Changing Patterns in Gender Identities and Gendered Subjectivities in the Men

We see changes both in the men’s gender identities and gendered subjectivities, and different kinds of tensions between and within them. For the oldest and the youngest generations, gender identities are felt as secure in the sense that the question of what it means to be a man is not problema- tised. This is less clear in the middle generation. However, the content of the gender identities and their interchange with gendered subjectivities are very different in the oldest and the youngest generations. For the old men, almost everything is implicitly gendered—work, strength, money, food, care, behaviour, body and sexuality—so much so, in fact, that it is difficult for them to see gender at all. This single-gendered identity fits well with the single-gendered subjectivity that makes them thrive in the men’s world and attracted to the culturally defined masculine activities in a gender-complementary order. The price for this single-gendered identity is that they have to split off culturally defined feminine qualities in themselves and project them onto the women. The main axis of conflict in men in this generation is found within their gendered subjectivity, not between gender identity and gendered subjectivity, and not in relation to the sociocultural context either.

In the middle generation, the content of masculine identity becomes both narrowed down to include mainly sports and sexuality, and widened by incorporating some feminine qualities through the men’s stronger identification with their mothers. The insecurity of what it means to be a man leads to a troublesome double identification where they keep cir?cling around the question of whether their valuation of care and intimacy makes them feminine. There is a tension between sameness and difference within their gender identity, but also a tension between gender identity and their less updated gendered subjectivity: they were the receivers of their mothers’ service as boys and did not learn to be in the caring position themselves. Thus, as adult men they struggle with pursuing the feminine values they embrace and their emotional need for establishing a gender difference, which is no longer guaranteed by a complimentary gender order. However, the sociocultural demand for a new father-role represents a chance to integrate and maybe gradually degender some of their own ‘female’ identifications. This may also open up for more multi- gendered subjectivities.

Like their grandfathers, the youngest generation do not feel it as problematic to be men, and they relate positively to culturally defined masculine aspects of their fathers like playfulness, courage and knowledge. In contrast to their grandfathers, however, they do not negate their attachments to their mothers and culturally defined feminine qualities like intimacy, care and preoccupation with looks and appearances are not seen as a threat to this subjective sense of maleness. They tend to degender many of these qualities and instead emphasise their own unique way to combine them. This echoes Lynne Layton’s claim (with reference to Jane Flax) that ‘some kind of core identity seem to be a necessary prerequisite for the capacity to play freely with alternating identities’, while simultaneously indicating the historical conditions for this claim (Layton 1998: 185). Like the middle generation, the young men also emphasise gender difference, but now primarily in relation to their personal experience of sexual attraction. In other areas, gender difference is perceived as less important. Their experience of care as not an exclusively feminine activity, but also as a quality of their fathers seems to have established more multi-gendered subjectivities that allow them to enjoy a broader range of activities across the gender divide. For this generation, the tension is to a lesser degree present within or between gender identity and gendered subjectivity. However, new tensions may arise in connection with the sociocultural context, for instance, conditions on the labour market that make it increasingly difficult to combine work and care, even they feel it is a natural thing for them to do.

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