Another reading for "Class, Race, & Gender in Engineering Education" -- this one's the book that launched Raewyn Connell to fame (we'd previously read the 2nd edition of Connell's book on gender).  It's Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities (2nd ed.). Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press.

Short version: good ideas hidden in prose that's moderately difficult to read; unconsciously modern-world Western-centric (as Barbara said, "you could tell it was written by an Australian") and something I'm looking forward to the revised-edition of. Both Gender, 2nd ed and Masculinities do a good job of pointing out the various perspectives on their topic in the contexts of their formation. "Through the course of history, people have seen masculinity as this in the 1800's, that in the 1900's, and this other thing in the 1980's." (Actually, that's most of chapter 8. My notes read: the notion of Modern Western Men is a thing, one side of a binary, and it's evolved over time in response to violence and feminism and queerness and colonialism, economics and capitalism. At all times it's been called "the natural order of things," because of course masculinity is what we think it is, and couldn't possibly be anything else.)

What Gender, 2nd ed does (and Masculinities does not) is to visit the subaltern, discuss topics from a personal (and thus reflexive) perspective, and (most importantly) hang important signposts through the prose: here's what I'm gonna tell you, look at what I'm telling you, here's what I just told you. Here's the 2nd thing I'm going to tell you; remember how I told you this in the 1st part? Here's the 2nd thing I'm telling you. Here's what I just told you, and how it fits into part 1. It's harder to get lost in Gender. I often got lost in the midst of Masculinities. [0]

Still, I can see why Masculinities was such a landmark work. Whenever we think "gender," we often think "WOMEN!" because... well, women have been historically ignored. Similarly, when we think "race" we often think "COLORED PEOPLE!" because... haven't white people had enough attention?

Mayyyyybe. Maybe not enough critical attention. Just because something is dominant doesn't mean we've tried to understand it; maybe we're taking it for granted and ought to unpack it just as much as we unpack "minority" or "less privileged" groups. Connell was the first to do this.

As we saw earlier, the book takes up the topic of... well, masculinity. (Duh.) It points out how the notion of it changes over time -- another seemingly "duh" moment, but it's easy for us to forget that the way we think now isn't the way people have always thought about a topic. Connell next problematizes the dichotomy of male/female as a binary, and points out that (1) there is variation within masculinity (which I unpacked more in my analogy on paint colors) and that (2) it's not so much about males dominating females as it is about masculinity dominating femininity (and that both males and females can have both masculinity and femininity).

This idea -- which Connell calls "hegemonic masculinity" (the power structures that keep (straight) men on top) -- makes sense of things like:

  • gay and effeminate men are disadvantaged by "masculine" power structures
  • women who find ways to adopt "masculine" traits are slightly privileged (for instance, women who go into engineering inherit the "toughness" of that field)
  • long as they don't go too far and become "butch," because that's just too much
  • women whose actions reinforce the culture of masculinity (think stereotypical cheerleaders at a football game) are "loaned" some of that power, like a lackey enjoying the privileges given by their boss

How could we apply this to engineering education research? Well, we could think about overrepresentation of masculinity, not men -- so the experiences of (for example) effeminate men, or masculinity-performing females, in engineering fields, would be now relevant. But how would we "measure" masculinity in such studies? What in femininity can inform engineering -- either by becoming part of the accepted "engineering" behavior and a trait that masculinity can take on too ("real men can cry") or by having engineering admit more femininity or by neutering these traits so they're "beyond gender"?

[0] I hesitate to add this footnote, because I don't want to be "the deaf engineer who writes about hearing" and am uncomfortable pointing out that Connell is... well, you may have noticed I didn't use gender-identifying pronouns in this blog post until now. Connell's writing and perspective has broadened significantly between Masculinities and Gender, 2nd ed. -- but another thing that's changed is that Connell was known as male during the writing of the first book... and transitioned to female by the time of the second. I actually didn't realize this until Alice brought it up in class, and I am glad I didn't know while I was reading her books. Does the gender of the author (of any book) matter? I... don't know about "matter," but it certainly made me stop and think.

I felt like Gender was more compassionately written than Masculinities, without knowing the gender transition that had happened in between, but I don't want to attribute a causal link between the two now that I know. Maybe revisions are more compassionate than original books in general because there's more time for reflection; maybe Masculinities was written with the "I must prove myself" bravado of a younger, unknown researcher whereas Gender came from a place of comfortable tenure, maybe Connell just got more compassionate with age. But we can't untangle and say that they're independent, either; Connell may have gotten more compassionate with age, but she also became a she with age. We don't get to compare older-woman-Connell against older-man-Connell; there is no control sample.

I'll stop here.