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Class-Based Masculinities: The Interdependence of Gender, Class, and Interpersonal Power

Author(s): Karen D. Pyke


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Source: Gender and Society, Vol. 10, No. 5 (Oct., 1996), pp. 527-549
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CLASS-BASED MASCULINITIES
The
Interdependence of Gender,
Class,
and
Interpersonal
Power
KAREN D. PYKE
University of California,
Irvine
This article
presents
a theoretical
framework
that views
interpersonal power
as
interdependent
with
broader structures
of gender
and class
inequalities.
In contrast to
oversimplified, gender-neutral
or
gender-static approaches,
this
approach
illuminates the
ways
that structures
of inequality
are
expressed
in
ideological hegemonies,
which enhance,
legitimate,
and
mystify
the
interpersonalpower ofprivileged
men relative to lower-status men and women in
general.
The discussion centers on how the relational
construction
of
ascendant and subordinated masculinities
provide
men with
different
modes
of
interper-
sonal
power
that,
when
exercised, (re)construct
and
reaffirm
interclass male dominance.
Examples of
how the construction
offemininity
can undermine women 's
interpersonal power
and
implications
for
other
forms of
masculinities and
femininities
are discussed.
Examples
are drawn
from
an
analysis of
conjugal power
in the accounts
of
remarried
individuals'first
and second
marriages
to illustrate the
main
points of
this
perspective.
Conventional theoretical
perspectives
on
power
have
ignored
the structural reci-
procity
between
interpersonal power
and
gender
and class
inequalities.
Such
perspectives,
such as
exchange theory,
view microlevel
power practices
as
simply
derivative of macrostructural
inequalities
and overlook how
power
in
day-to-day
interactions
shapes
broader structures of
inequality. My purpose
in this article is to
outline a theoretical
approach
that views
interpersonal powering processes
as
reflecting
and
(re)constituting
broader relations of class and
gender
and to
provide
some illustrative
examples
of how this occurs.
This discussion focuses
specifically
on how the ascendant
masculinity
of
higher-class
men and the subordinated
masculinity
associated with lower-class men
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This
paper
was awarded the 1995 Jessie Bernard
PaperAwardfor Outstanding
Contribution to Feminist
Scholarship by
the National Council on
Family
Relations. Grants
from
the
National Science Foundation
(#SES90-01015), Sigma
Xi
(the Scientific
Research
Society),
and the
National Institute on
Aging (#5T32A00037)funded
this research. I am
especially grateful
to Francesca
Cancian
for
her
encouragement
and
many helpful
comments on earlier
drafts.
I also thank Cathleen
Armstead, Frank
Bagrash,
Janet Saltzman
Chafetz,
Paula
England,
and Michael Messner
for
their
suggestions.
REPRINT
REQUESTS:
Karen D.
Pyke, Department of Sociology, University of California
at Irvine,
Irvine,
CA 92717.
GENDER & SOCIETY, Vol. 10 No.
5,
October 1996 527-549
? 1996
Sociologists
for Women in
Society
527
528 GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1996
are constructed in relation to one another in a class-based
gender system.
Class-
based masculinities
provide
men with different mechanisms of
interpersonal power
that,
when
practiced, (re)constitute
and validate dominant and subordinated mas-
culinities. Because this
perspective
evolved from an
analysis
of
power
in the
accounts of remarried individuals' first and second
marriages,
I use the case of
conjugal power
to illustrate its main
points.
In
elaborating
this
approach,
I draw on three currents of social
thought.
First,
I
incorporate
the critical view that
pervasive
cultural
ideologies
that obscure and
justify oppressive practices
serve as a conduit between macrostructural
inequalities
and microlevel
power
relations
(Bourdieu 1977;
Chafetz
1990;
Connell
1987;
Foucault
1980;
Henley
1977;
Lipman-Blumen 1984;
Lukes
1974). Second,
I take
an interactionist
approach
that views
gender
as a
dynamic
and
emergent property
of situated interaction and in need of
ongoing accomplishment,
rather than as
something
that is
settled, static,
and
causally prior
to interactive
practices (Coltrane
1989;
West and Fenstermaker
1993;
West and Zimmerman
1987). Last,
gender
is
conceptualized
as
splintered
into
multiple
forms of masculinities and
femininities,
rather than as
simple
one-dimensional
categories (Connell 1987, 1991, 1993, 1995;
Donaldson
1993;
Frankenberg
1993;
Messerschmidt
1993;
Messner
1989, 1992).
I
begin
with a discussion of how the
relationship
between
power
and
ideology
as
conceptualized
here differs from conventional
approaches
to
conjugal power.
Then
I
present
the theoretical
linkages
between
class,
gender,
and
power.
CULTURE-MEDIATED POWER
Conventional resource
theory
has dominated the
conjugal power
literature,
emphasizing
a material basis for
power.
It
"justifies" power dynamics
as
resulting
from the amount of relative resources each
partner brings
to the
relationship (see
Blood and Wolfe
1960; Centers, Raven,
and
Rodrigues
1971;
McDonald
1980).
More recent
attempts
to
expand
the theoretical
thinking
of marital
power
continue
to
emphasize
men's and women's
disparate
economic resources as the most
important
factor in
power
differentials
(Blumberg
and Coleman
1989).
Some
researchers have amended resource
theory
to include cultural
ideology, conceptu-
alized as normative attitudes about
appropriate power
relations
(Burr 1973;
McDonald
1980;
Rodman
1967, 1972).
Cultural
ideology
is an
exogenous
variable
in this
literature,
affecting power
but not affected
by
it
(for
an
exception,
see
Chafetz, 1990).
In
contrast,
critical
theorists,
who focus on a broader set of
power
relations,
conceptualize
macrostructures of
power
as
affecting
cultural
ideology,
which then acts back to extend and
legitimate existing power
relations
(Bourdieu
1977;
Connell
1987;
Foucault
1980;
Henley
1977;
Lipman-Blumen
1984;
Lukes
1974).
The main mechanisms that link macrostructural relations of
power
and
micropractices
are cultural
ideologies
woven into the fabric of "commonsense"
knowledge.
Thus,
it is
necessary
to examine dominant cultural
ideologies
to
understand
interpersonal power dynamics.
Pyke
/ CLASS-BASED MASCULINITIES 529
Foucault
(1980) argues
that structures of domination
produce particular
dis-
courses of truth and
knowledge
that are
disadvantageous
to the less
powerful,
thereby (re)producing power
relations. These discourses
camouflage
domination
by generalizing
the interests of the
powerful.
As Lukes
(1974, 23) stated, "Indeed,
is it not the
supreme
exercise of
power
to
get
another or others to have the desires
you
want them to have-that
is,
to secure their
compliance by controlling
their
thoughts
and desires."
Komter
(1989, 191)
used Gramsci's
(1971)
notion of
"ideological hegemony"
to
capture
these invisible
power dynamics
in
marriage. Ideological hegemony
refers
to the
process
of
attaining
consensus between dominant and subordinate
groups,
such as men and
women,
respectively.
An
ideology
is
hegemonic
when three
characteristics are
present.
First,
those social
arrangements
that are in the best
interests of the dominant
group
are
presented
and
perceived
as
being
in
everyone's
best interests.
Hence,
subordinates
frequently
and
nonconsciously accept
dominant
group
interests as their own.
Second,
the
ideology
becomes
part
of
everyday
thought
and is taken for
granted
as the
way things
are and should be.
Third,
by
ignoring
the
very
real contradictions in the interests of the dominant and subordi-
nate
groups,
a
hegemonic ideology
creates social cohesion and
cooperation
where
otherwise there would be conflict.
Thus,
these
pervasive ideologies
obscure the true
nature of
interpersonal power dynamics.
Because men
compose
an elite
group
relative to
women,
we would
expect
to find that certain dominant
ideologies
promote
and obscure their marital
power.
Although
these commonsense
ideologies
are often
nonconscious,
they
become
apparent
in the
ways
that
spouses explain unequal
marital
arrangements
as
natural,
rational,
and the
only way things
can be
(Komter 1989).
An additional method of
identifying
such
ideologies
is to look for
places
where
they
have ceased to function
and
repressed
conflict has
emerged.
Divorce is such a
place.
It creates a break with
the
day-to-day reality
of married
life,
forcing
a
greater
awareness,
particularly
among
women,
of how
ideologies
that
operated
in their
previous marriage
under-
mined their true interests.
By tapping
the raised consciousness of the
divorced,
we
can
get
a better
understanding
of these hidden
powering processes.
Two kinds of
hegemonic ideologies
that favor men's interests over women's
emerged
in
my
interviews with divorced white women and men. The first is the
ubiquitous
belief in an "essential"
gender
order. Notions of
masculinity
and
femininity-and
men's
greater resources, status,
and
power
relative to women-are
seen as natural and inevitable. The omnirelevance of this belief in an "essential"
gender
order makes this a kind of master
ideology,
out of which
subsidiary
ideologies
are
spun
that further obscure
gender inequality.
The second
ideology,
identified in the interviews with middle- and
higher-class
respondents,
is an
example
of such a
subsidiary ideology.
It rationalizes the
primacy
of the successful male career in
marriage
as
economically
efficient and in the best
interests of all
family
members. This
class-specific ideology
adds an additional
layer
of
legitimations
to
practices
that
emphasize gender
differences in
ways
that
obscure the
gendered
nature of
inequality. Ideologies
such as this one are
particu-
530 GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1996
larly important
in an era of
widespread challenge
to
specific assumptions
of natural
gender
differences that
promote inequality. By obscuring gender inequality
in
ideologies
that
appear gender
neutral,
logical,
and
practical,
the embeddedness of
masculine
privilege
in institutional life becomes less vulnerable.
These two
ideologies
will be discussed in
greater
detail later.
First,
I use the
master
ideology concerning
an "essential"
gender
order to outline a theoretical
approach
that views
interpersonal power
as
mutually
constitutive with
gender
and
class
inequalities.
Second,
I examine the
hegemony
of the male career and illustrate
how marital
powering processes vary
across social class in
ways
that reflect and
(re)construct larger
structures of
inequality.
I set the
conceptual stage
with a
discussion of how
gender
and social class are interconnected and indicate the
ramifications of this
linkage
for
interpersonal power
between men and women
across class.
GENDER, CLASS,
AND INTERPERSONAL POWER
Feminist interactionists and
ethnomethodologists conceptualize gender
as an
emergent property
of situated interaction rather than a role or attribute
(Coltrane
1989;
Kessler and McKenna
1978;
West and Fenstermaker
1993;
West and
Zimmerman
1987). Deeply
held and
typically
nonconscious beliefs about men's
and women's essential natures
shape
how
gender
is
accomplished
in
everyday
interactions. Because those beliefs are molded
by existing
macrostructural
power
relations,
the
culturally appropriate ways
of
producing gender
favor men's interests
over those of women. In this
manner,
gendered power
relations are
reproduced.
One of the
ways
that
gender
is enacted is in face-to-face
power dynamics.
For
example,
in Garfinkel's
(1967) study
of
Agnes,
a
preoperative
male-to-female
transsexual,
Agnes
learned that in
producing
herself as female she should not
push
her
opinion
or insist on
having
her
way.
Such
knowledge
came in the form of
"lectures" from her
boyfriend
when she
strayed
outside of
acceptable
behavior for
her
gender
and in his
angry
criticism of a friend's female date who assumed a
peer-like relationship
with men and asserted her desires and
opinions.
In another
example, analyses
of men's and women's conversations find that men control
topics
and
interrupt
more than
women, thereby enacting
their "essential" natures as men
and women
(Fishman
1978;
West and Fenstermaker
1993).
Male dominance and
female submission also are constructed as natural in
body language,
such as with
men's
spatial expansion
and women's
accommodating shrinkage
and with men's
greater
use of
power gestures (Henley 1977). Thus,
the
production
of
gender
often
constrains women's exercise of
power
while
motivating
that of
men,
making
those
power
relations
inherently assymetrical.
In this
manner,
power dynamics
often are
obscured and
legitimated
as "essential" and "natural."
Although
females are
"culturally prepared
for
powerlessness" (Lips
1994, 90),
notions of
gender
do not
always
restrict the exercise of women's
power
in relations
with men. For
example,
the enactment of essential
masculinity requires
husbands
Pyke
/ CLASS-BASED MASCULINITIES 531
to retreat from
exerting
control and
authority-along
with
responsibility-in
certain arenas that are viewed as women's natural domain and
typically
underval-
ued,
as with the care and nurturance of children
(Coltrane 1989).
In
fact,
it
appears
that women can exercise
greater power
without sanction when it is on the behalf of
others,
such as
children,
than when it is to serve their own
apparent purposes,
as in
their
job (Finch
and Groves
1983). Thus,
rather than
viewing interpersonal power
as a deliberate
goal
in and of
itself, toward which men and women are
equally
motivated,
researchers must consider how
power practices
are a
by-product
of the
manufacturing
of
gender
differences. We can do so
by looking
for circumstances
in which women behave in
ways
that bolster men's
power,
at the
expense
of their
own,
as a means of
celebrating
essential differences and
asserting
their
identity
as
women. I illustrate this
point
later with case studies of
conjugal power.
Yet the effects of
gender
on
interpersonal power
relations are not one dimen-
sional. Hierarchies of social
class, race,
and
sexuality provide
additional
layers
of
complication. They
form the structural and cultural contexts in which
gender
is
enacted in
everyday
life,
thereby fragmenting gender
into
multiple
masculinities
and femininities. For
example,
white heterosexual middle- and
upper-class
men
who
occupy order-giving positions
in the institutions
they control-particularly
economic,
political,
and
military institutions-produce
a
hegemonic masculinity
that is
glorified throughout
the culture
(Connell 1987, 1995;
Donaldson
1993;
Messner
1989, 1992).
On the other
hand,
the masculinities
produced predominantly
by working-class
men,
men of
color,
and homosexual men either outside of these
institutions or in subservient
positions
within them are subordinated and
denigrated
(see
Connell
1987, 1991;
Donaldson
1987;
Majors
and Billson
1992;
Messerschmidt
1993).
Dominant and subordinated masculinities are
configurations
of social
practices (Connell 1995, 72) produced
not
only
in relation to femininities
but also in relation to one another
(Connell 1987;
Hondagneu-Sotelo
and Messner
1994;
Messerschmidt
1993;
Messner
1989, 1992). Thus,
gendered power
relations
and
inequalities
of
class, race,
and sexual orientation are
interdependent
and
(re)produced simultaneously.
Take the case of class-based
masculinities,
the focus of the
present
discussion.
The
hypermasculinity
found in certain lower-status male
locales,
such as on
shop
floors,
in
pool
halls,
motorcycle
clubs,
and urban
gangs,
can be understood as both
a
response
to ascendant
masculinity
and its unintentional booster. With their
masculine
identity
and self-esteem undermined
by
their subordinate
order-taking
position
in relation to
higher-status
males
(which
potentially delegates
them to the
role of
"wimps"),
men on the
shop
floor reconstruct their
position
as
embodying
true
masculinity (Collinson 1992;
Donaldson
1987). They
use the
physical
endur-
ance and tolerance of discomfort
required
of their manual labor as
signifying
true
masculinity,
an alternative to the
hegemonic
form associated with
managers. They
rely
on this
"compensatory" masculinity
to
symbolically
turn the tables
against
managers,
whom
they
ridicule as
conforming "yes-men"
and
"wimps" engaged
in
effeminate
paper-pushing
kinds of labor
(Collinson 1992).
To further
compensate
for their
subordination,
some lower-status men also
engage
in
pervasive
talk of their
532 GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1996
sexual
prowess
and a ritualistic
put-down
of
women,
who are viewed as
passive
and
dependent (Collinson 1992;
Connell
1991;
Hondagneu-Sotelo
and Messner
1994;
Willis
1977).
Middle- and
upper-class
men,
on the other
hand,
who
display
the more civilized demeanor of
polite gentility, express
disdain for the ostentatious
displays
of
exaggerated masculinity
and
misogyny among
lower-class male sub-
cultures
(Farr 1988;
Hondagneu-Sotelo
and Messner
1994).
In so
doing, privileged
men reaffirm their
superiority
over lower-class men and
disguise
themselves as
exemplars
of
egalitarianism
in their
interpersonal
relations with women. This serves
to cover
up
the
gendered power advantages
of
higher-class
men that are built into
the institutions
they
control and
camouflaged by
an aura of merit and
righteousness
that
accompanies
their
privileged position (Hondagneu-Sotelo
and Messner
1994;
Messner
1993).
Thus,
there is a division of labor in the
production
of
gender,
as with
goods
and
services. Lower-status men do the
physically taxing
and often
life-threatening
production
of
hypermasculinity
from which
higher-status
men benefit in two
different
ways.
First,
they
benefit from the masculine
strength displayed by
working-class
athletes,
manual
workers, soldiers,
and violent criminals that con-
tributes to the
mystique
of men's
superior prowess.
For
example,
the
higher-class
male who cheers male
athletes,
sports
teams,
and
military
victories
enjoys
the
vicarious thrill of
physical conquest
while
simultaneously celebrating
"essential"
masculine
strength,
endurance,
aggression,
and
domination;
he reaffirms
symboli-
cally
(and
nonconsciously)
his
superiority
over women. This lends
understanding
to the
strong opposition
mounted
against
women's
participation
in
sports
and the
military,
for it would undermine the ritual
glorification
of
gender
differences and
male
superiority (Lorber 1993). Second,
higher-class
men call on
hypermasculine
practices, especially
violence and
misogyny,
as an
example
of the untamed mascu-
line
brutality
that
they, supposedly,
do not share.
Thus,
they
use it to
reemphasize
their
superiority
over lower-class men.
The literature on masculinities focuses on the construction of
hegemonic
and
subordinated masculinities
directly among
men,
particularly
in the
hierarchy
of
work
organizations.
However,
masculinities also are constructed more
indirectly,
as in relations with women.
Indeed,
the
way
that men
oppose
one another affects
the
way
that
they oppose
women
(Risseeuw 1991).
And the methods men use to
oppose
women both reflect and
(re)construct particular
forms of masculinities.
I have
presented
a
conceptual
framework of
gender,
class,
and
interpersonal
power
as
systemically
intertwined,
and I have
suggested
that this
system
of
inequality
interweaves hierarchies of race and
sexuality
as well.
Applying
this
framework to the case of marital
power,
we
expect
to find that the
power
of
higher-class
husbands receives more
legitimation
and is better obscured than that
of lower-class husbands. In
addition,
marital
power
mechanisms are
expected
to
vary by
social class in such
ways
that
they
reflect and
(re)constitute
dominant and
subordinated masculinities. I have
suggested
that one such mechanism for obscur-
ing
the marital
power
of
higher-status
men is the
hegemony
of the male
career,
which I describe next because it is central to the illustrative case that follows.
Pyke
/ CLASS-BASED MASCULINITIES 533
THE HEGEMONY OF THE MALE CAREER
The
supremacy
of the male career is most
apparent
in the marital
arrangements
of the middle to
upper
classes
(Hochschild
with
Machung
1989;
Hood
1983;
Kanter
1977;
Papanek 1973).
Husbands are
relatively
freed from
day-to-day family
obligations
so
they
can meet the demands of their
all-important
career. Wives and
hired females serve as the
unpaid
and
underpaid
handmaidens to husbands and their
careers. Even if the wife has a career of her
own,
additional household labor
may
be
purchased
to
supplement
hers but
rarely replaces
it
entirely, especially
if there
are children in the home.
The
ideological supremacy
of the male career is
piled
on
top
of
other,
more
deeply
seated
patriarchal ideologies concerning
the essential nature of
gender
differences. It
provides
a rationale for husbands' entitlements that obscures the
underlying gendered power
structure. The
logic
is this: Because husbands are the
main
providers
in their
families,
they ought
to have certain
privileges
and
rights
that enable them to
perform
their duties
(Hochschild 1975).
Such entitlements are
ostensibly
not due to their maleness but to their
provider
role. This
ideology justifies
husbands'
privileges
and
rights
and wives' concomitant
obligations
as
structurally
necessary
and
only incidentally gendered.
It
permits
the
reasoning
that if the wife
were
performing
this role
she, too,
would be entitled to the same
privileges.
But
because
providing
is an
important way
that men
accomplish
their
gender
within
families,
such as the
doing
of housework is for women
(Berk 1985),
it does not
have the same
meaning
and
accompanying
entitlements when
performed by
women,
even when
they
contribute
substantially
to the
family
income
(Bielby
and
Bielby
1992;
Pyke
1994;
Pyke
and Coltrane
1996).
A closer examination of this
ideology
reveals how it undermines wives'
long-
term economic interests. Husbands' overall
higher earnings
serve as the rationale
for
assigning precedence
to their
jobs
in
marriage.
Indeed,
human
capital
theorists
such as
Gary
Becker
(1981) argue
that such marital
arrangements
are based on
maximizing family
resources and
efficiency.
This view assumes that
family
life is
organized
around
family
interests rather than the interests of more
powerful
members.
However,
this
assumption ignores
the costs that
many
wives
pay
for
limiting
their own
job
involvement in
support
of their
husbands',
particularly
on
the loss of a
spouse
to divorce or
death,
which befalls most married women
prior
to the
age
at which
they
can draw
pensions
and Social
Security
benefits
(Ahlburg
and DeVita
1992;
Sweet and
Bumpass 1987).
So it
may
be in the best interests of
married women to focus on their own
job development
and economic inde-
pendence,
because the
majority
of them will be
supporting
themselves when their
marriages
end. This
capacity
to
impose
a definition of
reality
that masks the real
interests of their wives is indicative of the
power
of
higher-status
men,
who benefit
most from this
ideology.
The
hegemony
of the male career does not extend male
power uniformly
across
all
marriages. Working-class
husbands,
who do not have male "careers" but
"jobs"
and whose lower income and
greater dependency
on wives'
earnings
undermine
534 GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1996
their
ability
to fulfill the male
provider
role,
would not be
expected
to derive much
benefit from this
ideology.
Instead,
the nature of their
jobs
is more
likely
to erode
rather than enhance their sense of success and self-esteem
(Pyke 1994).
This limits
the
strategies
at their
disposal
to
produce masculinity
and exercise
conjugal power
while
exacerbating
their need to do so.
Although
the
empirical
research has been
contradictory,
little evidence
suggests
that
working-class marriages
are
signifi-
cantly
less male dominated than those in the middle class
(Komarovsky
1967;
Rubin
1976). Thus,
lower-status husbands must
rely
on other
powering processes.
I
pursue
this
point
later.
To
conclude,
there are three
implications
of the
conceptual
framework
presented
here.
First,
higher-status
husbands'
conjugal power
is
expected
to be more
legiti-
mated and obscured than that of lower-status men.
Second,
marital
power
is
expected
to
vary by
social class in such
ways
that it reflects and
(re)constructs
dominant and subordinated masculinities.
Finally,
the relational enactment of
femininity
and
masculinity
leads to the
expectation
that some wives will
encourage
their husbands' marital
power
at the
expense
of their own.
METHODS
To illustrate this
perspective,
I
present examples
from interview data
concerning
the first and second
marriages
of 70 divorced and remarried individuals. The
interview
sample
was drawn from
among
215 white
participants
in a
larger survey
study examining changes
in
gender strategies
across
marriage,
divorce,
and remar-
riage.
Most of the
survey participants
were
randomly
drawn from
public marriage
records dated between 1980 and 1990 in
Orange County,
California,
and located
through telephone listings (7
of the 70 interviewed were
gathered
from the
Orange
County
Annual
Survey).
The interview
subsample
was stratified
by gender
and social
class,
with half of
the 34 men and half of the 36 women in lower- to
working-class remarriages
and
the other half in middle- to
upper-class remarriages.
Husband's
occupation
was
used to determine social class. Middle- to
upper-level supervisory
and
professional
occupations
were classified as middle
class; unskilled, semiskilled,
and low-level
supervisory occupations
were classified as
working
class. Both the first and second
marriages
of
respondents
endured for a minimum of one
year.
For other
purposes
of the
study, participation
was limited to white individuals under 43
years
of
age
(for
more details about
sample
selection and
rationale,
see
Pyke
1994;
Pyke
and
Coltrane
1996).
The
interviews,
which were
tape-recorded
and
transcribed,
occurred between
March 1990 and March 1991 and lasted between one and one and a half hours.
They
elicited detailed
descriptions
of marital interactions in both the
respondents'
first
and second
marriages
so as to
permit
an
analysis
of hidden
power processes.
Respondents
were asked about marital
dynamics concerning
housework,
child
care,
leisure,
and
employment. They
were asked how
they
and their
spouse
felt about
Pyke
/ CLASS-BASED MASCULINITIES 535
their own and one another's
employment. They
also were asked if
they
ever wanted
changes
in the areas of
housework,
child
care,
and leisure and whether
they pushed
for
change,
how,
and with what results.
I
employed
a constant
comparative
method of the interview data
(Glaser
and
Straus
1967)
that entailed
sorting
the interviews into
increasingly
refined
categories
of similarities and differences. The identification of certain cultural
ideologies
that
sanction and obscure men's
conjugal power emerged
from this
analysis
and was
not
initially sought. Upon identifying
the
ideological supremacy
of the male career
as a salient characteristic of
many marriages,
I noted when husbands' careers and
jobs
were associated with
particular
marital
privileges
and
rights
and when
they
were not. I then
compared
these two
groups
of husbands to
explore
the
specific
ways
this
ideology empowers
husbands and to uncover other
powering
mechanisms
employed by
husbands who did not have successful careers. The women's inter-
views
provided
more
explicit
accounts of the institutional
privilege
associated with
the male
career,
typically
because their divorce raised their consciousness of how
the
prevalent practices
and beliefs in their first
marriage
undermined their own
economic interests.
Men,
who were much looser in
applying egalitarian
labels to
their
marriages,
were less aware of how their marital
arrangements disadvantaged
their wives. This was not
surprising
because,
as Rich writes
(1976, 49),
"the
powerful
. . . has no
apparent
need for such
insights."
Indeed,
"any system
of
domination can be seen most
clearly
from the
subject positions
of those
oppressed
by
it"
(Frankenberg
1993, 5).
Because these
insights
were
strongest concerning
respondents' previous marriages, my description
focuses on first
marriages
unless
otherwise stated.
Because the data are
retrospective
and cross the
great
divide of
divorce,
there is
good
reason to
suspect
that the
respondents
described their earlier
marriage
with
greater negativity.
However,
the interview elicited rich
descriptions
of a wide
range
of
practices respondents routinely engaged
in
during
their earlier
marriage.
Thus,
the data do not focus on
respondents' opinions
about their
ex-spouses
as much as
on the actual
arrangements
of their first
marriages.
Furthermore,
that some divorced
wives came to see their earlier marital
arrangements
as detrimental to their own
interests should not be discounted as
potentially
more biased than accounts
pro-
vided
by
married
respondents
who are unaware of
power disadvantages
in their
marital
arrangements.
In
fact,
women's awareness
upon
divorce of the
ways
their
marriages
undermined their interests is not
surprising. Sociologists
have well
documented how common marital
practices
limit women's economic
well-being
upon
divorce
(e.g.,
Arendell
1986;
Weitzman
1985).
Among
the 69 first
marriages
described
by
the 70
respondents (2 respondents,
who had divorced and
remarried,
described the same
marriage),
38 were
working
class and 31 were middle to
upper
class. Research on class differences in marital
power
has
traditionally
been framed in terms of which
marriage
is more male
dominated, middle,
or
working
class
(Blood
and Wolfe
1960;
Centers et al.
1971;
Komarovsky 1967).
This assessment is based on a
comparison
of the same few
measures of overt
power, usually decision-making
outcomes,
in each
type
of
536 GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1996
marriage.
It is assumed that
power only
will be exercised in the manner under
investigation, making
direct
comparison
of such outcomes across class
meaningful.
I
emphasize
instead the different
ways
that husbands are
empowered
in
marriages
across class and broaden the
scope
of
analysis
to include those
power dynamics
that are
ideologically
endorsed and obscured.
In the sections that
follow,
I
present examples
of male dominance in
higher-class
and lower-class
marriages
to illustrate how
interpersonal power
is linked in this
conceptual
framework to class and
gender inequalities. Although
these
examples
represent patterns
observed in the
data,
they
should be
regarded
as illustrations of
the framework rather than
empirical "proof."
I
begin
with a discussion of how the
primacy
of the male career obscures
higher-class
men's
leisure,
whereas some
lower-class husbands
defiantly pursue
unsanctioned leisure activities in a manner
that reflects and
(re)constructs
their subordinated
masculinity.
MEN'S
JOBS
AND
CONJUGAL
PRIVILEGES
Leisure and
Autonomy
An
important
indicator of marital
power
is the ease with which husbands can
free themselves from the boundaries of
family
life to
pursue
other interests.
Roughly
half of the 69 husbands in first
marriages
did not
spend
an inordinate
amount of time
away
from their families
beyond
what was
required
of their work
day. Among
those who
did, however,
some
interesting
class differences
emerge.
The
ideological supremacy
of the male career
provided
a means
by
which
higher-
class husbands could absent themselves in the
evenings
and on weekends. These
absences often were due to
legitimate
business
trips, though
not
always
as
necessary
as
portrayed
to their wives and sometimes
lengthened
for the
pursuit
of leisure.
Some
higher-class
husbands used work as a smokescreen for leisure time with
friends or extramarital affairs. For
example,
one
husband,
the owner of a textile
firm and father of
two,
extended his
foreign
business
trips
to add some
pleasure,
which included sexual affairs.
In
fact,
middle-class wives were more often shocked than were
working-class
wives to learn of their husbands' sexual
affairs,
which had been
easily
obscured
by
the broad cloak of the male career. When her first
husband,
a
salesperson
who
spent
a few
nights
a month out of
town,
confessed that he had been with 10 different
women,
one
respondent
said,
" 'When? When?' I couldn't believe that he even had
the time to do that.... It was a real shock." Another
respondent
recalled how she
"would
go
out of
[her] way
to make sure that
[her husband]
was
ready
to
go"
when
he had his weekend business
trips.
She did so for
years
before she learned
they
weren't business
trips
at all and that he had been
having
an affair with one woman
in
particular
for the
previous
two
years.
"And
you'd
think that if I was
bright enough
or
something
I would've noticed it."
Pyke
/ CLASS-BASED MASCULINITIES 537
For lower-class men there is less
blurring
of the line between work and
leisure,
often delineated
by
the
punch
of a time card. Men's time with male
friends,
often
drinking
or
"tinkering"
with cars
(sometimes
resold for a
profit),
was viewed
by
their wives as self-centered leisure
(see
also Halle
1984, 58).
In
reality,
however,
many higher-class
husbands also were
drinking
with other
men,
but it was associ-
ated with
"working"
and
"getting
ahead." These
varying meanings shaped
wives'
resentment and
acceptance. Working-class
wives viewed husbands who
spent
a lot
of time with their male friends as
"lazy,"
"not
ambitious," "self-centered,"
"care-
free," "immature,"
and
"irresponsible."
But
higher-class
men who
spent
a lot of
time
away
from home
pursuing
leisure that was at least
nominally
associated with
work were more often viewed as "ambitious" and
doing
so out of
necessity,
even
if their wives wished
they
could cut back on their hours.
When
working-class
men,
such as
self-employed
contractors,
had
jobs
that could
have
provided
a smokescreen for
leisure,
they
relied on them as a cover less often.
Instead
they
tended to be more blatant in their
pursuit
of leisure
away
from their
families.
They
also were more careless in
hiding
their extramarital affairs
and,
consequently,
were more
likely
to
get caught.
For
example,
with his wife in the
hospital
after
having given
birth,
one
husband,
a truck
driver,
brought
another
woman home without
concealing
her from his wife's
visiting
brother,
who later
reported
the
infidelity
to his sister.
Half of all
working-class
men
(20
of
38)
did not
engage
in rebellious behavior
or
stray
outside of the boundaries of
"good
husbands." Those who did
typically
moved in a social milieu of like
men,
often
coworkers,
who
encouraged
such
behavior
(see
Connell
1991; Halle, 1984;
LeMasters
1975;
Rubin
1976;
Willis
1977).
For
example,
Nick,
who had several
jobs
in construction and other trades as
well as
periods
of
unemployment
in his first
marriage,
drank
heavily,
often with
coworkers. He
said,
"The
people
I worked
with,
that's
just
what
you
did,
especially
on the
weekends,
on
Friday nights, you'd get
hammered."
This
interplay
between social milieu and the construction of a defiant masculin-
ity
is evident in Ted and Debbie's
9-year-long marriage.
At the
age
of
15,
Debbie
married
Ted,
a
self-employed plumber
9
years
her senior. She finished
high
school
and, later,
stayed
home and raised their son. Ted was often
away
from home
drinking
with male friends and
"running
around" with women.
Although
he sometimes used
work as an
excuse,
he wasn't
covering
it
up very
well. For
example,
as Debbie
explained,
he would
say,"
'I'm
going
out to
buy
a
pack
of
cigarettes'
and wouldn't
come back until the next
day."
Debbie
regards
Ted's affairs as
having
been
"quick
thrills." She
said,
"He wasn't
emotionally
involved. It was more
part
of the recreation of
being
drunk,
being
high, being part
of that
group
of
people."
She referred to that
group
as "low
lifes,"
who are
people
that have no
responsibility, they
don't care.... It
just
seemed that
they
didn't
care about the families
they
had at
home,
the bills that were
due,
and the rest of us....
We were the ones who held down the fort ....
They
had no boundaries.... It's
just
a
totally
different
way
of
living
and
thinking
....
They
live in a different
reality.
538 GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1996
Lower-class husbands who
ostentatiously pursued drugs,
alcohol,
and sexual
carousing
are
constructing
a
compensatory
form of
masculinity.
Such behavior was
worn like a
badge
of
masculinity
in the work and social environments
they
inhabited.
By drinking
with other
working-class
men at the bar and
openly engaging
in extramarital
relationships, they appear
to be
defying existing power
structures,
displaying
their
independence
from the control of their wives and "the estab-
lishment"
(i.e., higher-status men).
This
exaggerated masculinity compensates
for
their subordinated status in the
hierarchy
of their
everyday
work worlds. It
gave
them a sense of
autonomy
and
self-gratification,
entitlements that
higher-status
men
acquire
more
easily
and with
greater impunity, thereby creating
the illusion of
ascendant
masculinity. Although
this behavior is characteristic of some and not all
working-class
men,
it reinforces a
stereotype
of subordinated heterosexual mascu-
linity
that
higher-class
men call on as evidence of their own
civility
and
gender
equity, thereby
further
obscuring
their
power
and
privilege
and
reaffirming
their
ascendant
masculinity.
In
sum,
lower-class men do not
enjoy
the same
ideological legitimations
for
personal autonomy
and leisure in their
marriages
that
higher-class
men
acquire
as
part
of their career
package.
Instead,
some
working-class
husbands
engage
in
defiant behavior and construct a
compensatory masculinity (see
Collinson
1992;
Connell
1991, 1995;
Willis
1977).
In the next
section,
I describe this overt form of
power
in more detail.
Overt Domination of Wives
Because
working-class
men's
jobs
do not
provide
a shortcut to marital
power,
they
must either concede
power
to wives or maintain dominance
by
some other
means.
They
were, overall,
both more
egalitarian (especially
in
sharing
housework
and child
care)
and more
explicitly domineering
in their
marriages
than were
higher-class
husbands.
Domineering
lower-class husbands draw more
directly
and
overtly
on
personal
masculine
privilege
as their essential
right
as a means of
bolstering
their
conjugal power (see
Collinson
1992;
Rubin
1976).
The
following
case
provides
an
example
of such overt
power
and illustrates its link to the
denigrated
status of
working-class
men.
Nick,
age
38,
remarried his first
wife, Nina,
following
4
years
of divorce and a
tumultuous
10-year marriage
that was marked
by
his
drinking,
violence,
and
chronic
depression.
In his first
marriage,
his dissatisfaction with several
jobs,
mostly
in
construction,
led to his current
position
as a
splicer
for a
utility company.
Nick's
description
of his transition to a
splicer
reflects the
centrality
of his work in
affecting
his low self-esteem:
It was a nice stable
job
but... it didn't matter how hard
you
worked. It wasn't
my
kind of
job
because I've
always prided myself
on
working
hard,
making
a
good
reputation....
[Do you
think that affected
your marriage
at
all?]
Oh
yeah, definitely,
because
my pride
had been shot. That's what I
prided myself
on was
my
work. And
after that it didn't mean
anything.
You
got
a
paycheck
whether
you
worked hard or
Pyke
/ CLASS-BASED MASCULINITIES 539
not. I was
working
next to
people
that asked me to slow down.
They
had a lot of time
with the
company
and I was
making
them look bad. That
really
tore me
up.
Nick's self-esteem as a man also
plummeted
when Nina returned to work. He
recalled,
"That
probably
hit me
really
hard.... I wanted to be the
provider.
When
she went to
work,
it took that
away,
it took
away my
status as the man of the
house,
I
thought."
Nick's
heavy drinking
in his first
marriage
often was
accompanied by
violent
attacks on his wife and their
house,
usually prompted by
violations of the traditional
and submissive role Nick wanted Nina to fulfill. "Small
things
would
trigger
it,"
Nick
explained,
such as his wife's
"lousy" housekeeping.
"Plus I was a real
jealous
person,
and whenever
[her]
old flames would
appear
I
just
couldn't handle
that,
even
though
I'm sure she was
pretty
dedicated." Nick's violent
rage
also was
triggered
when Nina
challenged
his domination. He
said,
When she
put up
the
arguments
is when I
got nasty.
And I'd see
that, too,
I'd
say,
"Look, don't
try
to
get
the last word
in,
if
you just
let me
say
what I need to
say
and
let it
go,
then
nothing's gonna happen."
Nick's low
self-esteem, alcoholism,
and violence
eventually gave way
to chronic
depression
and
thoughts
of suicide that landed him in the
hospital.
"All I was
trying
to do was
provide
for the
family
and be with the
kids,
but I was
sinking
the whole
way....
Even
though
I was
trying
harder,
I was still
getting
violent,
and
things
were
getting
worse and
worse,"
he
explained.
Nick was not
exceptional
in his abuse.
Among
the 36 women
interviewed,
52
percent
married the first time to lower-class men said their first husbands had hit
them,
compared
to 20
percent
of those married to
higher-class
men. The
greater
incidence of wife abuse
(based mostly
on
self-reports)
committed
by
lower-status,
underemployed,
and
unemployed
husbands who cannot fulfill the
provider
role has
been documented elsewhere
(Dibble
and Straus
1980;
Gelles and Cornell
1985;
Levinger
1966;
O'Brien
1971; Straus, Gelles,
and Steinmetz
1980).
Other research
links economic
disadvantage
with the husband's increased
hostility
toward his wife
(Conger,
Ge, and Lorenz
1994;
Liker and Elder
1983).
Working-class
husbands' subordinated class status in relation to other men-and
women-in the labor force seems to exacerbate their need to use their
marriage
as
a
place
where
they
can be
superior (Ferraro 1988;
O'Brien
1971;
Pyke
1994;
Rubin
1976).
With their
power
base on shakier
ground, they
are more
likely
to resort to
explicit
and relentless
tactics,
such as
violence,
as well as criticism and constant
surveillance of their wives.
Some lower-class
husbands,
particularly
those who were violent and
adulterous,
greatly
feared their wives'
infidelity. They expressed
this fear in baseless accusa-
tions,
demands for their wives' constant
attention,
restrictions on their wives'
movement and
employment,
or
spying (see
also Ferraro
1988). Seemingly
irra-
tional,
this fear
appears
to be a reflection of their sense that
they
offered too little
compared
to other men to hold onto their wives. These
feelings
of
powerlessness
led some to use
terrorizing
tactics to bolster their control over their
wives; however,
540 GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1996
it had
devastating consequences
on the
marriage, typically pushing
wives to leave.
These
dynamics
were evident in Ted and Debbie's
marriage.
Ted,
who
blatantly engaged
in extramarital
affairs,
nonetheless exercised
tight
control over Debbie.
Despite
the lack of evidence to
ground
his
suspicions,
he
feared that Debbie would "run around" with men while he was at work. So he
immobilized her car
by removing
the distributor
cap.
"He'd isolate
me,"
she said.
"He was
truly
afraid of me
leaving
more than
anything."
Ted also
spied
on Debbie
when she was
away
from the house. Forbidden to work for
pay,
she was able to
take an
evening cake-decorating
course. "I'd
go
to classes and come out to the
car ... and I'd see
him,
he'd be
watching
me. It was real weird. It was sick." Ted's
need for domination led to verbal and
physical
abuse.
"Every
time I'd
get
a little
high-handed,
find a little
strength,
or find
somebody
to back
me,
he'd beat me for
it. I was scared to death."
At first
glance,
the
brutality
of Ted's and Nick's
power strategies
would make it
easy
to conclude that
they possessed greater
marital
power
than is
typical among
higher-class
husbands.
However,
this
implies
that hidden
power
is less effective
than
easily
observed acts of coercive
power.
Indeed,
the
invisibility
of hidden
power,
the
unchallenged legitimacy
of domination and unfair
privileges,
makes it
so
powerful.
Furthermore,
explicitly patriarchal power
comes with tremendous
costs for the men who exercise it-such as wives'
resentment,
loveless
marriages,
and unwanted
divorce-probably prompting
some
working-class
husbands to seek
alternatives to male dominance as a basis of their self-esteem. Such was the case
with
Nick,
who in his
remarriage
to Nina has refrained from
any
violent
attacks,
assumes more of the housework rather than
complaining
about Nina's
performance,
and
compensates
for his
feelings
of failure as a worker
by deriving
a sense of
self-worth from
parenting.
Yet some tension remains. He still refuses to converse
with Nina about her
job
as a
registered
nurse and admits to
ongoing
difficulties. "I
still can loose it.... I still work on it
day
to
day."
Husbands' Entitlement to Housework
The hidden
power
of
higher-class
men and the
explicit power
of lower-class
husbands are also evident
by
the mechanisms that excuse
them,
to
varying degrees,
from
performing
domestic work. Male careers
provide
a rationale for
higher-class
husbands' freedom from
family
work,
whereas
working-class
men are more
likely
to
rely
on blatant and
increasingly
contested
patriarchal ideologies
for similar
entitlements. In both
higher-
and lower-class
marriages,
husbands' absences
pre-
cluded their
doing
household chores.
However,
because the absences of
higher-
class men were more
likely
due,
ostensibly
at
least,
to
evening
or out-of-town
business
obligations
or
night
classes,
wives viewed this division as fair. In addition,
any
work
higher-class
husbands
brought
home from their
jobs
also excused them
from
family
tasks. For
example,
a female
accounting manager
remarried to a
systems analyst
said,
"I do 75
percent
of the housework because he also works at
home.... He's
always
on the
computer
so I don't know if it's work or
play."
Pyke
/ CLASS-BASED MASCULINITIES 541
Higher-class
husbands also derived from their careers
greater
entitlement to a
stay-at-home
wife.
They
were more
likely
than
working-class
husbands to
veto,
discourage,
or limit their wives' labor force
participation, especially
in first mar-
riages (Pyke 1994).
For
example,
Jane was married the first time to a
prominent
attorney
who earned
$300,000
annually.
His
position
entitled him to limit her
teaching
to
part-time.
She
said,
But he made sure that we both knew that his
job
came first and if I was
working
too
many
hours,
he made it clear that I should cut back on
my
hours.... He had a
very
prominent job,
a lot of
public recognition
that came with his
job
... So I
supported
him in that and I was sort of content to be in his shadow.... His career came before
my
career and was much more
important
to me at the time.
Another
attorney,
who was childless
prior
to
remarriage, gave
a
description
of
the kind of wife he
sought
after his divorce that
emphasized
her
supporting
role to
his career. He
said,
"I made
good money
as a
lawyer,
so
my
wife didn't need to
work to
support
the household. I needed someone to take care of
my
children and
my
house when I am not there."
This need for a wife to serve as a maid and
nanny propelled many higher-status
men to look in the same
places
for a wife as
they
do for
paid
domestic
help: among
the lower class. An interclass mate selection occurred in
remarriage
between men
employed
in
high-status occupations
and women who were
unhappy
with
dead-end,
low-skilled
jobs
and who had worked out of
necessity
in their first
marriages.
Among
102 women whom I
surveyed
whose first and second
marriages
were
identified as
being
either
working
or middle to
upper
class,
25
percent
moved from
a
working-class
first husband to a middle-class second husband
(70 percent
remarried husbands of the same social class as their first
husbands,
and 5
percent
moved from middle to
working class). Similarly,
Gerson
(1985, 1993)
found that
men are more
likely
to seek
domestically
oriented
partners
as their
breadwinning
ability
increases,
and women are more
likely
to veer toward
domesticity
when faced
with blocked
job opportunities
and married to men who earn
enough
to be the sole
provider.
Even
though
both
higher-
and lower-class husbands tended to avoid household
labor,
they enjoyed varying
levels of
legitimacy
for
doing
so.
Higher-class
husbands
were more
likely
to be excused
by
the
priorities granted
to their career and
provider
role
(see
also Gerson
1993;
Hochschild with
Machung 1989),
which also served as
the
places they
most
prominently produced
ascendant
masculinity.
Lower-class
husbands,
on the other
hand,
whose
jobs
and
lower-earnings provided
them with
little
justification
for not
sharing chores-especially
when wives worked for
pay
also-more
directly
relied on
rigid gender
divisions of labor in the home as a means
of
producing masculinity (see
Game and
Pringle 1983). However,
explicit
tradi-
tional
ideologies
about the
proper
roles of husbands and wives were
likely
to be
challenged
and resented
by
wives.
Hence,
they
were a less reliable basis of men's
freedom from housework than was the
ideology
of the husband's career. This
again
542 GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1996
suggests
that the
power
of lower-class husbands that rests on notions of masculine
privilege
is
likely
to be
undermined,
especially
in
long-term,
stable
marriages.
What about the
minority
of husbands
actively embracing egalitarian
divisions
of labor?
Higher-class
husbands more often were constrained
by theirjob
demands
from
doing
so,
even when
they professed
a sense of
obligation
or desire. In
contrast,
there is a
greater
structural incentive for
working-class
families to
adopt egalitarian
practices.
Lower-class husbands often cared for children while wives worked a
different shift from their own.
And,
for
some,
such as Nick in his
remarriage, greater
involvement with children and
family
life
provided
a sense of self-worth and
meaning
that
compensated
for the
degradation
endured on the
job (Connell 1991;
Gerson
1993;
Pyke 1994).
These men do not
appear
to
put
stock in ascendant or
exaggerated
masculinities and instead
produce
an
egalitarian masculinity involving
expressiveness
and
high
levels of
family
involvement
(referred
to as the "New
Man";
Messner
1993).
The
pressures
exerted
by
the structural conditions of
working-class
life
may
lead
some men to
juggle
a Dr.
Jekyll
and Mr.
Hyde
existence in which
they produce
hypermasculinity
in male
cliques
and on the
job
and an
egalitarian masculinity
in
their
family
relations. For
example, working-class
men
might
use talk of masculine
superiority, privilege,
and
authority
as a means of
producing hypermasculinity
while nonetheless
sharing power
and
family
work with their wives on a
day-to-day
basis. That
is,
when the situational context
changes,
the form of
masculinity
produced,
even within
categories
of social
class,
can
change
as well.
Furthermore,
the consistent construction and maintenance of
hypermasculinity
across all arenas
of social
life,
including family
relations,
are so
costly
as to become less desirable
and untenable to individual men. In
fact,
as
they approach
midlife,
working-class
men tend to
drop
out of the male
cliques
in which
hypermasculinity
is
collectively
produced (Rubin 1976).
Egalitarian masculinity may
not be
appreciated by
some wives who view it as a
threat to their feminine
identity.
In the next
section,
I discuss some
surprising
insights
about how the
supremacy
of the male career leads some middle-class wives
to
negatively
evaluate
egalitarian
husbands out of
preference
for male dominance.
Middle-Class Men and
Egalitarian Masculinity
Ideological hegemonies present
elite interests as
everyone's
interests.
Thus,
they
lead
subordinates,
as well as
elites,
to sanction those who fail to
reproduce
the
dominant
group's power advantage.
For
example, higher-class egalitarian
men
who violate notions of ascendant
masculinity
often attract
hostility,
even from
wives who would
appear
to derive benefits from their husbands' defection but are
convinced otherwise. This was evident in a few middle-class first and second
marriages
in which husbands were unable to live
up
to the ethic of masculine
ambition and
high earnings
to which their wives felt entitled. It was not that these
husbands were
poor providers
or
husbands;
on the
contrary, they
tended to be
very
family-involved
men with moderate
earnings.
However,
their
wives,
who
expected
Pyke
/ CLASS-BASED MASCULINITIES 543
them to have
greater
ambition and
earnings,
were less
likely
to view them as "real"
men and reacted to their
"inadequacy"
with disdain.
Disappointment
in the "failure"
of their husbands to live
up
to the ideal of ascendant
masculinity
bolstered wives'
marital
power.
Because
explicit patriarchal ideologies
are not
prominent
in the
discourse of the
higher-class
cultural
milieu,
middle-class husbands less often call
them
up
as a means of
boosting
their
power.
The resultant
power sharing
is not
always appreciated by
wives. The
ideological
supremacy
of the male career and the
"doing"
of essential
femininity
fosters the
desire
among
some wives to be
dependent
and to "look
up"
to their husbands. For
example,
Jean resented her shared
power
as a further indication of her first
husband's failure as a man. Her
disappointment
in him for not
being
less "submis-
sive" and more successful like the
people
she worked
with,
even
though
he earned
what she considered to be a
good
income,
resulted in the break
up
of their otherwise
happy marriage. They
married when she was 19 and he was 24. She finished her
education and became a successful accountant. It bothered her that her
husband,
Phil,
an insurance title
representative,
did not want to finish his bachelor's
degree.
She
said,
I was so
engrossed
with
people
who were
doing
so much better than
Phil,
from
my
own
perspective, you
know,
educationally,
and motivated in their careers more than
I felt Phil was. That affected
my feelings
toward the
relationship.
Even
though
"we
got along really
well,"
she
explained,
I was
just unhappy,
and I couldn't define that
unhappiness....
It's
very
hard to
understand
why you're
not in love with such a wonderful
person,
because he was
very
sweet,
but not
very
charismatic.
Such
unhappiness
endured
despite
Phil's instrumental and emotional
support
of
Jean and her career. For
example,
when she had to work until late at
night
or on
Saturdays,
"it was no
problem....
He would
get
dinner started." After she had a
car
accident,
he drove her to and from work. "He was
very good, generous,"
she
said. The
marriage
faltered
despite
all the
positive qualities
of her
husband,
which
enabled her to advance in her career.
Indeed,
it was those
very qualities
that led her
to lose
respect
for him as a
man;
he was not as
"egotistical"
as other men.
Instead,
she
said,
"He was
generally pretty accommodating.
I was
really
the one who forced
my
decision. I think that's one of the
things
that bothered me. I had a
very strong
personality
and he would back down sometimes."
The
very
traits she desired in
Phil,
such as
egotism,
ambition,
and
dominance,
would have undermined her marital
power, obligating
her to more instrumental and
expressive support
of his career at the
potential expense
of her own. This illustrates
the
pressure
on men to
accomplish
ascendant
masculinity
via a successful
career,
its connection to male dominance and feminine
identity,
and the
negative
effects
endured
by
some
higher-class
men who are not
hyperambitious.
One middle-class man described the strain in both his first and second
marriages
as
relating
to his failure to achieve a
higher
level of success. He
said,
544 GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1996
I think from
[ex-wife's] perspective,
and
my
current wife is still kind of the same
way,
it's almost like ...
they
both felt that when
you get
married it's ...
you
hit a button
and all of a sudden
your
husband is out there
making
$75,000
a
year.
And
they [wives]
work as a lark.
His second wife
pressures
him to leave
advertising,
where his
earnings
have
suffered,
and
go
into commercial real estate like one of her relatives who earns
$100,000
a
year.
Their individual
highest
annual
earnings during
their
marriage
are
equal
at
$40,000.
Her
resentment,
which he
gingerly tiptoes
around,
is a dominant
theme in their
marriage.
He described her as "contentious" and a "battle
ax,"
adding,
I know the reason
why
she's
crabby.
A lot of it is because I'm not
making
much
money
now.... I don't know
why
or what I'm
supposed
to do about
it,
but income and career
has been a bone of contention in both of
my marriages.
Although
her husband
performs
60
percent
of their
weekly
total household labor
hours,
her resentment for his failure to live
up
to the middle-class standard of
success overshadows
any gratitude
she
might
have for his
greater
household work.
The
previous
two
examples
illustrate how some women's
acceptance
of the
dominant
ideology
about what it means to be a man reflects and contributes to the
hegemony
of the male career. These
examples suggest
that when middle-class men
are not
very
successful in their
careers,
power
can shift to a resentful wife. Because
methods of
accomplishing femininity
often rest on women's subordination to
men,
some women
may
resent their
power. They may
use
it,
as
exemplified
here,
to steer
men toward the
production
of
masculinity
in
ways
that
emphasize
male
power
and
female subordination. These
examples
underscore the
ways
cultural notions of what
constitute a "real" man and a "real" woman elicit women's
participation
in the
project
of male dominance and female subordination.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
In contrast to
oversimplified, gender-neutral
or
gender-static approaches,
the
theoretical framework
presented
here
integrates interpersonal power
with broader
structures of class and
gender inequality.
I used
empirical examples
of
conjugal
power
to illustrate how
interpersonal powering processes
and
gender
and class
relations can be considered
components
of an
interacting system. Specifically,
structures of
inequality
are
expressed
in
ideological hegemonies,
which construct
gender
in
ways
that
reemphasize
and normalize the domination of men over women
and that of
privileged
men over lower-class men.
Furthermore,
the relational
constructions of ascendant and subordinated masculinities have different
implica-
tions for
interpersonal power dynamics.
For
example,
the different
conjugal power processes
available across social class
further feed into the cultural
legitimations
of
higher-class
men's
superior position.
In the absence of
legitimated
hierarchical
advantages,
lower-class husbands are
more
likely
to
produce hypermasculinity by relying
on
blatant, brutal,
and relentless
Pyke
/ CLASS-BASED MASCULINITIES 545
power strategies
in their
marriages, including spousal
abuse. In so
doing, they
compensate
for their demeaned
status,
pump up
their sense of self-worth and
control,
and simulate the uncontested
privileges
of
higher-class
men. The
produc-
tion of an
exaggerated masculinity
in some
working-class
subcultures also serves
the interests of
higher-class
men
by deflecting
attention from their covert mecha-
nisms of
power
and
enabling
them to
appear egalitarian by
contrast.
The coercive
power strategies
of lower-class men
appear
unmatched in
degree.
This is
misleading,
however. It is
precisely
their demeaned status and weak
power
base that have
propelled many working-class
men to
rely
on extreme methods of
control as a kind of last resort in
asserting power
and
producing masculinity.
Thus,
those who
study power
relations must be careful not to
equate brutality
of
power
with
quantity
of
power
and examine the
ways
that
power inequalities may
be
obscured in other
seemingly egalitarian relationships by hegemonic
cultural ide-
ologies.
In
addition,
brutal
styles
of
masculinity,
such as
displayed
in the
workplace
or
tavern,
should not be assumed to be
automatically
linked to brutal
power
strategies
in
marriage.
Some men
may
balance more
egalitarian practices
in their
personal
life with more
public displays
of
hypermasculinity
and claims to male
dominance.
Similarly, higher-class
men who are mild mannered and civil in the
workplace may
nonetheless exercise brutal forms of
power
in their
family
life.
The omnirelevance of
gender
to social life and the
ways
it is taken for
granted
as essential and inevitable makes it an
especially
effective
ideology
in
normalizing
and
mystifying gendered power
relations. In
doing gender,
men and women
engage
in
practices
that
promote
male dominance and female subordination in most social
contexts.
Specifically,
I have shown how some women
pursue
marital
arrangements
that contribute to male dominance as a method of
accomplishing
their
gender;
that
is,
they
do so to affirm their "essential nature"
(West
and Fenstermaker
1993).
It is
not
necessarily
that
they consciously
desire male
dominance,
but the methods
they
employ
in
"doing gender" produce
conditions that foster such
power
differentials.
It is thus
important
that researchers
studying interpersonal power
consider how it
is a
symbolic
artifact of the routine
production
of
gender
as well as the structural
conditions of men's and women's lives.
Although
I have used the case of marital
power
and the
hegemony
of the male
career,
other
hegemonic ideologies similarly
affect
power dynamics
in
marriage
as
well as other social
relationships
and reinforce "essential"
gender
differences. For
example,
a white heterosexual masculine ethic
pervades capitalist, managerial
ideologies
that stress
rationality,
success
orientation,
impersonality,
emotional
flatness,
and a
disregard
for
family
concerns. Because these traits are associated
with "essential"
masculinity
and are antithetical to notions of "essential"
femininity,
this ethic would
appear
to exclude women from
management positions
and under-
mine the
power
of those who have
successfully
acceded to such ranks while
(re)constructing
"essential"
femininity
and ascendant
masculinity. Similarly,
the
masculine ethic of
management
associated with
higher-class
men embodies traits
that reflect and
perpetuate
the
negative
evaluation of lower-class
men,
men of
color,
young
men,
and homosexual men.
This,
in
turn,
reinforces the construction of
546 GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1996
compensatory
masculinities,
such as the "cool
pose"
associated with African
American men
(Majors
and Billson
1992)
and the
hypermasculinity
described here
among
lower-class white men and also common
among
male
youths
(Messerschmidt 1993). Thus,
ideological hegemonies
have a different
impact
on
men and women across
race,
sexuality, age,
and social class in
ways
that reflect and
(re)construct
relational
conceptions
of masculinities and femininities with different
implications
for
interpersonal power.
The
ensuing practices
of
interpersonal power,
in
turn,
reinforce structures of
inequality
and their
ideological legitimations.
Femininity
is also cross-cut into diverse forms
by
the structural and cultural
conditions of
race,
social
class,
sexuality,
and
age.
For the sake of
clarity,
however,
I have centered this discussion almost
exclusively
on
white, heterosexual,
class-
based masculinities. The construction of femininities can
perhaps
best be under-
stood in relation to men. As Connell observed
(1987, 186-87),
all forms of
femininity
are constructed in the context of the overall subordination of women
to men. The
interplay
of diverse femininities does not
reemphasize
a
hierarchy
among
women as much as intermale hierarchies of dominance as well as
gender
hierarchies.
The
degree
to which women are
accommodating
to men
provides
a useful basis
for
conceptualizing
femininities.
"Emphasized femininity" (Connell 1987, 187)
is
produced among
women who view their role as
naturally
subservient to men.
Noncompliant femininity,
on the other
hand,
emphasizes
women's
independence
and desired
equality
with men. It is
displayed by
the woman who can do it all:
maintain a
good job,
a clean
house,
well-behaved
children,
and a
loving marriage.
Noncompliant femininity
obscures women's subordination to men
by associating
their
paid
labor with
equality
and
downplays
how their
employment
benefits elite
males who
purchase
women's discounted labor.
How the construction of femininities reflects and
(re)constructs (or resists)
the
gender
order and intermale hierarchies needs to be further
explored.
An examina-
tion of hidden
power dynamics might
reveal that the
key
difference in the
ways
these two forms of femininities are
played
out has less to do with
quantity
of male
dominance than with
quality.
For
example,
women who
display greater egalitari-
anism in some arenas of their
marriage
or
job may
feel
pressed
to
accomplish
their
gender
with
greater
submission in other arenas
(see
Hochschild with
Machung
1989;
Pyke 1994).
On the other
hand,
women who
emphasize
their
femininity may
be able to wield considerable
power
from behind a smokescreen of female subser-
vience.
By examining
the
underlying
cultural
ideologies
at
play
and the actual
practices,
we can learn how the construction of these and other forms of
femininity
shapes interpersonal power, plays
into the construction of
masculinities,
and
obscures while
(re)producing inequality.
To
conclude,
microlevel
power practices
are
part
of a
system
that affirms and
(re)constitutes
broader relations of
inequality.
Linked
by
the
distorting
lens of
ideological hegemonies, larger
structures of
inequality
are
easily
reflected and
(re)produced
in
day-to-day power practices. Although
I have focused on the
ways
that social hierarchies are maintained and
reproduced,
it should not be assumed that
Pyke
/ CLASS-BASED MASCULINITIES 547
they
are
impervious
to
challenge.
Social
change,
such as the increased demand in
the United States for women's
paid
labor while the demand for men's has
declined,
and
personal life-altering
events,
such as
rape
or
divorce,
have the
potential
for
making explicit
the
inequality promoted by
certain
pervasive
beliefs. Although
increased consciousness of the
ideological underpinnings
of social hierarchies does
not
magically
cause those hierarchies to
disappear,
it
provides
an
interesting point
of
investigation
as to how new
legitimizing ideologies
arise in the wake of
challenges
to
previous hegemonic
beliefs and how microlevel
power processes
and
macrostructural
inequality
are altered or
reproduced
under such conditions.
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Karen D.
Pyke
is Lecturer and
Faculty Undergraduate
Advisor in the
Sociology Department
at
University of California,
Irvine. A recent NIA
postdoctoralfellow,
her research has
focused
on
gender,
class,
aging,
and
power
in
families.
She is
currently launching
a new research
project
that examines the
production of gender,
cultural
conflicts,
and
intergenerationalpowerdynamics
among young
adult children
of
Korean and Vietnamese
immigrants.