Multiple Models: From Typology to Relationship
Scalar models of personality have often stemmed from theories of personality ‘types’. Extraversion-introversion scales and the famous ‘F scale’ of authoritarianism both derive from such typologies, devised by Jung and the Frankfurt school respectively. M/F scales similarly derive from unitary models of sexual character, in effect ‘dimensionalizing’ them by adding a range of possibilities in between. But this is not the only way diversity can be recognized in a theory of types. One may hold to the conception of a whole personality rather than a dimension, and subdivide or multiply the types.
In the case of sexual character the classic of this approach is Simone de Beauvoir’s account of femininity in Book Two of The Second Sex. Starting with a general difference in the social situation and ontological status of women and men, she goes on to develop a subtle account of half-a-dozen types of femininity in literature and French social life: the lesbian, the married woman, the prostitute, the independent woman, etc. Her types are partly based on social circumstances, partly on the patterns of inner dynamics that will be discussed in the following chapter.
In principle the same kind of thing can be done for types of masculinity, though no Simon de Beauvoir has appeared to do it. Andrew Tolson’s The Limits of Masculinity makes a beginning. Going through the (mostly British) research in community studies and industrial sociology, Tolson draws out connections between economic circumstance, life cycle and sexual identity in a broad distinction between a working-class type and a middle-class type of masculinity.
Both de Beauvoir and Tolson assume a one-to-one correspondence between character type and milieu. This is a step forward from unitary models of sexual character, but not a long one. Character is still treated as unitary within a given setting. The logic is the same as in ‘national character’ or culture-aiid – personality research that described the ‘modal personalities’ supposed to characterize Germany, Japan, Samoa. The same treatment of sexual character is found in the cross-cultural contrasts made by Margaret Mead in Male and Female.
The next step is to recognize that qualitatively different types are produced within the same social setting. Evidence for this is not difficult to find. Here is an example taken from the collection of working-class autobiographies already quoted. The author, Bim Andrews, is talking about growing up and going to work at Cambridge in the 1920s:
In the mid-twenties, I learned how to become a clerk at the Coop, and after evening classes in shorthand and typing, a higher grade office worker. A dutiful, heads-down-all-day, worker, with no ideas at all about my rights. Not even my basic rights as a human being, never mind my rights as part of a deal involving my work and their money. True, there was some talk of a Trades Union, but no girl or woman ever thought it applied to her. Some of my work kept me standing up all day, and when I had bad menstrual cramps, as I often did, I would slink off to the lavatory to sit down for as long as I dared. No rest room, not even a chair in our crowded cloakroom.
Some new ideas did take root – the Co-op was quite an evangelical movement then, and it was their evening classes which I joined. But my emotions and understanding were still at sixes and sevens. Which was the right way to live? Like Nellie, with her placid face and her engagement ring, and her pieces of linen and underclothes in tissue paper, brought for display to the girls before settling in her bottom drawer? Or like Jessie, coy and nudging – what we would now call sexy – surrounded by men, single and married? Or like Miss Marshall, the General Manager’s secretary and our immediate boss. Composed, and sharp with us, the owner of a little car, involved in a sly relationship with the Manager of the Grocery Dept?
Nellie, Jessie, Miss Marshall and indeed the earnest Bim herself, are present in her mind as types – real types, not ideal or abstracted types – standing for different ‘ways to live’. Yet they do not float free from each other. Bim experiences a relationship between them. It is a kind of rivalry between alternatives, confronting her with an existential and to some extent moral choice. She can become a certain kind of woman, enter a certain kind of femininity, by throwing herself forward along one path in life.
I will return to the idea of a life path in chapters 9 and 10; here the important point is that the types exist in a relationship with each other. In the research which first raised this question for me, in an Australian ruling-class boys’ school, the connections take the definite form of a hierarchy. A teacher whom we call Angus Barr described to us an episode, some details of which we could confirm from other sources, of what he thought of as ‘bullying’ between two groups of boys:
There are a group [‘the Bloods’] which I suppose you can say is a traditional one, the sporting group, they are more active physically… And sometimes they ride a bit rough over another group who have been called, and now call themselves, ‘the Cyrils’, the conshies. [From ‘conscientious’.] Who are. the ones who don’t play any games. Who have this year [had] a particularly bad time from the Blood group… And about the middle of the year I had to – it hasn’t arisen in past years, I’ve taken the form for a number of years so I think I know – had to intervene. And*say, Well now, what is being done by some of you to some others has reached limits where it has got to stop, it is going too far… [The Cyrils] were these quite clever little boys who are socially totally inadequate, and yet who have got very good brains. They’ve all got glasses, short, very fat and that sort of thing… I think I was reasonably successful in stopping it. I tried to ask discreetly some of the Cyrils how things had been getting on, and they said, Well it had been better. And I spoke to one or two of the Bloods, said that it’s got to stop.
In contrast to Bim Andrews’s perceptions, the difference between these masculinities is not a matter of free choice by the boys: an unathletic way of life may for instance be imposed by a boy’s understanding of his physique. Larger cultural dynamics can be detected here. But the crucial point is that entering one group does not make the other irrelevant. Far from it: an active relationship is constructed. The Bloods persecute the Cyrils, because being a Blood involves an active rejection of what they see as effeminacy.
This particular pattern of conflict does not arise by chance. The school in question is noted for its attachment to a fiercely competitive body-contact sport, football. Both official school policy, and the ethos among staff, parents and Old Boys, encourage activities in which the kind of aggressive, physically dominant masculinity represented by the Bloods is at a premium. The boys are obliged to define their attitude to this demand, either for or against. Hence they polarize along the axis described by Mr Barr. Yet those boys who react against the model embraced by the Bloods are not simply pushed into limbo. For the school not only wants football glory, it also must have academic success. A high rate of performance in matriculation examinations is necessary if the school is to hold its position in the now strongly competitive secondary-education market. In short, the school needs the Cyrils too. Within their own sphere it gives them honour: acknowledging examination success by means of prizes, giving awards to the chess club as well as the football team. And it protects their interests, as Mr Barr’s intervention to stop the ‘bullying’ neatly shows.
The production of multiple masculinities and femininities can be seen in studies of other schools. In one of the earlier school ethnographies, Social Relations in a Secondary School, David Hargreaves portrayed the production of a semi-delinquent ‘subculture’ in the lower streams of a British secondary modern school. One of its components was a rough, aggressive masculinity, strongly and no doubt deliberately contrasted with the more compliant behaviour of boys in the upper streams. A similar pattern in a similar school a decade later is traced by Paul Willis in Learning to Labour, a contrast between ‘the lads’ and ‘the ear’oles’. Willis is more explicit about the construction of masculinity and its connection with class fate, as the two groups of boys head for factory jobs on the one hand and white-collar jobs on the other.
In the Australian girls’ private school we call Auburn College, there is not only a differentiation between several kinds of femininity, but also a recent change in the pattern of hegemony among them. An academic renovation of the school, undertaken by a new headmistress and new staff, has altered the context of the girls’ peer-group life. The prestige formerly enjoyed by a ‘social’ set of girls has been broken and their place in the sun taken by academically successful girls headed for university and professional careers.
The pattern of differentiation and relation appears in other institutions besides schools. The fashion industry is an important case, given the significance of clothes and cosmetics as markers of gender. Here there is a constant interplay between the economic need for a turnover of styles – the basis of ‘fashion’ itself – and the need to sustain the structures of motive that constitute their markets.
In the aftermath of the new feminism, the promotion of a ‘liberated’ femininity became the basis of many marketing strategies. ‘Charlie’ perfumes and cosmetics (introduced by Revlon in 1973) and ‘Virginia Slims’ cigarettes were among the most heavily promoted examples. Yet a femininity that gets ‘liberated’ too completely loses the need to present itself through cosmetics and fashionable clothes. Thus an oscillation: on one poster ‘Charlie’ strides out boldly in trousers; on another, ‘Pretty Polly’ advertises its fragile pantihose with the caption ‘For girls who don’t want to wear the trousers’. Some marketers take the contradiction inside the one promotion: thus ‘natural look’ cosmetics; or a magazine that uses a feminist name, Ms London, as a vehicle for wholly stereotyped advertising.
The fashion industry works through competition of images, but also on the assumption that the competition is always being resolved. A leading designer emerges; a ‘look’ is settled on; a particular presentation of femininity made normative. In cases such as Dior and the ‘New Look’ of 1947, a trend lasting over a number of seasons may be set. Moreover, the brilliantly lit centre stage of high fashion is only a small part of the clothing industry’s sales. The bulk of the business concerns cheap, drab, and poorly made clothing for the mass market in styles that change slowly. Two centuries ago this was called bluntly ‘slop cloathing’; it is now called in the rag trade ‘dumb fashion’. So the currently exalted style does not eliminate all other styles. Rather it subordinates them.
There need not be any psychological traits which all femininities have in common and which distinguish them from all masculinities, or vice versa. The character structure of the academic high-flyers at Auburn College is probably closer to that of Milton’s ‘Cyrils’ than to socialite femininities. What unites the femininities of a given social milieu is the double context in which they are formed: on the one hand in relation to the image and experience of a female body, on the other to the social definitions of a woman’s place and the cultural oppositions of masculinity and femininity. Femininity and masculinity are not essences: they are ways of living certain relationships. It follows that static typologies of sexual character have to be replaced by histories, analyses of the joint production of sets of psychological forms.