The past semester I tried my best to teach my students at university about masculinities and how to study them. One of the first and most important steps towards a fruitful study of men is and always will be the research question. Or, just to take away the fear that is not rarely caused by calling it a ‚research question’, let’s just call it, ‚a question’.
Posing a simple yet thoughtful leading question is a never-ending challenge with one essential rule. The golden rule: The question must not be answerable with a ‚yes’ or a ‚no’. A very simple guideline that is, unfortunately, neglected even by senior researchers at times. Therefore, the question ‘Is Hugh Jackman masculine?’ as a leading research question would be fatally wrong, a disaster in many ways. Teaching to go beyond the yes/no question is a crucial step, but it doesn’t end there. ‘How masculine is Hugh Jackman’ is as problematic, if not even worse. Let me explain this, by asking a good question: why?
Is Hugh Jackman masculine?
This question is very silly because, for one, we know of course that Hugh Jackman is very masculine, nobody would ever dispute that. Just look at his claws in X-Men. The problem with the yes/no question, in this case, remains, because it does not really pose an investigative approach, merely leading up to a binary choice. And how do we choose then? Why do we say Hugh Jackman is masculine? Or why on Earth wouldn’t we? This sounds like another simple question, but in fact, it allows us a deeper dive into masculinities. If we move beyond the yes/no, which merely provokes the unreflecting reproduction of stereotypes, it is possible to get a grasp on actual concepts of masculinity and how they work in practice, meaning: how they affect us in our thinking (scholars and researchers included). The yes/no-question usually follows along with the arguments of ‘looks like a man, behaves like a man, smells like a man – it has to be a man!’, the why-question breaks up the absolutely not empty but richly filled yet immensely shrouded label of man and masculinity.
So ask yourself this: why is Hugh Jackman masculine? Or even better: Why do we or specifically you, the reader, perceive Hugh Jackman as masculine? Those are questions leading to insightful answers and most importantly: more intriguing questions – on why Hugh Jackman is masculine (and more questions on the matter of masculinities)!
How masculine is Hugh Jackman?
Another pretty silly question would be this – how masculine? How to measure one’s masculinity, with some sort of level-indicator or maybe even a special thermometer for masculinity? This question again reproduces stereotypes of masculinity by imagining a continuous spectrum of manliness. On top, we would find the hegemonic masculinity – the ideal of manliness. On the bottom: femininity, for example. This might seem odd to some people, but masculinity does not work without femininity, may it be complementary or contradictory (as an antithesis to patriarchal masculinities) to the concept itself. Intuitively we tend to create order by arranging and sorting about everything in our lives and that includes masculinities. Therefore, we create a linear scale of what we think of as masculine. Who doesn’t know about games like rating someone on the, let’s say hotness scale (not meaning the Scoville scale here)?
It is through the concept of hegemonic masculinity and how it works that we create and recreate a false understanding of a linear and continuous scale of masculinities. Through this, the potential hegemonic man always stays on top and preserves his structural power over the other men (the 9s to 0s). Yes, this is an incredibly silly power structure and we keep reproducing it over and over again. So instead of asking ‘How masculine is Hugh Jackman?’, we once again need to ask why? And why would we rank him a 10? Why would we crown him the hegemonic man and follow his example?
Why is a powerful question!
This shall only serve as a short example for two not so great research questions and how to improve them to gain valid and interesting research results. Masculinity studies, just like the whole of gender studies, are especially susceptible to reproducing trained stereotypes. A man is a man because he is a man. Masculine is just masculine. If you read about childcare not being men’s work because women are supposed to be doing it, then ask why! There might an old historic imagination of gender hiding in that statement.
Feature Image: Hugh Jackman Suit, Eva Rinaldi, 2012 CC BY-SA 2.0.