Masculinity and Asian gangs - Sociology Essay Example

This essay will investigate and explore the construction of masculinity in relation to crime and Asian gangs - Masculinity and Asian gangs introduction. The concept of a ‘gang’ has always been associated with men and especially amongst young men, historically gangs have been associated with masculinity, youth culture, working class, underclass and ghetto youth subcultures. The Asian gang is the new folk-devil in contemporary British society (Alexandra p4:2000). Post World War II saw the migration of people from the Indian sub-continent; Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis, most of those who arrived were economic migrants.

These migrants settled down in various parts of England where manufacturing industries existed, Bradford, Birmingham, and Oldham and in the east end of London. The Asian communities in Britain were largely considered as law abiding, unthreatening and unproblematic, a portrait that erased the role of both racial inequality and violence, and resistance in formation of community identities (Brah, 1996; Sivanandan, 1981/2 cited in Alexandra p15:2000).


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The only critique of the Asian communities came from black feminists who were concerned with the role and experiences of Asian women within these struggles, issues of force marriage, domestic violence, sexist culture and patriarchal traditions (Alexandra 2000). Glavanis 1998 cited in Alexandra p16:2000, argued that gender relations play a central part in Orientalist and neo-Orientalist perspectives on Asian cultures, especially in the representation of the inherently patriarchal and sexist nature of Asian societies.

These concerns remained largely private, invisible and unremarked, concerns over Asian young men and ‘the Asian gang’ have cast the spotlight on the public performance of masculinities, this has signalled a shift in the perception of Asian masculinities, traditionally visioned as passive and hyper-feminised, towards an association with violence and highly visible hyper-masculinity (Alexandra p16:2000).

Chapman and Rutherford 1988 cited in Alexandra p16:2000, suggest that Asian men are comparative latecomers to the race to ‘unwrap’ masculinity, Alexandra 2000, also argues that the field of masculinity studies has always been concerned with the problematisation of masculine identities and that Asian men are simply the latest inheritors of a tradition that almost instinctually positions them as a ‘problem’. The social change and a breakaway from traditional patriarchal authority within the Asian culture have led to Asian men redefining masculinity.

Alexandra p16: 2000, suggest that the change in family and employment within Asian cultures have redefined masculinity but most importantly the social change has put Asian masculinity in a crisis. Male redundancy has created cultures of prolonged adolescence in which young male identities remain locked into the locality of estate, shops and school. Violence, criminality, drug taking and alcohol consumption become the means to gaining prestige for a masculine identity bereft of any social value (Rutherford p7:1988 cited in Alexandra p16:2000).

Violence, criminality and hyper-sexuality are posited as the alternatives to the fulfilment of patriarchal responsibilities and control, to ‘real’ male power (Alexandra p16: 2000). The first part of this essay will explore the meaning of masculinity and the historical construction of masculinity in terms of gender relations and social practises also the development and expression of masculinity in relation to crime and violence. The second part of this essay will concentrate on black masculinity and subculture.

The reason I will look into black masculinity is because their isn’t any literature specific to Asian masculinity nor is the any published research hence the nearest theory that explains Asian’s masculinity in western society is by understanding black masculinity in western society, the third part of this essay will examine the theoretical debates surrounding Asian gangs and masculinity, and finally conclude with a summary of what this essay set out to explain and establish. Part 1

Definitions of masculinity All societies have cultural accounts of gender, but not all have the concept ‘masculinity’ (Connell p30:2001 cited in Whitbread and Barrett 2001). Connell suggest that the modern usage of the term assumes one’s behaviour, for example; a person who is opposed to violence can be referred to as being unmasculine. From this definition of masculinity one can presume that the term masculinity to Connell is negative and is associated with violence, domination, control and power.

Masculinity does not exist except in contrast with femininity (Connell p31:2001), Connell defines masculinity as a gender issue rather then a biological discussion, masculinity is a product of culture rather then sex. Connell argues that there is an authorised hegemonic form of masculinity, which defines its self against women/the feminine and gay men. Depicted in the heroes of popular culture, which historically been tied into ‘traditional’ gendered division of labour, and against/in relation to which subordinated masculinities, and femininities, or defined themselves in terms of structure, labour, power and Cathexis (Ransom 2004).

Connell argues that masculinity should be understood through four strategic perspective the essentialist view point, positivist social science, normative definition and semiotic approach (Connell 2001). The essentialist definition usually pick a feature that defines the core of the masculine, and hang an account of men’s live on that. Freud flirted with an essentialist definition when he equated masculinity with activity in contrast to feminine passivity (Connell p31:2001). Essentialist capture an essence of masculinity which they describe as: risk taking, responsibility, irresponsibility, aggression, Zeus energy (Connell 2001).

Positivist emphasises in finding the facts ‘what men actually are’ Connell (p31:2001), scales in psychology, ethnographic discussions of masculinity which describe the pattern of men’s lives in any given culture (Connell 2001). The problems with the positivist approach to defining what masculinity is could be seen as a major problem as Connell suggests that, masculinity is a cultural terminology and application of masculinity has also been labelled to women, masculine women vice-versa feminine man.

The terms ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ point beyond categorical sex difference to ways men differ amongst themselves, and women differ amongst themselves, in matters of gender (Connell p32:2001). Normative definitions recognise these differences and offer a standard definition of masculinity as ‘what men ought to be’. The idea that you cant be a ‘man’ unless you have masculine social actions, the example by Connell is that of popular culture and cinema, men are projected as masculine, powerful, feared, dominating, violent and physically strong.

Films such as Rambo project a vision of masculinity that is constructed to appeal to viewers as fearless powerful masculinity expressed through physic of John Rambo and physical violence that expresses his ‘masculinity’. The argument here is that few men actually display the toughness and independence acted by John Rambo first of all John Rambo is a factious character and Rambo is a factious film. Connell argues that how this definition can be normative when no one can meet what is projected as the norm idea.

If we approach the definition of masculinity from this angle, Connell argues then this leads us to the conclusion that men are not masculine because in reality men do not meet that projection of masculinity hence the normative definition gives no grip on masculinity (Connell 2001). Semiotic approach abandons the level of personality and defines masculinity through a system of symbolic differences in which masculinity and feminine places are contrasted, masculinity is, in effect, defined as not femininity (Connell p33:2001).

This definition is based on structural linguistics, where elements of speech are defined by their differences from each other (Connell 2001). This approach has been widely used by feminist and poststructuralist in cultural analyses of gender and in Lacanian psychoanalysis studies of symbolism (Connell p33:2001). Connell argues that this approach to defining masculinity has been very effective in cultural analysis he also adds that, it escapes the arbitrariness of the essentialism and the paradoxes of the positivist and normative definition.

Gender and social practises The definition of masculinity is quite hard to pin down on one meaning but masculinity is a social construction that has associations rather then a particular meaning. By understanding gender structures and social practises we can understand masculinity more effectively hence the latter part of this section will explain the configuration of gender and social practises. Connell argues that gender is a way in which social practises is ordered, gender dictates everyday conduct of life in an organised relation to reproductive arena.

Defined by bodily structures and processes of human reproduction, this arena includes sexual arousal and intercourse, childbirth and infant care, bodily sex difference and similarity (Connell p34:2001). According to Connell, social practises are creative and inventive, but not inchoate. It responds to particular situations and is generated within definite structures of social relations among people and groups organised through the reproductive arena, documented in most societies.

Practise that relates to structure, generated as people and groups grapple with their historical situations, does not consist of isolated acts (Connell p34:2001). Actions are configured in larger units, and when we speak of masculinity and femininity we are naming configurations of gender practises (Connell p34:2001). What Connell means by gender configurations is that historically we have seen a development of sex and culture (nature and gender), masculinity has configured its self as hegemonic, dominate culture in society.

Masculinity is an ideology as well as a culture, as opposed to a personality or a character, post-structuralist critics of psychology such as Wendy Hollway have emphasised that gender identities are fractured and shifting, because multiple discourses intersect in any individual life, for example the construction of heroic masculinities in epics; the construction of ‘gender dysphorias’ or ‘perversions’ in medical theory (Connell p35:2001). Connell argues that the State is a masculine institution configured of male officer holders, state organisational practises are structured in a relation to the reproductive arena.

He does not imply the biological reproductive arena but a social similarity. Gender configuration of recruitment, promotion, internal division of labour and systems of control are all masculinised. According to Connell in order for us to understand masculinity we need to examine the structure of gender, distinguishing relations of (a) Power (b) Production (c) Cathexis. (a) Power relations, the main axis of power in the contemporary European/American gender order is the overall subordination of women and the dominance of men, this structure feminist named ‘patriarchy’ (Connell p36:2001).

This structure exists through historical development in family, employment and class. Despite many role reversals in contemporary British society the resistance by feminist to breakdown the patriarchal structure has been difficult because the masculine culture is an ideology. (b) Production relations, gender division of labour are familiar in the form of the allocation of tasks, sometimes reaching extraordinarily fine detail, a study by Pauline hunt a sociologist found that within English villages it was customary for women to wash the inside of windows and men to wash the outside (Pauline Hunt, A English village cited in Connell p36:2001).

Another difference in production relations in patriarchal society we see is that of unequal wage rates. Connell suggests that a capitalist economy working through a gender division of labour is necessary, a gendered accumulation process. So it is not a statistical accident, but a part of the social construction of masculinity that men and not women control the major corporations and the great private fortunes. (c) Cathexis, sexual desire and emotional attachments shape gender orders.

In feminist analyses of sexuality the strong connection of heterosexuality and masculinity defines a man’s position of social dominance (Connell p36:2001). The argument presented by Connell is that gender is a way of structuring social practise in general not a special type of practise, he also adds that gender ‘intersects’ interacts with race and class. White men’s masculinities are constructed not only in relation to white women but also in relation to black men (Connell p37:2001).

Paul Hoch’s study cited in Connell p37:2001, shows that racial imagery in Western discourses of masculinity indicate that White fears of black men’s violence have a long history of colonial and post-colonial situations. Black men’s fears of White men’s terrorism, founded in the history of colonialism, have a continuing basis in White men’s control of police, courts and prisons in metropolitan countries. The interesting findings of this research is that masculinity is a social construction but also a product of fear and insecurity.

The historical construction of masculinity can be understood as a product of social dominance by men as well as a fear of not having power or control over its subjects. The concept of hegemony was derived from Antonio Gramsci’s analysis of class relation and refers to the cultural dynamic by which a group claims and sustains a leading position in social life (Connell p38:2001). Connell defines hegemony masculinity as the configuration of gender practises which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees the dominant position of men and the subordination of women.

Hegemony masculinity is historically a mobile relation its key elements portray the picture of masculinity (Connell p39:2001). One typical example that I found whilst doing my research into the topic of masculinity is that hegemony exists to oppose subordinated groups, woman are typical subjects of domination of hegemonic culture but homosexual groups are the hated subordinates. Gayness, in patriarchal ideology is the repository of whatever is symbolically expelled from hegemonic masculinity (Connell p40:2001).

Hegemonic masculinity labels those men who are homosexual or even heterosexual to be not ‘men’. Verbal abuse is used to distinguish hegemonic masculinity from feminine or homosexual masculinity such as; Poffs, faggots, wimps, pussy, sissy, candy ass, mothers boy, jellyfish etc (Connell 2001). Marginalisation of ethnic minority men in western societies can create a different type of masculinity, which is centred on hyper-masculinity a performance most commonly oriented around crime and violence.

Men at the bottom of the racial and class hierarchies, crime can be a major resource for doing masculinity (Ransom 2004). Connell argues that race relations may also become integral part of the dynamic between masculinities; hegemonic masculinity among whites sustains the institutional oppression and physical terror that have framed the making of masculinities in black communities (Connell p42:2001). Unemployment and urban poverty now powerful interact with institutional racism in the shaping of black masculinity (Connell 2001).

Connell identifies two concepts in analysing masculinities; the first one is through relationship of hegemony, domination and subordination. The second is through marginalisation and authorisation, in saying that he also emphasis that the terms ‘hegemonic masculinity’ and ‘marginalised masculinity’ are not fixed character types but configurations of practise generated in particular situation in a changing structure of relationships (Connell p42:2001).

Masculinity and violence has been a crucial argument for criminologist and feminist scholars, the social construction of masculinity in popular culture depicts real ‘men’ who go to wars and battles the image of a macho man. Violence involves the infliction of emotional, psychological, sexual, physical and / or material damage (Stanko p38:1994). Radical feminist are often castigated for suggesting that all men are violent, by relying upon essentialist biological based explanations for men’s violent actions (Stanko p39:1994).

Stanko argues that the biological explanation is often used as the final resort to explain men’s violence. Brownmiller 1975 cited in Stanko p39:1994, suggests that man’s lust for power combined with his biological capacity to rape explains sexual violence. Masculinity is constructed to oppose the idea of femininity hence violence becomes a means of expression, because men struggle within the social construction of masculinity they need to use their physic to negotiate the power relationship.

Men use violence between each other as mechanism for negotiating the hierarchies of power (Stanko p44:1994). Violence becomes an instrument to settle arguments and disputes because masculinity is constructed on the basis of reputation and status (Stanko 1994). This type of hegemonic masculinity is prevalent amongst working-class, poor, and disenfranchised young men (Stanko p44:1994). One of the characteristics of masculinity can be that of physical violence to solve interpersonal problems (Connell p122:1995 cited in Messerschmidt p196:1999).

Messerschmidts (1999) research into masculinities, bodies and violence explains how the construction of masculinity and violence changes as the boys develop into men. In industrialised societies hegemonic masculinity is strongly associated with aggressiveness and the capacity for violence (Messerschmidts p196:1999). Anne Campbell cited in Messerschmidts p196:1999, argues that masculinity and aggression becomes central to the boy’s notion of manhood, this is particular so in working class and lower class communities (Luckenbill and Doyle, 1989; Bernard, 1990; Shover; 1996 cited in Messerschmidts p196:1999).

The violence that is practised by boys to achieve the macho masculine status starts at school, aggressiveness leads to bullying, fighting and verbal abuse directed at those weaker in terms of physic or those considered to be feminine. In Messerschmidts (1999), study the two boys Hugh and Zack demonstrate the process of masculinity from family life to school life, the expression of their masculinity is constructed on varieties of violent acts, from physical domination and sexual violence.

Hyper-masculinity that is on public performance is expressed in school with bullying, physical violence and verbal abuse. The two distinguish type of violence the boys present are traits of masculinity, for example; Zach was removed from any type of recognised masculinity status in school but at home he had less powerful person at home where he could be dominant and powerful through heterosexual bodily practises. For Zach doing masculinity meant through sexual violence and for Hugh it was the social situation of the school that defined both physical and heterosexual performance.

Messerschmidts, argues that for doing masculinity, the dominant criteria are within the context of a body, either able or unable to construct such criteria directed their ultimate choices of specific type of violence and victimisation. For Zach it was private and solitary sexual violence that repeatedly victimised his younger female cousins and for Hugh it was public and social assaultive violence that chiefly victimised strangers. Furthermore, Zach was a sexual violence ‘specialist’ while Hugh, ‘versatile’ in his criminal endeavours, never engaged in sexual violence.

Part 2 Construction of Black masculinity Erikson’s (1959) proposed that the central task of adolescence is to develop a cohesive personal identity, which include a commitment to a sexual orientation, vocational choice and autonomy from parental control (Erikson 1959 cited in Gibbs and Merighi p71:1994). The problem for black men was that because of their marginality status in society it was very difficult to develop cohesive positive personal identity because of the negative messages about membership of a devalued minority group (Gibbs and Merighi p71:1994).

The issues that construct black masculinity in inner-city are conflicts of their sexual identities due to the absence of positive male role models; consequently the major problem was confused sexual identity (Gibbs and Merighi 1994). Hegemonic masculinity was in conflict with marginalised masculinity because of power relations and ethnic identities. Hence black masculinity adopted a distorted masculinity to challenge the dominant masculinity.

The power relation and power struggle between the masculinity created a conflict and ethicised masculinity. Gibbs and Merighi (1994), suggest that black masculinity was constructed on the basis of opposing racial hatred and most importantly challenging the hegemonic masculinity in relation to superiority. Black male started adopting a set of exaggerated ‘pseudomascline’ this behaviour was adopted to compensate for lack of education, marginal employment status and the inability to support families.

These behaviour included hanging out on street corners and bars, transient sexual relationships with women, hip style dressing, developing a style of walking and talking that characterised black masculinity (Gibbs and Merighi p75:1994). According to staples (1982 cited in Gibbs and Merighi p77:1994) crime, economic deprivation and masculinity are all intertwined, the masculine ethic of success amongst marginalised groups leads to commit illegal acts when the dominant culture restricts access to socially accepted ways of attaining cultural goals.

Frankin (1986 cited in Gibbs and Merighi p75:1994) suggest that black males in American society are expected to confirm to three different sets of roles expectations: a societal male role which emphasises ‘competitiveness, aggressiveness, the ethnic of independence, a black male Afro centric role which emphasises co-operation, group cohesiveness and survival, and an amorphous black male cultural role which emphasises ‘sexism, irresponsibility, violence and dysfunctional elements.

The construction of Black masculinity distances it’s self from the historical model of the victim and leads to a more violent expressive masculinity that tries to dismantle the white hegemonic masculinity. In order to challenge white institutional masculinity the marginalised minority break the laws which white masculine man constructs. Black masculinity in contemporary society threats violence as a means of expression, hyper-masculinity and public performance demonstrate that the victim of white masculine domination and control will no longer submit to the white hegemonic masculine institutions. Part 3 Asian gangs and masculinity

Alexandra (2000) argues that the Asian male and the expression of masculinity that is present in terms of public performance and hyper-masculinity is similar to that of African-American the struggle between race, sexual identity and hegemonic white masculinity. The problems of lack of education, racism, poverty and the break form traditional Asian patriarchal structure of labour and family, has put the Asian male at a crisis as to how to ‘do masculinity’. The alternative form of doing masculinity amongst these men who are at the bottom of the racial and class hierarchies, crime becomes a major resource for doing masculinity.

Alexandra (2000), ethnographic research into Asian gangs and masculinity gives us a great insight into how Bengali youths have become concerned with expressing masculinity through collective violence to construct their own version of masculinity. Similar to that of African-American experience of marginalisation the idea of forming groups, co-operation, cohesiveness and survival, and an amorphous black male cultural role which emphasises ‘sexism, irresponsibility, violence and dysfunctional elements has been replicated by Asian young men in contemporary British society.

Connell (2001) argues that hegemonic masculinity among whites sustains the institutional oppression, and physical terror that have framed the making of masculinity in black communities. Asian males unable to fulfil their patriarchal responsibilities as providers, heads of household and authority figures retreats men to a compensatory hyper-masculinity, centred on sexuality and violence, living through ‘Black Macho’ fantasies (Alexandra p235:2000).

In Alexandra’s ethnographic research she identifies the imitation of Asian men of African-American ghetto subcultures and violence, the clothes that are worn reflects on the style of black men in American, the way one walks and talks is constructed accordingly to black masculinity the collective threats of violence’s towards other men is symbolic of their struggle between power relations. Fights over territory demonstrate the expressive nature of the masculinity that they have adopted, fighting for identity and survival. ‘ we’re standing up for ourselves, not giving them the chance’- a determination which proves particularly ironic given the groups more usually perceived role as perpetrators and aggressors. Implicit in this tension is the playing out a wider ideological construction of Asian masculinity as weak and feminised, and their more recent reinvention, particularly through the invocation of ‘the Gang’, a radicalised hyper-masculinity (Alexandra p105:2000).

In conclusion, the idea of men being masculine and women being feminine is a statement that has no foundation, just like gender is social constructed, masculinity is socially and historically constructed, It is a culture rather then a nature. The concept of masculinity and associations attached to it is a problem of power struggle and domination. The expression of masculinity amongst black and Asian groups is ‘doing masculinity’ which is expressed through violence and crime.

Asian gang and black gang violence of inner-city streets is an example of marginalised masculinity exercising its power struggle with hegemonic white masculinity. The idea of men being ‘real men’ is an illusion and a construction of culture. Class and ethnicity in contemporary British society show a reinvention of masculinity at its violent form. Women are victims of masculinity culture as well as homosexual men; masculinity sees femininity as an inferior nature and challenges the notion of femininity as subordinate existence.

In Asian gangs the expression of masculinity is though violence because that’s the only channel available to express one’s frustration and not being able to control and dominate, leads to a power struggle outside of the home and inside. Violence and crime in marginalised masculinity is the only form of expression, public performance of criminality and hyper-masculinity is demonstrated to reinforce the domination of masculinity and shows a power struggle between hegemonic institutional masculinity.

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