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A Man’s World? Changing Men’s Practices in a Globalized World
Robert Pease & Keith Pringle, eds.
London: Zed Books, 2001.
$25.00, 260 pages, ISBN 1-85649-912-X.

Valerie Palmer-Mehta
University of Alabama

Emerging in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the second wave of the women’s movement prompted a wealth of feminist investigations into the cultural construction and portrayal of women in all aspects of U.S. society. Feminists aimed to demystify the notion of gender as a biological imperative by revealing the previously obscured cultural fabric that had woven the dominant gender ideology. While American feminism was criticized at early junctures for its theoretical lack, particularly in comparison to the distinguished body of work produced by French feminists, U.S. feminist scholars have since generated a respected body of scholarship that has shaped contemporary U.S. intellectual thought regarding gender, not only in feminist and women’s studies, but also in the study of masculinity. It is in this intersection of masculinity studies and feminist studies that A Man’s World: Changing Men’s Practices in a Globalized World presents its most significant tensions, and perhaps its most interesting contribution to research in masculinity studies.

Although masculinity studies essentially spawned from feminist analyses of gender, many feminists are wary of the enterprise, arguing that the study of masculinity is redundant and a dangerous divergence from the feminist project. At the same time, leading voices in the realm of masculinity studies argue that feminist scholarship is often unsympathetic and does not recognize the multiplicity of experiences that men face in contemporary society, particularly their contradictory experiences of power. Consequently, those who conduct masculinity studies often find themselves at a curious juncture; that is, they must tread an unsteady line between showing an awareness of feminist principles and hegemonic power relationships, while acknowledging the uncertain position in which many men find themselves in contemporary society.

Bob Pease and Keith Pringle attempt to negotiate this tension in their edited collection of comparative global analyses of contemporary men’s practices. While not explicitly stated, Pease and Pringle nevertheless indicate that they are aware of these and other competing drives within the field and they have utilized this knowledge to guide the book’s “critical studies of men’s practices across a range of socio-cultural settings” which have been placed “within the context of a clear gender relational framework” [p. 2]. Pease and Pringle state that their “focus on gender rather than women is a reminder that men must also be targets of attempts to redress gender inequality and that their interests are also socially constructed and thus amenable to change” [p. 7]. The editors point out that the possibility of changing men’s practices can be beneficial to men since “hegemonic masculinity can also be oppressive to those men who either refuse or fail to conform” [p. 8]. In these excerpts and throughout the introduction, it is clear that the editors are speaking to both audiences mentioned above and that they have encouraged their contributors to do the same.

Two leading researchers in the field, Michael Kimmel and Michael Kaufman, write the articles that commence the collection and they follow the lead of the editors as they adroitly address power relationships and inequities while recognizing men’s everyday experiences in various contexts. Kimmel looks at a range of cultural articulations of masculinity and power, including the dimensions of anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and sexism. He follows this by pointing to research that indicates that levels of violence are low in societies in which men are allowed to acknowledge their fears. Conversely, in societies in which hypermasculine behavior was expected and “the repression and denial of fear were defining features of masculinity […] violence was likely to be high” [p. 35].

In the following article, Michael Kaufman addresses the issue of men and violence more specifically, providing a framework with which to understand the nature of men’s violence. Kaufman then discusses his involvement in the founding of the White Ribbon Campaign in Canada, a nationwide effort to end men’s violence against women, and its extension into other countries around the world. Kaufman’s active involvement in this campaign lends credibility and interest to the article as he approaches the topic not as an outsider looking in, but as a leader reflecting on how to better achieve the goals of his organization across a variety of cultural contexts.

Another exemplar essay is written by Gary L. Lemons, entitled, “Towards the End of ‘Black Macho’ in the United States: Preface to a [Pro]Womanist Vision of Black Manhood.” Lemons interrogates the myth of black manhood, arguing that “the liberation struggle of African Americans is doomed to fail as long as it remains bound to masculinist dictates and sexist pronouncements of manhood” [p. 151]. Lemons employs the gender inclusive work of Alice Walker and bell hooks as a framework to underscore his argument that “the most emancipatory ideas of black manhood have emerged not from a masculinist discourse of loss, but from a vision of liberatory gender power grounded in womanist thought” [p. 151]. Lemons’s arguments are as convincing as they are compassionate, and his work demonstrates a deep empathy for the struggles that both black men and women have experienced in the U.S.

While Kimmel, Kaufman and Lemons represent articles which skillfully address the nexus of feminist studies and masculinity studies, the article “Saris, Men and Non-Violence” by Siddhartha demonstrates the difficulty of attempting to negotiate the two spheres. The story Siddhartha tells about an educational workshop he attended at the age of twenty-six in Paris best demonstrates this complexity. Having championed women’s issues in India, Siddhartha was acutely aware that men’s participation was neither solicited, nor desired by his workshop leader when the subject of women’s issues was addressed. For more than an hour, he and the other men in the room sat silently and, “towards the end an unconscious smirk appeared on [his] face” [p. 225]. Veronique, the leader of the discussion, quickly responded to the smirk and humiliated Siddhartha in front of the group; she later punished him further by making him make tea for the women in the group. Regarding the experience, Siddhartha states:

It was an important lesson. Thereafter, I never smiled when women’s issues were discussed. On the whole, for many years I avoided such discussion when I could, although, thankfully, I did not regress into rigid male attitudes. I reluctantly continued to develop an appreciation of the rights of women. I think I came to dislike feminists who challenged men. Years later, I came to accept the truth of Veronique’s intervention and was grateful to her for it [p. 226].

The story in general and this excerpt in particular demonstrate a tension in the intersection of masculinity studies and feminist studies. While scholars in masculinity studies understandably feel some indebtedness to feminist thought, it is unfortunate that sometimes scholars feel unable to interrogate aspects of feminist theorizing or, in this case, the practices of some feminists. Specifically, Siddhartha’s gratitude towards Veronique is unconvincing, for who appreciates being humiliated? Yet, it is with this reader’s perspective that Siddhartha felt compelled to end the story on a positive note in order to placate potential feminist readers at the expense of addressing the fact that feminists nearly lost a comrade in arms, so to speak, as a result of this interaction. It would have been useful for Siddhartha to probe this incident further, rather than skirting away from it in order to ward off a possible backlash. This is a move that can be seen in masculinity studies, and it occasionally emerges in the collection. Of course, this is a tough space to negotiate for all researchers of masculinity studies. However, such moves prevent important issues from being addressed and thus limit the development of scholarship and activism.

In the spirit of not skirting issues, it is curious that all the contributors to the collection are male, thus implicitly supporting the antiquated binary opposition between men and women. This was also a characteristic of early feminist scholarship and continues to be an issue for feminist work. It is this researcher’s perspective that men can and should do feminist work and research on women, and that women can and should do work in masculinity studies, and such overlap will simply serve to strengthen the quality and comprehensiveness of work produced, while underscoring the social constructedness of gendered identities. Additionally, a more concerted effort in examining the practices of gay, bisexual and transgendered masculinities, which are given only a cursory glance in the collection, would have helped to underscore the social and cultural construction of gender and sexuality.

Finally, it is laudable that masculinity studies has attempted early on to avoid the bourgeois feminist chauvinism that has plagued feminist studies in the U.S. by taking a global perspective on men’s practices. However, the articles largely suggest that there is a resistance to feminist thought in non-Western contexts, and a lack of critical consciousness regarding issues that men face. Ironically, this global collection demonstrates that masculinity studies continues to be largely a Western phenomenon, but perhaps it will serve to spark greater interest in men’s practices around the world.

While no collection can be expected to do everything, the editors and contributors to A Man’s World: Changing Men’s Practices in a Globalized World work hard to cover a great deal of ground and even in the book’s limitations can be found fertile ground for future collections. In the final analysis, the collection makes an important contribution to the current literature in masculinity studies, even as (or perhaps because) it occasionally underscores the discipline’s tensions, and consequently it will benefit anyone who chooses to open its cover.


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