Chapter 26.doc

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Women's and Gender Studies
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Anissa Talahite- Moodley

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CHAPTER 26: Gendered Strategies of the Self: Navigating Hierarchy and Contesting Masculinities Literature Review Boundary Work − Lamont argues that working-class men define their worth and dignity using a moral measuring stick, which they use to draw moral boundaries between themselves and those to whom they feel superior − for example, she finds that among American working-class men a strong work ethic, a disciplined self, protection, and responsibility are venerated and used to draw distinctions Strategies of Self − building on Lamont's work, Rachel Sherman examines boundary work and the notion of a comparative self in an occupational context − she explores how interactive service workers in luxury hotels manage to maintain dignity and power while performing service work that positions them as subordinate in relation to socially and materially privileged hotel guests − she finds that workers use comparisons and judgments of guests and co-workers to place themselves at the top of symbolic hierarchies of competence, authority, status, need, morality, intelligence, and cultural capital − for example, workers evaluate guests on the basis of their intelligence, refraining guests' demands as indicates of incompetence and indicative of an inferior social status − in drawing these symbolic boundaries workers are able to effectively portray themselves as superior to those to whom they provide services − finally, Sherman finds that the strategies workers use to construct superior selves are often fluid (that is, dependent on context), and contradictory (for example, workers constituted guests as inferior through both critique and empathy) Theorizing Masculinities − contemporary theoretical approaches to gender relations, and masculinity in particular, provide a number of pertinent insights − firstly, differences among men shape the ways they experience and enact gender − masculinity is profoundly influenced by social structures such as race, class, age, and sexuality, and these structures affect men in different ways − in addition, masculinity is historically and culturally contingent − so there is not one pattern of masculinity found everywhere, rather there are masculinities − in addition, some masculinities are deemed cultural superior to others; hegemonic masculinity is the most honoured or desired at a particular time and in a particular setting − hegemonic masculinity cannot exist unless there are subordinated Others (that is, women and marginalized men) who are constructed as deficient in some way − as a result, hegemonic masculinity upholds power and status inequalities both between men and women, and among men − the main patterns of contemporary hegemonic masculinity in Western societies include the connection of masculinity with toughness and competitiveness, the subordination of women and the marginalization of gay men − in addition, appropriately masculine men are supposed to (a) remain calm and reliable in a crisis, and hold their emotions in check, (b) be aggressive and take risks, (c) repudiate anything even remotely related to femininity and (d) strive for power, success and wealth − while few men actually meet all these normative standards, hegemonic masculinity is the benchmark against which all men are measured − a further theoretical insight is that hegemonic masculinity cannot be reduced to a simple model of cultural control, as the notion of hegemony implies an active struggle for dominance − therefore, while hegemonic masculinity is the standard against which all other masculinities are measured, the position at the top of the hierarchy is never secure and is always contestable − further, masculinities are collective − as they are sustained and enacted by individuals, groups and institutions, these struggles occur at both individual and group levels − because masculinity is fragile and contested it must constantly be proved − Connell's concept of hegemonic masculinity has been widely applied in gender-related research; however, the concept has also been criticized on a number of fronts − the first points to a tendency to essentialize differences between men and women − Connell and Messerschmidt note that the concept has often been misinterpreted and misused, and acknowledge that a great deal of essentializing has occurred in the literature, despite the fact that the concept of hegemonic masculinity was formulated in an anti-essentialist way − secondly, the concept of hegemonic masculinity has received criticism for tending to dichotomize men's and women's experiences, making it seem as though women are peripheral to hegemonic masculinity − the solution to this problem is to return to a focus on a relational approach to gender − because gender is accomplished in interactions with others, and often defined by what one is not, what is considered to be masculine is defined in oppositional relations to understandings of what is feminine − finally, Wetherell and Edley assert that Connell's work on hegemonic masculinity has proved useful for understanding the broad social context of gender relations
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