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Neoliberal Globalization, Masculinity and Gender Justice

By Raewyn Connell

“A relatively new field of social research has documented the diversity of masculinities in the world. Globalization is not a separate issue from this; it grows out of a history of imperialism in which gender hierarchies were embedded. Organizational life embeds gender relations in ways that make equality difficult to achieve. Struggles for gender justice arise from many different starting-points and the role of men and boys in changing existing patterns is now acknowledged.”

What does the new globalization mean for men and boys? And what role do men and boys have in achieving gender justice, in the contemporary world?

There is a relatively new field of social science that is relevant. Studies of masculinity in the world’s richer countries crystallized in the 1980s as a research field. By the 1990s, fields such as health, social work and education were being informed by the new research. A theoretical debate arose about the nature of masculinities, the relation between masculinities and society as a whole.

This research documented specific patterns of masculinity revealed in culture and social relations in a particular time and place. It proved that there is no single masculinity, but rather multiple masculinities, both locally and on a world scale. It also showed that masculinities can and do change.

This was important in getting beyond the tendency in the mass media and popular culture to treat ‘men’ as a homogenous group and ‘masculinity’ as fixed by nature. It was particularly important for the development of applied forms of knowledge, based on the new masculinity research.

Work on boys’ education was one important example, given urgency by a media panic about boys’ ‘failure’ in schooling, and the resurgence of unscientific beliefs about boys’ different ways of learning. Work on violence prevention was another. Programs for violence prevention, both at the level of domestic violence and at the level of civil conflict and war, drew for guidance on the new masculinity research.

A discourse about men’s health developed, in which masculinity research provided a counter-weight to the simple categoricalism predominant in biomedical sciences when they spoke about gender. Psychological counselling practice directed towards men and boys also spread widely.

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