Review of “Introduction: Working with Men on Gender Equality”

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1. Description of the Title of the Publication

Sweetman’s “Working with men on gender equality” refers to her assertion that contemporary feminism, as well as gender equality policies, need to be informed by both female and male global perspectives (1-2). Willis stated, “…as economic growth took place, the benefits of such ‘economic development’ would trickle down to benefit all sectors of society” (128) and continued to discuss how the “trickle-down” concept did not subvert deeply-rooted, structural or institutional issues within a society. Sweetman is investigating ways in which gender in development may be assisted by both women’s and men’s equal dedication.

2. Introduction of the Topic

Gender development was a natural progression from the second-wave feminist movement in the 1970s, combined with the concept of “development”, which Escobar describes as a “historically produced” where nonwestern nations began to adopt a Western viewpoint of cultural and societal progressivism, during the post-WWII period (6). With progressive development, “underdeveloped” nations, such as in the global South, engaged in collaborative policies to restructure social and cultural institutions. Gender became an intrinsic part of this restructuring after feminism reached a critical point in western ideology.

Gender began to be a divisive structure in societies as they gradually changed to undermine the work of women, which was centered in production in the home. As work moved away from the home and to outside production and service sites, the importance of a money economy versus subsistence and home production eroded the intrinsic value of women’s work (Willis 128). This gendered division of labor persisted in Western society until change began to pervade gender politics, which began to inspire movements towards equality. According to Willis, gender reform in the U.S. began in the 1950s through the 1970s with welfare programs, anti-poverty legislature and women’s placement in the workplace (129). The 1980s to today has seen an increase in “empowerment” policies and programs, which includes gender development that aims to restructure institutions and patriarchal agendas (Willis 129). The newer approaches to gender development also emphasize the need for the involvement of men, which is the focus of this issue of Gender and Development.

3. Summary of the Publication

Sweetman’s article is an introduction to an issue in the journal Gender and Development which focuses on different approaches to gender development, emphasizing how men can both contribute to equality and develop new masculinities around gender equality (1-2).

The author described several different aspects of how men can improve gender politics in developing regions. Gender violence as a result of women’s empowerment initiatives is investigated in one article, while the task of developing equality-centered masculinities and defining progressive fathers/husbands are others (Sweetman 6-8). In addition, several articles focus on the socialization aspects of gender-rigid masculinities, especially in regards to adolescents (8). The regions referred to in the above articles include South Africa, Vietnam, India, Nepal, and South America.

Finally, the author closes the discussion with notes on working with masculinities and future issues of Gender and Development. Sweetman stresses the current issues of including men in feminist activities, including a perception that men dilute equality messages and promote male hegemony (9-10). The author emphasizes the need to focus on legitimate, pragmatic solutions to the very real cultural and social barriers that are unique to individuals who strive for gender equality (11-12). The future of worthwhile and lasting gender development depends on realistic, culturally and socially-sensitive policies.

4. Critical Discussion

Escobar’s chapter on the nature of modernity is particularly illuminating towards using a critical lens on Sweetman’s article. Sweetman stresses the importance of culturally and socially-sensitive policies and programs in order for gender equality in “developing” regions to be legitimate and lasting but fails to recognize how a western/liberal feminist framework actually organizes “developing” sociocultural elements to reflect the very patriarchy it intends to subvert (11-12). According to Escobar’s article, Chandra Mohanty stated that western feminism maintains, “…a paternalistic attitude on the part of Western women toward their Third World counterparts and, more generally, the perpetuation of the hegemonic idea of the West’s superiority” (8). In this way, Sweetman’s article prominently demonstrates the inherent problem of westernized, feminist ideology towards “developing” regions’ women as in “need” and with “problems” (Escobar 8). In this way, western feminist frameworks themselves are in need of critical reflection in regard to their own discourses of power.

5. Conclusion

While Sweetman’s article, and the journal issue itself, is well-intentioned and provides a resource for gender work and policy within the development, the work suffers from a lack of self-reflection. Western feminism is situated within powerful strata compared to “developing” regions, who are influenced by and often coerced into collaboration and adoption of western ideology. This establishes a real power over its “subjects” in other nations. In order to avoid becoming part of the problem as defined by feminist ideology itself, this power needs to be evaluated and critically analyzed in the same way all social institutions are scrutinized. Only then can the framework begin to form lasting policies and practices for all genders in all regions.

Works Cited

Escobar, Arturo. "Introduction: Development and the anthropology of modernity." Encountering development: the making and unmaking of the Third World. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995. 3-20. Print.

Sweetman, Caroline. "Introduction: Working with men on gender equality." Gender & Development 21.1 (2013): 1-13. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.

Willis, Katie. Theories and practices of development. 2nd ed. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2011. Print.