This essay gives a short overview about three relevant theories in the field of gender studies. Hegemonic Masculinity, Postcolonialism and Intersectionality are introduced in this order. In addition and for deeper understanding the theories are applied to the text “(Re)Producing American Soldiers in an Age of Empire” by Isabelle Barker. The summary concludes the essay.
Based on Marx’s notion ‘ruling ideas are ideas of the ruling class’ Antonio Gramsci developed the theory of ‘cultural hegemony’. It shows that dominance is not primarily maintained through force but a general consent of the dominated. Building on this idea Raewyn Connell, an Australian sociologist, introduced the concept of a ‘hegemonic masculinity’, which is defined as a pattern of practices that allow men’s dominance over women to continue.
Connell states that a variety of masculinities exists but it’s a single dominant one that inherits a superior position of power and marginalizes everything else in the gender system, including other masculinities (a pattern of hegemony). This ‘hegemonic’ masculinity does not have to be the one which most people in a society actually live by. It can also be some kind of ideal to which one should strive, for example, to be a sports star or war hero. To make the needed distinction between masculinities, they are always seen in contrast to ’emphasized femininity’, the ideal of femininity.
Further, the Author described the ‘patriarchy dividend’. In a patriarchal society, based on the superior hegemonic masculinity all men receive benefits of some kind. But on an individual level, the shares of this benefits can differ greatly. A heterosexual white male might inherit a dominant position to a homosexual black male.
Since the concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ develops out of a living society it is far from stable. As the structures in the given society did and can change so did and can the dominant masculinity. It is no surprise that at the same time there can be different kinds of masculinities superior in different parts of the world.
Postcolonialism/ Postcolonial Feminism
To describe postcolonialism, we need first a clarification of colonialism. Which is defined as a forced distribution of one nation’s values and beliefs onto other countries and societies. An official end to physical colonization was set in the mid-twenties century but the mindset still remains and impacts current thinking.
Cèsaire explained the impact of colonialism on the colonizer as a process of decivilization, due to the acts of brutality performed on the colonized, who were seen as subhuman and not worthy of human rights. The native population would suffer from a dehumanization, infantilization and be in need of the guidance of the fully grown European. ‘Internalized oppression’, a term developed by Fanon, would, in the end, make the native feel inferior from within. Being told and shown to be less worthy until they would impose this image on themselves and their social group.
Another important concept in the context of colonialism is illustrated by Said and his theory of ‘orientalism’. It refers to the act of representation of the colonized land and people through the eyes of the colonizer. With this Eurocentric view, western scholars produced allegedly objective knowledge over the distant regions from a position of power. The geopolitical construct of two unequal halves of the world (the orient and the occident) strengthens the interest of the west while shaping the picture of the Orient as an inferior and irrational society.
Postcolonialism now explores the legacy of colonialism and orientalism, the physical, psychological and cultural effects on the colonized and colonizer. Further, it is used as a critique on still existing colonial hierarchies and power relations between ‘the west’ and ‘the other’.
As the first theorists to make the connection between postcolonialism and feminism Gayatri Spivak introduced the notion that all knowledge created until then was male-centered. The experiences of women were marginalized or omitted. Hence, she refers to the ‘subaltern’, to groups of people who have been marginalized by dominant, western forms of rule. This domination and the colonial way of education still plays a role in most women’s lives since it shapes the way current gender norms and values are constructed and represented.
Intersectionality is a concept developed by Patricia Hill Collins which she defines as an assemblage of ideas and practices which maintain that gender, race, class and similar categories cannot be understood in isolation from each other. Instead, they exist in intersecting constellations of power relations which produce unequal realities for individuals or groups situated in them. Knowledge in this theory is understood as socially constructed, transmitted, reproduced and legitimated within these systems of power. Intersectionality itself is hence a constellation of different knowledge projects.
The matrix of domination is the first of this knowledge projects. It defines that various systems of power intersect and co-produced each other, a law institution in a given society, for example, is not isolated from the prevailing norms and values of this society. Any knowledge (eg. common sense) produced is therefore shaped by different power relations.
The concept of intersectionality is concerned with complexity rather than binary thinking, because of its attention to the intersectional locations of individuals and groups, especially those at the margin. Scholars cannot describe the whole picture of an issue in their society by just looking into two categories. Furthermore, are the relations between social positions addressed, since the importance of one social group needs the relation to another group to acquire that meaning.
In contemporary research, Intersectionality has a significant impact. It changed the understanding of culture to a more fluid concept rather than black and white, it raised new questions in existing academic disciplines and led to the rethinking of internal main assumptions (eg. Is there more than a binary gender system?).
The application of these three theories is based on the paper “(Re)Producing American Soldiers in an Age of Empire” by Isabelle Barker. Here she describes how the American military is organizing the so-called ‘kitchen police’, the necessary reproductive labor. While this work was used to be done by soldiers wives who followed into the camps, it later became a task for soldiers themselves. Currently and focus of the article, this work is done by south-east Asian men, immigrants or natives at the military bases. In the following, the issue of gender and war in this specific context will be analyzed with different gender theoretical lenses.
The hegemonic masculinity in a military context is the prevailing image of the ‘perfect soldier’. The stereotype of a white, middle-class, heterosexual male who does not show emotion in the face of war, obeys his superior and presents his aggressive masculinity. As mentioned before, the ideal is not the most lived reality but rather the goal to strive up to. Among soldiers the ‘patriarchy dividend’ leads to diverse hierarchies, situating white over non-white, middle-class over lower-class and male over female or homosexual soldiers. Since the kitchen police workers are predominantly non-white, lower class and not even ‘real’ trained soldiers, they are positioned at the lowest possible point of the hierarchy. However, this specific concept of hegemony is just true in the American military setting, in their country of origin these men will be positioned at another level of the hierarchy because of differing societies and along going differing hegemonic masculinities.
In a Postcolonial view, the reproductive workers are not able to reach the perfect soldier ideal because of their ethnicity. Through internal oppression, they might feel inferior to the western soldiers from within. As stated in the text, the USA is still perceived as an imperial power with military bases all over the world which again demonstrate the image of superiority and power. Other cultures need the guidance and protection of the Americans, hence they are inferior and feminized, perfectly well-fit for the reproductive ‘feminine’ work which needs to be done. Based on this power relation soldiers can distinct very clearly between ‘we’ and ‘them’ like orientalistic knowledge already illustrated. The whole division of labor in a masculine and feminine classification can be perceived as an echo of colonized relationships, since, as Spivak stated, colonialism has and had a major impact in gender relations and shaped the cultural consensus of women being dominated by men.
The intersectional perspective focuses on the lived reality and experiences of the individual in the American military. They work in a matrix of domination, power relations between men, between male and female soldiers, between soldiers and generals and between military staff and ‘others’ like the kitchen police intersect and determine different hierarchies depending on the acting individuals. In the example of immigrant or native workers, this implies a discrimination of the men, since they are not American and usually not belonging to the middle-class. In addition, they are also not trained soldiers, and therefore less important and find themselves on a lower part of different hierarchies. Even with real female soldiers also in the ranking, the kitchen police is still in the lowest possible position because of the intersection of different power systems. These men are again feminized and regarded suitable for the reproductive labor, and because of their social class, they are willing to work in a humiliating environment. Even though the tasks of the kitchen police are jobs which the trained soldiers would usually do in their hometowns without the possibility to join the military.
While all three theories provide a differentiated view on contemporary inequality issues, hegemonic masculinity can be almost entirely included into intersectionality, since it presents just one of the addressed intersecting hierarchies in detail. Postcolonialism on the other hand, as a very broad and comprehensive concept, can be used as a lens for a variety of different discourses. The absence of dealing with the idea of race and instead of giving a geopolitical view is a very unique benefit in comparison to other gender theories. Politicisation of the geographical Orient without categorizing groups of individuals into specific races with linked consequences and assumptions can help to visualize bigger constructs of domination and power. Although, it is again a binary model of the Orient and the Occident which might have to be challenged with new questions gained through an intersectional perspective.