You are on page 1of 7

8 Gender and Development

Men, masculinity and

‘gender in development’
A n d r e a C o r n w a ll
This article focuses on the implications of recent work in feminist theory, and on questions of
masculinity, stressing the need to take account of the complex and variable nature of gender
identities, and to work with men on exploring the constraints of dominant models of masculinity.

rticles and train ing materials difference, and which return to the basic

A addressing `gender issues’ invari-

ably talk about women. As Gender
and Development (GAD) initiatives are
specifically aim ed at challengin g and
premises on which GAD is founded: that
gender relations are fundamentally power

correcting the effects of gender inequality,

G e n d e r a n d D e v e lo p m e n t:
this may seem hardly surprising. After all,
the primary purpose is to work towards
tim e to m o v e o n ?
the involvement of women as equal The failure of many Women In Develop-
partners in the development process. But ment (WID) projects led to the realisation
the dilemmas faced by some of the `other’ that targeting women alone was not
gender, dilemmas that may equally be enough (Kabeer 1995). Drawing on the
regarded as `gender issues’ , are rarely work of feminist academics in the 1970s,
given consideration. And gender training, and on the distinction between sex and
one of the principal strategies of GAD gender that came to in fluence much
practice, rarely speaks to men’ s experi- femin ist work in the 1970s and 1980s,
ences as men. femin ist develop ment practitioners
By disregarding the complexities of borrowed the concept of gender as a social
male experience, by characterising men as construct. Feminist anthropologists
`the problem’, and by continuing to focus demonstrated that taken-for-granted
on women-in-general as `the oppressed’, assumptions about women and men
development initiatives that aim to be reflect the ways in which cu lturally-
`gender-aware’ can fail to address effec- specific ideas about women and men had
tively the issues of equity and empower- become `naturalised’ (see, for example,
ment that are crucial in bringing about Ortner 1974, Rosaldo 1974). Feminist
positive change. To make gender `every- anthropologists contended that there was
body’s issue’, strategies are required that nothing `natural’ about the gender inequali-
take account of the complexities of ties that take different forms in different

Gender and Development ISSN 1364-9221, Vol 5, No. 2, June 1997

Men, masculinity and `gender in development’ 9

cultures (see, for example, MacCormack Woman, the mainstream feminism was
and Strathern 1980, Moore 1988). disregarding differences between women:
In development, `gender’ came to refer black, non-Western, working-class and
to the socially constructed relations lesbian women had their own struggles
between women and men. The concept of and faced other prejudices (see, for
GAD offered a new approach to including example, Moraga and Anzaldua, 1981).
women in the develop ment process; Western feminism and its category `woman’
gender training became a `means by which was of relevance only to particular kinds
feminist advocates and practitioners... of women and, some writers argued, failed
{sought} to de-institutionalise male to take account of the context of women’s
privilege within development policy and situations (see, for example, Mohanty, 1987).
plannin g’ (Kabeer 1995:264). `Gender On the other hand, if one cou ld no
analysis’ offered tools for investigating longer talk of universals such as `male
the material bases of difference between dominance’ or `women’s oppression’, and
women and men. Yet, gender analysis if it was philosophically unsound to
tells us very little about how gender continue to assert broad-ranging theories
identities and roles are experienced by about women’s experience, then it seemed
in dividual women and men within that there was little space left for feminist
communities. Rather, it is used to politics. While in the early 1980s, some
delineate distinctions between what feminist writers had began to question the
women-in-general and men-in-general sex/gender distinction that had become
do, in order to guide planners. Sexual so fashionable (see, for example, Gatens
difference is taken as the starting point for 1983), by now, debates about the
analysis, and gross commonalities among usefulness of a category `woman’ and the
women and men are presumed. This concept of `gender’ for activism raised
cru de and sim plistic form of analy sis further thorny questions (see, for example,
offers little in the way of understanding Scott 1989).
the dynamics of difference in commu-
nities. It tells us nothing of relationships
among women and among men, nor of the
U s e fu l n e w c o n ce p ts
in tersection of gender with other The gulf between the academic world and
differences such as age, status and wealth. those working in applied or activist fields
has widened as complex theoretical
language and concepts have come to
B r in g in g n e w th in k in g in to dominate feminist writing. Dressed up in
d e v e lo p m e n t p ra c tice complicated terms and swathed in
While feminist theory has moved on and obscure language, much theoretical work
become more sophisticated, the impact of on gender has become almost completely
new thinking on development practice inaccessible to a casual ou tsider. In
has been limited. Tracking the ideas that essence, however, a lot of recent gender
have influenced GAD back to academia theory seems like common sense. We all
offers some insights into the shortcomings know from our own experience that how
of current practice. we feel or behave as women or men is
By the early 1980s, there was consid- influenced by the many different
erable unease in feminist circles about the messages we receive from others about
ways in which `women’ were being what is acceptable or appropriate; that
constructed in feminist writing. It became over our lives, being a woman or man has
apparent that by focusing on Universal different dimensions and that in different
10 Gender and Development

settings we might behave quite differ- temple, at same-sex or family gatherings

ently, depending on whom we interact with. the ways in which a woman or man
New theoretical tools have given social interacts with others may be very different.
scientists the capacity to explore in greater And the ways in which people are thought
detail the processes through which gender of as men or women also vary with the
is locally constructed and the interactions context: consider, for example, the contrast
in which gender makes a difference. between the different masculinities and
Discourse analysis, for example, has been femininities in the `subject-positions’ of
extremely useful in understanding the power-dressed career woman, loving
ways in which women and men come to mother, or devoted wife; or between doting
adopt particular practices; work that father, beer-drinking lad, and dutiful son.
shows a number of different, sometimes W hen we analyse our own lives, we
contradictory, discourses about gender can see just how complex and contra-
offer the means to analyse how it is that dictory ways of thinking about gender can
people take up particular ways of seeing be. None of us live every moment of our
themselves and relating to others. 1 lives in a state of subordination to others.
Deconstruction Ð the principle of taking And the relationships we have with people
apart taken-for-granted assumptions to around us may be `gender relations’ in the
explore the contradictions on which they sense that these are relationships in which
are based Ð is equally valuable. Deconst- gender makes a difference (see Peters
ructing the category `woman’ or `man’ 1995), but are in no sense merely one-
reveals a host of assumptions, ideas and dimensional power relations. As women,
judgements, that can be understood in we may have sons, fathers, brothers, male
terms of people’ s experience and their friends or male employees in our lives
cultural context. with whom we have quite different kinds
of relationships than those with a male
Gender as a performance lover, husband or boss. It is, in many ways,
Analysis of the ways in which gender quite obvious that sweeping generalisa-
affects particular interactions, looking at tions about gender make little sense of our
Gender as a Performance (Butler 1990) or own realities.
in terms of the ways people make others
feel `different’ from them (Kessler and M is sin g m a sc u lin ity ? M e n
McKenna 1978), offers new ways of
in g e n d e r a n d d e v e lo p m e n t
exploring the contexts in which gender
makes a difference. One of the most obvious gaps in gender
Each day of our lives and over the and development studies, where new
course of our lives, the identities we have tools and new approaches are needed, is
as women or men are not fixed or absolute, in relation to men. Old-style feminist
but multiple and shifting (Cornwall and theory dealt with them at one stroke: men
Lindisfarne 1994). Gender relations are were classed as the problem, those who
context-bound: in one setting we might stood in the way of positive change. And
behave in one way, while in others we while feminist activism stressed change in
might behave differently. Thin kin g in attitudes and behaviour on the part of
terms of what Hollway calls `subject- women in coming forward to claim their
positions’ allows us to consider how rights, it offered little more to men than a
people’s behaviour relates to the specific series of negative images of masculinity.
contexts in which people interact. At Only by abandoning those attributes
home, at work, in the church or mosque or which are culturally valued as those

Gender and Development Vol 5, No. 1, February 1997

Men, masculinity and `gender in development’ 11

associated with masculinity could men femininity. Not all men benefit from and
reprieve themselves. It is hardly any wonder subscribe to dominant values. `Hegemonic
that many men found this difficult. Not masculinity’ can be just as oppressive for
only were they told that they should give those men who refuse, or fail, to conform.
up positions that put them at an advan- Yet, these men are often im plicitly
tage, they were left without anything to excluded from being part of processes of
value about being men. changing and confronting gender inequality
Writings on men and on questions of because they are male.
masculinity are relatively recent, reflect- Gender and Development work currently
ing a belated recognition that men also offers little scope for men’s involvement.
have gender identities. Over the last Resistance to messages about what may
decade, however, a great deal has been be interpreted as `women’s issues’ makes
written on and by men. Some of this work more sense if the failure to adequately
could be seen as rather self-seeking, and analyse and address men’ s experiences
lacks the critical edge evident in feminist and gender identities is taken into account.
work. There are, however, a number of Without an approach to difference that
excellent contributions to this field that moves beyond static generalisations and
have much to offer practitioners, such as works with and from personal experience
Connell’s (1987, 1995) work. In an influential to open up spaces for change, men will
early article, Carrigan, Connell and Lee continue to be left on the sidelines and
(1985) outlined a theory of masculinity remain `the problem’.
that drew on some of this recent thinking
to argue that although there are many
ways of being a man, some are valued
Im p lic a tio n s f o r p ra c tic e
more than others and men experience So how can these theoretical tools be
social pressure to conform to dominant useful to practitioners dealing with the
ideas about being a man. They termed this concrete everyday problems of develop-
`hegemonic masculinity’ . Not all men ment work? Firstly, they offer ways to
conform to the `hegemonic’ version; those build greater awareness of the challenges
who do not may find themselves disadvan- that men may face in coming to terms with
taged, and even discriminated against. changing identities and practices. If certain
W here the concept of `hegemonic ways of being a man are culturally valued,
masculinity’ is most valuable is in showing then asking men to abandon these identities
that it is not men per se, but certain ways altogether without having anything of
of being and behaving, that are associated value to hold on to is clearly unreasonable.
with dominance and power. In each cultural But if men become aware that in their own
context, the ways in which masculinity is everyday lives they are already behaving
associated with power varies (Cornwall differently in different settings without
and Lindisfarne 1994). Some ways of being losing a sense of their own identities, then
a man are valued more than others. But it may be easier to recognise some of the
this is not to say that all men behave in this implications of `hegemonic masculinity’
way. Attributes that are associated with without feeling attacked or threatened.
masculinity are not always associated with Secondly, by demonstrating that many
men: women too can possess some of these men do not actually match up to idealised
attributes. Not all men, then, have power; forms of masculinity, spaces can be
and not all of those who have power are men. opened up for reflection about how men
In each cultural context there is a range can be disempowered or marginalised.
of available models of masculinity or Rather than tarring all men with the same
12 Gender and Development

brush, looking at dimensions of difference By working with men as human beings,

can offer ways in which men can begin to rather than constructing them as `the
re-evaluate some of the difficulties they problem’, addressing personal change can
face as men, and enhance awareness of have a wider impact on the institutional
situations in which the roles are reversed. changes that are needed for greater equity.
By recognising that men can also feel It is time to move beyond the old fixed
powerless, scope can be offered for men to ideas about gender roles and about universal
reflect on their behaviour towards those male domination. Time to find ways of
they feel they have power over. As behaviour thinking about and analysing gender that
is learnt, it can also be unlearnt and relearnt. make sense of the complexities of people’s
Lastly, if empowerment means enabling lived realities. Gender and development
people to expand their `power within’ in currently lacks sop histicated tools for
order to have power to make their own understanding difference: is it not time
choices, then this can equally be applied in that we turned our attention to creating them?
work with men. It is often easier to resist Taking complexity seriously does not
change and remain cushioned by the mean that we need to abandon completely
comfort of familiarity. Behaving differ- fundamental feminist concerns with
ently can raise all kinds of anxieties and women’s rights. The shattering of the old
threats, especially when identities might grand theories can be liberating, rather
be compromised. By deconstructing than robbing us of a place from which to
cultural assumptions about being a man, speak about inequality. We have the choice
awareness can be raised about the ways in to use arguments as strategies, without
which some of these assumptions leave swallowing them whole to mask the real
people in a no-win situation. And by contradictions they raise in terms of our
working from this analysis to build the own lives (see Fraser 1995). Where we do
confidence to choose to behave differently, need to be careful is in confusing strategic
men can be offered the means to empower arguments abou t women or men-in-
themselves to change. Men who have already general with the everyday experiences of
begun to embrace change are allies, rather real women and men.
than part of `the enemy’ , and oppor-
tunities should be made to involve them Andrea Cornwall works at the Centre for
more in Gender and Development work. Development Communications, King Alfred’s
If gender is to be everybody’ s issue, College, Winchester, UK
then we need to find constructive ways of Tel / fax: (0044) 127367230 6
working with men as well as with women
to build the confidence to do things
differently. Just because some men occupy
A ck n o w le d g e m e n ts
subject-positions in some settings that This article draws in places on previous
lend them power over people, it does not work developed with Nancy Lindisfarne
necessarily mean that these positions are and on discussions with Garrett Pratt. I
congruent with all aspects of their lives am grateful for the insights I gained from
and therefore define them as people. sharing ideas with them.
Relatively simple tools, drawn from
applications of theoretical models, and the
practical tools of approaches such as
Assertiveness Training, can be used to
N o te s
raise awareness of contradictions and of 1. One of the most accessible examples of
the knock-on effects of resisting change. this is Wendy Hollway’s (1984) analysis
Men, masculinity and `gender in development’ 13

of gender identities and relations Mohanty, C T (1987) `Under Western eyes:

between young women and men. feminist scholarship and colonial
discourses’, Feminist Review, 30:61-88.
Moore, H (1988) Feminism and Anthro-
R e fe re n c e s pology, Polity Press, London.
Butler, J (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism Moraga, C and Anzaldua, G (1981) This
and the Subversion of Identity , London: Bridge Called My Back: Writings By
Routledge. Radical Women of Color , Persephone,
Carrigan, T, Connell, R and Lee, J (1985) Watertown, Mass.
`Towards a new sociology of mas- Ortner, S (1974) `Is female to male as
culinity’, Theory and Society 14:5. . nature is to culture?’ in Rosaldo, M Z
Cornwall, A and Lindisfarne. N (1994) and Lamphere, L (eds) Women, Culture
`Dislocating Masculinity: Gender, Power and Society , Stanford: Stanford
and Anthropology’ , in Cornwall and University Press.
Lindisfarne (eds) Dislocating Masculinities: Peters, P (1995) `Uses and abuses of the
Comparative Ethnographies, Routledge, concept of ª female headed house-
London. holdsº in research on agrarian
Fraser, N (1995) `Pragmatism, feminism transformation and policy’ , in
and the linguistic turn’ in Benhabib, S, Bryceson, D F (ed) Women Wielding the
Butler, J, Cornell, D and Fraser, N, Hoe: Lessons from Rural Africa for
Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Feminist Theory and Development
Exchange , London: Routledge. Practice , Oxford:Berg.
Fraser, N and Nicholson, L (1988) `Social Rosaldo, M Z (1974) `Women, culture and
criticism without philosophy: an society: a theoretical overview’ in
encounter between feminism and Rosaldo and Lamphere (op. cit.).
postmodernism’ , Theory, Culture and Scott, J W (1989) `Gender: a useful
Society 5. category of historical analysis’ in Weed,
Gatens, M (1983) `A critique of the sex E (ed) Coming To Terms: Feminism,
/gender distin ction’ in Allen, J and Theory, Politics, London: Routledge.
Patton, P (eds) Beyond Marx?
Interventions after Marx , Sydney:
Hollway, W (1984) `Gender difference and
the production of subjectivity’ in
Henriques, J, Hollway, W, Urwin, C,
V enn, C and Walkerdine, V (eds)
Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social
Regulation and Subjectivity , London:
Kabeer, N (1995) Reversed Realities: Gender
Hierarchies in Development Thought .
London, Verso.
Kessler, SJ and McKenna, W (1978) Gender:
An Ethnomethodological Approach, New
York, Wiley.
MacCormack, C and Strathern, M (eds)
(1980) Nature, Culture and Gender ,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.