Raewyn Connel: Old Fashion in the New Look

Since long ago gender relations have been problematized by many scholars in the global north as well as the global south seen from many fields of study such as sociology, anthropology, philosophy, political science, and so on. The concept of masculinities is inside this debate. Along with the debates about gender relations and the form of masculinities, the relations of the global south and the global north have shaped various practices and forms.

The forms of relations occur as results of the various relations of both the global south and the global north. To say one of the examples is colonial encounter between the occupier and the occupied as said by Franz Fanon, an Algerian-birth France philosopher: “Every contact between the occupied and the occupier is falsehood”. This falsehood emerged in the form of articulating the concept of masculinities. Beyond that, the theorists that engage with the issues are merely dominated by the theorists from the global north using their own resources even in analyzing those issues in the global south. This fact creates the epistemic imbalance toward the studies aimed at concerning the issues of gender relations in the global south.

Below is the interview of Angga Yudhiyansyah from CRCS UGM with Raewyn Connel, a leading contemporary sociologist from the University of Sidney, Australia. Connel is the author of several influential books in gender studies; to say one is Masculinities which has been published by The University of California Press in 1995. Since its publication, the book has been attracting the attention of the scholars in Europe and North America upon the field of gender studies. Her explanations about the old debates in gender relations provide new looks and perspectives. This interview was conducted in November 3, 2010. Angga Yudhiyansyah (CRCS) and Raewyn Connel (RC).

CRCS: How do you see the connection between masculinities and the relations of north and south?

RC: Gender construction which happens in the north shapes the very kind of gender relations in the south. The south is the countries being colonized by the countries in the north. So that the issues of gender relations shaped in the north are also happening in the south. Even though, both in the north and the south have different acceptance of these issues in society and of course they are different dealing with their development. This is because of colonialism and also the varieties of indigenous cultures in the global south which also have roles in shaping the gender relations and the form of masculinities. But what I emphasize is that the theorists in the north are not quite helpful any more dealing with using only the source in the north to see the issues of gender relations in the south.

CRCS: So, is that you argue in Southern Theory?

RC: Well, we have to pay attention to the theorists in the south like Ashis Nandy, Franz Fanon, and Shariati dealing with analyzing the very kind of problems occur in the south. What is happening now is that, in academic realm, north’s theories are the mainstreams that also have been used in the south. This is a matter of gathering up social analyses from different parts of the periphery of the global south. The uncritical importation of Northern perspectives gives a strange twist to the way of social science to operate in the global periphery.

CRCS: But they are (the southern theorists) western-educated scholars?

RC: We could not deny that the dominant culture has influences in every side of life. But what I underline is that to have room for these theorists that bodily engage with the problems in their own. The north theorists do not suffice enough to talk about the south by using the source of their own.

CRCS: How do you see the role of religion in constructing gender relations?

RC: Religion, of course, has role in constructing gender relations. But, religion can also be a force for reform. The religious texts have also acknowledged the human are equal, men as well as women in the sight of god, therefore they are equal dealing with their position in religion. I think the same has been argued by the Islamic scholars that the unity of God implies the unity of human beings in the quality of ummah, therefore, there should be equality between men and women. So this is the argument that religion can modify reform in gender relation too.

CRCS: The issues of gender relation in almost all religions are always crucial, in this sense how do you see the role of government, along with religions in constructing gender relations?

RC: Of course, governments always have a role in gender relations since they create the role for marriage, the legal obligation for men and women, legal right for men and women in citizenship and military service. And often governments create the obligation for men to be soldiers which are not quite for women. This creates privileges for men. Similarly government can also involve in gender reform as we see in the Millennium development Goals (MDGs), governments have committed themselves to the idea of gender equality even though the reality is often different.

CRCS: You use the dichotomy of the North and the South in your analysis, how do you work on that?

RC: The north and the south is the beginning of my analysis and that is very complicated because there are parts of the global north which are poor and there are parts of global periphery which are rich like Australia, and also Chile and Brazil which are quite wealthy. And also different parts of the global south have different history. Like Latin America countries which are the first being colonized by the Europe and also the major part of the world that the first become independent. So, Africa being colonized by Europe cluster and black America becomes independent. This becomes the great deal of diversity within the global south and within the global north. So we have to recognize that. This is important to recognize also the theorists in equality on the world, there are power centers. Even in the academic world, some of the institutions of the global north have immense influence and prestige which apply worldwide and there are no institutions in the global south that have worldwide prestige or urge.

CRCS: When you use the term South and North, do you think that they have been associated with several attributes, let’s say, the North is associated with masculine and the South is feminine and so on and so forth?

RC: No, I don’t think so. When we name the global north we are naming countries which are the center of economic power, military power and the history of imperial that control other region. That influences the way masculinities and femininities are shaped in those countries just as colonialism influences the way masculinity and femininity were created and constructed in the colonies. It is not helpful to think of the North is masculine and the South is feminine and so on. I don’t think so.

CRCS: So why do you prefer using those kind of term rather than the term the West and the East?

RC: Well, because parts of the global south are not in the East. West and East are European concept. It is a standpoint in Europe in looking toward India and China. That is where West-East ideas coming from. It is also, the part of the global south not in the East. Latin America, Australia, Africa, Siberia and America do not fit the term East and West.

CRCS: So do you think that Australia is in the south or in the north?

RC: Well, it is a good question. Australia is quite wealthy and a rich country. It is very dependent on the global north for trade, investment, military, leadership, and it is political subservient to the America. I think Australia as a rich part of the periphery is not a part of the global north. It is a colony, which is created by colonialism. Unlike in Indonesia which also being colonized, in Australia the colonizer become the majority. Since India and Indonesia were being colonized, and the colonizer are few and most of them are gone in post-colonial era. That is in the way Australia has never been decolonized.

CRCS: What do you see about gender equality issues in Indonesia after ten years of upholding democracy?

RC: I do not know enough about Indonesia to say very much. But I know that now you have debates about gender, debates about issues of women which did not exist in the new order regime, so that is quite to be progress. There are debates in the open. I am sure you have many struggles in Indonesia.

CRCS: Ok, thank you very much for the nice talking, see you Mrs. Connel.

RC: You are welcome.

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