It is often difficult to isolate individual identity from the larger context of society and structure. Identity, as a malleable construction, seems to be fundamentally shaped by an amalgam of external factors: the family unit, the community, the political economy, the state, etc. What becomes problematic is the conception of the individual self as a tool of these forces, for example when the state assists in the construction of identity in order to reinforce traditional roles as they relate to masculinities and femininities. Thus, notions of gender further complicate the matter as such articulations become directly intertwined with the dominant structure. The two readings discussed below explore these concepts in more detail, drawing attention to issues of education, the role of international organizations, and the interconnection between societal constructions and individual conceptions of masculinities and femininities. Taken together, the authors uncover linkages between gender, education, identity, and structure, and the intrinsic complexities associated with these intersections.
In Degrees without Freedom, Jeffrey, Jeffrey & Jeffrey (2010) attempt to situate the current role of education in the modern neoliberal global economy, going on to discuss the relationship between education, the economy, and constructions of masculinities and femininities. The article notes the paradox of the promotion of education in the face of declining rates of employment, indicating that levels of schooling do not hold inherent value in what the authors deem one of the, "most unsettling paradoxes of contemporary globalization": "at almost the precise moment that an increasing number of people formerly excluded from mainstream schooling have come to recognize the empowering possibilities of education, many of the opportunities for these groups to benefit from schooling are disappearing" (p. 9). More specifically, they point out that this current "educated un/under-employment," affects traditional "gendered conceptions of 'the life course'" (p. 23), acknowledging that men and women may deal with this uncertainty in differing culturally specific ways.
In the wake of the recent recession, this notion becomes particularly relevant as conventional ideas of masculinities and femininities are simultaneously shifting alongside the ever-changing economic climate. Pertaining specifically to ideas of masculinity, the authors observe, "Educated un/under-employed young men characteristically occupy an ambivalent position with reference to hegemonic masculinities: they conform by dint of their education to certain visions of successful manhood while being unable to assume male breadwinner roles" (p. 20), highlighting the intersection between larger structure and individual constructions of masculinities. It will be interesting to watch the progression of such (re)constructions of masculinities and femininities in the face of the current neoliberal market - if unemployment continues to rise and returns on education remain uncertain and variable, it can be assumed that traditional conceptions of gender will continue to evolve.
Also exploring constructions of masculinities and femininities as they relate to the global economy is Bedford (2009) in Developing Partnerships, where she traces the World Bank's shifting development agenda and in-turn its varying incorporation of gender. Arguably the most noteworthy part of the discussion centers on the World Bank's current approach, that "gender equality is good for growth and poverty reduction" (p. 24). Linking gender equity to economic growth as well as to non-market benefits reinforces the interplay between constructions of gendered identity and larger societal structures: one seems to be inherently interdependent on the other. Ideas of masculinities and femininities are constructed here as means in which to achieve a desired end - both men and women must adhere to their heteronormatively prescribed role (as both caretakers and breadwinners) in order to move towards positive "growth." Individual creations and expressions of gender are lost; instead, women and men are paired together as partners working towards the assumed shared goal of economic growth. Again, with staggering unemployment rates and the continued economic downturn, changing notions of gender and associated roles remains significant. The World Bank is one of countless organizations currently advocating for marriage promotion as a means of poverty reduction. It is unclear how interpretations of masculinities and femininities will progress in relation to this, but it can be assumed that a heternormative approach will likely serve to reinforce existing constructions.
The two pieces discussed above delve into the intricacies linking gender, identity, and society, but many uncertainties remain. How is one able to tangibly move beyond such interconnectivity? Does the evolution of conceptions of masculinities and femininities need to occur at an individual or societal level - most likely in tandem, but what actions can be feasibly expected and how can the two be satisfactorily disentangled? Gender roles appear to be concurrently connected to the changing global economic climate - household responsibilities and job market opportunities and the corresponding conceptions of masculinities and femininities are seemingly perpetually intertwined. It will be intriguing to observe how the chaos of the current neoliberal market continues to effect both constructions and deconstructions of traditional ideas of masculinities and femininities. Moreover, the presumable spillover effects from such shifts in perceptions can be expected to have interesting implications for future conceptions of gender and identity.
Bedford, K. (2009). Developing partnerships: gender, sexuality, and the reformed world bank. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Jeffrey, C., Jeffery, P., & Jeffery, R. (2008). Degrees without freedom?: education, masculinities, and unemployment in North India. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Mathur, K. (2010). Body as site, body as space: bodily integrity and women's empowerment in India. In Azim, F., & Sultan, M., (Eds.), Mapping women's empowerment: experiences from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan (pp. 209-233). Dhaka: University Press Limited.