Masculinity politics was only in some cases sympathetic to feminism, as men took up feminist challenges of masculine privilege in different
ways. Small numbers of men supported and were involved in second – wave feminism. This made sense within discourses about the need for women and men to work together to achieve more equitable gender relations. Ideas about individual liberation from traditional constraints were voiced by a variety of new social movements in the 1960s and 1970s, including feminism (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985; Seidman, 1994). These ideas could imply that men also needed to be liberated from repressive roles. There was little evidence of men’s repression within feminist political groups and meetings in which they were involved and they tended to dominate meetings. In most cases feminists found that women-only groups, whilst not without conflict, were preferable for achieving feminist goals, including equipping women with confidence and greater autonomy instead of relying on men (see Holmes, 2000a). For most men, however, feminism was challenging and demanded more thought be given to what it meant to be masculine and what privileges or costs that may involve. Responses varied as the politics of masculinity emerged from the realm of the taken for granted.
For powerful men, the benefits of masculine privilege have not been much thought about. Connell (1995) notes importantly that the defence of hegemonic (or dominant forms of) masculinity is political. Indeed it can be argued that powerful men closed ranks in response to feminism and that a ‘backlash’ emerged in the 1980s which saw women controlled in new ways (Faludi, 1991). I will talk about pro-feminist men’s politics shortly, but other men’s movements differ from feminist politics because they do not recognize men’s institutional privileges; instead they focus on the costs of masculinity, and some are actively anti-feminist.
Therapeutic approaches to masculinity are one example of masculinity politics that have not been sympathetic to feminism. As Messner (1997) argues, such approaches move away from an agenda of sociopolitical transformation The mytho-poetic movement founded by Robert Bly, for example, implied that the problem was that men had become emasculated (and it was suggested that feminism had played a role in this) and needed to reconnect to their ‘inner’ masculinity. Groups of men, mainly in America in the 1980s, started going off into the forest to beat drums and find ‘the warrior within’ (Messner, 1997). The focus of such movements is on changing the self, not changing the world. While feminists have tended to be extremely sceptical about the value of therapeutic movements, Connell (2000: 201—2) argues that at least such movements show men giving some attention to what it means to be masculine and how that has changed. Even if their solutions might be considered reactionary or conservative, they are at least thinking about masculinity as something open to change, not as fixed and immutable. However, those men interested in masculinity therapies had a very limited vision of masculinity as a historical construct. Bly, for example, advocates a view of masculinity which supposedly encourages
men to eschew macho aggressiveness, but he recommends a style of masculinity which essentializes certain types of emotional and physical strength as desirable for men — and as attainable if they can rediscover their connection with nature. He argues that ‘[e]very modern male has, lying at the bottom of his psyche, a large, primitive being covered with hair down to his feet. Making contact with this Wild Man is the step the Eighties male or the Nineties male has yet to take’ (Bly, 1990: 6). His thinking reinforces the idea that women and men are naturally different, and that we should accept that and work with those differences rather than challenging them. The conservatism that such ideas embody has been subject to considerable criticism from feminists and sociologists (see Messner, 1997; Seidler, 1991) who wish to question the way things are and to examine the ways in which ideas about gendered behaviour being ‘natural’ usually reinforce inequalities.
Men pursuing masculinity therapy were not pursuing equality; they were only interested in changing themselves in ways that made them feel better. The focus on the self was perhaps partly a result of the shift to celebrating difference that was also apparent within feminism. It is interesting that the masculinity therapies movement apparently remained unified despite this shift, whereas many scholars believe that such a shift caused the fragmentation of feminist politics. Fragmentation was avoided arguably because all the men in such therapeutic movements were from similar, usually white middle class, backgrounds. They were not having to deal with much diversity within their groups and, as long as they were focused on changing the self and not on the world, a sense of commu – nitas could be maintained. They were not trying to understand power relations as they existed in the world and their relationship to them. Their sense of solidarity with each other in ‘rediscovering’ the male power they thought lost was based on avoiding an analysis of patriarchy and denying they had privilege and power within patriarchy. As Connell (2000: 204) puts it: masculinity therapy ‘offers personal comfort as a substitute for social change’.
Gay politics has been more oriented towards change and offered a questioning of masculinity more sympathetic to feminism; however, Connell (1995) argues that gay men do not inevitably resist complicity in the institutional privileges masculinity brings. Whilst some gay men adopt more feminine styles, for example as drag queens, there are others who take on a more rough and tough leather look which is very ‘masculine’. And beyond their personal style some gay men might adopt a radical questioning of the current gender order, but others may conform to it. Similarly, straight men are not inevitably anti-feminist.
There are straight men who continue to seek to address gender inequalities in pro-feminist ways. If such men are involved in actively resisting hegemonic masculinity as part of their protest against gender inequalities then they are partaking in what Connell (1995) calls exit politics. This is a politics that is about exiting from the position and privilege associated with hegemonic masculinity. It is about refusing to be a man (Stoltenberg, 2000a/1989) in the socially sanctioned form of masculinity. So dressing in drag, expressing feelings, challenging homophobic ideas, protesting against male violence against women, respecting and supporting women in their struggles against sexism are all ways in which men might do exit politics. In places this exit politics has become connected to a queer politics which has emerged largely from lesbian and gay thinking.
Queer politics (see Chapter 4) questions the traditional reliance on identity as the basis for political activity. It promotes a fragmenting or ‘troubling’ (Butler, 1990) of identity categories such as those based on gender and sexuality. For queer politics the point is to break down ideas about femininity and masculinity as tied to your sex and for people to think about behaving in ways that do not fit into those categories or cross over boundaries so that masculine and feminine are not opposed any more. Gender and desire become fluid; they are ideas to be played with, not aspects of our identity internally determining who we are. But queer politics is thought to have limitations in bringing widespread social changes to address gender inequalities and differs from earlier ways in which feminists sought to politically address the way in which sexuality and gender are entwined. One question is whether such feminist politics still has any relevance.