A Crisis in Masculinity 

or New Agendas for Men ?

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network http://www.europrofem.org 


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A Crisis in Masculinity or New Agendas for Men ?


Professor Jeff Hearn 


Recent years have seen the naming of men as men. Men have become the subject of growing political, academic and policy debates; in some respects this is not new; there have been previous periods of debate on men, and then, in a different sense, much of politics, research and policy has always been about men, often overwhelmingly so. What is new, however, is that these debates are now more explicit, more gendered, more varied and sometimes more critical. At their base is the assumption that men, like women, are not ‘just naturally like this’ or ‘just bound to be that way’, but rather are the result of historical, political, economic, social and cultural forces.

One social change that is now in place is that men and masculinities can at least be talked about as problematic. We can now ask such questions as: What is a man? How do men maintain power? Is there a crisis of masculinity? Or is there a crisis of men in a more fundamental way? Do we know what the future of men looks like or should be? What policy and practice implications follow both in relation to men and boys, and for men and boys? Importantly, there has also been a process of internal critique and auto-critique (Hearn, 1994) within these discussions. For example, the idea of crisis may well be overstating what is happening (Brittan, 1989), not least because for many men life may continue very much the same as before.

So what form do these changes take? In what ways do these changes mean significant and substantial change in relations between men, women and children? And what are their policy implications for government, policy-making and polity? Indeed just as there are new agendas for women, are there new agendas for men?


Several influences have brought this renewed focus on men and masculinities. First and foremost is impact on men of Second, and now Third (or 1000th?), Wave Feminisms. Questions have been asked of all aspects of men and men’s actions by feminists and feminisms. Different feminist initiatives have focused on different aspects of men, and have suggested different analyses of men and different ways forward for men. Feminism has also demonstrated many theoretical and practical lessons for men, though most men seem to to be able to ignore or forget most of them. One is that the understanding of gender relations, women and men has to involve attention to questions of power. Another is that to transform gender relations, and specifically men’s continued dominance of much social life, means not only changes in what women do and what women are but also that men will have to change too. This may be hard for many men to hear, and even harder to act on. These are vital issues for politics, policy development and personal practice.

Other forces for change include the gay movements, queer politics, other ’new sexual movements’ and the proliferation of sexual discourses more generally. While it is difficult to generalise about the form and direction of these critiques, they have often emphasised the desirability of (some) men to each other, the more public recognition of men through same-sex desire, and the associated or implied critique of heterosexual men’s practices. However, the exact directions of these ’new sexual movements’ remains diverse and difficult to predict.

Men’s responses to feminism have also been various. Since the early Seventies there have been ’anti-sexist men’ and ’pro-feminist men’, to be followed in the Eighties by ’wild men’ and ’mythopoetic men’, and the media creation of ’new men’. The Nineties have brought ’newish man’, ’new lads’, ’men’s rightists’ (some now very confusingly called The Men’s Movement, as opposed to the anti-sexist and the mythopoetic ones), and now ’post new men’ too. In the US there are extremely worrying moves to gender-conscious, more or less anti-feminist, political organising by men, such as the Coalition of Free Men (men’s rights), the Million Man March (Nation of Islam), and the Promise Keepers (Christian) (Minkowicz, 1995). In different ways, other, often composite, groups of men have been more willing and able to identify themselves as men, for example, as ’older men’ or ’black gay men’.


Something similar has happened in academia. In some senses there are as many ways of studying men and masculinities as there are approaches to the social sciences. They range from examinations of ’masculine psychology’ and psychodynamics (Craib, 1987) to broad societal, structural and collective analyses of men (Hearn, 1987); they have interrogated the operation of different masculinities – hegemonic, complicit, subordinated, marginalised, resistant (Carrigan at el., 1985; Connell, 1995) – and the interrelations of unities and differences between men (Hearn and Collinson, 1994); they have included detailed ethnographic descriptions of particular men or men’s activity as well as investigations of the constructions of specific masculinites in specific discourses (Edley and Wetherell, 1995). The International Association for Studies on Men has been established as a research network for several years and is currently co-ordinated from Norway.

The study of men and masculinities, whether critical or otherwise, is no longer considered so esoteric. It is now established, if rather tentatively, for teaching and research. While it has examined boys’ and men’s lives in schools, families, management, the military and elsewhere, many aspects remain unexplored. As research has progressed, it has become more complex, less concerned with just one ’level’ of analysis, and more concerned to link together previously separated fields and approaches. These kinds of critique of men also imply drastic rewritings of academic disciplines themselves, and their frequently pre-scientific ignoring of the fact that their ’science’ has been dominantly done by men, for men, and even primarily about men (Morgan, 1981).

The irony is that it is men’s general social power that may underwrite the choice of some boys and young men not to devote themselves to schooling and learning. In the past this may not have been a special problem for young men because of the structure of the labour market; that is no longer the case in many localities. More generally, with such difficulties around education and employment, as well as father absence/distance, crime, violence and so on, young men have been increasingly defined in recent years as a problem category (see Hearn, 1998).


Contemporary namings of men have been accompanied by greater interest in men in the global worlds of consumption, advertising, journalism, and popular culture. New global technology have created the possibility of more powerful images of men and women that can be transferred around the world. Imaging men is now a matter of both fiercely reaffirming boring old Rambos and their like, in film, computer games, and comics, and presenting ever more ambiguous homo-het, man-woman pictures of ’men’ in both mainstream and alternative media. An increasingly important feature of media is the portrayal of men in sport. At the present rate of change, there are likely to be all manner of surprising associations to be drawn in the future in image and text around the sign of men or masculinity as signs (Saco, 1992). The critical examination of images can also be used as a powerful way of informing discussion of men in political, educational and other practical settings.


If we compare women and men in the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century, both major changes and major continuities are obvious. While changes abound in law, work, citizenship, personal relations and so on, there has been a widespread, stubborn persistence in men’s dominance – in politics, business, finance, war, diplomacy, the state, policing, crime, violence generally, heterosexual institutions and practices, science, technology, culture, media, and many other social arenas. What is perhaps most interesting is that while men’s general power as a (the) dominant social category remains virtually unchanged and may even have become intensified in some respects, men’s power is constantly being challenged, fragmented, and even transformed. Men are more than ever being affirmed as ‘men’; whilst at the same time the experience of being a man is subject to questioning and acute fracturing (Hearn, 1992a). Men’s situation, and particularly men’s power, is a complex mixture of change and no-change. Indeed the presence of change for men should not be confused with any general assertion of a so-called ‘crisis in masculinity’.

Specific changes, or potential changes, of individual men and groups of men should be contextualised by social change more generally. The current talk in the U.K may all be of ’boys’ underachievement’ but social contexts and social changes that affect men are very much much wider. In the U.K. there has been the End of Empire and men’s sense of a certain place in the world (Tolson, 1977); rapid transformations of capitalism and capitalist enterprises; and huge losses of men’s manufacturing jobs and growing service employment. Individual fathers’ authority, no longer automatic, is in possible tension with the state. Separations, divorces and remarriages have increased. There is now an growing recognition that ways of being men are culturally and ethnically variable. All of these changes not just affect but actively construct ordinary men in myriad ways. Furthermore, whatever change in men and men’s power occurs, or indeed is advocated, can affect all areas of social life. These include: education, class, work, employment, race, sexuality, violence, the family, childcare, the state, personal and private life, sport, care, health and illness, age and ageing, birth and death, the body, and so on. To put this another way, all the various changes addressed elsewhere in this book with regard to women can be re-read as suggesting both social changes and possible policy changes in relation to men.

Just as men’s relationships to feminism is likely to remain problematic (Hearn, 1992b), so change in men is likely to be problematic and uneven (Walby, 1986, 1990). It is highly unlikely that a radically new ‘sexual contract’ (Pateman, 1988) or ‘gender contract’ (Hirdmann, 1988, 1990) will suddenly arrive; rather we can expect a series of temporary ‘settlements’ or ‘truces’ within a difficult long-term process, burdened by the weight and oppressions of history.

There is also the need to increasingly consider the changing global context for men’s lives and power. While for most men life remains local in the way it is lived, the forces that affect it are certainly becoming more transnational in character; globalisation is in place and becoming ever more developed. This is a very complex and often contradictory picture. At its simplest it means that the fate of men and women is increasingly in the hands of economic, social and cultural processes that transcend the nation. These processes often involve racialisation, sexualisation, and the reproduction of other massive inequalities between ‘North’ and ‘South’ and between various ‘cores’ and ‘peripheries’ (see, for example, Human Development Report, 1995). The idea of the self-contained ‘unit’, be it the nation or indeed the individual man, is breaking down (Hearn, 1996).

In thinking about the future of men, there is, however, a need for some gendered caution. Many of the ’grand narratives’ of the future – globalisation, environmental destruction, population growth, food and water scarcity, information explosion, reproductive engineering, technological advance generally – typically remain presented as inevitable and strangely rather genderless, rather than largely controlled by relatively small groups of men: the real ’men of the world’ (Hearn, 1996), with their own brand of ’transnational business masculinity’ (Connell, 1997). These global and international changes have major implications for men and masculinities. The well-charted shift from private patriarchy to public patriarchy (Walby, 1989, 1990; Hearn, 1992a) is itself being superseded by a another shift, this time towards what might be conveniently called global patriarchy, which is itself likely to be a diffuse and multi-centred social formation (Hearn, 1996). Any would-be crisis in masculinity needs to be considered within that context, and the loss of both immediate, and even national, control and power that men may be experiencing.

Having said that future change will probably be relatively mundane for most men. Some of men’s future is likely to follow existing trends; other aspects are difficult to discern, unpredictable or unknown; much, short of global catastrophe, will not change. Many men will probably still find ways of holding onto various powers; of being violent, threatening, shouting, seeking to get their own way, whilst leading rather circumscribed lives, working less total hours and getting paid more than women, living less healthily, dying younger, and ’hanging out’ with other men. Meanwhile, changes are inevitable. Much of the way men are will necessarily change, in terms of specific conjunctions of age, body, class, culture, (dis)ability, dress, ethnicity, kinship, language, nationality, race, religion, sexuality and other social divisions that make someone a man, and some people men. Being a man is historically and culturally contingent.


The central importance of ‘work’, still usually meaning specifically paid work, for many men has been well established (for example, Cockburn, 1984, 1991; Collinson and Hearn, 1996b). Work is a source of power and resources, a central life interest, and a medium of identity, as well as being a source of worry and concern. When men are unemployed or are inappropriately employed, extra problems may follow for men, such as for men’s health, and indeed for women too. Gender segregation persists, and much of men’s activity at work is homosocial: why do so many (heterosexual) men seem to prefer men, and their cosy company?

The recent transformation of work, through major structural change in employment and unemployment, has been extremely significant for many men. The twenty years from 1973 to 1993, the number of men in employment shrank from 13.1 million to 10.7 million. The shift in the sectoral makeup was even more dramatic: with changes from 39.7% to 27.9% in manufacturing; from 12.4% to 17.9% in retail, wholesale, consumption, catering and leisure; and from 5.4% to 11.9% in finance, insurance, estate agency and business services. Women’s employment is also changing with more women joining the labour market; there are already more young women than young men in the 16-19 age range in employment. Particularly significant increases in women’s employment, especially part-time employment, have occurred in the financial sector and in community, social and personal services (see Chapter XX; Dickens, 1995). Work changes for women also necessarily impact on men.

These structural changes mean that many men have experienced personal change in their working lives. No longer is lifelong security of employment guaranteed, not even for the relatively successful and well qualified; so-called ‘traditional’ working class-based masculinities, most obviously around heavy manufacturing and mining, can no longer be easily sustained unchallenged (Dicks et al., 1998, Waddington et al., 1998); meanwhile corporate reorganisation is commonplace; post-Fordist flexibility demands flexibility of men. In the first 5 years of the Nineties 44 percent of the male workforce experienced unemployment at some point. And of course for many men, especially young, less qualified men, the prospect of unemployment remains. This is a particularly urgent problem in certain inner city localities and large city-edge ‘council estates’, and for some young black men, especially in London and other urban centres. Policies for work generation remain a particularly high priority for young, working class and black men.

Men’s work and (un)employment also interact closely with domestic and family life. Despite and perhaps because of the transformations in men’s work, men who are in employment tend to work longer hours than almost all other men in the EU. The phenomenon of presentism is a serious problem in some sectors, and difficult to resist for men whose jobs remain insecure. There are urgent needs for government and employers to facilitate ways and means for men to reconcile (un)employed life and family life in a much more positive way – in employment and income support policies, and in managerial practices. These include attention to more job-sharing, voluntary reduced work time (whilst being ‘full-time’), flexible working hours, term time working, working from home, and other approaches promoted by New Ways to Work (1993, 1995) and similar initiatives. It also means men adjusting socially and psychologically to not necessarily being the ‘breadwinner’. Indeed greater equality in employment depends on greater equality in unpaid work in the home. There is thus a need to consider how men can contribute to both overall levels of household income and a more equal gendered division of labour both in and outside the home.

While employment changes have transformed many men’s relation to work, men remain in control of most powerful organisations, whether state, capitalist or third sector. This is especially so in terms of men’s continued domination of top management (Collinson and Hearn, 1996a) in capital and the state. Men in management are important political actors; while management certainly can be a facilitating process, managers may reproduce uncaring, sexually oppressive and even violent and abusive actions, without much comeback. They also have the task of overseeing and underwriting the behaviour of other men in their charge. Equal opportunities policies can themselves be a way of both implementing greater equality and containing more radical demands for change. It is in organisations that the public doing of gender is predominantly done and re-done. Furthermore, organisations and their control are fundamentally important, and becoming even more so, with the development of globalisation through multi-nationals, transnational governmental institutions, worldwide media and information networks, and so on. These are also vital in the changing men’s relationship to the personal and ‘the private’. Men in management have a special responsibility to facilitate men’s caring for others, as do men in government.



Although patriarchy has certainly changed in form over the last century or more, especially through the growth of the state, men’s power still resides at least in part in the family and the institution of fatherhood (Hearn, 1987). Historically, fatherhood is both a means of possession of and care for young people, and an arrangement between men. It has also been and still is a way for some men of living with, being with, being violent to, sexually abusing, caring for and loving particular young people (those that called ‘your own’), and a way of avoiding connection, care and contact with other young people more generally. Even nice fathers can switch to become nasty ones. Fatherhood has often involved getting something for nothing, an assumption of rights and authority over others, principally women and children, rather than responsibilties for them. The problems of both father absence and father distance are now recognised more than ever (Williams, 1998). For some men, becoming fathers can and obviously does involve major changes in responsibilities and more work.

State intervention in the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood - most obviously through the Child Support Agency and the Children Act of 1989, but also more subtly through state control of reproductive technology, such as IVF – has increased. The last few years have also and paradoxically seen signs of a growth in the rights of fathers, as well as in the assumption that such power and authority are ‘natural’ and ‘normal’. Even a glance through history and across cultures will show this to be extremely problematic. These issues become more complicated as men’s relationships to families develops over time - how to be positive and responsible to others in families, without asserting the power and authority of the father. This is especially important in long-term relationships, whether with or without marriage, and with the increasing number of men involved in separation, divorce and reconstituted families of various kinds. The number of women petitioning for divorce has doubled in the last twenty years. There is a clear need for a ‘post-marriage’ ethics for men. In addition there are long term changes in the number of men living alone.

So a challenge for men is how is to respond to these difficult questions - to love, care for and be friends with young people without drawing on the power of the father. This may even involve working toward the abolition of that power of fatherhood whilst recognising the reality of responsibilities in men’s lives (Hearn, 1983, 1984, 1987). Social and educational policies need to be directed towards assisting those who are carers, and not the so-called ‘rights’ of ‘natural fathers’, just by virtue of biological fatherhood. Such policies should support carers and encourage boys and men to participate much more fully in the activity of caring. One primary way of doing this is for a massive increase in state funding of support for child carers. Provision of publicly-funded child care in the U.K. remains derisory; at present it is available for only two percent of children under three (Daycare Trust, cited in Toynbee, 1998), one of the lowest rates in Europe. As such, this lack of funding is a clear governmental underwriting of the dominant system of unpaid care, largely by women.

Questions of care and caring are central in how boys and men change their practice in relation to others, both physically and emotionally. So often men’s avoidance of caring has been the defining feature of ‘being men’. This is very much a structural question in terms of women doing more caring work, both in private and in public. There have been some increases in men’s active participation in childcare and domestic work, but the baseline from which change is beginning is low. In addition, specific changes of this kind need to be placed against other changes – for example, women’s employment, domestic technology, and women’s leisure. Men’s activity may be focused on particular tasks, such as weekly shopping, or at particular periods, such as around childbirth. However, fathers with young children are particularly likely to work long hours in employment (Fagan, 1996). This could be for a variety of reasons, including compensation for loss of women’s earnings, the contribution of extra working to help establish men’s careers, avoidance of childcare, and the reproduction of gender divisions in the family.

There is some evidence of a tendency for men with more education to do more housework, but again this broad trend should be treated with caution, not least because of the impact of ‘greedy occupations’ (see Moyes, 1995; Lunneberg, 1997). There are also gradually growing numbers of lone fathers – from about 70,000 in 1970 to about 110,000 by 1990. On the other hand, the increase in men’s unemployment in the 1980s did not generally lead to increases in men’s work in the home, and may well have involved disproportionately negative effects for wives and other women partners (for example, McKee and Bell, 1985, 1986).

The 1996 British Social Attitudes Survey found that in 79% of households women did the washing and ironing alone, and in 48% women looked after sick family members alone while men never did so alone (Lunneberg, 1997). The Mintel 2000 Survey found only two percent of men did all the household tasks or shared them equally (Mintel, 1994). Men with wives who are in employment may be changing, but only slowly. Men with wives in full-time employment may in some cases take on more household work, but this may more likely involve a shift in the tasks that they are doing rather than devoting more time in total to housework (Anderson et al., 1994).

Boys and men learn not to care for others, and changing this is an important part of the project of socialisation, for example, in the education of boys at home and in school. This should be a major policy development - in nurseries and schools, by government and education authorities, and in higher education - not as an afterthought or something left to the whims and wishes of individual teachers. Like fatherhood and the family, caring is both a very personal issue and one built into wider societal structures and political institutions. It is not ‘solved’ by increasing day care provision, vital as that is - the problem goes to the very structuring of how men behave, feel, are. It is an area of life that can bring fundamental change in men’s experience of themselves; it can also bring about both direct antagonisms (deciding who will stay in or look after someone who is ill) and direct improvements in the quality of relationships. The question of caring also raises the challenge of how men become and do more caring, without just taking over.

A special challenge is how to encourage boys and young men to become more used to the bodily care of others in a way that does not lead to further dominance. This has to be attempted, yet with great care and caution - perhaps initially by the encouragement of care in their own families and in schools by the teaching of safety and first aid, and the care of pets and animals, and then moving on, under supervision, to the care of babies, young children, older people, those with disabilities elsewhere. Nurturing can be redefined as normal for boys, young men and men. More specifically, it involves teaching to boys gentleness and non-erotic forms of touch. However, throughout we need to be alive to the problems with this scenario, for example, in terms of potential abuse. It is not enough to just leave the dominant forces to define boys and men and then pick up the urgent need for positive initiatives that assist the redefinition of boys and men towards care and nurture as central defining features (Salisbury and Jackson, 1994). Educational policy and practice should be directed towards teaching boys how to care; boys’ caring should be expected, valued and indeed rewarded.



In the last few years education has had a high profile in public debates about boys and young men. In considering this it is important, however, to remember that men’s general domination of education persists. This is clear in the occupation of headships and other senior staff positions in upper schools, in national and local educational policy-making, and in the universities and academia. Meanwhile many boys, particularly poor working class boys, are not achieving well at school. In 1994 43 percent of girls gained five or more GCSEs at grades A to C, compared with 34 percent of boys (Pratt, 1996). More specifically, a recent report for the Equal Opportunities Commission found that girls outperformed boys at GCSE in English, Modern Languages, Technology, History, and Art; and at A level in Geography, Social Studies, art, Chemistry and Biology (Arnot et al., 1996).

Boys’ performance in schools is a complex issue. This policy issue of boys’ (under)achievement can be understood in many different ways. The issue can be framed in terms of human capital, class inequality, equal opportunities or social justice. Links can be drawn between the low educational attainment of some boys and the low employment rates of some young men. There is also for some boys an antagonism between educational attainment, even attentiveness, and the performance and achievement of particular and valued masculinities. But most importantly, it should not be seen as a problem of girls doing too well; rather as boys not doing well enough. As Madeleine Arnot, one of the leading researchers in this field, has put it: ‘We have a success story here. This is an excellent sign of the work schools have done to improve girls’ performance. So that they are now catching up’ (quoted in Judd, 1996, p.1).

The way forward on this question is certainly not by way of any kind of backlash against girls’ achievements. Nor, in the long run, are boys likely to be encouraged to take education more seriously by trying to involve them through resort to further officially sanctioned use of competitive and aggressive methods and materials. Instead formal attention needs to be given to the very basis of how boys are meant to be. Boys are considerably more likely to damage themselves through risk-taking behaviour than are girls (see p. XXX). Just as the problem of ‘normal manhood’ remains a problem for many men, so does that of ‘normal boyhood’. Perhaps it is in fact more accurate to speak of a crisis in boyhood than it is to assert a crisis in masculinity. Schools and other educational arenas are major sites for the possible reinforcement or challenge to dominant and subordinated ways of being boys. There thus a need for thoroughgoing strategies on all aspects of gender relations in those institutions that assist the fostering of less oppressive ways of being boys and thus men (Connell, 1996). There is great scope here for more focused ‘boyswork’, youthwork and educational work with boys and young men, not only on educational questions, but also on all the issues raised here. Such work needs to be undertaken within a pro-feminist framework if it is not to merely reproduce some of the inequalities of past single-sex education.

The irony is that it is men’s general social power that may underwrite the choice of some boys and young men not to devote themselves to schooling and learning. In the past this may not have been a special problem for young men because of the structure of the labour market; that is no longer the case in many localities. More generally, with such difficulties around education and employment, as well as father absence/distance, crime, violence and so on, young men have been increasingly defined in recent years as a problem category (see Hearn, 1998a).



Men’s sexuality has often been neglected as a focus for change, except as a reaction to the initiatives of the Right. Dominant forms of ‘normal male sexuality’ – characterised as power, aggression, penis-orientation, separation of sex from loving emotion, objectification, fetishism, and supposed ‘uncontrollability’ (Coveney at al., 1984) – have been described and critiqued as highly problematic. For some, perhaps most, men, the connection of sexuality and violence is fundamental, as violence is eroticised, most obviously in pornography. This is not the way men’s sexuality is or has to be all the time.

Sexuality may feel to be that which is the most personal, the most ‘one’s own’; yet it is also structural. For example, heterosexuality is as much a social institution as marriage. Heterosexist culture and homophobia continue to abound. Men’s domination of sex and sexuality, and the reduction of sex to intercourse, to ejaculation, to orgasm are still represented as "just normal, aren’t they?" Heterosexual men may often be misogynist: the object of love can be the object of hate. Gay men are not necessarily pro-feminist. Homophobic men may inhabit homosocial pubs, clubs, organisations and workgroups - so what exactly are these sexual loyalties between men?

More broadly, it is important to emphasise that the pressures on the construction of men’s sexuality seem to be diverging more and more - the forces of reaction, of the glorification of sexual violence, of Internet sex, of anti-gay politics (most obviously around HIV/AIDS) are ever stronger - while at the same time there is a gathering public confidence around sexual progressivism, queer politics, lesbian and gay rights, ‘outing’ (Reynolds, 1999), and even a small anti-sexist politics of heterosexuality. There is of course a specific and urgent need for law reform, to abolish discriminatory legislation against young gays (around age of consent), same-sex sexuality more generally (Local Government Act 1988, Section 28), and older gays (around pensions, tenure and property rights, and so on).

Furthermore, anti-gay politics can damage both gay men and heterosexual men. They can be physically dangerous and personally undermining for gay men. Heterosexual men may come out or change to being gay; less obviously to some, there is the gay part or gayness of heterosexual men. So heterosexual men need to support gay men, partly for political principles of equality and justice, and partly for self-interest (Hearn, 1992a).

In all of this, there is a need to develop an important educational debate and practice around sex and sexuality – not least around what is understood by sex and sexuality, and the practice of safe(r) sex. This has to affirm different sexualities, work towards non-oppressive sexualities, support young gays, and engage with the real dilemmas that young people face in their everyday lives. For young men, this means promoting, in schools and elsewhere, intimate and sexual relationships that are non-threatening, non-oppressive and responsible (Salisbury and Jackson, 1996). Men’s and boys’ sexuality is as much a matter for public debate, policy development and social change as is violence. A major challenge is how men to acknowledge their sexuality, and even be proud of it, without being oppressively sexual or sexually oppressive. What chance is there for real change in men without that?


As will already be apparent from the previous discussion, it is not possible to make a strict separation between men’s sexuality and men’s violence, in this society at least. A lot of what men do needs to be re-labelled as violence. This would include, child abuse, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, rioting, crime, policing, soldiering, wars, football hooliganism, public disorder. It might seem hard to talk about crime and violence without talking about men, and yet this has been done quite successfully for a long time (see Cordery and Whitehead, 1992; Newburn and Stanko, 1994; Collier, 1995). Crime and violence are very largely a problem for men, and they are also resources to show certain masculinities to others (Messerschmidt, 1993). Furthermore, debates on crime, violence and indeed punishment and imprisonment need to be conducted carefully in relation to not just gender but also age, class, locality and racialisation (Gilroy, 1987; Jefferson, 1991).

Much of men’s violence needs to be understood as conscious, deliberate actions and as forms or examples of particular masculinities (Hearn, 1998b). Men’s violence to women, children, young people, and each other needs, indeed demands, not just patching up the problem, but the changing of men and ‘normal masculinity’ (Hearn, 1990). Examples here might include what is seen as the ‘normal’ behaviour of certain men and boys, as fathers, teachers, workmates, school mates and so on, in reproducing ordinary, everyday violence to others and each other.

Men’s violence is thus about both violence to women, children and young people, and often less obviously, violence to the self - in self-brutalisation and the denial and ‘victory over’ the non-violent parts of ourselves (Kaufman, 1987). Violence may bring power and dominance, but it may also bring unhappiness and self-destruction. Men who are violent are generally not happy men (Maiuro et al., 1988), even if they ‘enjoy’ the violence..

This suggests the need for men to both recognise men’s own violence and potential violence, whilst opposing and stopping men’s violence - in war, armies, initiation ceremonies, bullying, unsafe working conditions, personal relationships, and being on the street. Campaigns against such initiations, lack of safety in workplaces, bullying and violence at work are all good ways of bringing together men concerned to work against sexism, trade unions, and anti-racist and other interested groups. These are thereby necessary concerns of equal opportunities policies and responsibilities of managements.

In reducing and opposing men’s violence, a necessary first thing to do is to make a national commitment against violence. This should be an absolutely central plank of the policies of government and the political parties. The recent Gulbenkian Foundation Commission Report (1995), Children and Violence made as its first priority recommendation: ‘Individuals, communities and government all levels should adopt a ‘Commitment to non-violence’, of similar standing, to existing commitments to ‘equal opportunities’. The Report continued: ‘The aims of the commitment are to work towards a society in which individuals, communities and government share non-violent values and resolve conflict by non-violent means. Building such a society involves in particular reducing and preventing violence involving children, by developing:

· understanding of the factors which interact to increase the potential for violence involving children, and those which prevent children from becoming violent

· action to prevent violence involving children in all services and work with families and children

· consistent disavowal of all forms of inter-personal violence - in particular by opinion-leaders’ (p. 18)

Thus governmental and other policies and strategies should take a clear position that opposes violence, should tell boys and men not to be violent, should advocate policies that encourage men to behave in ways that facilitate women’s equality, and make it clear that the realisation of such changes depends partly on men in politics and policy-making, and their own understanding of their gendered actions. So the vision here is a world without men’s violence, without men as we know them.

There is increasing interest in policies that try to stop men’s violence directly, such as programmes for men who have been violent to known women (Gondolf, 1985; Pence and Paymar, 1986; Adams, 1988; Caesar and Hamberger, 1989; Edelson and Tolman, 1992; Lees and Lloyd, 1994). Such programmes remain controversial in terms of underlying philosophy, methods of change and resource basis. In recent years there has been a developing critique of approaches that are narrowly psychological or focused on anger management, and instead a movement towards those based on ‘power and control’ model that is pro-feminist in orientation. The latter kinds of programmes can be a significant and effective initiative, especially when linked to wider educational and political change (Dobash et al., 1996). A crucial and current issue is whether such programmes should become court-mandated and a responsibility of the probation service rather than accessed on a voluntary basis. Any such development needs to carefully screen out men who have no interest whatsoever in change and who may even use programme to learn new forms of violence and control. Even more important, any innovations for men have to be supplements to broaden major public policy changes - including, consistent police prosecution policy and practice; inter-agency work for women experiencing violence; improved housing provision for women; and full state support for Women’s Aid and other projects for women.

Finally, discussion of violence would be incomplete without a mention of sport, itself often a major public arena of legitimated violence, often of a severe kind. Sport also remains a major point of influence in creating and changing boys and young men, and thus men. It can also be a source of considerable anxiety since it is still often a pre-eminent activity for establishing masculine identity. And ‘retirement’ from sport can bring further difficulties for men and others around them. Sporting events and loyalties could be effective places to oppose men’s violence, perhaps through a modified version of the Zero Tolerance campaigns, just as they have been to counter racism in professional football in the ‘Kick Racism Out Of Football’ campaign.


If there is one policy arena that has attracted attention from a wide range of constituencies and interests in recent years, it is that of men’s health. The concern for men’s health has been mobilized as if it is a common, cross-generational concern - perhaps a kind of mythical consensus. ‘Men’s health’ can be represented as an issue for all men, and indeed women too. For different reasons, the question of men’s health has attracted involvement from government, employers, trade unions, pharmaceutical and medical industries, medical professionals, and health educators and activists. Significantly, in the last few years there have been a number of conferences bringing together such diverse groups; in some cases these have been high status occasions with sponsorship from the financial and industrial sectors. The concern with men’s health can be appealing both to men promoting a backlash against feminism and who are insistent on the disadvantages of being male and to men who wish to develop a pro-feminist politics and change their relationship to women and children (see, for example, HFA 2000 News, 1994; Bruckenwell et al, 1995; Bradford, 1995; also see Sabo and Gordon, 1995). In particular, discussions of men’s health should not be read as necessarily antagonistic to those on women’s health.

The central issue that has attracted concern is the fact that at every stage of the life of a boy or man, he is more likely to die than a girl or woman of equivalent age. At different stages different hazards affect boys and men, and different risks are taken by them - accidents as a child, suicide and motor vehicles as young men, and the effects of diet, smoking, drinking and sexual habits later in life. For example, in the 15-34 year old male age group, 21 per cent of deaths are from road vehicle accidents, 20 per cent are from other causes of injury and poisoning, and 17 per cent are from suicides (OPCS, 1992, quoted in Calman, 1993, p212). Life expectancy for those born between 1985 and 1990 is 78.1 years for women, and 72.4 years for men. Throughout most of this century, there has been at least a five year difference between men and women. The EU difference is slightly higher still at 7.1 years (OHE Compendium of Health Statistics, 1992). One part of this discrepancy comes from men’s higher level of suicide, which stands at more than three times the rate of women’s suicide. Furthermore, over the last ten years there has been an 80 per cent increase in suicide by males. Particular concern has been the increase in the suicide of young men (Charlton et al, 1993; Befrienders International, 1995).

These issues of the health, mortality and suicide of young men are not peculiar to the UK, and indeed similar trends are attracting attention in France and elsewhere in Europe (Jougla, 1994). Furthermore, the physical health debate has recently been extended into the realm of mental health. For example, the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ (1996) report publicised the relatively hidden question of men’s depression, and the lack of recognition of this problem both amongst men, as evidenced in their low levels of help-seeking, and more generally in medical and policy development. The Samaritans have reported an 80 per cent increase in male suicide in the last ten years (Cohen, 1996).

The problem of men’s health has now been recognised in the statements of the Chief Medical Officer, Kenneth Calman (1993, p6, 106):

‘Although some diseases, such as prostatism, are obviously unique to men, the main differences in mortality and morbidity relate to variations in exposure to risk factors. Thus, there should be great potential for improvement in health in many areas, for example CHD and accidents. Further work is particularly needed on targeting health messages to men. Women seem to be more aware of their own bodies and pay more attention to health messages. Health messages for men may be more effectively transmitted through mothers or sisters, wives or girlfriends, but men must now be brought up to be more aware of their own bodies and not be reluctant to seek help ... . It is to be hoped that Regions and Districts will investigate ways to promote the health of men over the next few years.’

‘Despite an apparent difference, if not resistance, to health promotion messages among men it must be brought home to them that many of the risk factors to their health - such as smoking, physical inactivity, poor diet, excess alcohol consumption, unsafe sexual practices and risky behaviour likely to lead to accidents - are preventable. Thus the scope for men to improve their health, and to prolong active, healthy life, is considerable.’

Despite these kinds of observations, the policy debate on men’s health has not dwelt extensively on the social divisions between men, by class, race, locality, sexuality and so on. These divisions are important, for the state of men’s health is subject to a range of social influences - some associated with power and control, and some with attempts to extend (or appear to extend) power and control by those with relatively less power and control but who are still members of a powerful social category.

Many men in relatively less powerful social positions may survive, attempt to survive or fail to survive by passive coping, for example, in depression, social withdrawal, watching television, drinking or whatever. Yet active assertions of power, especially over women and children, and passive resistance can go hand in hand. Real uncertainties remain on how some men may actively resist capitalist, managerial and other men’s oppressions without perpetuating practices that oppress women: how to be tough on men who are oppressive to women and men, without at the same time oppressing women. Similarly, improving men’s health involves developing policies and practices that support men without further oppressing women. For example, boys and men frequent learning that it is socially desirable to ignore pain and avoid doctors (Briscoe, 1989) needs to be demystified and unlearnt.



Men’s societal dominance continues; yet at the same time certain groups of men are facing considerable change from previous social patterns and arrangements - at home, work and elsewhere. Despite the extent of the changes and challenges outlined, it is premature to talk of a widespread ‘crisis of masculinity’. Individual men and certain groups of men may be facing, even confronting, change, like it or not, and they may indeed be changing, but this has to be put in the context of the stubborn stability of men’s structural power. For some relatively less powerful groups of men, the combination of lack of educational success, reduction in traditional jobs, avoidance of ‘women’s’ work, and their own more damaging actions (to both themselves and others) may indeed constitute a material crisis for them and others around them. But this generally may not (yet) match closely with an ideological crisis in how men are assumed to be. The contradictions between the material and the ideological state of men and masculinities may be growing but are not yet at crisis point for most men, and certainly not for men in general.

All of the issues that I have discussed here are important for what it means to be a ‘man’ in this society. They have, however, all often remain neglected in what is generally defined as ‘politics’. Transforming what is understood by politics is part of transforming men. All of these issues are also both profoundly structural and intensely personal. Each can also prompt great depths of negativity - feelings of hopelessness, terribleness, desperation - as well as being arenas of possible positive change and hope. Each is a way of unifying men as a class, with different interests to women and dividing men from each other - old from young, heterosexual from gay, healthy from unwell, and so on. Each is a way of oppressing women, children and young people, and a way of relating to other men. And each represents an avenue for men opposing oppression, supporting feminist initiatives, and changing men.

Policies and practices are needed that address these issues in all policy arenas; they need to name men and the persistence of men’s powers, without stereotyping men. In doing this, there are dangers that an increased focus on men may divert attention from women and women’s agendas by arguing that men should have even more resources for solving these problems. So vigilance is necessary in this respect. However, it is useful to bear in mind that a critical focus on men is not in men’s general interest, just as it is not in the interests of other dominant groups to focus critically on them. This will involve debate, clear policy statements, publications and other materials, education and teaching, professional interventions, pro-feminist ’menswork’ and ’boyswork’, and research. It is time that government had a strategy on changing men away from power and oppression as part of its strategy for women and gender justice. In particular a distinction needs to be drawn between support between and for men that encourages domination and support between and for men that diminishes domination. The latter kind on initiatives are necessary not only in the state but throughout all areas of social life society, in business, community, media, religion, sport and other public and indeed private forums.

Finally, one further likely and paradoxical implication of the naming of men is that the deconstruction of men may be opened up more fully. Changing future agendas for women involves changing men; changing men involves deconstructing men and reducing men’s power; and, in the longer term still, this may even involve the abolition of ’men’ as such a ubiquitously important social category. Is it time at last for men to change, and both to develop and be subject to new agendas?


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Jeff Hearn has been involved in men’s groups and anti-sexist activities and in researching and writing on men since 1978. His publications include ‘Sex’ at ‘Work’ (with Wendy Parkin), The Gender of Oppression, Men in the Public Eye and The Violences of Men, and he has co-edited The Sexuality of Organization, Taking Child Abuse Seriously, Men, Masculinities and Social Theory, Violence and Gender Relations, Men as Managers, Managers as Men, Consuming Cultures, Transforming Politics and Children, Child Abuse and Child Protection. He is Professorial Research Fellow in the Faculty of Economic and Social Studies, University of Manchester, based in the School of Social Policy, and Donner Visiting Professor in Sociology with particular reference to Gender Research, Ĺbo Akademi University, Finland.

Jeff Hearn 

Hearn did his MA - specialised and Thesis in Organisational Sociology - at the Department of Management Studies of the University of Leeds. He received a PhD on Social Theory, Social Planning and Theories of Patriarchy at the University of Bradford 1986. His first published book was in 1983, a materialist analysis of men's relations to children, followed by the book, “'Sex' at 'Work'”, authored with Wendy Parkin, in 1987, on the power and paradox of 'organisation sexuality', and then “The Gender of Oppression”, a neo-marxist, pro-feminist critique of contemporary patriarchy in the same year.

Hearn has been Lecturer, Senior-Lectorer, Research Fellow, Visiting Professor, Professor and the like at universities in Bradford, Manchester, Sunderland, Ĺbo, Oslo and elsewhere. He is currently teaching as a professor at the "Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration" in Helsinki.

Jeff Hearn is a member of the British Sociological Association, since 2005 member of the Conference and Events Committee of BSA. He is co-editor

* Men and Masculinities, Sage, London, ISSN 1097-184X

associate editor of:

* Gender, Work and Organization, Blackwell, Oxford. (1994-), ISSN 0968-6673

and member of the editorial board of several other important journals of social science, e.g.:

* Leadership, Sage, London, ISSN 1742-7150

* Sexualities: Studies in Culture and Society, Sage, London, ISSN 1363-4607


During and after the time of his studies Jeff Hearn has been an active member of the profeminist men’s movement. With David Morgan, Colin Creighton, Chris Middleton, Ray Thomas and Clive Pearson, he initiated some ground rules for the study of men and masculinity, published as ‘Changing men's sexist practice in sociology’, Network, No 25, January 1983. Following work in the Men and Masculinity Research/Study Group at Bradford, the principles were developed and published in Achilles' Heel in 1987, and 3 years later Hearn and Morgan appended a sixth in the book "Men, Masculinities and Social Theory".
The principles in short: Critical studies on men should be profeminist and respect the autonomy of feminism/women's studies; critical especially to men's practices, interdisciplinary and use various methods; reflexive also to its own research.

CROME - Critical Research On Men In Europe, a comparative studies of the situation of men in Europe.



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