Open books. Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash
Copyright: Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash
11 December 2018

Promundo on men, masculinities and norms

Author: Promundo
Published by: ALIGN

Recommended reading list: men, masculinities and gender norms

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To ground yourself in the foundational feminist call for transforming harmful masculinities: 'The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love' by bell hooks  

'The Will to Change' is not the first, most comprehensive, nor most thoroughly researched introduction to the harms of restrictive masculine norms, but it is very likely the best for the non-specialist reader. The book turns on its head the idea that patriarchy affects only women, and instead calls for men to see how challenging the patriarchy, at every stage of their lives, is necessary for them to liberate themselves, their gender, and society at large. 

Mostly told in hooks’ signature, impassioned first person voice, the book urges readers to "reclaim feminism for men, showing why feminist thinking and practice are the only way we can truly address the crisis of masculinity today." "It is true," hooks writes, "that masses of men have not even begun to look at the ways that patriarchy keeps them from knowing themselves, from being in touch with their feelings, from loving. To know love, men must be able to let go of the will to dominate. They must be able to choose life over death. They must be willing to change." 

To bring your academic grounding in masculinities and gender norm theory up to date: 'Gender Reckonings: New Social Theory and Research,' edited by James W. Messerschmidt, Patricia Yancey Martin, Michael A. Messner and Raewyn Connell

Prepared to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Raewyn Connell’s landmark 'Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics,' this 2018 volume – edited by Connell along with three other leading scholars – seeks to bring the foundational insights of masculinities and gender theory into conversation with the latest questions and debates from the scholarly side of efforts to shift social norms about gender. Chapter 2, 'Hegemonic, Nonhegemonic, and “New” Masculinities,' by Messerschmidt and Messner, will likely become the new touchpoint for establishing definitions of masculinities for the purpose of promoting liberation and equality. 

To scan the current state of harmful masculine norms and their broad impacts worldwide: see the many International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) and UN multi-country studies using household survey methodologies to address these themes.

At Promundo, we’re very proud to have co-created the IMAGES survey over a decade ago, together with the International Center for Research on Women. We continue to partner with research and advocacy organizations all around the world to conduct the study (a household survey asking men and women about many gendered aspects of their lives, including several measures of social norms related to masculinity and gendered power), and to use its insights to drive policy and program change. IMAGES and related studies have taken place in nearly 40 countries and provide the richest cross-country comparisons on many pressing issues related to gender and masculinities. These include household datasets from locations as diverse as: Bangladesh, Brazil, Croatia, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, and dozens more.

In 2013, the UN 'Partners for Prevention' program published a related study, specifically exploring the question of 'Why do some men use violence against women and how can we prevent it?' This study was conducted in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea, and explores the prevalence of men’s use of violence against women as well as factors make men more or less likely to use violence, including social norms. The study finds that the factors associated with violence perpetration reflect individual and family dynamics as well as society-level contexts related to gender inequality.

To explore, from a comprehensive global perspective, the essential interplay between social norms about masculinity and unpaid care work: 'State of the World’s Fathers' (2015) and (2017)

It’s tempting to draw all of our focus to the negative effects of subscribing to rigid norms about masculinity, particularly when these effects are so many and so strong. But as we map the harms of restrictive masculinities, it is important to amplify the benefits of positive masculinities as well. This insight has led Promundo and our partners to pay particular attention to men’s caregiving in recent years, and the two editions of the State of the World’s Fathers are our most comprehensive presentation of landscape of benefits of – and barriers to – men’s increased caregiving worldwide. As expressed by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in her preface to the 2015 State of the World’s Fathers

Fathers can help break the cycle of violence and discrimination against women by modeling non-violent behaviours and instilling values of equality, respect for diversity, empathy, and human rights for the next generation. They can act confidently as caregivers to both children and ageing parents, and can make an equal investment in domestic duties and the provision of household necessities. When men take on more care responsibilities, it empowers women to find paid work outside the home, to improve their health and education, and to take on leadership roles. This is good for everyone: women and girls, men and boys.

The 2015 ‘State of the World’s Fathers’ report synthesises evidence to demonstrate how involved fatherhood can help children thrive, reduce inequitable care burdens on women and girls, and even makes men happier and healthier. 

To share the voices of individual men, masculinities scholars, and grassroots norm change initiatives from the Global South, we suggest surveying the following sources:

The study of gender norms and masculinities – and program efforts to transform harmful elements of the same – are global undertakings at this point. Even as a large proportion of academic and gray literature on men and masculinities theory and programming comes from universities and international nonprofits located in the Global North, new scholarship is constantly emerging from the Global South as well. Among many other possible options, interested readers and practitioners are encouraged to make use of:

This reading list on men, masculinities and gender norms has produced by ALIGN in collaboration with Promundo, a global leader in promoting gender justice and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls. Promundo believes that working with men and boys to transform harmful gender norms and unequal power dynamics is a critical part of the solution to achieving gender equality. Promundo's research, programs, and advocacy efforts show that promoting healthy masculinity (or positive notions of “what it means to be a man”) and femininity (or “what is means to be a woman”) leads to improvements in men’s own lives, and in the lives of women and girls.