Ann Phoenix, who holds the Jane and Aatos Erkko professorship at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, is currently examining the formation of masculinities in Finnish boys aged between 11 and 14. She has previously studied the same topic in other places, such as the UK.
Gender studies and various masculinities fascinate Phoenix.
“The position of the hegemonic masculinity of men in society is an issue that requires extensive interrogation. Indeed not all men fit the characteristics that are traditionally considered masculine.”
Even though society has changed, some social structures continue to reproduce a binary of masculinity and femininity.
“For example, boys in the UK are typically expected to do well in sports and physical education, but not so well in other school subjects.”
As a researcher of psychosocial sciences, Phoenix has lately started paying more attention to the fact that it seems men benefit more from being in a romantic relationship or marriage than women, regardless of age. A key issue is the opportunity to vent emotions.
“Single men who live alone have more health and financial problems as well as a higher rate of unemployment. These things can form a self-perpetuating circle of negativity. In addition, young men are more likely to commit suicide than young women.”
Defining the self and identity
Ann Phoenix believes it is very important to connect with the country in which she is spending a research term.
“I have watched with great interest how Finns define themselves in relation to migration or refugee issues.
This issue is another essential research dimension in the study of the masculinities and identities of young boys.
Phoenix intends to collect research material in schools, with different compositions of ethnically Finnish pupils and students from other ethnicities. Since she does not speak Finnish, she is working the postdoctoral youth researcher Marja Peltola.
“I don’t have any results yet, but I’m excited to begin analysing the interview and observation data. My intention is to use research methods that deal with visual, musical and location-based signifiers to find out how the boys construct their identities.”
Looking for models of masculinity
According to Phoenix, a significant common factor in the forms of expressing masculinity is popular culture imagery. Pop culture models identities from fashion choices to musical tastes.
But there are still differences between countries and ethnic groups: In the UK, boys of African Caribbean descent typically represent a version of hegemonic, popular masculinity at school, while boys of Asian descent are at the other end of the spectrum.
“It will be interesting to see how this will change as cultures become increasingly mixed, even in Finland,” says Phoenix.