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Masculinities Matter! Men, Gender and Development
Frances Cleaver, ed.
London & New York: Zed Books, 2002.
$22.50, 242 pages, ISBN 1-84277-065-9 (paperback).

Gilbert Pham-Thanh
Université de Paris 13


This collection of papers comes out as the third volume in a new series entitled "Global Masculinities"—a series from Zed Books edited by Michael S. Kimmel. The first two volumes were Changing Masculinities in a Changing Society: Men and Gender in Southern Africa (Ed. Robert Morrell) and A Man’s World? Changing Men’s Practices in a Globalized World (Bob Pease and Keith Pringle, eds.).

As indicated by the title of the series, Masculinities Matter! is set within the epistemological framework of emerging critiques which address the problem of social relationships between men and women. In the wake of feminist and cultural studies, but with a view to deconstructing the reduction of gender to women in current debate, it aims at drawing a picture of economic, social and political parameters such as weigh upon the individual male and shape his posture when dealing with females and fellow males. It accounts for recent developments in local policies and the organisation of workshops for some target communities, eventually preparing for new channels of action.

The nine essays which make up the nine chapters of the book come from contributors with very different backgrounds—a senior lecturer at Bradford Centre for International Development (Frances Cleaver), a behaviour change communication consultant (Neil Doyle), a Research Officer with the International Service for National Agricultural Research with a PhD from the Faculty for Environmental Studies (Helen Hambley Odame), a field worker who developed participatory methods for communities to come to terms with the legacies of apartheid (Niki Kandirikirira), a reader in sociology (Janet Bujra), to name but a few. Their geographical zones of interest mark a change of perspective by steering away from Eurocentric analyses as they study India, Northern Uganda, Cuba, South Africa, Kenya, Vietnam, Africa at large, while the United Kingdom is only examined within one survey of miscellaneous countries. Not so for the theoretical tools in use, and the selective bibliographies reveal how much the approach relies on western lines of thought. The index (235-242) proves very helpful and details the critical apparatus employed in the volume.

What ties the whole together, apart from the general intent of the book, is the Foreword by Michael Kimmel, who underlines the complementary dimension of the collected essays as conceptual contributions and practical cases fitting onto a pragmatic agenda. The same unifying agent is to be found in Frances Cleaver’s opening study (“Men and Masculinities: New Directions in Gender and Development”, 1-27), where she mainly synthesizes what can now be considered as standard knowledge. In this first chapter, exploded is the well-rooted prejudice that men should only be seen as obstacles in the way of women’s development, that “women can only become empowered by men giving up power” (1). In her next move, Cleaver reminds us of the fact that the ground-breaking studies in masculinities focused on northern industrialized countries, thus calling for extra research in different contexts. Then, as a hint to the main spring of the whole book, she states that “through empowerment processes both men and women can be liberated from the confines of stereotyping, resulting in beneficial outcomes for both genders” (2), in accordance with Gender and Development (GAD) theories. This approach partly relies on the discarding of the old conception of men as selfish, violent, tyrannical beings, allowing room for the notion of men’s vulnerabilities due to the “’demasculinizing’ effects of poverty and economic change” (3), and a resulting need for compensation. Of course, the crisis of masculinity stems from the increasing difficulty to act out the threefold role of man in the fields of heterosexual activity and biological fatherhood, economic support and social status.

Stress is laid on “the relational nature of gender” (4), and statistics show that although people tend to identify the differences between the sexes in anatomical terms, they focused on behavioural differences, a view that will support much of the subsequent argumentation of the volume, and questions the institutional dichotomies opposing man and woman, more or less explicitly contributing to the essentialist approach that can so easily turn into a political dead end. In response to this risk, Cleaver refers to “positive deviancy” (12) and calls for the necessary reinterpretation of masculinity in terms of age, race, class and nationality, to take the different cultural concepts of manliness into account. She rather alludes to current issues than offers in-depth analyses, thus mention is made of equitable work-sharing in households; the role of the state in men’s violence and the shaping of aggressive masculinity, both on domestic and societal levels; post-colonial reproduction of colonial habits, tension between a global conception of masculinity and an over-ethnocentric outlook.

In Chapter 2, “Nationalism, Masculinity and the Developmental State: Exploring Hindutva Masculinities” (28-56), Prem Vijayan presents “a distinction between patriarchy as masculine hegemony, and the individual hegemonic forms of masculinity that constitute that patriarchy” (28) in post-Independence India, to conclude that the understanding of development and modernity in terms of industrialisation, a model inherited or borrowed from the affluent “West”, had devastating consequences on the construction of gendered identities. While the blurring of the line of divide between public and private proved beneficial to women, who could then claim for more social recognition, it also spurred men to relocate masculinism into new domains, for instance in technological and scientific knowledge and know-how. However, many men were left out from this preserve—the young, the old, the infirm and all sorts of oppressed individuals from specific castes, races or classes, demonstrating that male hegemonic dominance is not universal. Still, for the proto-Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), gaining access to power meant re-colonizing the country, at the expense of some communities. Backed up by the British legacy which divided the legislative and judicial fields into common-law and personal-law spheres, they also managed to control women by relegating them to the private sphere, thus achieving a patriarchal system founded on the warrior code. To conclude, Vijayan notes that the conception of Hinduism as a modern religion attracted many young Indians who could then feel contemporary to the western world without renouncing their roots.

In “Collapsing Masculinities and Weak States—a Case Study of Northern Uganda” (57-83), Chris Dolan examines how a violent context combines with a traditional model of masculinity to repress any attempt at defining alternative masculinities. In Northern Uganda, the weakness of the state government and the endemic state of ethnic war have led to the creation of a culture of violence, where the dividing lines run between victims and perpetrators of acts of cruelty. Soldiers are in a position of domination over both males and females and their financial superiority secures them free access to women, when they do not choose to resort to rape. The government ignores their crimes and encourages young civilians to resort to violence in order to assert themselves in a society which denies them most ways to social recognition. Indeed, in such a situation, ordinary citizens fail to offer protection to their wives and could no longer guarantee that some children are theirs. To make matters worse, they are unable to support their families as work is scarce, thus they fail to answer the hegemonic definition of masculinity, and see their lived experiences in terms of failure. Dolan points out that all this violence serves the purpose of the state by justifying military presence everywhere, thus exerting physical as well as psychological control over both civilians and soldiers.

In “Lenin, the Pinguero, and Cuban Imaginings of Maleness in Times of Scarcity” (84-111), David Forrest shows the impact of tourism on “Cuban Imaginings of Maleness” (84), by relating the itinerary of young Cuban males who have to adapt to their socio-political “subjects positions” (88), thus opening a case study that once more comes as a denial of definite male identity. Dealing with virility, Forrest refers to the bugarrón, a male figure with irresistible sexual urges involving active penetrative sex with other men and animals, when no woman can be obtained—so-called homosexuals view him rather as an example of latent homosexuality or bisexuality. This local figure has been turned into an asset in Cuba’s prosperous tourist industry, and many poor males act out the bugarrón part in order to attract rich Americans’ eyes and much-coveted dollars, a phenomenon called jineterismo (referring to the riding of a horse—here, the tourist). Because this performance does not automatically imply sexual intercourse, it is seen as a palatable alternative for prostitution by locals, tourists and the state, even though US dollars evade collection by the state tourist industry. It is significant that jineterismo emphasizes the tourists’ passiveness, thus their victimization and the Cuban possibility to claim for unimpaired masculinity, though set in a specific context where square machismo seems a complete impossibility.

In “Deconstructing Domination: Gender Disempowerment and the Legacy of Colonialism and Apartheid in Omaheke, Namibia” (112-137), Niki Kandirikirira examines the “legacy of systemic societal discrimination based on race and ethnicity” (112) in a Namibian community, where “hunting” (the storming of school hostels and subsequent rape of girl residents by young males) was condoned and considered as a sign of masculinity, as young males regularly got drunk and fought to assert themselves while adult men’s promiscuity, including with young girls, was a current fact. Thus, the exploitation of women turned into a sign of masculinity, and violence—domestic or not—directed against women tended to be seen as normative. This, Kandirikirira argues, may be seen as a case of patriarchy “manipulated by systems of exclusion such as racism, ethnocentrism and class” (116) and reinforced by apartheid experience, so that adults try to refrain the young males’ claim for new rights, and the Herero rank higher than the Tswana, who in their turn enjoy a higher status than the San. It is through understanding how much this system affects males’ identity and works against social progress and human rights that people eventually demand equal relations “not only between women and men, but between races, ethnicities, classes and ages”(116). This deconstruction aims at showing how relative gender identities are, which is now a well-established fact. By attending forum theatre camps, people realized to what extent economic pressures induced by the state finally resulted in irresponsible, destructive behaviour, laying the foundations for more problems. Kandirikirira however notes that the situation has been much improved, thanks to this “mass therapy” (135).

In “Men in Women’s Groups: a Gender and Agency Analysis of Local Institution” (138-165), Helen Hambly Odame considers the presence and power of males within the 23,614 rural women’s self-help groups in Kenya engaged in the purchase and resale of grains and vegetables, crop production, tree nursery and tree planting in the mid-1990s. The women’s groups organize at local level but also have to deal with larger structures—governmental and non-governmental—so they often rely on men to brief them, represent them and carry out negotiations or file requests with the authorities. The 20 per cent male membership, supposedly more educated and defter negotiators, mainly consist of farmers who try to derive some personal profit from the projects, and often prove to be the chairladies’ husbands, showing a more or less humble profile as “shadow executive[s]” (155). In other words, the group duplicates the general patriarchal pattern, encouraged to do so by the idea that men are so to speak the natural interlocutors and representatives for the group. Yet, the influence of males has proved counter-productive in a number of occasions, at times resulting in the abandonment of the group by some women, or worse, by all members.

In “Boys will be Boys: Addressing the Social Construction of Gender” (166-185), Marilyn Thomson tackles the problem of the construction of masculinity through education, the media, the family and the peer group, seen as coherent factors of socialization throughout the world. She takes up the little-disputed idea that “gender stereotypes begin from the moment we are born and are identified as either a boy or a girl” (168). Then, she stresses the emergence of new patterns of behaviour as socio-historical changes take place, including the introduction of the feminist paradigm, making former models irrelevant or inaccessible. In consequence, due to contradictory messages, males sometimes seem “fragile”, and may turn to violence to reinstate their former domination. What seems more striking is that when asked to differentiate between men and women, most children will refer to anatomy first, but quickly turn to conflicting behavioural and psychological patterns. Once more, conducted workshops set out to challenge gender stereotypes and fight the biased models boys find at home or in the street. Children also received information and became aware of the negative impact of their behaviour on themselves and on others while they were taught to improve their ability to communicate. Of course, the rampant epidemic of AIDS remains one of the major targets of the organisers, but so are drug use and delinquency. Thomson concludes by listing some solutions to gender bias, such as the reconfiguration of the media within a gender equality framework, dialogue with both boys and girls, involvement of parents and teachers, avoiding frustration and encouraging free speech, particularly concerning feelings. She finally underlines the need to face the construction of masculinity, and not to focus exclusively on ways to empower girls and women.

In “Why Do Dogs Lick their Balls? Gender, Desire and Change—a Case Study from Vietnam” (186-208), Neil Doyle shows “how the constructions of gender […] facilitate and constrain the individual agency of women and men” (186), but also how diverse men’s attitudes can be, to conclude that “if men are a problem it is certainly not all men all of the time” (186). Eventually, he insists on the importance of sexual desire outside the social paradigm and claims that “the fate of men and their sexed bodies are inextricably linked” (188), putting in perspective the feminist conception of masculine sexuality seen as a mode of domination over women. Doyle proceeds to introduce the key notion of negotiation, since society is ridden with ambiguity and indeterminacy. He questions the habit of using anatomy as the basis for gender division, as it introduces a stereotyped dichotomy that leaves no room to conceive of continuities and discontinuities between individuals. Of course, women tend to integrate men’s prejudices, to please them, meet social expectations and build their sense of identity as women, for instance concerning virginity. However, men are also under pressure, and qualify as males in proportion as they manage to satisfy their partners sexually. Furthermore, a sexually active woman tends to threaten their self-image and self-esteem. In other words, a man’s masculinity heavily depends on other people’s judgement. Doyle finally shows that learning more about women’s sexuality and bodies as well as their own has helped many men working on the CARE International program for the promotion of safer sex to improve their relationships with women, as their wives could confirm.

In “Targeting Men for a Change: AIDS Discourse and Activism in Africa” (209-234), Janet Bujra shifts perspectives and analyses men’s (not women’s) responsibility in the spread of AIDS epidemic, supporting her analysis on the fact that HIV transmission in Africa is predominantly heterosexual. She notes that women are vulnerable to males’ aggression and depend on their willingness to use condoms and not to be promiscuous, stressing that the situation may be the outcome of a deep-rooted cultural model. The fact that men tend to have more partners than women all around the world could induce the essentialist conclusion that it is in their genes, but the status attaching to the womanizer comes to blur the issue, reports Bujra, contrary to what Doyle claims in the previous contribution. She then proceeds to relate the outcome of the work done in workshops in Lushoto. First, she notices the relatively low rate of HIV in a Muslim community. However, men refuse to use condoms, assuming that it would be proof of the woman’s low life. In the same way, they couldn’t bear to be made passive or instrumental to women’s desire, and would soon reassert their authority in case any of their wives shows too much of her own mind. In Lushoto too, men identify themselves through their roles in relation to sex, and “uncontrollable sexual urges” (220) mark them as men. In such a framework, unplanned, casual sex is of the essence for them, all the more so as their irresponsibility is generalized at home, where they leave all the tasks—including the education of children—to women. Even if males still feel reluctant to use condoms on the ground that they “reduce pleasure” (220) and are also rather hard to come by in Africa, mentalities are changing, and family men now accept to talk about sex with their children, to protect them from AIDS. Free condoms are given in “guest houses”, and “peer educators” are trained to offer advice and information in bars, leaving the thorny subject of gender relationships aside, though. Bujra finally remarks that men’s status can easily be reoriented without a loss in status if the stress is laid on their roles as “custodians of family welfare, as fathers secure in the birth of healthy offspring” (229). This would amount to a change in paradigms, from the conquering playboy to the mature father figure. Bujra ironically adds that condoms can never solve the problems of hegemonic masculinity at home, and that further work needs to be done.

Strongly relying on existing critique, noticeably Gramsci’s work on hegemony, the collection unsurprisingly does not attempt to build heavy theoretical material. It offers a new set of data that complement previous studies by changing perspectives and focusing on new areas of the world. This is not altogether new either, but the contributions still prove mind-stimulating and well-documented. The variety of the contributors' backgrounds is a major asset and comes as a refreshing change. No doubt Masculinities Matter! adds to the corpus available to gender studies students and research workers, and the approach will testify to the specific way research was carried out during the early twenty-first century in gender and cultural studies.

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