men, masculinities and gender politics

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Organising with Masculinities

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Cliff Cheng, University of Southern California (USC), U.S.A.

Masculinities are an organising principle. Organisations, be they work or social ones, use both masculinities and femininities to organise themselves. In modern organisations, femininities tend to be thought of as inferior to masculinities. In fact, modern organisations, which are characterized by hierarchy, need to find ways to inferiorize workers from managers. Gender (feminniities and masculinities) is one of those ways.

Looking at how occupations and organisations are segregated by sex is a basic level of analysis. It is easier to tell what people’s sex is than it is to tell whether or not they conform to the hegemonic ideals of masculinity, or the current ideal of femininity. If we are to avoid the error of replacing male patriarchy with a female one we need to look at actual gender behaviors of different cultural, social, economic, and psychological kinds of biological males and females, rather than assume that biology determines behavior and the amount of power someone has or does not have.

We need to go beyond a person’s biological sex to his/her behavior, gender performance - what is the person’s behavior, without being fooled into thinking that his/her sex totally determines behavior. A recent book edited by Cliff Cheng (1996) Masculinities in Organisations deals with these issues. It may seem odd to say that this book is not about men per se - not about a kind of sex necessarily. It is about masculinity - a kind of gender performance. Masculinities can be and are performed by women. And, not all men perform the same kind of masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity refers to the current dominant form of masculinity. This definition changes over time. A sub-type of hegemonic masculinity is Rambo masculinity (named after Euro-American action movie hero played by actor Sylvester Stallone).

In Masculinities in Organisations sociologist Jennifer Pierce explores how the occupational culture of attorneys, litigators to be specific, requires them to strategically use emotion to perform the role of “Rambo.” Psychologists Judi Addelston and Michael Stirratt analyze Rambo hegemonic masculinity at the Citadel, an all male military school, in South Carolina, USA. The Citadel tries to make boys into (hegemonically masculine) men. Recently, the Citadel has received a lot of press coverage about the problems it had after it was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to sex integrate and admit female cadets for the first time. Hegemonic masculinity also is in organisational processes.

Sociologist Jim Messerschmidt examines one of these processes in his analysis of how the fatal decision to launch the space shuttle Challenger was influenced by hegemonic masculinity. One reason why masculinities are seldom looked at as an organising principle is that males dominate an occupation or organisation and are unable to see their dominance. Sex segregation refers to the numerical dominance of one sex over another in a given occupation or organisation. When there is an absence of women altogether, male homosociality occurs.

Sociologist Rosemary Wright examines in Masculinities in Organisations how the hegemonically masculine occupational culture in the computing occupation creates sex segregation. Women do not feel welcome to enter this occupation due to the hegemonically masculine culture of this occupation. Sociologists Amy Wharton and Sharon Bird take us inside work teams to look at how sex segregation is influenced by homosociality. Men in all-male groups report lower group cohesion than men in predominantly female groups. Organisational scientists Martin Kilduff and Ajay Mehra did a study of Master of Business Administration students at an elite university. They found that women who were successful associated themselves with predominantly male groups. The less successful associated themselves with predominantly female groups. Hegemonic masculinity not only changes with history but also with the group which is in power. Rather than being something affixed to a person, hegemonic masculinity, as organisational scientist Laurie Telford (now Laurie Milton) says, is negotiated. Organisations and the people within them negotiate their identities. Non-hegemonic masculinities are not verified by organisation as the hegemonic type is.

Anthropologist Tomoko Hamada explores this idea. She studied a Japanese firm in the U.S. In this firm, the group in power, men of Japanese citizenry, defined a version of hegemonic masculinity that differs from the version of hegemonic masculinity in organisations dominated by Euro-American men. In the Japanese transplant, Euro-American men, whose form of masculinity dominates in American society, find the tables turned on them when they work for a Japanese firm in the U.S. - and find they are not in the dominant group by virtue of their gender performance. I examined how culture influences the definition of hegemonic masculinity by studying how assessors in an assessment center (that selected managers) defined what a “good manager” was. Assessors thought that a “good manager” was “hegemonically masculine” - as defined by western culture. They selected only those candidates that demonstrated hegemonic masculinity, mostly men and a few women. Those who the assessors thought were “feminine,” mostly females and Asian and Asian-American males, were not selected.