The following reading response is from an upper-division women and gender studies course. This student does a great job of analyzing the reading for the day in light of one of the foundational texts we read at the beginning of the quarter.
EXAMPLE: Raewyn Connell argues that gender equality, though primarily the focus of women’s groups and movements, is fundamentally about men and masculinity as much as it is about women and femininity. This argument brings to the forefront another side of international gender discussions that is implicitly present in all such discourse but usually remains relatively silent or unacknowledged. The idea that men and masculinities are also key areas of study, discussion, and activism within the struggle for gender equality is fairly recent in mainstream discourses on gender, and Connell’s work is one example of many ways that men/masculinities are being taken up as subjects of gender effects, critique and inquiry. In making this point, and in exploring how the social constitutions of men and masculinities factor into gender politics and play a crucial role in global patterns of gender (in)equality, Connell also reminds us that men are not a single, unified group, and expressions of masculinities are multiple and varied. As gender is not fixed or cohesive, its role in identity and society is fluid, in constant flux, and is manifested in countless ways with equally diverse meanings and degrees of importance.
She locates in this very diversity of expressions, as well as the fluidity of gender identities they imply, the possibility for counter-hegemonic production of masculinities that may ally more closely with the project of gender equality and participate in the transformation of societies transnationally, such that gender equality may be realized. In this sense, Connell is practicing the sort of good scholarship that Mohanty stresses in “Under Western Eyes.” Connell does not fall into the trap of constituting men as a monolithic, always-already constituted group whose heterogeneities and agency are erased. She appropriately cites the many other, diverse and intersecting social markers that organize different groups of men differently and produce different lived realities, as well as these different expressions of masculinity. Connell also attempts to explain the specificities of some of the multiple and various groups of men as they relate to her central theme of gender equality, as a way of accounting for and providing examples of some of the many ways in which different groups of men might react to, participate in, challenge, defend, etc. various manifestations of the gender equality project. Based on these careful, non-universalizing practices in Connell’s work, I think Mohanty would approve.
However, there are certain aspects of Connell’s thesis that I find fundamentally problematic, even troubling. Indeed, the word “gatekeepers,” present in the work’s very title, and her use of this metaphorical image in her thesis, is indicative of a universalizing assumption of the type that Mohanty explicitly argues against. Connell states, “the very gender inequalities… that gender reforms intend to change, currently mean that men (often specific groups of men) control most of the resources required to implement women’s claims for justice. Men and boys are thus in significant ways gatekeepers for gender equality” (1802). By using men in this way, Connell makes a move toward monolithicizing the category men, in binary and fundamentally unequal (and dominant) opposition to women and this is exactly the kind of discursive generalization that Mohanty warns against.
Furthermore, the casual, authoritative contentions made in this statement must be interrogated. In the first sentence of the above quote, I find some pieces of information relatively easy to agree with, namely that there are gender inequalities that tend to favor men, putting men or certain groups of men in control of powerful resources. This seems fairly evident. However, the next contention of the first sentence, that most of these resources that men control are required for the implementation of women’s claims for justice, needs to be challenged. If this assumption is valid, then all achievements made by women in the past must necessarily have been authorized or achieved in hierarchical collaboration with men, an assumption that I for one do not accept, because it effectively erases past instances and future potential for women’s agency. However, it is this assumption that validates the second sentence of the above quote, which contends that men and boys are gatekeepers for the achievement or denial of gender equality. This statement then further erases the possibility of women’s agency by deterministically reiterating and reinforcing the absolute power of men in deciding the outcome of struggles for gender equality. It is this sort of generalizing, totalizing assumption that must be problematized and interrogated for its effect on the whole of a scholarly work.
1. How might we reconcile Connell’s careful attempts to leave intact the heterogeneities of men and masculinity throughout her article, with the contradictory universalism she employs in her thesis at the beginning of her work? To what degree do you think these two different discursive practices affect each other, and how– does one negate the other?
2. According to Connell, men and masculinity are equally as important in the study and enactment of gender as women and femininity are. Do you think that greater incorporation of men and considerations of masculinities in transnational gender equality projects helps or hinders, overall or specifically, the goals of women’s rights/equality activism? How and why?