Play it again, Sam or let’s talk about masculinities

linnnIn the last several weeks Göteborgs – Posten, one of the most popular daily newspapers in my city, has become a platform where the issue of the increasing number of male refugees coming to/staying in Sweden has been raised. As a feminist scholar researching men and masculinity issues for almost a decade, I couldn’t be happier to observe this type of gender-sensitive discussion being conducted in one of the leading Gothenburg newspapers. However, as the problem analysed is extremely complex, and the intersections between masculinities, migration processes and violence play a crucial role in it, further discussion should be elaborated and it cannot be limited to the presentation of contradictory statements from social researchers, which is happening at the moment.

In the opening article of the series Mansproblemet [Men’s problem] Professor Valerie M Hudson claims that the current ratio of young, migrant men living in Sweden is too high and may negatively impact Swedish society as the young men with migration backgrounds are more violent and tend to perpetrate more crimes than other groups. On the contrary, the authors of the replica are far from connecting male migrants with the increase of violent acts and underline the importance of the economic, legal and societal contexts in which crime and violence develop. However, in both texts the focus on masculinities is somewhat missing.

Traditional masculinity and violence

The first issue that should be analysed more carefully is the dominant type of masculinity and its connection to violence. It has already been proved by feminism and profeminist scholars that the vast majority of physical and sexual violence is committed by men (see Dobash, Dobash, Cavanagh and Lewis 2000; Scambor, Wojnicka and Bergman 2013; Hearn 1998; Hearn 2009; Katz 2006; Whitehead 2005; Forster 2007). Researchers from the field claim that traditional, dominant masculinity, understood as a historical and societal construct existing in every culture and society, is inextricably bound to violence, and therefore manhood, not ethnicity, social class, age, religion or nationality, should be primarily taken into consideration when discussing the issue of violence against women. This is especially important now, when voices claiming that the safety of European (!) women might be in danger due to the increasing number of male refugees from non-European settings have spread through continent. Such a conviction is based on the false assumption that to date women have been safe in rather solid, white, Christian/secular Europe, and that gender-based violence and rape culture come from outside. In fact European women, just like anywhere else, have been victims of physical and sexual violence for centuries. According to already mentioned Fundamental Rights Agency report on violence against women, one out of three women in the European Union has suffered physical and/or sexual violence in their lives since the age of 15. The crucial fact here is that the vast majority of them were victims of men they already knew – husbands, partners, fathers, brothers, uncles, friends, colleagues – in other words, men with the same nationality, ethnicity and class background as them. The real danger is still hidden behind closed doors as the private, not the public sphere is the primary battlefield.

Hegemonic versus marginalised masculinities

Another relevant issue concerns relations between men, who do not constitute a homogenous social category as their position in society differs and is based on a variety of factors such as race, ethnicity, social class, age, ability, sexuality and others and, according to Raewyn Connell (2005), represent different forms of masculinities. The first model, hegemonic masculinity, is a set of male traits that form a certain model of masculinity in any given culture or society. This masculinity model is highly valued and is linked to power, domination, strength and heterosexuality. The existence of hegemonic masculinity is strongly connected to its relation to other forms of masculinities such as complicit masculinities, subordinated masculinities and marginalised masculinities, and hegemonic and complicit men dominate in certain groups and societies and subordinate not only other, non-hegemonic men but above all women. In the European context dominant group representatives are white, heterosexual and Christian men while among marginalised and subordinated men non-heterosexual, migrant, asylum seeker or refugee, disabled and homeless men can be found. The important part of Connell’s theory refers to the concept of power that constitutes and shapes relations between different groups of men. In her view, the dominant group tends to subordinate other men (and women) by using physical and symbolical forms of violence, which is reflected in research findings showing that marginalised men are more likely to become victims of physical violence rather than be its perpetrators, especially when acts of violence are perpetrated in the public sphere. This could have been observed just a few days ago in Stockholm when groups of Swedish men physically attacked men with migration backgrounds. This also occurred in other European countries such as Germany and Poland, where the number of attacks on non-white men has significantly increased.

Gender sensitive pedagogy

Last but not least, the discussion about violence prevention should be taken to the highest level. It seems to be more than clear that some radical steps regarding the problem of men’s violence need to be taken. Traditional, toxic forms of masculinity must finally be eradicated and replaced with more pro(gender)equal  forms of being men. This can be done by organising workshops and counselling for men who struggle with disconnecting violence or violent behaviours from male identity, and/or those who have problems with understanding the concept of equality between men and women. This has been done for example in European programs for domestic violence perpetrators (for more information see Work with Perpetrators – European Network) or throughout education programs for migrant men organised recently in several Norwegian, Danish and Austrian cities. However, interventions orientated towards men and boys cannot be limited only to those with migration backgrounds, and gender-sensitive pedagogy orientated towards deconstructing the traditional masculinity model and replacing it with caring masculinity must become a part of the general educational curriculum. Moreover, discussions about gender equality, sexism and violence must be situated in the intersectional dimension and class, race and culture must be seen in a more comprehensive way to avoid the black and white perpetrator-victim labelling.

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