:109). While I do believe that "lifestyle" issues are important and understudied within academia, I have difficulty supporting an approach to difference which does not differentiate between, for example, leisure activities and ethnicity (note: ethnicity is used to refer to race by Hearn and Collinson). In the end, there is a potential to minimize issues of power and inequality and to conflate issues that, in my view, have less of an impact on men’s lived experiences (I am picturing in my mind, for instance, a group of men contesting issues of racism and arguing instead for a focus on differences in men’s pant sizes or golfing ability).

Before discussing writings by men of colour on race and gender, I would like to conclude this section by expressing my own opinion in regards to this discussion. First, I do believe that the theoretical foundations to incorporate race and racism have been somewhat developed within profeminist men’s writings and that there is still much work that needs to be done. However, I must also express my frustration with the limited amount of consideration this topic has received within profeminist theories of masculinities. Despite acknowledging the relevance of race, and its centrality within relations of power, most of the writing seems to then carry on as though race is a peripheral issue that, to borrow a phrase from anti-racist feminists of colour, can be "added and stirred" in with mainstream/white studies of masculinities. When race is considered, it appears to be used either as a static, unchanging variable that affects some men’s location within structured power relations, or it is taken to be another social division that is relevant to the extent that it affects men’s "gender display." In neither of these instances is the social construction of race directly addressed. Perhaps more importantly, neither of these approaches seems to consider (not to mention problematize) race as a key factor in the creation of white masculinities. The implication, then, is that race is an issue affecting the masculinities of men of colour and not the masculinities of white men. Clearly, such a standpoint is fraudulently incomplete and naďve.

Work That Explicitly Focuses on Race and Gender

My intention here is to provide an overview of some of the issues that are being debated and discussed amongst people of colour in relation to race and masculinity. Much of the work that has been done has focused on Black men, although a growing literature is developing on Latino men and, to a lesser extent, Asian and Jewish men. Towards the end I will return to a point made earlier in regards to the role that race plays in the construction of white masculinity by examining studies of white supremacist discourses.

One issue that is frequently mentioned is the tendency amongst scholars to ignore differences within racialized or cultural groups (for an anthropological account, see Conway-Long 1994). This is an important point to consider in any study on race and gender, as collapsing either all men of colour or all men of, say, African heritage together amounts to a form of essentialism. While not necessarily biological in nature, this form of essentialism based on an assumed commonality of experience should not go unchecked. However, it has also been pointed out by some writers that it is equally erroneous to assume that race is not a key factor in the construction of masculinities. For instance, Cazenave’s study of Black men showed that race was an important factor in the construction of masculinities, but the experience of race was mediated by age and, more importantly, by economic status (1984). Similarly, Dawsey’s interviews of young Black men revealed both a diversity of life experience and a common theme of struggling against racism (1996), and Mirande’s study found a great deal of diversity in the perceptions of machismo amongst Latino and Chicano men (1997). In terms of men of colour as a whole, Messner has pointed out that, as a group, they are really only united as a collectivity when they are contrasted as the "other" in relation to white men (1997:97).

In considering the variety of issues affecting men of colour, particular attention is required at times to the role immigration plays in the construction of some forms of masculinity. This is an area that has received extremely little attention, with the exception of work by Espiritu, Messner and Hondagneu-Sotelo. Espiritu has written on the dualistic creation of masculinities amongst Asian American men that has occurred as a result of American immigration policy. He points out that there are many Asian men who are wealthy and powerful in America, while simultaneously many Asian men are poor and working in low-paid and unskilled sectors (1998). Messner and Hondagneu-Sotelo’s work on Mexican immigrant men reveals the changes in masculinities that can occur as a result of the powerlessness accompanying undocumented status and redistributions of power that occur within the family as wives join the workforce and demand more say in decision-making processes (1994).

The role of history in creating differentially constructed masculinities is also an important consideration that has been the topic of much literature about men of colour. Manning Marable has written about the role that slavery and racism played in the construction of Black men as unintelligent, politically threatening, and as sexually aggressive (1998). Similarly, Espiritu has written on the emasculation of Asian men through their history as domestic labourers in North America and through the Internment of the Japanese during World War Two(1998).

There are two approaches that have often been used to address the masculinities of Black men (although, to some extent, these approaches have also been used to examine other men of colour). One such approach is referred to as the culture of poverty, which Cazenave describes as that which "assumes that Black male gender roles are a product of a subculture that emphasizes aggression, irresponsibility, and exploitation" (1984:641). There are several problems with this approach, including its inherent tendency to blame-the-victim, its complete avoidance of structural inequalities and racism, and the propensity to essentialize Black men.

A second approach focuses on how racism has affected the ability of Black men to achieve masculinity as proscribed by white men. Cazenave describes this model as one which,

assumes that Black men have accepted the basic masculine goals of society, but do not have the operational means to carry them out… [and] resort to ghetto-specific masculine alternatives when conventional strategies fail…and experience a discrepancy between what they aspire to and what they are actually able to achieve. (1984:641)

This approach has led to numerous debates within Black communities. The crux of the debate is twofold: first, is "manhood" a positive goal for Black men to aspire; and, second, what are the implications of such an undertaking?

Several Black writers have supported the importance of Black men acquiring "manhood." For instance, Staples has written that it is crucial for Black men to be able to know their gendered roles and attain masculine standing. Not unrelated to this is Staples belief that Black men have suffered more than Black women as a result of sexualized stereotypes of Blacks (1998). Other men have challenged this, arguing that antiracism should not be focused on reclaiming Black men’s manhood (Marable 1997) and that such a goal would be antithetical to the imperatives of Black communities (Hunter and Davis 1992). This debate was highlighted in 1995 during the Million Man March and resulted in divisions amongst Black leaders, many of whom felt the need for a reaffirmation of the "dignity and humanity" of Black men (Allen 1998:588) while others felt that the March was an attempt to reaffirm Black manhood over and against the interests of Black women.

Regardless of the stance one takes on this issue, Robert Allen, who believes that "Black men must hold each other responsible for challenging sexism in our community" (1998:589), nonetheless concedes that

the mockery and scorning of black men by white scholars and the white establishment for not being successful patriarchs generates a terrible pressure to "act like men" and a humiliating social stigma if we fail to measure up, if we fail to demonstrate the semblance of masculine power if not its substance. (1998:589-90)

Allen makes an important point in differentiating between the "semblance of masculine power" and its "substance." Several writers have commented upon the ways in which some Black men exhibit very masculine traits, such as those consumed under the term "cool pose," to overcome institutionalized racism. Mac An Ghaill explicitly notes in his study of young English Black men that a hypermasculinity was displayed to school authorities in an attempt to make themselves visible and as a response and form of negotiation with the "institutional ambivalence" towards their subordinated masculinity (1994). Other writers have commented upon this, including Franklin II (1987), Messner (1997), Hunter and Davis (1992) and Connor (1995a). Hunter, Davis and Connor refer to this as a survival mechanism, although Hunter and Davis are less endorsing of it. Connor seems much more supportive of "cool pose" and, while criticizing the ways in which racism obstructs Black men’s ability to acquire "manhood," fails to problematize the concept of "manhood" or consider the negative implications it can have for Black women. Actually, Connor’s approach, similar to others, has essentialist undertones in its applause for "manhood" and her accompanying belief that Black women need to play a role in reaffirming Black men’s masculinity (1995).

The debate regarding masculinity as a response to racism is particularly salient in the literature on Latino men and machismo. Pena has argued that Latino men’s exaggerated gender display is a symbolically displaced and defensive response to their oppressed class status:

As an expression of working-class culture, the folklore of machismo can be considered a realized signifying system [that] points to, but simultaneously displaces, a class relationship and its attendant conflict. At the same time, it introduces a third element, the gender relationship, which acts as a mediator between the signifier (the folklore) and the signified (the class relationship). (As quoted in Hondagneu-Sotelo and Messner 1994:208)

Thus, because Mexican immigrant men are unlikely to be able to confront their oppressors, their antagonism is "symbolically" displaced onto their relations with women. This position is not limited to Mexican immigrant men and has been used to explain the gendered behaviour of other groups of racialized men. However, concerns have been raised that this approach is a form of race and class reductionism that ignores the realm of gender relations (Messner 1997:75-76). Even more troubling, however, is the concern that,

In foregrounding the oppression of men by men, these studies risk portraying aggressive, even misogynist, gender displays primarily as liberating forms of resistance against class and racial oppression… What is obscured or even drops out of sight is the feminist observation that these kinds of masculinity are forms of domination over women. As a result, women’s actual experiences of oppression and victimization by men’s violence are conspicuously absent from most of these analyses, thus leaving the impression that misogyny is merely a "symbolic displacement" of men’s experience of class (or race) subordination. (Messner 1997:77)

Zinn, in her work on Chicano men, both acknowledges the oppression faced by Chicano men and insists that an approach viewing men’s gender displays strictly as a response to oppression is incomplete. This is especially so because, according to Zinn, male dominance exists within Chicano culture and not solely in relation to the oppression experienced by Chicano men (Zinn 1998). In many regards, this debate can be considered within the framework provided by the profeminist men’s literature, at least to the extent that the profeminist position considers the symbolism of difference, the structures of power, and the relationships between them. In addition, the profeminist perspective is relational, thereby allowing for an understanding of the ways in which groups of people can be simultaneously oppressed and oppressors. However, as noted earlier, not many white profeminist writers have actively included men of colour into their analysis.

Some men of colour have adopted feminist frameworks. For instance, Marable (1998) and Allen (1998) have both written about the need for men to challenge sexism and about the interrelationships between oppression based on race and that based on gender. Lemons has detailed the feminist principles adopted by Black male leaders through history, such as Frederick Douglas and W.E.B. DuBois, and urged contemporary Black men to do the same (1998). Similarly, Awkward has written on the role of Black men in Black feminism, suggesting that Black feminism is an opportunity for Black men to revision themselves (1998) and Mirande has called for the development of a new field that examines Chicano/Latino studies, Latina/Chicana feminism and Chicano/Latino men’s studies (1997:139). These calls have received mixed reviews from women of colour, some of whom seem torn between viewing men of colour as obvious allies and simultaneous concerns over the appropriation of feminism. For instance, James has expressed concerns that Black men’s feminist writing has tended to focus primarily on similarities between Black men and Black women while downplaying differences in experience (1998:248).

It is important to note that the discussion presented here is not complete. There are many issues that have not been addressed, including what is often termed the "institutional decimation" of Black men in America (Franklin II 1987). Another is the assumption that the masculinities exhibited by men of colour have the same meanings as those of whites, as well as the assumption that the same forms of masculinity are valued. Some research has suggested that Black men value power as a component of manhood less than white men, and that Black men may differentiate between the concepts of manhood and masculinity (which I have used synonymously) (David and Hunter 1992). The last omission I will note is that I have not included any discussion on men of mixed ancestry, nor am I aware of any literature discussing masculinity and mixed ancestry. Clearly, there is much more work to do in this area.

Before concluding this section, I think it is important to recognize that white masculinities are constructed as racialized identities, although this is rarely made explicit in any literature on masculinities. Ferber and Daniels have both studied the construction of white masculinities within white supremacist discourses. If the premise that such discourses are not entirely isolated and distinct from mainstream society is accepted, which is an argument made by Daniels (1997) and one which I support, then the identity constructions within white supremacist discourses can be seen to reflect broader conceptualizations of white masculinity. Ferber has written on how these discourses must be seen as a site of gendered and racialized identity construction, one which attempts to essentialize men and women and whites and non-whites (Ferber 1998). While I will not attempt to detail the specifics of the identities constructed, it is worthwhile to note that Daniels has characterized depictions of white men within the discourses as men in full control, powerful within the family, unquestioningly heterosexual, as protective "warriors" and simultaneously as victims of racial, class and state oppression (1997). This construction, of course, takes place against a backdrop of denigrating stereotypes of Black and Jewish men, further illuminating and differentiating the white male from the "other."

Discussion and Conclusion

Identities and locations within social divisions are inherently untidy and complex. In relation to men’s movements, Richard Fung has questioned the existence of "an identity as men that cuts across race, class, and sexuality" (1995:292). Several Black male authors have argued that their interests are most aligned with those of Black women (i.e. Marable 1998), while some Black women have made the complementary argument that their concerns have more in common with Black men than with white feminist women (i.e. James 1998). Others, including Mirande (1997) and Richard Delgado (James 1998), are insistent that men of colour cannot expect to ally themselves with the very men that oppress them (i.e. white men). While these latter arguments clearly indicate the extensiveness of these men’s experiences of racism, they also indicate a form of reductionism that views social justice as primarily a struggle against racialized oppression. This approach, as articulated by Messner, reduces gender-based oppression to the status of a secondary and peripheral result of racism (1997).

On the other hand, the predominantly white profeminist men’s movement has tended to prioritize gender and sexuality over concerns about racism. While the models constructed within profeminist men’s discourse do provide the theoretical space for an analysis of racism, this tends not to occur or to be considered secondary to the larger construction of (white) masculinities. However, this discourse does appear to offer possibilities that are not available within other narrowly defined men’s movements or their accompanying theoretical positions.

One issue that is central to this discussion is whether or not it is possible to acquire manhood without oppressing women or other men. Men of colour have many views on this topic: some view feminist approaches as creating a space for men to reconstruct a more humane definition of manhood; others view manhood as inherently incongruent with visions of equality; and, perhaps most commonly, some view manhood as a potential site to reclaim power and dignity that is systematically prevented by racism. In regards to the latter perspective, the majority of profeminist men view contemporary masculinities as irreconcilable with social justice. This view is predominant regardless of the extent to which the specific profeminist analysis acknowledges the role of racism in social inequality.

The fact that men of colour occupy a dual position of being oppressed by racism and simultaneously experience male privilege within certain social domains marks a clear distinction from most white profeminist men’s social location and analysis. While white men’s profeminist writings tend to emphasize men’s gender privilege, men of colour’s writings tend to emphasize their experience of racial oppression. These differences are important and may limit the extent to which men of colour and white men’s interests will converge. However, I do believe that it is premature to announce the impossibility of an anti-racist profeminist project that bridges the gaps between men of colour and white men, and consequently has the potential to also bring both men and women together. But before this can happen, there are several important directions that need to be considered and implemented.

First, profeminist men must stop assuming that white men’s experience is universal. This is not to suggest that white masculinities should not be examined, but rather that the masculinities being explored must be stated and presumptions that all other forms of masculinities can be subsumed within such frameworks must be avoided. By challenging assumptions implicit in analyses that focus solely on the experience of men with racial privilege, profeminist men can begin the process of removing hegemonic forms of masculinity from center stage. Further, particular attention to the experiences of men who are relatively disempowered within current systems of stratification will provide a more holistic analysis that problematizes hegemonic forms of masculinity.

Second, men of colour and white men must develop theoretical frameworks that incorporate a multiplicity of interacting factors. For white men, this requires adopting something akin to Messner’s "multiracial feminism," which posits that men of colour’s experiences and voices must be taken into account (although not necessarily all individual men of colour’s perspectives). Gender should not be seen as a "superstructural" manifestation of racial politics but as a semi-autonomous arena of power relations between men and women (1997). All oppression should not be viewed as belonging to the same social dynamic, nor should there be an assumption that there is a consistent congruence of interests between all people challenging social inequality (Messner 1997). The goals and processes of different individuals and movements may in fact be quite different, depending on the specific temporal and social locations occupied.

Conversely, Messner has articulated the need for men of colour to refrain from class and racial reductionism. Messner has commented on the tendency within many anti-racist movements for men of colour to prioritize men’s experience. Gender is often avoided and relocated to the status of a secondary issue that will solve itself once racism is dismantled (1997). This approach, while largely a result of men of colour’s primary experience of oppression within class and racial systems, inhibits a holistic conceptualization of inequality that would incorporate women of colour, feminism, and allow for the deconstruction of masculinities.

Even if the steps I have outlined here were to be adopted, it is still quite possible that cohesive coalition politics will be unattainable. The multiplicity of issues involved in comprehensive articulations of social justice issues could very well reveal that, in line with much postmodern thinking, knowledge is always only partial and relative. However, even if this is so, the pursuit of political alliances that transcend barriers such as race and gender may enhance current efforts that bring together diverse groups to pursue short-term, temporary projects of social justice. Bringing together men of colour and white men in a common pursuit of both feminism’s and anti-racism’s visions of equality is just one potential alliance that needs to be explored. Clearly, such an initiative will require studying the differences amongst men and masculinities. While some degree of conflict is inevitable, it would be erroneous to abandon social justice projects altogether or to avoid efforts to bridge narrow, single-issue political movements.


References Cited

Allen, Robert L.
1998 "Racism, Sexism, and a Million Men." Pp. 588-90 in Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner (eds.), Men’s Lives. Toronto: Allyn and Bacon. (Reprinted from The Black Scholar 25 (4), 1995).

Awkward, Michael
"A Black Man’s Place in Black Feminist Criticism." Pp. 147-67 in Tom Digby (ed.), Men Doing Feminism. New York: Routledge.

Bly, Robert
1990 Iron John: A Book About Men. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Bonnett, Alastair
"The New Primitives: Identity, Landscape and Cultural Appropriation in the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement." Antipode 273-91.

Brant, Beth.
1994 Writing as Witness: Essay and Talk. Toronto: Women’s Press.

Brod, Harry; and Kaufman, Michael (eds.)
1994 Theorizing Masculinities. Thousand Oaks, C.A.: Sage Publications.

Brod, Harry.
"Some Thoughts on Some Histories of Some Masculinities: Jews and Others." Pp. 82-96 in Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman (eds.), Theorizing Masculinities. Thousand Oaks, C.A.: Sage Publications.

Carrigan, Tim; Connell, Bob; and Lee, John
1987 "Hard and Heavy: Toward a New Sociology of Masculinity." Pp. 139-92 in Michael Kaufman (ed.), Beyond Patriarchy: Essays By Men on Pleasure, Power, and Change. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Cazenave, Noel A.
1984 "Race, Socioeconomic Status, and Age: The Social Context of American Masculinity." Sex Roles 7/8 (11):639-56.

Clatterbaugh, Kenneth.
1995 "Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity." Pp. 525-33 in E.D. Nelson and B.W. Robinson (eds.), Gender in the 1990s. Toronto: Nelson Canada.

Coltrane, Scott.
1994 "Theorizing Masculinities in Contemporary Social Science." Pp. 39-60 in Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman (eds), Theorizing Masculinities. Thousand Oaks, C.A.: Sage Publications.

Connell, R.W.
1993 "The Big Picture: Masculinities in Recent World History." Theory and Society 22:597-623.

1995a Masculinities. Berkeley: University of California Press.

1995b "Politics of Changing Men." Socialist Review 1 (25):135-59.

Connor, Marlene Kim.
1995 What is Cool? Understanding Black Manhood in America. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.

Conway-Long, Don
1993 "Ethnographies and Masculinities." Pp. 61-81 in Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman (eds.), Theorizing Masculinities. Thousand Oaks, C.A.: Sage Publications.

Cornwall, Andrea; and Lindisfarne, Nancy (eds.)
1994 Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative Ethnographies. New York: Routledge.

Cose, Ellis
1994 A Man’s World. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Daniels, Jessie
1995 White Lies: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in White Supremacist Discourse. New York: Routledge.

Davis, James Earl; and Hunger, Andrea G.
1992 "Constructing Gender: An Exploration of Afro-American Men’s Conceptualization of Manhood." Gender and Society 3 (6):464-79.

Dawsey, Darrell
1994 Living to Tell About It: Young Black Men in America Speak Their Piece. Toronto: DoubleDay.

Espiritu, Yen Le
1998 "All Men Are Not Created Equal: Asian Men in U.S. History." Pp. 35-44 in Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner (eds.), Men’s Lives. Toronto: Allyn and Bacon.

1992 Myths of Gender. New York: BasicBooks.

Ferber, Abby L.
1998 "Constructing Whiteness: The Intersections of Race and Gender in U.S. White Supremacist Discourse." Ethnic and Racial Studies 1 (21):48-63.

Franklin II, Clyde W.
1987 "Surviving the Institutional Decimation of Black Males: Causes, Consequences, and Intervention." Pp. 155-69 in Harry Brod (ed.), The Making of Masculinities: The New Men’s Studies. Boston: Allen and Unwin.

Fung, Richard
1995 "Burdens of Representation, Burdens of Responsibility." Pp. 291-8 in
Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, and Simon Watson (eds.), Constructing Masculinity. New York: Routledge.

Funk, Rus Ervin
1992 Stopping Rape: A Challenge for Men. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers.

Griswold, Robert L.
1992 Fatherhood in America: A History. New York: BasicBooks.

Hearn, Jeff; and Collinson, David L.
1994 "Theorizing Unities and Differences Between Men and Between Masculinities." Pp. 97-118 in Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman (eds.), Theorizing Masculinities. Thousand Oaks, C.A.: Sage Publications.

Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette; and Messner, Michael A.
1994 "Gender Displays and Men’s Power: The "New Man" and the Mexican Immigrant Man." Pp. 200-18 in Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman (eds.), Theorizing Masculinities. Thousand Oaks, C.A.: Sage Publications.

James, Joy
1998 "Antiracist (Pro)Feminisms and Coalition Politics: ‘No Justice, No Peace.’" Pp. 237-54 in Tom Digby (ed.), Men Doing Feminism. New York: Routledge.

Kaufman, Michael
1993 Cracking the Armour: Power, Pain and the Lives of Men. Toronto: Penquin Books

1994 Letter to the Editor." mensnet @ magi.com (19 October 1997)

Kimmel, Michael (ed.)
1996 The Politics of Manhood. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Kivel, Paul
1992 Men’s Work: How to Stop the Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart. New York: Ballantine Books.

Lemons, Gary
1998 "A New Response to Angry Black (Anti)Feminists: Reclaiming Feminist Forefathers, Becoming Womanist Sons." Pp. 275-89 in Tom Digby (ed.), Men Doing Feminism. New York: Routledge.

Mac An Ghaill, Mairtin
1994 "The Making of Black English Masculinities." Pp. 183-99 in Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman (eds.), Theorizing Masculinities. Thousand Oaks, C.A.: Sage Publications.

Marable, Manning
1994 Black Liberation in Conservative America. Boston: South End Press.

1994 "The Black Male: Searching Beyond Stereotypes." Pp. 18-24 in Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner (eds.), Men’s Lives. Toronto: Allyn and Bacon. (Reprinted from R. Majors and J. Gordon (eds.) The American Black male. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1993).

Messner, Michael A.
1996 Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements. Thousand Oaks, C.A.: Sage Publications.

Mirande, Alfredo
1997 Hombres y Machos: Masculinity and Latino Culture. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

Miedzian, Myriam
1991 Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence. Toronto: Anchor Books.

Savran, David
1996 "The Sadomasochist in the Closet: White Masculinity and the Culture of Victimization." Differences 2 (8):127-52.

Segal, Lynne
1993 "Changing Men: Masculinities in Context." Theory and Society 22:625-641.

Staples, Robert
1998 "Stereotypes of Black Male Sexuality: The Facts Behind the Myths." Pp. 466-471 in Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner (eds.), Men’s Lives. Toronto: Allyn and Bacon. (Reprinted from Changing Men, Winter 1986).

Stoltenberg, John
1989 Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice. New York: Meridian.

1992 The End of Manhood: A Book for Men of Conscience. New York: Dutton.

Wagenheim, Jeff
1995 "Among the Promise Keepers: An Inside Look at the Evangelical Men’s Movement." New Age Journal March/April (Page numbers not available).

Yudice, George
1995 "What’s A Straight White Man To Do?" Pp. 267-283 in Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, and Simon Watson (eds.), Constructing Masculinity. New York: Routledge.

Zinn, Maxine Baca
1998 "Chicano Men and Masculinity." Pp. 25-34 in Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner (eds.), Men’s Lives. Toronto: Allyn and Bacon. (Reprinted from The Journal of Ethnic Studies 10 (2))


Précédente Accueil Remonter Suivante