Scientific articles Studies on men and masculinities in Ukraine Dynamics of (under) Development
Although there have been some attempts to “add men” into gender analysis, so far these attempts have primarily been made in order to balance the gender perspective and demonstrate that gender is not only about women. Critical analysis and deconstruction of men’s privileges has not yet taken place. Pro-feminist men and masculinities studies in Ukraine is emerging under rather problematic anti-feminist ideological conditions.
Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 1-2 2015, pp 64-68
Published on balticworlds.com on maj 13, 2015
Despite the growing field of gender studies in the post-Soviet context, issues of men and masculinities remain on the fringe of academic interest. This paper discusses the underproblematization of men and masculinities in the post-Soviet context with a larger focus on Ukraine. It offers an overview of the dynamics and contextual peculiarities of the development of men and masculinities studies, questions their comparability with ‘Western’ history of this discipline, and discusses the potential of this field of study in the post-Soviet context.
KEY WORDS: men and masculinities studies, gender, post-Soviet context, Ukraine.
Over the past two decades, gender relations have become an issue of growing public and academic interest in many post-Soviet states. This can be clearly seen in the increase in gender studies publications, research, and dissertations, as well as in the introduction of gender studies courses in university curricula and the establishment of gender studies research centers. At the same time, the major focus of most of these projects has been on women, femininities, and sometimes sexualities, which are primarily discussed in relation to patriarchy and gender inequalities. Masculinities, meanwhile, remain on the fringe of academic discussion to date. This paper aims to discuss the underproblematization of men and masculinities in the post-Soviet context with a particular focus on Ukraine. It offers an overview of the dynamics and contextual peculiarities of the development of men and masculinities studies, questions their comparability with the “Western” history of this discipline, and discusses the potential of this field of studies in the post-Soviet context.
Gender studies in Western academia
Academic interest in the analysis of men and masculinities from a gender perspective is quite recent, not only in post-Soviet countries, but also in Anglo-Saxon countries (Australia, the US, and Great Britain), where this field of studies primarily emerged.1 The explicit emergence of this field dates back only to the late 1970s. The initial interest in men and masculinities from a gender perspective is related to the second wave of feminism, as well as to other, rather mixed factors, such as gay liberation movements, the spread of both pro-feminist and antifeminist men’s rights organizations, growing public concerns with the changing roles of men, and debates on the crisis of masculinity. Despite the different agendas pursued by these initiatives — which ranged from criticizing and combating patriarchy to protecting men’s traditional roles — they contributed to the recognition of men’s gendered experience and questioned the concept of masculinity. Strengthening emancipatory movements and discourses related to gender and sexuality coincided with the development of gender, LGBT, queer, and men and masculinities studies in academia in North America and Europe. The pro-feminist men and masculinities studies aimed to contribute to a more critical analysis of men’s experiences, one that did not seek to empower men, but instead constituted an important exploration of gender power relations by looking at how power is reproduced, sustained, and normalized in relation to men. To emphasize this pro-feminist orientation of the contemporary research, the field is sometimes labeled “critical studies on men and masculinities”.2
The dominant analytical perspectives in men and masculinities studies have been substantially reconsidered since the late 1970s.3 The key emphasis of the first wave of studies on men and masculinities was to demonstrate the socially constructed nature of masculinity and its detrimental effects on men’s psychological and physical well-being, but since then — as a result of the immense criticism this approach received — the focus has shifted to complex relations of masculinity and power. The second wave of men and masculinities studies (since the 1980s) emphasized the limitations of sex role theory and drew attention to pluralities of men’s experiences. Inspired by Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, R. W. Connell4 introduced the concept of hegemonic masculinity, which has become one of the most influential in the field. The third wave of men and masculinities studies (since the two thousand aughts) has been inspired by post structuralism, intersectionality theories, and queer and postcolonial studies. It has deepened the focus of analysis on material and discursive gender power relations, and on linkages between social action, power, and fluid, contingent, and performative identity processes. Despite the growing recognition of cultural diversities and global and transnational processes, the Anglo-Saxon tradition continues to dominate men and masculinities studies.
Challenges of the post-Soviet context
The post-Soviet context represents dynamics of political, social, and gender transformations that are rather different from those found in Western Europe and North America. Although particular aspects of gender agendas in post-Soviet states may vary due to local political, economic, cultural, and religious situations, the Soviet heritage is one of the important common reference points in the process of establishing new gender hierarchies. It affects the current nation-building processes and visions of gender relations. One of the important peculiarities of some post-Soviet countries, including Ukraine, lies in the parallel coexistence of mutually exclusive gender agendas, i.e. gender-egalitarian and gender-traditional discourses. The former reflects the aspiration of the country to be seen as a part of Europe and to follow its democratic traditions. Ukraine is one of the few post-Soviet countries that has adopted a special law on equal rights and opportunities of women and men5 and has supported a range of state initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality. At the same time, the absence of effective mechanisms and efforts to enforce the legislation on gender equality, combined with regular sexist speeches by leading Ukrainian politicians, reveal the merely formal or declarative character of these legal initiatives. Despite the integration of gender-egalitarian principles in current Ukrainian legislation, the dominant public discourses and practices remain patriarchal.
The popularity of the gender-traditional discourse is largely connected to resistance to the communist past, a resistance that has become vital for the framing of national identity in the post-Soviet Ukraine. According to the new national narratives, restoration of traditional gender relations is often presented as a way to revitalize the Ukrainian nation, to preserve the family, and to renew moral traditions that the Soviet system destroyed. These views have received particular support from the national media, as well as from political, religious, and non-governmental organizations. This tendency, also common in other postcommunist and postsocialist countries, is sometimes referred to as a “patriarchal renaissance”.6 The situation in recent years is particularly aggravated by the advent of “anti-gender organizations”, by the intensification of a self-styled “moral agenda”, and by legislative initiatives to ban abortion and “propaganda for homosexuality”.7 There has been a wide range of initiatives of far-right and religious groups aimed at the protection of traditional Christian values, the traditional family, and national identity. The form of these initiatives has varied from Internet attacks and trolling of organizations and persons promoting gender equality issues to the organization of massive street demonstrations (called “family carnivals”) and violent attacks against events and people connected with LGBT issues. The common discourse behind most of these initiatives and attacks emphasizes corrupt morality, a weakening of the institution of the family, and the undermining of national traditions, all of which are seen as consequences of gender equality politics, feminism, and the visibility of the LGBT community.
Promoting pro-feminist gender studies in such conditions is rather challenging, as it goes against the dominant political and public discourses. Although women and gender studies are taught in many Ukrainian universities nowadays, the field is still not formally recognized. Even where courses on gender studies have been introduced, they often have a marginal status within the curriculum and are treated as unimportant and unserious, e.g., as an attempt to follow fashion, or as a mere diversion for the students. Apart from the symbolic devaluation of gender studies, some other common challenges for the development of this academic field are connected with the dearth of good academic resources in the Ukrainian and Russian languages, the inaccessibility of international academic databases and the most recent international scholarship in the field, and the limited number of translated works even by the classical gender studies and feminist writers. Although this situation has improved, the problem remains significant. All these challenges are highly relevant to men and masculinities studies.
Gender studies in the post-Soviet context originated from women’s studies. Despite the broadening of the scope of problems discussed and the diversification of the research agenda of the humanities and social sciences by the recent addition of gender perspectives, the focus on women remains dominant in gender studies in Ukraine. An explicit academic interest in men and masculinities in the post-Soviet space has emerged predominantly in Russia in the early part of the past decade. In contrast to Anglo-Saxon history of men’s studies, this interest was to a much smaller degree connected with grass-root activism and pro- or anti-feminist men’s organizations. The interest originated within academia as a part of gender and women studies. The temporal dynamics of the academic development of research on men and masculinities in Russia is reflected in the publications on these issues.8 The first academic books on men and masculinities from a gender perspective were published at the beginning of the two thousand aughts. This publication process, however, was not sustained, and had significantly decreased by the end of the decade. Despite the peculiarities of the Ukrainian context, the similarities of the post-Soviet gender processes in Russia and Ukraine make these publications important and relevant resources for Ukrainian scholars.
Men and masculinities studies as an academic subject is still marginally represented in Ukrainian academia. Although many gender studies courses taught at the universities integrate discussion of masculinities, teaching men and masculinities studies as a separate discipline is still uncommon. Only two universities have offered such courses up to now.9 Although the reception of these courses has been positive,10 this situation cannot be seen as representative. The fact that there are no similar courses indicates low interest in this area or challenges in its fulfillment, insufficient institutional support, and a lack of experts in the field.
Western theories and post-Soviet practices
The influence of the Anglo-Saxon theoretical traditions on the development of men and masculinities studies in the post-Soviet context is in evidence on at least two levels — terminological and theoretical. The Anglo-Saxon terminology in gender studies is widely applied and integrated in the vocabulary of post-Soviet gender studies. It has, in particular, resulted in the transliteration of the term “masculinity” and its validation as a category of gender analysis. This shows that it was easier to adopt what was, in the local context, a relatively value-free term, instead of redefining the semantically loaded term muzhnist (“masculinity” in Ukrainian).
Another influence of the Anglo-Saxon theoretical tradition on the post-Soviet men and masculinities studies is the application of Anglo-Saxon theories in the analysis of post-Soviet masculinities and men’s experiences. The problematization of the applicability of the Western theoretical heritage to the post-Soviet context is not unique and has been discussed by gender studies scholars for a long time.11 This discussion is also highly relevant to men and masculinities studies, which, due to its rather short history, has not developed any significant theoretical models that would be able to capture the peculiarities of the local masculinities. Given the insufficiency of local methodological tools, importing theoretical terms from the West becomes almost inevitable. To legitimize this practice, Igor Kon remarks that, since there is much more research on men and masculinities conducted in the West, it is likely that the quality of the research is higher. “If you have little milk, how can you get the cream?” he asks, metaphorically referring to the insufficiency and potentially lower quality of the local research on men and masculinities.12 At the same time, the uncritical application of theoretical tools developed in a different context may be problematic, which is not commonly recognized by the post-Soviet scholars.
Analysis of publications on men and masculinities in Ukrainian academia gives a good picture of the content and accents of the research in this field. Most of them have been published since the second half of the two thousand aughts, which indicates the newness of interest in men and masculinities issues in Ukraine. The publications examine a wide range of problems, such as the socialization of boys, discussed by Martsenyuk;13 fatherhood, by Koshulap14 and Martesnyuk;15 nationalism and masculinity, by Bureychak;16 Cossackhood as a contemporary model of masculinity and a historical practice, by Bureychak17 and Zherebkin;18 dominant social roles of Ukrainian men, by Janey et al.;19 homeless men, by Riabchuk;20 men and sports, by Bureychak;21 Martsenyuk, and Shvets;22 men as clients of social work, by Strelnyk;23 representations of masculinities in Ukrainian literature, by Zagurskaya24 and Matusiak;25 and men’s subcultures, by Hrymych.26
Analysis of references to Anglo-Saxon theories in the works of Ukrainian scholars reveals the following common patterns: (a) key concepts in the field are mentioned without being followed by an explanation of their application in the research;27 (b) Western theories are most commonly referenced without reflection on their relevance and applicability to the local context;28 (c) Western theories are often taken for granted as appropriate and accurate with respect to the local context, and they are rarely questioned or modified.29 One can thus observe a minimal critical perspective towards the application of the Western theoretical tools in the research of Ukrainian scholars. This situation can also be seen in frames of post-colonial theory as a kind of colonization of the mind,30 where Western feminist theories are perceived as normative points of references regardless of context.
The potential of studies in the post-Soviet context
Apart from many structural problems that hinder the development of critical research on men and masculinities, an important reason for the low interest in the studies on men and masculinities in the post-Soviet context is misunderstanding or undervaluation of their potential by gender studies scholars in Ukraine. The few attempts to include the discussion of men and masculinities in gender research and gender studies have been accomplished mostly as a way to compensate for the previous lack of interest in this subject, and as recognition that men, too, are gendered. Although these research motivations are important, they are not enough. Attempts to counter the strengthening of the patriarchal gender order in many post-Soviet states should not ignore the critical potential of research on men and masculinities. Problematizing and counteracting the power hierarchy, violence, discrimination, and symbolic exclusion cannot be effective if it is focused only on the experiences of people traditionally categorized as vulnerable and oppressed. Since men or particular groups of men commonly benefit from patriarchal privileges, leaving men and masculinities issues unexplored means leaving those privileges unexamined, invisible, and hence unchanged. How this situation can be changed is an important question. It is doubtful that any significant and effective initiative for the promotion of studies on men and masculinities will be introduced at the political level in the near future. Thus, a likely positive scenario for promotion of this field can be fulfilled by strengthening individual scholarly initiatives, consolidating efforts by scholars through diverse academic projects, and promoting crossdisciplinary and transdisciplinary gender studies and studies on men and masculinities. This would open up new possibilities for fruitful dialogs and joint research. Another important vector for contributing to greater visibility and institutionalization of men’s studies is to transcend academic boundaries and establish closer cooperation between gender studies scholars and others involved in strengthening the pro-feminist agenda, e.g. grassroots organizations, the media, and policy makers.
The analysis of the development of the research interest in issues of men and masculinities provides evidence that this direction of studies has not yet become a legitimate and strategic component of gender studies in the post-Soviet context. The experience of Ukraine in this respect does not stand out, despite the fact that the political climate there is less conservative, at least on a formal level, than in many other post-Soviet states when it comes to the development of pro-feminist gender studies. The dominant discussion of gender relations and structures, inequalities and discrimination mostly focuses on their consequences for women as one of the most vulnerable groups. The knowledge about women thus remains knowledge of the “Other”, i.e., the group that is systematically discriminated against and that does not fit the norm. At the same time, the mechanisms by which certain social groups are empowered — for example, white middle and upper-class heterosexual Ukrainian men — the reproduction of the gender system which supports these gendered hierarchies, and the analysis of differences in men’s experiences are still poorly explored. Although there have been some attempts to “add men” into gender analysis, so far these attempts have primarily been made in order to balance the gender perspective and demonstrate that gender is not only about women. Critical analysis and deconstruction of men’s privileges, which could intellectually and politically invigorate post-Soviet gender studies, has not yet taken place. Pro-feminist men and masculinities studies in Ukraine is emerging under rather problematic anti-feminist ideological conditions. This, combined with limited local academic resources, limited access to international scholarship, and undervaluation of the critical potential of this field, further marginalizes this area of studies and makes developing it a tremendous challenge. ≈
1 I refer to and discuss “Western” academia here and below primarily in the sense of the Anglo-Saxon academic tradition.
2 Michael Kimmel, Jeff Hearn, and R. W. Connell (eds.), Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2005).
3 Tim Edwards, Cultures of Masculinity (Oxon: Routledge, 2006).
4 Tim Carrigan, Bob Connell, and John Lee, “Towards a New Sociology of Masculinity”, Theory and Society 14/5 (1985): 551—604; R. W. Connell, Masculinities (Cambridge: Polity, 1995); R. W. Connell and James W. Messerschmidt, “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept”, Gender and Society 19/5 (2005): 829—859.
5 The law of Ukraine “On ensuring equal rights and opportunities of women and men” came into force on January 1, 2006.
6 Lynne Attwood, “The Post-Soviet Women in the Move to the Market: A Return to Domesticity and Dependence?”, in Women in Russia and Ukraine, ed. Rosalind J. Marsh, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 255—268; Elena Zdravmyslova and Anna Temkina, Sovetskiy Etakraticheskiy Gendernyi Poryadok [Soviet Etacratic Gender Order], in Rossiyskiy Gendernyi Poryadok: Sociologicheskiy Podhod [Russian Gender Order: Sociological Approach], ed. Elena Zdravomyslova and Anna Temkina (St Petersburg: Publishing House of the European University, 2007), 96—137.
7 Tetyana Bureychak, “Gender Conservatism and Homophobia as Strategies of Moral Salvation in Contemporary Ukraine”, Working Papers of the Second International Congress of Belarusian Studies 2 (2013): 295—298.
8 In all, around twelve academic books which explicitly discuss men and masculinities in gender perspective have been published in Russia since 2000.
9 A course in “Masculinity and Men’s Studies” has been taught at the Department of Sociology, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy by Tamara Martsenyuk since 2009. A course in “Masculinities” and later “Sociology of Masculinity” was taught at the Department of the History and Theory of Sociology, I. Franko National University of Lviv from 2006 to 2012.
10 There were no significant formal or informal hinders to the introduction and teaching of the courses. The courses have also been very popular among the students.
11 Elena Zdravmyslova and Anna Temkina, “Issledovaniya Zhenshchin i Gendernye Issledovniya na Zapade i v Rossii” [Women’s studies and gender studies in the West and Russia], Obshchestvennye Nauki i Sovremennost’ [Social Sciences and the Present], 6 (1999): 177—185.
12 Igor Kon, Muzhchina v Menyayushchemsya Mire [A man in a changing world] (Moscow: Vremia, 2009): 8.
13 Tamara Martsenyuk, “Konstruyuvannya Masculinnosti Sered Ditey Shkilnoho Viku” [Constructing masculinity among children of school age] Genderniy zhurnal Ya [Gender journal “I”]. 2 (2008): 16—20.
14 Iryna Koshulap, “Cash and/or Care: Current Discourses and Practices of Fatherhood in Ukraine”, in Gender, Politics and Society in Ukraine, ed. Olena Hankivsky and Anastasiya Salnykova (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2012), 362—384.
15 Tamara Martsenyuk, “Vidpovidal’ne Bat’kivstvo ta Genderna Rivnist’” [Responsible fatherhood and gender equality], Genderniy zhurnal Ya 2 (2008): 12—13.
16 Tetyana Bureychak, “Nationalism, Masculinities and Neo-traditionalism in Contemporary Ukraine: Patterns of Intersection”, AFP Working Papers 2010—2011, 1: 13—24.
17 Tetyana Bureychak, “In Search of Heroes: Vikings and Cossacks in Present Sweden and Ukraine”, NORMA: Nordic Journal for Masculinities Studies 7 (2012): 139—169; Tetyana Bureychak, “Zooming In and Out: Historical Icons of Masculinity Within and Across Nations”, in Rethinking Transnational Men: Beyond, Between and Within Nations, ed. Jeff Hearn, Katherine Harrison, Marina Blagojevic (New York, Oxon: Routledge, 2013), 219—238.
18 Sergey Zherebkin, “Sexual’nost’ v Ukraine: gendernye ‘politiki identifikatsii’ v epohu kozachestva” [Sexuality in Ukraine: gender “politics of identification” in the Cossack age], Gendernye Issledovaniya 1 (1998): 224—242.
19 Bradley A. Janey, Sergei Plitin, Janet L. Muse-Burke, and Valintine M. Vovk, “Masculinity in Post-Soviet Ukraine: An Exploratory Factor Analysis”, Culture, Society and Masculinity 1 (2009): 137—154.
20 Anastasiya Riabchuk, “Destruktyvni Masculinnosti v Postradyanskomu Konteksti na Prykladi Zhyttevyh Istoriy Kyivs’kyh ‘Bomzhiv” [Destructive masculinities in the post-Soviet context on the case of the life stories of homeless men in Kyiv], Materials of the Conference: Men’s Problems in the Context of Equal Rights and Opportunities. (Vinnytsia: Vidkryte suspil’stvo (2008)), 12—13.
21 Tetyana Bureychak, “Sport dlya Ukrainsk’kyh Lytsariv abo Podviyne Dno Boyovoho Hopaka” [Sports for Ukrainian knights or double bottom of combat hopak], Gendernyi zhurnal Ya [Gender journal I] 29 (2012): 18—21.
22 Tamara Martsenyuk and Olexandr Shvets, “Konstruyuvannya Masculinnosti v Instytuti Sportu (na Prykladi Ukrains’kyh Footbolistiv)” [Construction of masculinity in the social institute of sports (the case of Ukrainian football players)], Naukovi Zapysky NaUKMA: Sociologichni Nauky [Research notes of NaUKMA: sociological sciences] (2011): 58—65.
23 Olena Strelnyk, “Genderna Nerivnist’ ta Problemy Cholovikiv yak Klientiv Social’noi Roboty” [Gender inequality and problems of men as clients of social services], Metodologia, Teoria ta Praktyka Sociologichnoho Analizu Suchasnoho Suspilstva [Methodology, Theory, and Practice of the Sociological Analysis of Contemporary Society] 15 (2009): 547—50.
24 Natalia Zagurskaya, “Ukrainskoe Muzhskoe Telo kak Travmirovannyi Objekt” [the Ukrainian male body as a traumatized object], Gendernye Issledovaniya 1 (2006): 206—225.
25 Agnieszhka Matusiak (ed.), Perekhresni Stezhky Ukrainskoho Masculinnoho Dyskursu: Kultura I Literatura XIX-XXI stolit’ [Crossroads of Ukrainian Masculine Discourse: Culture and Literature during XIX-XXI centuries] (Kyiv: Laurus, 2014)
26 Maryana Hrymych (ed.), Zrilist’, Choloviky, Cholovicha Subkul’tura [Maturity, men, men’s subculture] (Kyiv: Duliby, 2013).
27 Tamara Martsenyuk and Olexandr Shvets, “Konstruyuvannya Masculinnosti v Instytuti Sportu (na Prykladi Ukrains’kyh Footbolistiv)”, Naukovi Zapysky NaUKMA: Sociologichni Nauky (2011): 58—65.
28 Ibid.; Tetyana Bureychak, “In Search of Heroes: Vikings and Cossacks in Present Sweden and Ukraine”, NORMA, Nordic Journal for Masculinities Studies 7 (2012a): 139—169.
29 Olena Strelnyk, “Genderna Nerivnist’ ta Problemy Cholovikiv yak Klientiv Social’noi Roboty” [Gender inequality and problems of men as clients of social services], Metodologia, Teoria ta Praktyka Sociologichnoho Analizu Suchasnoho Suspilstva [Methodology, theory, and practice of the sociological analysis of contemporary society] 15 (2009): 547—50; Natalia Zagurskaya, “Ukrainskoe Muzhskoe Telo kak Travmirovannyi Objekt” [the Ukrainian male body as a traumatized object], Gendernye Issledovaniya 1 (2006): 206—225; Anastasiya Riabchuk, “Destruktyvni Masculinnosti v Postradyanskomu Konteksti na Prykladi Zhyttevyh Istoriy Kyivs’kyh ‘Bomzhiv” [Destructive masculinities in the post-Soviet context on the case of the life stories of homeless men in Kyiv], Materials of the Conference Men’s Problems in the Context of Equal Rights and Opportunities (Vinnytsia: Vidkryte suspil’stvo, 2008), 12—13.
30 Redi Koobak, Whirling Stories: Postsocialist Feminist Imaginaries and the Visual Arts, Linköping Studies in Arts and Sciences, no. 564 (Linköping: Linköping University, 2013); Madina Tlostanova, “Postsocialist ≠ Postcolonial? On post-Soviet Imaginary and Global Coloniality”, Journal of Postcolonial Writing 48 (2) (2012): 130—142.
NOTE: This article is one of many contributions to the special section ”Gender and post-Soviet discourses”, guest edited by Liudmila Voronova, Ekaterina Kalinina and Ulrika Dahl. You may download the special section as a pdf here.>>