9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN23 Sexuality

2009-09-05 13:30:00 2009-09-05 15:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 13:30 - 15:00 Sexuality in the Workplace Building I, 1E10

Masculinities, Negotiations of Sexuality and the Workplace

This paper draws on qualitative data from a UK, ESRC-funded project which explored men's transitional identities across public and private spheres in the occupations of hairdressing, fire fighting and estate agency. It primarily explores men's feelings about working in "a woman's world" as hairdressers, and the extent to which their intentional and unintentional ?feminization? in a largely feminized workplace offers scope for men to challenge, reaffirm and play with dominant understandings of what it is to be a man. In foregrounding this occupational culture, it asks how the job and its associated lifestyle might act to disrupt men?s gendered self-perceptions. In contrast with more traditional forms of masculine embodiment, hairdressing turns on "the look", on performance and on nurturance, in ways defined primarily by female stylists and clients. Differences of social class are also important here and we compare men in working class and upmarket city centre salons. Core to the paper is the question of how the body of the hairdresser becomes implicated in challenging, asserting and re-defining the boundaries of hegemonic masculinity, as men move between their domestic and paid work environments. Our data show how routine salon practices are appropriated or re-described by men in ways which illuminate, and potentially disorder, their relationship with prevailing conceptions of masculinity. As Brickell's (2005) discussion of Butler (1990) and Goffman (1959; 1974) reminds us, those who subvert the prevailing values surrounding masculinity are at constant risk of being "misunderstood". For the hairdressers in our study, the parodying of femininity and campness is always at risk of being misinterpreted. Data therefore suggest that contextual realignments of "acceptable" gendering create the possibility for change, but that there are limits to subversion; "feminized" men can find themselves re-affirming the gender order as well as contributing to its disorder.