The importance of understanding men, masculinities and organizations


Anika Thym, Jeff Hearn, Kadri Aavik, David L. Collinson April 2024

Thise insights are based on the Routledge Handbook on Men, Masculinities and Organizations, edited by Jeff Hearn, Kadri Aavik, David L. Collinson and Anika Thym

Gender and gender studies generally, and men, masculinities and organizations more specifically, are at the core of many polarized debates and urgent global and societal challenges. In Switzerland this can be observed for example:

  • In the attacks – mostly by certain male politicians – on the gender day at a secondary school in Stäfä (Zurich), which was canceled to protect school employees and students from serious threats. The “gender day” had been organized for ten years and is part of the curriculum for German speaking schools in Switzerland. Its goal was to inform students about bodily integrity as well as gender diversity.
  • In the debates around the public initiative “service citoyen”, on which a public vote will be held on the question of replacing the mandatory military conscription for men with a civil, ecological or military service for all genders, citizens and non-citizens.
  • In the continuous problematization of masculinity in the scandals around the financial sector, for example in March 2023 during the takeover of Crédit Suisse (CS), the second largest Swiss bank, by UBS, because CS would have crashed (the takeover was backed with government securities), as well as the large proportion of international trade on natural resources through Switzerland, which is connected to global capitalist and postcolonial forms of exploitation.
  • Or in the debates on the intensifying climate and ecological crisis, which is heavily produced and pushed by capitalist men and norms of masculinity.

The deep gendered challenges of our times, as well as the polarization of those debates, require differentiated knowledge to guide dialogue-oriented debates.

In editing the Routledge Handbook on “men, masculinities and organizations”, we aim to advance such debates. The handbook includes contributions from scholars working in and on Switzerland as well as various topics connected directly and indirectly to Switzerland. One such example is the chapter on “Masculinities, political organizations and political organizing: queering anti-apartheid struggle” by Kopano Ratele, Nick Malherbe, Josephine Cornell and Shahnaaz Suffla which can be connected to the Swiss support and trade with apartheid South Africa at times of international critiques and blockades.

The chapter, co-authored by Andrea Maihofer, Professor Emerita of Gender Studies and former Director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Basel, and Alex Demirović, research fellow at the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt am Main, presents an English translation of an article originally published in German. The article focuses on understanding various crises, including those concerning gender relations, political representation, education and the financial and economic crisis, both independently and in their interconnectedness.

Because of these intrinsic entanglements, they conceptualize a way of understanding the “multiple crisis”. This includes their understanding of society as a “segmented, articulated whole” and their proposition of the term “multidimensionality” as alternative to “intersectionality” to understand the constitutive connections of different relations of domination.

Another relevant chapter is by Julia Nentwich, Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of St. Gallen, and Chieh Hsu, Assistant Professor of Intercultural Competence at the St. Gallen Institute of Management in Asia, the Asian hub of the University of St. Gallen. This investigates “men working in women’s occupations”, bringing together studies from Switzerland and Asian countries, as well as different contexts across the globe. They raise the question of how hegemonic masculinity and patriarchal relations are reproduced or transformed in emancipatory ways in these specific settings – such as health, nursing and childcare organizations. They illustrate, for example, how men engage in “boundary work” that reaffirms their masculinity, how some men develop “alternative masculinities” to reconcile any dissonance between their personal and professional identities and how marginalization and privilege interrelate in complex ways.

Laura Eigenmann, who completed her PhD at the University of Basel and is now a postdoctoral research associate in Gender Studies at Freie Universität Berlin, illustrates how the bourgeois societal divide between the public and the private sphere is profoundly gendered as well as heterosexualized. This structure and situation have provided a setting for men to be ‘rational’ rather than emotional in the workplace. The only legitimate place for intimacy was constructed as the heterosexual married couple. Homosexuality in the public sphere was prohibited to maintain ‘rationality’ in the public sphere. She analyzes how this bourgeois structure inherently discriminated against homosexual persons, and how social and legal developments have led to increasing inclusion. She also adds a new facet to the debate by emphasizing how a shared experience of marginalization can also be empowering in the way gays, lesbian and bisexuals may work together effectively albeit often with limited resources. Critically, she also points out how the male domination in LGBTIQ+ communities reproduces a tendency to exclude women and enforce gendered hierarchies.

Issues on business and finance organizations are discussed in the chapter by Anika Thym, who completed her PhD in Gender Studies at the University of Basel, Helen Longlands, lecturer in Education and International Development at University College London, and Richard Collier, Professor of Law, Newcastle University. They look at the institutions of law, business and finance and investigate how patriarchal power and hegemonic masculinity are maintained as well as questioned. The chapter contributes to an understanding of the contradictory developments of masculinity discourses, which are sometimes more authoritarian, sometimes more emancipatory, or paradoxical at least. It includes an analysis of interviews conducted with Swiss bankers on their critical self-reflection and promotion of more caring leadership styles. The authors suggest combining research on caring masculinities with critical leadership studies to look more into realities and potentials of caring leadership.

More generally, different contributions in the Handbook elaborate on the importance of men and masculinities in the reproduction as well as transformation of relations of power and domination. The handbook is organized into four parts, on: theories and frameworks (part I), structures and processes of organizing (part II), different organizational settings, including military organization, state institutions, sports and educational organizations (part III) and current and future issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, global value chains, men and feminism, masculinities in tech entrepreneurship and animal advocacy organizations (part IV).

The links between men, masculinities, organizations and organizing are many and various. Studying these connections is particularly important because of the ubiquity, influence and power of organizations and organizing as pervasive human endeavors. Many contemporary societies are highly organized and organizational in character, so that from even before birth to even after death, lives are structured, shaped and mediated by organizations and organizing. While organizations and organizing can have transnational and global impacts, they can also reach into areas often considered to be the most personal and private.

Men continue to dominate many organizations in their positions of power, authority and leadership, and effectively direct several forms of organizing, whether on the local and immediate, the national or the global scale. Men’s contribution in bringing on and exacerbating some of the current crises of global dimensions is significant. For instance, men’s practices and masculinities are central to understanding wars, ecological crises, concentrations and inequalities of the global economic system, as well as the rise of populism, nationalism, the manosphere and viral masculinity.

Targeted at scholars, policymakers, practitioners and students interested in links between men, masculinities, organizations and organizing, this handbook provides a resource for those working in and beyond gender studies, organization, leadership and management studies, political science, sociology, social and public policy, and social movement studies.


17. April 2024

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Anika Thym, Jeff Hearn, Kadri Aavik, David L. Collinson