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Ole Bredesen

Dynekilgt. 9D
0569 Oslo
Phone: +47 40 85 80 57

Book review: Global masculinities by R. W. Connell.

A review of Robert Connell: Masculinities (1995), Masculinities and Globalisation, i Men and Masculinities Vol I, nr. 1 (1998) og The men and the boys (2000).

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During the last fifteen years a great deal of pro-feminist research has been done on men and masculinity. The most important thing about this research, aside from its pulling men down from their gender-neutrality pedestal, is that it shows ways to analyse men's relationships to one another, the so-called homosociality.

In this way Robert Connell's (1995) conceptualisation of hegemonic masculinity has been greatly influential. The core of Connell's analysis is that there are different and conflicting ways to be a man and that one of these ways is dominant. This form is called hegemonic masculinity. The relationship between these differing ways to be a man are characterised by conflict. This conflict is won by most men - often in relation to women. Connell finds an example of this in interwar Australia (and this probably also applies to other countries) where working-class men fought to earn enough to support a family. As well as middle class men, they wanted the possibility to have full-time housewives. This battle contributed to keeping women's salaries low.

In the article Masculinities and Globalisation (1998)1 he transposes this conceptualisation to a global level. This to enable understanding men as global gender-system participants. In the following I will briefly render some of the aspects of Connell's article, and present some Norwegian examples of global masculinity.

Connell registers that research up until now has largely been based on local ethnographic studies. In his new book The Men and the Boys (2000) he argues for the necessity of international cooperation between researchers working on questions of men and masculinity. Perspectives should be developed taking globalisation processes seriously, both where trade, politics and media are concerned.

It is not only the increased post-war international activity which should be studied. Increasing international trade and the explosion of mass media should be analysed in the perspective of masculinity. Ways in which to be a man are shaped through relationships with other men. Such gender systems change historically and culturally. It is therefore important that also historical studies on men can show that acceptable ways to be a man and act like a man often extend beyond a local or national context.

Connell offers special attention to masculinity's development in various empires such as the British Empire, the Spanish kingdom and in the Dutch colonies. He divides the process into three phases: the conquering and colonisation of new territories, the modernisation of these empires, and decolonisation and the movement into a post-colonial period.

The conquering of new territories formed men who had "frontier masculinities". These men defined themselves as representatives of civilisation and sacrificed themselves to bringing civilisation to the furthermost outpost. In their eyes the native men often had bestial traits. Or they could be regarded as having feminine or childish traits. Such impressions contributed to giving legitimacy to rough treatment and regular massacre.

For many men who moved out from Europe and brought their families and valuables with them from the metropolises, "the settler masculinity" often became an ideal for both the authorities and the settlers themselves. Connell points out that with the new settlements western gender systems contribute to change in local gender systems. Connell exemplifies this by discussing how the import of the British Gender system to India formed a hierarchy of how masculine the different ethnic groups were. The English men were on the top of this hierarchy and considered themselves as being very masculine, while the Bengali men were considered to be feminine and inferior. Men in the Patan groups and the Sikhs on the other hand, were considered to be fierce and very masculine.

To belong to a group which is considered to be a carrier of "much" masculinity did not automatically result in high respect and an elevated position in the hierarchy. An assumption of super-masculinity, potency and strength among blacks for example, has been associated with the bestial and the uncivilised. A necessary conclusion has therefore in many cases been that white women need extra protection against men with black skin (Franklin 1993). Imperialism met with resistance, and this resistance was felt both on the battlefield and in relation to local gender systems. The Zulu's opposition was expressed in both ways, both as physical resistance and by the establishment of an alternative masculinity compared to the English men.

The male colonist's meeting with local cultures and the definition of oneself in comparison to these, created a rich conception of what it means to be male. Such pictures became a source of inspiration for gender systems at home also. Boy's books from different western countries became an important source for research on worlds full of Zulu warriors, Hottentots, bananas, exotic women, and smart and brave explorers. The boy's books offer sharp illustrations of how describing yourself in relation to men in other countries is a way of describing yourself as a man of "the world".

Norwegian men are not the ones with the most blood on their hands as far as conquest and colonization are concerned, even though Norwegian men to a large degree have been participants in the colonization process. At the opening of Masculinity's Possibilities (Mannlighetens muligheter, 1998) PhD in comparative literature and manhood researcher Jørgen Lorentzen examined Fritjof Nansen's description of his crew's first meeting with the Eskimos on Greenland. Meeting this local gender system astonishes the Norwegians, and Nansen writes that the natives make sounds like howling dogs and he compares their habitat to cows in their stalls.

Connell is not that interested in the linguistics and is critical toward the poststructuralist gender perspectives. He thinks that they can not give adequate explanations of important sides of the gender system such as work and institutional conditions. Therefore I note on my own account that it can not be the colonist's simplified and stereotype descriptions of the natives' character that are a problem in themselves. What is difficult is that someone has the power to describe others as inferior, and that the colonists have power to emphasize their interpretations as universal and as the truth vis-à-vis the "locals".

Even though the historical angle is not to be avoided, the contemporary aspect emerges as the most interesting in his presentation. Many of the colonial processes continue, but in a somewhat different shape. The aforementioned ways of being a man represent global masculinities either by being a delegate sent from the metropolis or by being a part of the metropolis and identifying oneself with the outpost. If one is to imagine a global system of masculinities and femininities today, in post-colonial times, analyses of hegemonic gender forms, according to Connell, must be of leaders of multinational companies which operate across national borders. Upper management in these companies is almost exclusively male. Their business is assumed to bind their capacity to the point that they are in absolute need of housewives to arrange their private lives and households, and take care of their children. Connell calls the ideal for how men should act in these companies "transnational business masculinity". Global masculinity is expressed as local hybrids. The transnational business-masculinities are found in Australian, Asian and North American variants. But they have traits in common. The multinational companies are affiliated with political systems and other companies which are nationally based. The transnational businessmen are often ideals for male leaders in national companies, and national politicians accept adapting national politics to the politics of the international companies.

"Transnational business masculinity" is, as every way of being or acting as a man, dependent on acceptance and legitimacy. This form of masculinity goes well along with neoliberalist ideology. Neoliberalism is often understood to be economically unavoidable and a gender-neutral necessity. It shapes the international division of labor and gets the goods produced where manpower is cheapest, and where the cost of employee and citizen well-being is not considered to be high. Other conditions include workforce migration, the movement of financial assets and development of the market across national borders.

The companies' politics and approach are influenced by the fact that the employees are men. Connell describes the employees as having dubious values such as egoism and lack of loyalty to the company they are a part of. The international businessmen's most prized value seems to be attached to the importance of accumulating economic values. In addition Connell points out that many of the leaders in the international companies seem to have a more liberal view of sexuality than is usual in the western middle classes. As examples he names the availability and consume of pornography at hotels and the buying of sexual services.

But the most important thing remains the consequences of their activities and market policies, which are in no way gender neutral. The export of factory jobs often has greatly negative influence on local masculinity, while it is the women who lose when the multinational companies contribute to such a limited extent to national social security.

At this time Connell sees no masculinity strong enough to compete with "the transnational masculinity's" world hegemony. During the Cold War the picture was more unclear. The author reminds us that there still are political and military regimes which discipline large groups of men, and that institutions such as the army and politics are therefore still important contributors to the maintenance of hegemonic masculinities.

Ole Bredesen, sociologist
Dynekilgt. 9D
0569 Oslo
Phone: +47 40 85 80 57

Originally published in Kvinneforskning - Kjønn og globalisering 2/01 ( Journal of Gender Research in Norway - Gender and globalisation)

1 Connell's article is also printed in Mannsforskning (1999). Back to text.

Connell, R. W. 1995. Masculinities. Polity Press.

Connell, R.W. 1998. Masculinities and Globalisation. Men and Masculinities. Vol I, nr. 1, 3- 23. Sage Publications.

Connell, R.W. 2000. The men and the boys. Polity Press.

Franklin, Clyde 1993. Ain't I a Man? The Efficacy of Black Masculinities for the Men's Studies in the 1990s. I R. Major og J.V. Gordon (red.): The American Black Male. Nelson Hall.

Lorentzen, Jørgen 1998. Mannlighetens muligheter. Aschehoug.

Mannsforskning. Nyhetsbrev og faglig forum for Nettverk for forskning om menn. Nr. 2, 1999.

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Published: 30.01.2004
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