Knowledge, Society and Masculinity

18 05 2009

Relationships between systems of knowledge and behaviour have been highlighted because of issues pertaining to AIDS, sexuality, and gender. However there has been a lack of material and frameworks to generate thinking and orientation especially focusing on the process on how systems of knowledge develop of which socialization experience is an important dimension. Gender relations are an interactive system of connections and distinctions among people (and groups of people) – what happens to one group in this system affects the others, and is affected by them. Gender relations are not superficial, but are deeply embedded in organizational routines, in religious and legal concepts, and in the taken – for-granted arrangements of people’s lives (such as the distinction between “home” and “work”). Moreover, gender relations are multi -dimensional, interweaving relationships of power, economic arrangements, emotional relationships, systems of communication and meaning, etc.[1] Gender roles and relations, ideas and perceptions are repeated from one generation to the next. Societal views and values are internalised, shaping our attitudes, perceptions, behaviour and decisions later in life. But we have seen that gender systems are diverse and changing – they arise from different cultural histories in different parts of the world, have changed in the past and are undergoing change now (Connell 2002; Ferree et al. 1999; Holter 1997; Walby 1996).

“Gender based violence means violence inflicted or suffered on the basis of gender differences”. It is about violence which is perpetuated against a person for being a girl or a woman and for being a boy or a man. Men and women are constrained by these perceptions, which can prevent people from developing to their full potential and making the choices they would like to make. Such perceptions influence the kinds of decisions boys and girls make concerning their own lives, the games they play, the professions they want to pursue or are allowed to choose, and their relationships with each other.[2] The widely-established GAD framework gives us at least some of the basic conceptual tools for the engagement of men and boys for a project of challenging our established gender status quos and promoting human rights for both women and men. The distinction is also the basic tool for challenging men and boys: we are not challenging them as males, but rather we are challenging negative or oppressive gendered behaviour and relations. In this sense, for example, we should speak of “men’s violence” rather than “male violence,” or “men’s social power” rather than “male social power.” Men and boys do enjoy social power, many forms of privilege, and a sense of often unconscious entitlement by virtue of being male.  The conflict between his individual reality and his gendered expectations is one basic reason why a man engages in behaviours that are destructive to himself and those around him.

When “men” are considered statistically as an aggregate of individuals, they appear to have an unshakeable interest in defending inequality.  But in reality, men are not isolated individuals.  As the poet Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” Men and boys live in social relationships, many with women and girls: wives, partners, mothers, aunts, daughters, nieces, friends, classmates, workmates, professional colleagues, neighbours, and so on.  The quality of every man’s life depends to a large extent on the quality of those relationships.  Living in a system of gender inequality that limits or damages the lives of the women and girls concerned, inevitably degrades the lives of men and boys too.

While all men – a majority of men in many parts of the world – do not commit individual acts of violence against women, all men must take responsibility for helping end the problem. This is because manhood is constructed in the eyes of men and because men have long controlled the instruments of opinion-making, law-making and administration of justice.

There is a constantly recurring notion that real manhood is different from simple anatomical maleness that it is not a neutral condition that comes out spontaneously through biological maturation but a rather precarious or artificial state that must be won at all odds. The fear that accompanies these insecurities partly derives from a gendered system that assigns power and status to males. While men hold more power than women but it is also true that men also have powered over other men, hence this is where we should focus to address this system that is fostering the patriarchy in our society along with in our mind. The namely violence against women focus on sexuality; abuse or violence directly and didactically has been seen not to have the impact intended. This is because, in boys and girls, construction of knowledge and the manner of which they are conditioned do not offer the degree of comfort to internalize gender sensitive orientation. For a man, his masculinity is a bond, a glue, to the patriarchal world.  It is the thing which makes that world his, which makes it more or less comfortable to live in.  Through the incorporation of a dominant form of masculinity particular to his class, race, nationality, era, sexual orientation, and religion, he gains real benefits and an individual sense of self-worth.  From the moment when he learns, unconsciously, there are not only two sexes but a social significance to the sexes, his own self-worth becomes measured against the yardstick of gender. But the way we have set up that world of power causes immense pain, isolation, and alienation not only for women, but also for men. Further, the great paradox of our patriarchal culture is that the damaging forms of masculinity within our male-dominated society are damaging not only for women, but for men as well.

The male experience across the domains of rearing, marriage, sex/sexuality, parenting, and work/ social networks should be responded. Aspects of socialization experiences, roles, stereotyping, bias, difficulties in each of the domains should be covered. Leaving out men and boys can lead us to only address symptoms of the underlying gender system that structures the lives of women and men, rather than developing initiatives and programmes that allow us to get to the heart of the problem. (Kaufman: 2003)[3]

In that sense, resources must also be directed to ending the underlying social structures, institutions, and relationships on which this inequality is based.

Our strategies of change must be guided and fine tuned not only to reach diverse men, but to be able to identify potential allies and possible rifts in the camp of men. More than just their voice (in the sense of a male voice on a radio advertisement, or a male sports hero on a poster) is the involvement of boys and men in helping design the message to their peers. While the solution requires long-term changes in the family and the economy, in attitudes and behaviours of men and women


[1] Connell, R.W., 2003, “The role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality”,  United Nations Division of Advancement of Women, Expert group meeting on The role of Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality, Brazil

[2] Karlsson’, L., & Karkara, R., 2003, “Demystifying Non-discrimination and Gender For Effective Child Rights Programming”, Save the Children Sweden Denmark-Regional Office for South and Central Asia, Bangladesh

[3] Kaufman, M., 2003, “The AIM Framework-Addressing and Involving Men and Boys to Promote Gender Equality and End Gender Discrimination and Violence”, UNICEF

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