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White Masculinity in Focus

Two giants within masculinity research, Raewyn Connell and Michael Kimmel, opened the Nordic conference on masculinity in Reykjavik last week. Both of them focused on how class, ethnicity and gender interact.

Raewyn Connell is an Australian sociologist whose book Masculinities had a large impact in the field of masculinity research in the 1990s. She was particularly interested in strengthening masculinity research in the non-Western world.

‘How and where knowledge is produced is important in the development of masculinity research. Although the English-speaking world and Europe are the most visible regions, there is a lot of research and knowledge production in the colonised world that is changing the way we view masculinity research for example with respect to research methods,’ says Connell.

In the past, the colonised world has mainly served a ‘databank’ for Western researchers studying ‘the other’. However, many non-Western researchers are presenting new, important perspectives on how masculinity and gender can be approached. For example Ashis Nandy, who Connell talked about at the conference, has written about how masculinity was created in British colonial India – among both colonised and colonial men.

Michael Kimmel. Foto: Anneli Tillberg
Michael Kimmel. Photo: Anneli Tillberg

Michael Kimmel, professor in sociology in New York, talked about ‘angry white men’ – about the creation of masculinities within right-wing extremist groups.

He started by telling the audience about when Oprah Winfrey invited him to an episode of her show. The title of the episode was A Black Woman Stole My Job. There were several white men in the show, and they all felt they were the real victims of discrimination. The reason for this, they said, was the systematic preferential treatment based on gender and ethnicity that was going on in the labour market.

‘The first thing I asked them when it was my turn to speak was why they thought the jobs were their jobs to begin with. Without confronting men’s perceptions of having a natural right to privileges, we won’t get anywhere with the gender equality work,’ said Kimmel.

He has studied men in Nazi and racist movements, in both Sweden and the US. His US respondents were recruited via neo-Nazi online chat rooms and at gun shows, which are basically travelling exhibitions for people interested in weapons. In Sweden, he interviewed young men in the so-called Exit programme, which targets men who have been involved in but are in the process of leaving right-wing extremist groups.

‘I found that they used masculinity as a lens through which they talked about race and class.’

Kimmel said that right-wing extremist men use masculinity to describe their own experiences, to problematise ‘the other’ and to recruit new men to their movement.

They feel they have been de-masculinised in a ‘feminisation’ of society, where society is taking everything away from them and giving it to others who don’t ‘deserve’ it, such as homosexuals, women and racialised people.

They also problematise ‘the other’ through masculinity. These ‘other’ persons are both too masculine and not masculine enough. Blacks are for example described as both ‘wild and dangerous’ (too masculine) and ‘dependent on welfare payments’ (not masculine enough). In the same manner, they describe Jews as both ‘feminised’ (not masculine enough) and ‘powerful and wealthy’ (too masculine).

And they use masculinity in their recruiting of more white men.

‘These movements like to push the belief that you’ll get ”your girl, job and masculinity back” when you fight for white power,’ said Kimmel as he ended his presentation.

The conference Emerging Ideas in Masculinity Research: Masculinity Studies in the North was held 5-6 June in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was arranged by the Nordic masculinity network NEMM together with the Icelandic Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The conference attracted almost 200 participants from both Nordic and non-Nordic countries.

Updated 26 September 2020