Masculinities and Violences – an unpublished manuscript

As a prominent masculinities theorist, Kimmel’s ethnography takes hegemonic masculinity to task and, in line with O’Neil‘s (1981) ‘Male Gender Role Conflict’ theory, explores how guys in Guyland understand, experience, embody and act out the tensions of attempting to live up to a particular, inherently unattainable, kind of hegemonic masculinity and its confining, socially constructed masculine script. Much theory has been devoted to this purpose (Connell, 1995; Blazina & Watkins, 1996; Messerschmidt, 2000; hooks, 2004; Edwards, 2007; Pascoe, 2007; Courtenay, 2011; Berkowitz, 2011; Kimmel, 2011; Kimmel, 2013; Williams, 2014; Wagner, 2014; Reidy, Berke, Gentile & Zeichner, 2014). Violence, rather than being a biological fixture of men, becomes a strategic means for guys to respond to and compensate for any perceived lack of conformity (Messerschmidt, 2012). Within homosocial spaces, guys police themselves and other men rigorously (Kimmel, 2008; Wagner, 2014) and masculinity is performed under duress.

In Guyland, a place where young men are seen as “coming of age in an area with no road maps, no blueprints, and no primers to tell them what a man is or how to become one” (Kimmel, 2008, p. 42), everyday acts of men’s violence, or the threat of violence towards other men and women is a critical constituent of the ‘Guy Code’, “a regime of peer-influenced and enforced behaviours” (p. 6), to which men turn for guidance. Briefly, violence is seen as restorative of thwarted entitlement to power, respect and women, productive as a means to continuously test and prove manhood in front of the critical gaze of other men, and coercive, as a means to make those who do not measure up pay or conform. Everyday widespread violences become an accepted way of being a man; it becomes the norm, a point of reference and is taken-for-granted.

In Guyland, violence is particularly prevalent in the brutal, humiliating hazing practices of fraternities but also emerges in contact sport (Messner, 1990) and as dating violence, sexual assault and rape. In that homophobia “is the animating fear of American’s guys’ masculinity” (Kimmel, 2008, p. 50; Kimmel, 2013), violence is also gay-bashing. Violence, ‘ubiquitous bullying’, ‘hazing practices’ and a ‘pervasive predation’ are often used interchangeably and take a mostly physical form, although verbal abuse is also common; it is unfortunate that in Kimmel (2008), violence is never explicitly defined, nor is it clear what college men and women consider to be violence. This has several troubling implications for how we make sense of the diverse experiences of young adults and for designing resiliency building and violence prevention initiatives (Difulvio, 2004; McMahon & Banyard, 2012).

Why make gender visible to men? Or to rephrase the question, what is the use of certain kinds of knowledge if they do not stop men’s domination, violence and sexual violence? (Widerberg, 2005 in Hearn, 2014). Here, in essence, we have the feminist challenge to men as gender theorists. While some men are “disempowered by virtue of class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, age, able-bodiedness… all men are privileged vis-à-vis women” (Kimmel, 1998, p.64 in McCarry, 2007). In effect, making gender visible implies making privilege visible; for is not “the very point of departure of feminist theorising that women are oppressed/exploited/discriminated/excluded by virtue of their being women?” (Gunnarsson, 2011, p. 24).

“But it’s not men on trial here; it’s masculinity, or, rather, the traditional definition of masculinity, which leads to certain behaviors that we now see as politically problematic and often physically threatening” (Kimmel, M., 2004, p.565). The realization that a long-standing hierarchical distribution of power, resources and regard inform gender relations at all levels of social organization and that violence is an integral constituting component by which structural imbalances are (re)produced, re(enforced) and maintained within patriarchy, (Hearn, 2014) raises practical complications and implications for men and men as (pro) feminists (McMahon, 1993; Connell, 1995; Hearn, 2001; McCarry, 2007; Holmgren & Hearn, 2009; Hearn, 2014). The ‘feminist man’ is, if not quite an oxymoron, fundamentally ambiguous (Holmgren & Hearn, 2009). In this context, is the rigour of attention that a theorist pays to the use, generation, threat and reproduction of men’s violence, not then a critical test for the social and political significance of their work?

It is only when violence is recognized and named for what it is, that experiences of violation are not left ‘unspeakable’ and that violence can be effectively prevented (Morgan & Björkert, 2006; Staudigl, 2007).  ‘Female masculinity’ theories (Halberstam, 1998; Francis, 2010), transgender studies (Gardiner, 2013; Catalano, 2014) and research pointing to the limitations of and the ambiguity within inclusive and egalitarian masculinities, particularly as related to gender relations (Anderson & McGuire, 2010; Becker & Wright, 2011; Bridges, 2014; Lamont, 2014 ) leads some to emphasise men’s violent practices and the conditions that enable them, rather than abstract masculinity/ies; some speak of ‘manhood acts’ (Schrock & Schwalbe, 2009) and caution that too much focus on masculinity may serve to re-naturalize men as a social category and construct steeped in power (McCarry, 2007; Schrock & Schwalbe, 2009; Hearn, 2012). Hearn (2012) therefore argues for a ‘multi-faceted power analysis’ of men’s violence that critiques men’s relations to women and other men within patriarchy and combines “materialist and discursive perspectives, across micro and macro levels [to address] individual and collective, including violent, men’s practices, in the context of construction of men as a social category – rather than the gloss ‘masculinities’” (Hearn, 2012, p. 598).

In order to change the conditions that produce and sustain men’s violence, power, control and responsibility must be addressed explicitly and the materiality and bodily effects of everyday variable forms of violence be foregrounded (Hearn, 2001; Hearn, 2014). The bridge between how violences are ‘lived’ and how we theorize and act upon them, must be strengthened (Staudigl, 2007).

The violence and sexual violence prevention literature identifies numerous strategies that we have available to support safe and respectful environments (DeGue, Valle, Holt, Massetti, Matjasko & Tharp, 2014). In Bystander Awareness Campaigns (McMahon & Banyard, 2012), noticing an event and understanding it as a violation where intervention is appropriate is a crucial first step to action. In Social Norms Approaches, misperceptions are assumed to guide behavior, particularly in environments where fear of social disapproval is a strong motivating factor (Berkowitz, 2011; Gidycz, Orchowski & Berkowitz, 2011). By shifting the focus of prevention from individuals (i.e. risk reduction / self-defence) to peer and community members these initiatives seek to educate individuals and challenge common misperceptions in order to reduce the incidence of violence perpetration as well as empower bystanders to intervene; ‘rape-supportive’ norms and the normalization of some types of aggression and violence, which are associated with increased risk perpetration among men (Casey & Lindhorst, 2009), are challenged. An awareness that in a homosocial world the strongest predictor for men to intervene is their perception of other men’s – not women’s – willingness to step in and prevent potential sexual assaults, is informing, if not driving these initiatives (Fabino, Perkins, Berkowitz, Linkenback & Stark, 2003; Stein, 2007).

To take up Kimmel’s (2008) challenge of breaking the twin cultures of silence and protection that maintain Guyland culture, the importance for having a clear conception of what acts are (perceived as) violence and how they impact people, cannot be emphasized enough. In Guyland, where violence is normalized and taken for granted, one can expect men to fail to recognize the diverse forms of violence as they appear, writing them of as ‘boys will be boys’ (Kimmel, 2008). Studies on men and partner violence support men’s narrow definition of violence (Hearn, 1999; Johnson, Frattaroli, Campbell, Wright, Pearson-Fields & Cheng, 2005; McCarry, 2009). In Hearn (1999), men understood partner violence primarily as “physical violence and even then physical violence of certain kinds” (p.8); perhaps, Hearn (2012) states, it is the complicit – an implicit normalization of violence and the corresponding perpetuation of the everyday acts of unrecognized violence -, which is hegemonic in men’s relation to violence.

Violence, as ‘material-discursive’, is a discursive culture that is continuously being practiced by men (Hearn, 2014). This means that the way men talk or don’t talk about violence – how they define, explain, excuse, justify it -, shapes the way it is reproduced, explained, understood and prevented; “talk is material in its being and in its effects” (Hearn, 1999, p. 9). The construction of what counts as violence, the exclusion and inclusion of particular behaviours and their effects, matters.

If violence is understood merely as flowing from a confused, struggling and entitled masculinity within a framework of interpersonal relationships, what we miss is both its symbolic and structural component (Critical Resistance and Incite!, 2003; Morgan & Björkert, 2006; Hearn, 2012; Dominguez & Menjivar, 2014; Phipps & Younh, 2014; Cote-Meek, 2014; Huber & Solorzano, 2015). If violence is primarily understood as “physical violence and even then physical violence of certain kinds” (Hearn, 1999, p.8) then we are neglecting a ‘whole world’ of invisible, insidious, pervasive, emotionally and psychologically debilitating violences (Sue, 2010) that may rupture our sense-making frameworks, close our “intentional openness to the world and force us to consider a body typically taken for granted in immersed activity” (Freistadt, 2011 citing Staudigl, 2007, p. 240) as a precarious and inherently vulnerable lived body within asymmetrically determined relations. Finally, if we consider mostly white, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class guys, as Kimmel does, then we make invisible and risk rendering banal the everyday distinctive violences that people with disabilities, queer, trans and racialized guys and women in general experience (Grossman, Haney, Edwards, Alessi, Ardon & Howell, 2009; McCabe, 2009; Goodley & Runswick-Cole, 2011; Catalano, 2014; Clark, Kleiman, Spanierman, Isaac & Poolokasingham, 2014). Rather than mapping the terra incognita of Guyland, as Kimmel hopes to do, much remains obscured, and dangerously so.

In order to make Kimmel (2008) more relevant and practical, particularly for violence prevention initiatives, we need a framework that more clearly elucidates the nuances of interpersonal violence in ‘Guyland and beyond’ and effectively locates these within broader contexts and inequalities that lie at the root of multiple and interconnected forms of violence in the lives of women and many men. We need to explore what gets normalized, taken for granted or remains largely invisible in order to, as theorists and practitioners, effectively combine the personal and political to contribute an anti-sexist politics in alliance with feminisms (McCarry, 2007).

Violences differ, intersect and coalesce, both in their form and effect, so that any conceptual framework will be inherently incomplete in capturing the nuances of a lived experience. But it is from this realization that we need to do our work, recognizing ambivalences, ambiguity and seeing it as an ongoing iterative process continuously striving for a more accurate, self-reflexive and useful understanding to guide our practice.

Kimmel’s uncritical use of the hegemonic masculinity framework is troubling, particularly given that most (pro)feminist theoretical and practical work on men’s violence against women use it with caution (Hearn, 2004; Christensen & Jensen, 2014). Most relevant here is Christensen and Jensen’s (2014) differentiation between external (male dominance and oppression of women) and internal (hierarchical classification of masculinities) hegemony followed by a critical intersectional analysis of each. This allows accounting for a ‘multiplicity of sense-making masculinities’ (Wetherell & Edley, 1999; Noble, 2009) and to more explicitly ground men’s micro psychological identity formation within a macro sociological understandings of gendered power relations. Furthermore, evidence that there are plural ways of being a man that perpetuate violence, often in ambiguous relation to hegemonic masculinity (Hearn, 2012), demands that we look at how other identity markers such as sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class, frame men’s violent practices and the norms according to which groups of people are allowed to live (Boesten, 2010).

I therefore agree with Butler that an analysis of violence that solely recognizes male power over women should be rejected in favor of examining the differing and relational meaning of gender as it intersects with race, class, sexuality, etc. The effectiveness of violence and sexual violence prevention programs is limited if sociocultural relevancies are not critically integrated; to date, the majority fail to do so (DeGue et al., 2014). I therefore argue that Kimmel’s (2008) account is essentialist and ‘single-issue’ in that he does not commit to a multidimensional understanding of subordination (Hutchinson, 2001; Mutua, 2013); the intersectional complexity of men and women’s everyday experiences with violence are erased by sweeping generalizations. The inclusion of Butler’s normative violence (Butler, 2004; Boesten, 2010) in combination with the micro-aggression framework (Sue, 2010; Huber & Solorzano, 2015) would have been effective in mapping Guyland’s terra incognita. Crucially, both take the link between various forms of interpersonal and structural violence into account.                                                                                      

The concept normative violence can expand our understanding of the persistence of intersecting inequalities: powerful and inherently violent processes of normalization act to naturalize and sustain structural inequalities (Boesten, 2010). Normative violence – the restrictive violence of the norm -, foreshadows actual violence perpetrated upon bodies perceived to be breaking norms-as-hegemonic; “a racialized, heteronormative sexual organization draws boundaries around people’s bodies and desires, and makes abuse possible” (Boesten, 2010, p. 18) and invisible. Violence, as a tolerated and normalized response to social transgression, is socially not understood as violence and becomes invisible (Boesten, 2010). Critical violence prevention work must make violence visible and unsettle that which is normalized.

Macro-aggressions, a set of core beliefs and/or ideologies, inform the particularity of individual micro-aggressions as well as the types of systemic formal and informal structural mechanisms (Huber & Solorzano, 2015) that subordinate, marginalize or exclude non-dominant groups. Micro-aggressions are ‘‘brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative… slights and insults” (Sue, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucceri, Holder, Nadal & Esquilin, 2007, p. 273) towards individuals because of their group membership. The cumulative often traumatic impact of the constant and everyday reality of micro-aggressions, particularly for bodies transgressing norms, has been reported (Sue, 2010). Since they are so ingrained in our society, however, many regard them as innocuous (Sue, 2010; McMahon & Banyard, 2012), and so they fall into the ‘boys will be boys’ response category. The violence prevention literature emphasises that most bystanders will not encounter ‘high risk’ violence situations but rather will be witness to ‘low risk’ behaviours that occur every day and that support violence and sexual violence; it is during those frequent situations where individuals could intervene, but do not for various reasons, one being an inability to recognize the violent event, that much impact can be had (McMahon & Banyard, 2012).

In that micro-aggressions often leave their targets uncertain and confused as to what happened and unable to effectively articulate and act upon their experiences (Sue, 2010), we can furthermore draw in Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘symbolic violence’ framework, wherein the power of violence rests precisely in its misrecognition and lack of visibility (Morgan & Björkert, 2006; Dominguez and Menjivar 2014).

to be continued…

** Thank you to my co-conspirators, Andrew and Peter, with whom I have had many long conversations about masculinity and what it means to be a man… I hope for many more





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