Masculinity & Objectification: A phenomenological study of contemporary shifts within masculinity
Notions of masculinity are changing. Many men conduct themselves in ways that blunt traditional hegemonic masculine norms of sexism and homophobia. Do these changes represent movement toward gender equality, or are they workings of an adaptive and amorphous system of power relations that is reshaping to fit with the times? This thesis is grounded within epistemologies of feminist standpoint theory and takes a phenomenological approach to methodology in investigating how men construct and experience their perceptions of masculinity and gender performance within homosocial networks. I conducted three focus groups with different male friend groups, and one focus group of a women’s friend group. These are supplemented with an autoethnographic focus on reflexivity in which I investigate my own thoughts, reflections, and past life experiences in concert with these focus groups. I used objectification as a main theme of study both to understand the more nuanced qualities of its role within gender relations, and as a springboard to understand the wider ramifications of what attitudes toward objectification represented. These focus groups demonstrated wide gaps in phenomenological accounts and understandings of everyday life activity both between women and men, and between men and other men. Two themes emerged from the data. The first trend involved contemporary constructions of masculinity that incorporate historically unmasculine behaviors and attitudes. This is explored within debates of R. W. Connell’s (2005) theory of hegemonic masculinity and two of its offshoots: inclusive masculinity (Anderson 2009), and hybrid masculinity (Bridges & Pascoe 2014). The second theme focused on empathy and the difficulties in its development when relationships of power, domination, and difference are involved. I argue that empathy needs to be developed in ways that favor more affective and compassionate forms of responding to others’ emotions, rather than cognitive or role-taking forms that aim to understand others’ emotions from their perspective. Finally, I incorporate these themes to discuss the possibilities, limitations, and complexities in forming a profeminist consciousness in men. This thesis aims to contribute to debates around recent changes and potential ‘softening’ in the structure of hegemonic masculinity by retaining a critical focus on relationships of power and domination. In doing so, I hope to skirt between the optimism of inclusive masculinity and the cynicism of hybrid masculinity to develop a model of profeminist consciousness that welcomes the softening of masculinity but places equal value in critically reflecting on one’s power, privilege, and position within society.