Cashing out the Patriarchal Dividends:
An Interview with R. W. Connell


Lahoucine Ouzgane and Daniel Coleman

University of Alberta and McMaster University

Copyright © 1998 by Lahoucine Ouzgane and Daniel Coleman, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the authors.

  1. Bob Connell teaches Sociology at the University of Sidney and has published widely on the sociology of education and of gender power structures. His books include Which Way Is Up? Essays on Sex, Class and Culture (Allen and Unwin, 1983), Teachers' Work (Allen & Unwin, 1985), Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics (Stanford UP, 1987), Schools and Social Justice (Temple UP, 1993), and Masculinities (U California P, 1995). Lahoucine Ouzgane and Daniel Coleman interviewed Robert Connell by exchanging questions and replies through email between March and June 1998.

  2. How did you get into gender and masculinities-related research in the first place?

  3. Immediately, by living and working with feminists, both my wife, Pam Benton, and workmates at Flinders University and Macquarie University. I read the literature they were reading and became convinced the main points about the oppression of women were true. It struck me that these points concerned men who had any commitment to ideas of social equality. It seemed to be academic men's business to get started on power-structure research, looking at the dominant group in patriarchy. But since we were part of that group, this required new strategies, and to some extent new concepts. Hence, the project of masculinity research.

  4. You have written a fair amount about gay masculinities as well. Could you comment on how your start in Feminism led to Gay or Queer Studies?

  5. Feminism didn't lead to gay studies; they were in a sense parallel, or converging, concerns. I was already concerned with questions about sexuality, from studying Marcuse and Freud and being involved in new-left student politics. I worked with gay men and became involved in their discussions. It seemed important for any thinking about masculinity to take account of gay critiques of heterosexual men, and to recognize the presence of a group of men already involved in the transformation of gender relations.

  6. What kinds of personal investments are significant to your critical practice?

  7. I have been a socialist all my life and to me that means a commitment to human equality, and that obviously applies to relations between men and women. It is also relevant that I have never been comfortable with conventional masculinity as a way to live my own life, so I guess there was some psychological preparation to respond to these issues. I have reasonably close relationships with women both as family (including my daughter) and as friends, so the safety and well-being of women and girls matters personally.

  8. How do these investments influence your writing and/or teaching?

  9. In all sorts of ways. They help define what problems are worth investigating. They influence what I can "see" in social reality. They doubtless influence what counts as an answer. I have done some autobiographical writing, but it is mainly a question of how I understand other people's situations in the course of research and strategic thinking.

  10. In Gender and Power, you suggest that social practice produces change because it produces something it did not begin with. How might the practice of writing (whether imaginative or critical) be seen as transformational?

  11. It certainly is a transformational practice, though I guess most writing is so routine that it simply reinstates what has gone before (e.g. most journalism, in formula stories), and some actively tries to transform social relations in the direction of more inequality (e.g. neoliberalism).

  12. You've expressed some concern about how academic institutions limit the transformative possibilities of intellectual work in gender politics. What are your reflections on your own practices of criticism and theory and their transformative potential?

  13. Academic work has limited audiences; there is the well-known joke that the average readership of an academic journal article is four people, including the author. That's part of the price you pay for a concern with truth: it isn't entertainment. Contrast the circulation of the recent research work on masculinity with the recent pop psychology of masculinity—especially in the US, but also in Australia and Europe, where there are pseudo-factual books which circulate in the tens and hundreds of thousands, and have no reliable knowledge in them at all. My own practice involves trying to take the results of research work into wider forums, as I have done on other issues besides gender. I don't think I am particularly successful, as I haven't become much known to the mass media, which constitutes the public arena these days. But I hope to speak to teachers, and social activists in various settings, and perhaps through them the ideas percolate more widely. More than mass media, I would hope to connect to self-help efforts in popular education. So I was very pleased when a group connected with union education in Germany asked me to participate in a conference on issues about men and masculinity, and I have been pleased when people in school systems ask me to talk with them about the education of boys.

  14. How does the analytical concept of a hierarchy of masculinities that you develop in Gender and Power and Masculinities work in uneven or contradictory social structures? How do we describe "hegemonic, conservative, subordinated, marginalized, and complicitous" masculinities in social structures in which what you call "patriarchal dividends" are factored in multiple ways? We’re thinking of the great variety of forms of patriarchal family arrangements, the colonial feminization of non-white men, or the racialized paradoxical emasculation and superphallicism of African men, and so on.

  15. ALL social structures are uneven and contradictory. That is one useful fact I learnt as a history student. The hierarchy of masculinities is not a geometrical theorem; it is an empirical fact. Masculinities can be configured, and those configurations articulated, in different ways. This is not just a question of feminisation. In British colonial India, for instance, Bengali men were constructed by the British as effeminate, but Pathans as hyper-masculine--as were some indigenous peoples in North America, such as the Sioux. In recent years, I have been learning a bit about South Africa, where there is some very impressive research going on about these issues, and we see very clear examples of political structures as struggles between differently-ordered patriarchies. The story of Inkatha in KwaZulu Natal is particularly striking, as an age-graded patriarchy which has used a kind of ethnic nationalism and a revived warrior cult to conduct a very modern struggle for local power, manoeuvering between the Apartheid state and the African National Congress.

    Hegemony in gender relations is a process, a historical relationship, and not a fixed pattern (still less a type of personality). The Western impact on the colonial world ruptured gender orders and initiated an endlessly complex struggle for new relationships. I have just been reading a biography of Mahatma Gandhi and one of the most interesting parts was his long path from a wholly patriarchal model of Hindu marriage towards a belief in gender equality, though with a very different inflection from Western feminism--for instance, Gandhi tried to get men to take up spinning as part of the anticolonial renovation.

  16. The Gandhi example reminds us of your suggestion in Gender and Power that an attention to "crisis tendencies" can provide a link between structural analysis and liberation politics. Could you comment on the relationship between the crisis tendencies Gandhi was responding to and the particular gender politics it produced? Do masculine renovations occur only through crisis?

  17. I don't think I know enough about Gandhi’s context to answer this helpfully. Obviously colonialism generally disrupted authority structures. I'd emphasise that crisis tendencies do not always produce fullblown crises, and that they may be handled by various forms of accommodation. On the other hand they may become the starting points for a politics of change, which may have limited scope and still be very valuable. Some of what is talked of as "hybridization" of cultures is about this.

  18. Attention to third-world masculinities has often focused on practices or ideals such as honour, shame, machismo, superphallicism, or--in Gandhi’s case--spirituality. How do practices or ideals such as these correspond to "Western" masculinities, or do they? Are they the products of local realities or determined by racial or ethnic history?

  19. We really need a map of the world gender order, and we don't have that. Plainly there is not a simple matching of gender orders between the colonizers and the colonized; I've talked a bit about the problem of incommensurability in Masculinities. This seems to me one of the big problems of contemporary gender theory.

  20. A good deal of discussion about the literary production of masculinities goes in the direction of discourse theory and deconstruction. Generally, the idea is that if we can deconstruct the discursive representations of certain repressive forms of masculinity, the resulting destabilization can lead to new, less repressive ones. What does your perspective as a sociologist tell you about this discursive mode of analysis?

  21. Deconstruction is good to think with. A cultural critique is the obvious way in which we produce utopias, even small ones, in the old sense of a vision of society which transcends the current reality. The domain of culture (all right, "discourse," I prefer the older language) is a major part of social reality. It defines memberships of categories, and it defines oppositions between categories; hence, the very category of gender is necessarily cultural (or constituted in discourse). But it is not constituted only in discourse. Gender relations also involve violence, which is not discourse; material inequality, which is not discourse; organizations such as firms, which are not discourse; structures such as markets, which are not discourse. So the analysis of the discursive constitution of masculinities, while often highly illuminating, can never be a complete, or even very adequate, analysis of masculinities. A particular problem with the style of postmodern gender politics which values only discursive transgressions (it's quite popular in California, where I taught for a while) is that it gives no way of judging when the transgressions are bad ones. And I think we need some way of distinguishing neo-Nazi transgressions from Mardi Gras transgressions. Things can get worse, and in some historical circumstances (e.g. under colonialism, under fascism) they certainly have got worse.

  22. Is gender a function of practice or performativity? We put the question this way partly to get your evaluations of the popularity of Judith Butler's theory of gender performativity and partly to explore the differences implied by these two terms. Why do you choose the term "practice" rather than "performativity"?

  23. "Practice" seems to me a crucially important concept, specifying the medium of social life itself: human conduct that is socially constituted, intentional (in the sense that it is directed towards objects and accomplishes their transformation), situated historically, and constitutive of social structures. I think I acquired the terminology mainly from studying Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason and reading the sociological literature on structure-and-action, but the ideas are widespread.

  24. How would you relate the concept of practice to or distinguish it from the Marxian notion of "praxis"? or Bourdieu's theories of practice?

  25. I guess I became familiar with it mostly through reading the later work of Sartre and some interesting neomarxists like Karel Kosik in Czechoslovakia, and the Jugoslav Praxis school. Bourdieu was more of a negative example; his social theory seems to me remarkably static and more useful for discouraging activism than informing and directing it. " Performativity " in the sense popularized by Judith Butler is only one narrow kind of practice, and a theory of gender based on this thinking is therefore severely limited. The fashion for Butler's work intrigues me: obviously it reflects a current fascination with appearance; at a deeper level, it indicates a refusal to think about the consequences of action, ultimately a refusal to think historically.

  26. How is practice, as you use it, a wider rubric than performativity? And what is it about performative theory that overlooks history and the consequences of action?

  27. The idea of performativity comes originally from the English philosopher of speech-acts, J.L. Austin, who pointed to a category of utterances that were not statements reporting on something, but which accomplished something through the act of speech. He gives the example of the priest's saying, "I now pronounce you man and wife" in a wedding ceremony. There is a bit of this in gender, but a hell of a lot of gender practice has nothing to do with performativity, e.g. gendered labour, acts of violence, the exercise of power, and a wide range of sexual practices.

  28. How are the concepts or practices of national citizenship and masculinity interrelated? Are states always masculine institutions?

  29. In full-blown patriarchy, citizenship equals masculinity; and since modern states are descended from patriarchies, there is still a strong connection. This is manifest in the dominance of the public realm, in almost all parts of the world, by men. A few years ago, I noticed in the statistics of parliamentary representation that the percentage of men in public office was rising, not falling, globally. I think it probable that the process of capitalist globalization, under the control of corporations almost wholly controlled by men, will, to a considerable extent, outflank the gains made by women at the level of local welfare states. The liberal state that developed in Europe and the colonies of settlement in the 18th-19th centuries was built against an Ancien Regime legitimated through religion. This new liberal state asserted against that a legitimacy based on the consent of the governed. Thus, liberal states in the nineteenth century developed a sharp contradiction between exclusive citizenship and their need for legitimacy; this was the point where liberal feminism gained leverage, in the form of the suffrage movement. There was a massive contradiction when groups who were governed but not represented began asserting claims to citizenship, as was done by colonists, workers, and women.

    Unlike the liberal state, today's multinational companies do not have a massive need for legitimation. They get their way mainly by simple coercion, and the collapse of the Soviet dictatorship has paradoxically cleared the ground for a reassertion of global patriarchy. States may become more woman-friendly; I think the Scandinavian states have gone a good way in that direction. But I have yet to see a woman-friendly money market, and it is global finance (stock exchanges, bond markets, futures markets, currency markets, loan markets, etc.) that is increasingly calling the tune in world affairs.

  30. In the chapter of Masculinities which surveys the history of European-derived masculinities, you suggest that colonialism produced new masculinities by displacing violence from the metropolitan centres to the colonial hinterlands. How would you describe the masculine practices that have continued to develop in these hinterlands after their political independence?

  31. I don't have detailed knowledge of the postcolonial history you ask about, so can make only a couple of sketchy comments. It's clear that the end of colonialism did not mean the end of "Westernization"; institutions such as states and armies remained, which constitute particular kinds of masculinities. Where colonialism had grossly disrupted the indigenous gender orders, the combination of these institutions and the arms trade could lead to massive violence, as has occurred in some parts of West and Central Africa.

  32. Could you comment on the Gulf War and the recent confrontations between Iraq and the US? What kinds of masculinities are we witnessing?

  33. I am very reluctant to offer quickie interpretations of public events, which are inevitably based on mass media reporting which, in cases like these, is very distorted. But one can say something about how they pull masculinity issues into the public realm. Mike Messner, for instance, has examined media images of General Schwartzkopf in the Gulf War and makes the interesting suggestion that they mark a transition in the public representation of hegemonic masculinity in the US. In the domain of economics, I can observe that where a dependent industrialization has occurred (as in the "tiger economies" of East and South-East Asia) some fusion of indigenous masculinities (in these cases, influenced by Confucian traditions) and Western entrepreneurial and bureaucratic patterns has occurred. I think it probable that there has been a multiplication of gender forms, that contemporary "globalization" does not mean the simple imposition of Western gender or sexual identities. Dennis Altmann convincingly argues this point for homosexual sexualities, and I think the same is broadly true for gender.

  34. What about the location of masculinity research? Are masculinity studies a Eurocentric enterprise?

  35. Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that all of the work of the contemporary social sciences, based in a Eurocentric--or more exactly Atlantocentric-- university system, is based on "Western" culture and research technologies. No, in the sense that issues about men in gender relations are real and practical issues all over the world, and people in other cultures can draw on the Western project of masculinity research as a resource. That is what has been done recently in Japan, for instance. I've seen some of the books and magazines produced by men's groups there, and it is clear that their project of reform is related to the Anglophone discussions but is differently configured. I have recently been to a conference in Chile which brought together researchers and activists concerned with masculinity from many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Even more recently, something of the same process has begun in Russia and some parts of Eastern Europe.

  36. In your discussion in Masculinities of possible directions for progressive gender reform, you suggest, by analogy to the queering of gender practices, that it could be possible "to recompose, rather than delete, the cultural elements of gender" and add that the result might be a kind of "gender multiculturalism" (234). Could you comment further on this idea? How would the contemporary debates about multiculturalism in nation-states be informative for such a gender politics?

  37. "Queering" is a limited idea; only some gender orders have "queers," and even in ours, the term does not capture many of the possibilities of reconfiguration. Among the many attempts at reconfiguration among men are the 1970s efforts at androgyny, the several forms of transsexuality, the "Sensitive New Age Guy," the "new father," post-clone gay identities, the mythopoetic movement (never wholly reactionary), and the many nameless attempts to produce egalitarian households and workplaces. Looking at the debates on multiculturalism is useful because they suggest some of the possibilities or reactions (such as the campaign abusing "political correctness"), and the risks of using the state to reform intimate relationships. But this also suggests the power of the cultural trend; we are all multiculturalists now. . . . No, of course that's not true; I was forgetting the campaign against multicultural education in California, and the recent rise of the "One Nation" racist party in my own country. I would have one large caution about the idea of gender multiculturalism. It is impossible to make reconfiguration stick, unless it is combined with a politics of equality. The two feed into each other.

  38. This is a question about masculine assertion and political mobilization. How can masculinities exert energy towards progressive politics that are anti-colonial, anti-patriarchal, and anti-homophobic without marshalling up the classic dominant modes of masculinity in the process? We are thinking here of the ways in which anti-colonial politics often demands solidarity of men and women under the nationalist movement towards independence and asks women to wait for equity till after the revolution (post-Gandhian Indian nationalism has been criticized for this). Or, on the level of political rhetoric, the way in which revolutionary politics often mobilizes a gender allegory of revenging the rape of the oppressed, and therefore employs a strongly sexist discourse for national liberation. An extreme example would be Eldridge Cleaver's notorious use of literal rape as an act of symbolic rebellion against white hegemony during the US Black Revolution of the 1970s. How can masculinities contribute to change without mobilizing the old aggressive paradigms?

  39. That's a hard and important question. I think some kinds of masculinity simply have to go; they are toxic, dangerous, killing the people and killing the planet. Others are open to contestation and change. To reject toxic masculinities is not to reject men. Men have to be involved in any large process of change in gender relations, and we do have some modes of action which do involve men and their energies but do not simply reinstate masculine domination. These include some anticolonial and antiracist struggles: I've mentioned Gandhi's movement, and I think there are further examples in some of the contemporary indigenous people's movements. It's true, as Maria Mies eloquently points out in Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, that many anticolonial and revolutionary movements have been sexist and have instituted new patriarchies in place of the old. At the same time, there are democratic impulses in movements such as the unions, and the environmental movement, which can provide starting points for critique and new departures.

  40. You have suggested that instead of an assertive men's movement, progressive masculine politics would do better to set up strategic alliances between various political movements around issues of class, race, homosexuality, ethnicity, and so on. What might these alliances look like? On what critical issues might they focus?

  41. This is not a new idea. The idea of a "rainbow coalition" has been around for a good while in the United States. I think social-democratic and labour parties have performed something of the same function in Europe and Australasia. My argument is against putting a lot of energy into a separate "men's movement"; it seems to me that the patriarchal dividend constitutes an interest against gender reform which is so strong we can never expect a mass mobilization of men in that direction. This is not to deny the usefulness of men's groups for consciousness-raising (to use an antique terminology!), for therapy, for education and publicity. I'm entirely in favour of the efforts of groups like the Men's Resource Centre in Amherst, Massachusetts, and the White Ribbon Campaign (about men's violence towards women) in Canada. But I do want to suggest that in moving onto the scale of mass politics, the most productive way is through the interplay of masculinity politics with the politics of the environment, industrial relations, welfare, development, etc. There are some masculinity issues which have a public profile already, on which a great deal of work remains to be done. They include bringing up boys; domestic violence and gay-bashing; creating family-friendly workplaces.

  42. One last question: What does all the hype about and coverage given to the newly discovered potency pill Viagra tell us about current masculine practices?

  43. Obviously, it suggests widespread insecurities, which I would connect to the hierarchy of masculinities and the need to assert superiority. It also tells us something about how gender ideologies are mixed in with other cultural forms—in this case, the tremendously powerful faith in medical technology as a cure for social problems.

Back to Contents Page || Back to Jouvert Mainpage