Raewyn Connell (formerly Robert William Connell or Bob Connell) is a renowned Australian sociologist who deals critically with culture, media and political hegemony and is widely known for her significant research in the field of Gender Studies, especially masculinity / Men's studies. Connell is a professor at the University of Sydney, Faculty of Education and Social Work. She uses concepts and theories from feminist gender research to analyze the role of men in society. The best known concept she developed is that of hegemonic masculinity. MAVA members got an opportunity to interact with Prof. Connell in 2007. Here are some excerpts from the interaction.
1. You have been a socialist all your life and to you that means a commitment to human equality, and that obviously applies to relations between men and women. Then, how do expect the neoconservative agenda being pushed by imperial forces to affect the gender relationships in the emerging world?
Human equality and social justice are general goals. They take many specific forms - equality of respect, equality of income, legal equality, justice in the distribution of wealth, etc. Each of these forms is contested, because in each sphere there are people with advantages and power - who often use the power to defend, or to increase, their advantages. This is being done by the managers of transnational corporations, and their allies in the state. In the course of pursuing these strategies, power-holders may find themselves in contradictory situations, as the current US neo-conservatives do - resisting gender equality at home, but claiming to defend it abroad.
2. Do you think that the discourse on masculinities in the past three decades has imbibed and benefited from the experiences of the erstwhile third world country men?
The social-science literature on masculinities is now beginning to understand the significance of research with men in developing countries, after a period in which ideas were drawn exclusively from rich countries. That is to say, research on masculinities is becoming genuinely international. But the popular literature on masculinity, in the rich countries, remains ethnocentric.
3. Apart from the privileges of patriarchal system to men (which you have appropriately described as ‘ patriarchal dividend’), what according to you are the other factors contributing towards providing power in gender relations in Western developed countries and in developing countries esp. South East Asia?
Unequal power between men (as a group) and women (as a group) is sustained by a number of factors - men's fear of losing their privileges, men's fears for their masculinity, reactionary beliefs drawn selectively from religion, the rigidity of institutions such as the military, etc. Each of these "supports" for inequality can be contested. For instance, religions such as Christianity and Islam can be interpreted as supporting gender equality, not patriarchal dominance. I was brought up as a Christian and I know very well that there are texts saying "In Jesus Christ there is neither male nor female", contradicting the texts
4. Has "caste" (say, as compared to race and sexual orientation) received sufficient intellectual attention as a defining force for shaping of masculinities?
Caste has received very little attention in the international research, though it receives some attention in the Indian research on masculinities. "Race" is more of an issue in the international research, for instance in Africa and in the Americas.
5. For the benefit of our readers, (who are unaware about your notable work on masculinities) could you please enumerate and briefly describe the various forms of masculinity which you have studied and analyzed?
I have done research with several groups of Australian men, who show different patterns of masculinity. One was a group of young working-class men, who struggled to define a sense of self in poor economic conditions. Another was a group of men in the environmental movement, who generally supported feminism and thus tried to create masculinities that were not oppressive to women. A third was a group of businessmen, mainly in industries related to the international economy, whose masculinity centred on careers, and was interwoven with technology and the competitive power struggles in business. One of my concerns is the changing patterns of "hegemony", that is to say, the dominance of particular patterns of masculinity over others.
6. In the realm of academic disciplines, where do you place "masculinities studies", along with "women's studies", "men's studies" and "gender studies"?
Studies of masculinity do not, in my view, form a separate academic discipline. This issue can (and should) arise in many fields of study, including sociology, history, literature, and technology. I think of research on masculinity as a focus within gender studies, which itself is an interdisciplinary field growing historically out of women's studies.
7. What, in your opinion, is the role of conscientious men in bringing about a social transformation towards a more egalitarian gender roles?
I think men of conscience are vitally important in the transition towards more gender equality. Men are, as I have argued in a recent publication, the "gatekeepers" in many ways, with access to resources, authority, and skills that may all be important in social change. Men who believe in gender equality can do a great deal. The path is not always an easy one, but one will often find support in unexpected places.
8. There seems to be a paradigm shift in visualization of men from "perpetrators of violence against women (VAW) " to "probable partners to end VAW"? What factors have contributed to this phenomenon? Further, is it sufficient and just to restrict men's role in stopping VAW?
Men are usually the perpetrators in violence against women, and men are also partners with women in stopping this violence - but not necessarily the same men. Differences among men, and differences in patterns of masculinity, are relevant here. I think part of the task is to establish among men the hegemony of a non-violent masculinity, which requires a widespread understanding that strength does not mean force. I think men who are involved in anti-violence work need to be careful and respectful in their dealings with women involved in the same struggle. It can be difficult for men to accept women's leadership, but that also is something men should learn to do.
9. Do you find any change in the attitude of the women's movement, in general, and feminist scholars and activists in particular, towards men's role in countering patriarchy?
Feminist activists and scholars are divided in their views of men's involvement in struggles against patriarchy - some welcome this, as a contribution to the strength of the movement for equality, while others are doubtful about men's sincerity or commitment to change. Probably there has been growing acceptance of men's share in the struggle, internationally. Some feminists now see the path forward as involving a dismantling of rigid gender identities, and an exploration of links across former gender boundaries.
10. What are the chances of emergence of a "rainbow coalition" against the emergence of a unipolar world ?
A rainbow coalition is an aspiration that is realized, in partial ways, in many social change campaigns. In that sense it is already a reality. It is not, yet, a predominant political force except in some local contexts. I am not sure that it is likely to become the major opposition force to transnational corporate power or the power of the US government. Yet rainbow-coalition politics has the capacity to regenerate and reappear in many contexts. I therefore see it as an important form of politics in the emerging world order.