The best books on diverse masculinities

Carol J. Pierce Colfer Author Of Masculinities in Forests: Representations of Diversity
By Carol J. Pierce Colfer

Who am I?

I began studying women’s lives in college (1960s), but recently realized that I (like others) passed myself off as a gender specialist, but had been ignoring men’s roles, beliefs, and behaviour in gender dynamics. I was put off by the studies that too consistently showed men as always violent and controlling. Many studies emphasized men at war, men abusing women, and gay men with HIV/AIDS; there seemed no recognition of positive masculine traits. Recognizing also that men had different ideals about their own masculinity in different places, I examined men’s lives among international elites and in communities in the US, Sumatra, and Indonesia, where I’d done ethnographic research. 

I wrote...

Masculinities in Forests: Representations of Diversity

By Carol J. Pierce Colfer,

Book cover of Masculinities in Forests: Representations of Diversity

What is my book about?

This book captures elements of my half-century studying gender from an ethnographic perspective. I have re-analyzed my own gender research, focusing in this book on the varying masculinities I have observed. Specifically, the book looks at men’s lives in the Olympic Peninsula logging community of Bushler Bay in the 1970s (and again in 2017); the multi-ethnic (Javanese, Sundanese, and Minangkabau) transmigration communities of Sitiung in West Sumatra in the 1980s; the Kenyah Dayak communities of Long Segar and Long Anai in East Kalimantan between 1979 and the early 2000s (and again in 2019); and the world of international forestry research between 1995 and 2010. The book describes the variations in gender relations and in habitat from place to place and from time to time.

The books I picked & why

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By R.W. Connell,

Book cover of Masculinities

Why this book?

The author, R. W. Connell, is a fascinating person, originally a man, who became a woman, in the midst of a very successful career as a student of masculinity. Her work was among the earliest I’ve encountered to deal with that subject. And what a fascinating perspective! In this work, she posits four power-related configurations of masculinity: Hegemonic, complicit, subordinated, and marginalized. Although originally among those who emphasized mainly negative and unitary features of manhood – something I categorically reject her views have broadened over the years, recognizing considerable diversity in values. This work remains a classic in the field and provides readers with some excellent insights into one influential form of masculinity.

Men and Development: Politicizing Masculinities

By Andrea Cornwall (editor), Jerker Edstrom (editor), Alan Greig (editor)

Book cover of Men and Development: Politicizing Masculinities

Why this book?

This is one of the early books to counter the more common view of a ‘hegemonic masculinity’ that applied to all men. Instead, its 17 chapters provide examples of diverse forms of masculinity – in terms of both ideals and practice from every continent. I particularly appreciated this book for this reason. It reinforced my sense (and evidence) that masculinities vary from place to place and time to time, and it served as an impetus to write my own book on the subject.

Masculinities and Femininities in Latin America's Uneven Development

By Susan Paulson,

Book cover of Masculinities and Femininities in Latin America's Uneven Development

Why this book?

Masculinities and Femininities in Latin America’s Uneven Development provided further reinforcement for my interest in showing the diversity of masculinities. Paulson’s long history in Latin America and longstanding involvement with gender studies convinced me of her expertise. This was particularly valuable for me, with my limited Latin American experience. Additionally, her discussions of the interactions between notions of masculinity, as perceived and acted out by men with varying degrees of power, was a new way of looking at the issue for me, an eye opener. She clarified some of the dynamics of colonialism as it operates in the present and in that context.

Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java

By Henry Spiller,

Book cover of Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java

Why this book?

Erotic Triangles returns to a part of the world I know well, though the topic is alien to my own natural resource emphasis. Yet I found it fascinating for its symbolic analyses of West Java’s musical and art worlds – intertwined intimately with the relations between men and women and among men. Its emphasis on triangles was the inspiration for me to structure my own analyses as a harp (another ‘triangle’), within which the strings signify traits that men value in a given culture. Spiller’s analysis inspired my own analogy between the creation of harp music and the clusters of values that influence men’s identities, their personal and cultural ‘songs.’

Gridiron Gourmet: Gender and Food at the Football Tailgate

By Maria J. Veri, Rita Liberti,

Book cover of Gridiron Gourmet: Gender and Food at the Football Tailgate

Why this book?

Gridiron Gourmet likewise returns to a world somewhat familiar to me. Having grown up American, with a father and brother seriously enamored of football, I understood a certain amount about American ideas of sports and manhood. Football (and other men’s sports) had also played an important role in the community of Bushler Bay (on the Olympic Peninsula), where I had lived and conducted ethnographic research among loggers in the 1970s. At that time, folks there had seen football as one important avenue for young men to learn teamwork, competition, and discipline – traits considered key in making a livelihood. Gridiron Gourmet builds on my own understanding, adding the current emphasis on foods men consider appropriate and ‘manly’ to eat. Although I had some sense of this preference, this book clarifies common perspectives among American men in much more detail.

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