A recent workshop on masculinities hosted by the ISS Counselling Team focused on ‘being a man in the #MeToo era’, drawing participants from the ISS and beyond. The workshop provided a space for reflection on lived experiences regarding masculinity, for the exploration of the ways in which masculinities have been constructed and performed, and for the examination of some of the ideals of masculinity across different cultures. This article briefly details some of the workshop’s highlights.
The #MeToo movement and its impact in academia
Previous to the workshop, some students at ISS felt the need to figure out how to navigate their masculinities in light of the #MeToo movement. The #MeToo movement is a global movement against sexual harassment and sexual violence that was initiated in 2006 as part of a grassroots campaign led by the African-American civil rights activist Tarana Burke, with the initial purpose of helping young women of color that had previously experienced sexual abuse. In 2017, the hashtag gained widespread visibility and popularity when the Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano asked her followers on Twitter to use the hashtag #MeToo to share their own stories of sexual harassment and assault, amidst the scandal of sexual abuse allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein.
Academia, as any other space in society and like any other industry, is not exempt from sexism, misogyny and sexual misconduct. This is why there’s a need for the ISS community to engage in conversations around the issue of sexual harassment and its connection with hegemonic ideals of masculinity and manhood and prevent this from happening.
Within the field of Gender Studies, there has been a steady growth in research on men and masculinities since the early 1980s. The leading proponent in theorizing masculinities is Raewyn Connell (also R.W. Connell in some publications), Professor Emerita at the University of Sydney, who has asserted the existence of plural masculinities, the social hierarchy that exists between them, and the theoretical idea of ‘hegemonic masculinity’. For Connell, masculinities are necessarily plural given the different shapes masculinity takes depending on the different sociocultural contexts where they are constructed. Nevertheless, there is also a modern western idea of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ that prevails over women and other subordinated masculinities.
Recent critical reflections on masculinities have been brought even more into the fore since the advent of the #MeToo movement. The acknowledgement of concepts like ‘toxic masculinity’ have become popular to highlight the negative and harmful effects of certain norms of masculine behavior but also the unattainable expectations that men and boys face. It’s a term often associated with forms of masculinity that end up encouraging misogynistic, homophobic and violent behaviours, while at the same time pushing boys into intense emotional repression.
Coming into the workshop, participants had varying degrees of engagement with these concepts, some encountering the critical idea of “masculinitIES” (in plural) for the first time, while others preparing to dedicate their MA or PhD research around such issues. During the workshop, participants engaged in conversations on social expectations and stereotypes of men from around the world, and how attainable they really are in practice. Participants in the workshop also agreed that although men do benefit from unequal gender relations, these benefits are not without a cost. Similarly, there are unequal power relations amongst men given that masculinities are constructed in relation to existing social hierarchies such as class, race, age, disability, sexuality, nationality, among others. Finally, one of the conclusions of this workshop was that there are many ways to be a man and express one’s masculinity.
Way Forward… What’s Next?
As a follow up to the workshop we realize the need to bring these dialogues into our daily conversations and interactions. We must find ways to address everyday experiences of misogyny and violence from an intersectional perspective, both in and outside academia. Men require spaces to reflect on their privileges and the costs of unequal gender relations with its variations across class, race, sexuality, ability and other intersections of power. The struggle towards equality continues, and we believe that discussions around masculinity are also an important part of that struggle.
About the authors:
Brenda Rodríguez Cortés (left) is a PhD candidate at ISS working on gender and sexuality. Ana Fabregas, Angélica Arámbulo and Ahmad Faraz are MA students at ISS. They are all Peer Counsellors and part of the ISS Counselling Team.