Re-defining masculinity and gender capital

1. Introduction

Since the social construction of masculinities has garnered much attention in the academic literature, more and more in-depth studies are emerging, arguing that masculinities are not easily defined (Mackenzie et al., 2017; Huppatz and Goodwin, 2013; Golding & Foley, 2017), as gender practices shift under the influence of historical narratives, as well as social, political, and economic structures (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005; Creighton & Oliffe, 2010) and that hegemonic masculinities are often represented by established stereotypes and structures that influence how men think and act in relation to their view of what ‘being a man’ means (Mackenzie et al., 2017). Thus, relating to Module 2, in connecting masculinities to men’s work-related depression and suicide amid highlighting some targeted mental health promotion programmes, the authors confirm the need to understand gender as plural, relational, multidimensional, and deeply contextual (Johnson & Repta, 2012).

Such stereotypes as being strong, unemotional, aggressive, providing for one’s family, and having limited involvement in household tasks are changing and many scholars argue that masculinity is becoming more ‘inclusive’; more egalitarian, non-traditional and active in incorporating and adopting previously stereotypically feminine attributes, values, and practices (Anderson, 2009; Mackenzie, et al., 2017; Huppatz and Goodwin, 2013; Golding & Foley, 2017). Others suggest that, while these changes are apparent, they are not extensive and have done little to alter structurally embedded gendered power relations and indeed might be happening as a way of maintaining these established relations within a neoliberal economic landscape (Bridges & Pascoe, 2014; Mackenzie, et al., 2017).

Mackenzie, et al. (2017, 1225) conclude, that “such changes in hegemonic practices are slow to occur, perhaps especially so for different age cohorts, because they are embedded in social structures over time. It is within this context that patriarchal power influences many men (although certainly not all) to be complicit in sustaining hegemonic masculinity to draw significant dividends—though we should not think that such complicity is always, or often, a deliberate decision or process; it is often part of a far less conscious form of daily practice (Robertson, 2007). This is not to say that men attain hegemonic power, but there is often an implicit incentive to embody it because of the collective benefits that it offers men."

Unlike women, who participate in the most varied areas in public, private and family life, men’s learning happens mostly in informal community spaces. Namely, the dominant masculine capital determines men’s (self-)exclusion, and they are not willing to enter learning communities (classrooms, educational institutions) that are frequently feminised. The research analysed in Old Guys Say Yes to Community Project suggests the need for men’s clubs, men’s sheds, men’s spaces and activities, and even safe community houses where men can socialise with each other (Reynolds et al., 2015), offering mutual support and where they can self-organise and redefine masculine capital to achieve older men’s empowerment, etc. (Hanlon, 2012; Ribeiro, Paúl and Nogueira, 2007; Carragher and Golding, 2015; Huppatz and Goodwin, 2013; Jelenc Krašovec and Radovan, 2014). In Portugal the need was even stronger because of low or very low education and literacy levels of the men. In all the partner countries the need was mostly due to social factors, especially poverty and low pensions that do not enable decent lives.