Masculinities and Disaster
Masculinities and Disaster
- Scott McKinnonScott McKinnonUniversity of Wollongong
Gender plays a role in all phases of the disaster cycle, from the lived experience of disaster survivors to the development of disaster risk reduction (DRR) policy and practice. Early research into the entanglement of gender and disaster revealed how women are made more vulnerable to disaster impacts by sexist and misogynist social structures. Researchers have since identified women’s central roles in building disaster resilience and aiding community recovery. Feminist scholarship has been highly influential in disasters research, prompting consideration of how intersecting social characteristics, including gender, sexuality, race, class, and bodily ability each contributes to the social construction of disaster.
Drawing on work in the field of critical men’s studies, a small but growing body of research has engaged with the role of gender in men’s disaster experiences, as well as how hegemonic masculinity shapes emergency management practice, constructs widely understood disaster narratives, and influences the development of DRR policy, including policies related to the crisis of climate change. Rather than a fixed identity, hegemonic masculinity operates as a culturally dominant ideal to which men and boys are expected to strive. It is spatially constituted and relational, often defined by attributes including physical strength, bravery, and confidence.
To date, the most substantial focus of research into masculinity and disasters relates to the lived and bodily experience of men impacted by wildfire. Australian researchers in particular have identified ways in which hegemonic ideals increase the disaster vulnerability of men, who feel pressure to act with bravery and to exhibit emotional and physical strength in conditions of extreme danger. Expectations of stoicism and courage equally impact men’s recovery from disaster, potentially limiting opportunities to access necessary support systems, particularly in relation to mental health and emotional well-being.
Hegemonic masculine ideals similarly impact the experiences of frontline emergency workers. Emergency management workplaces are often constructed as masculine spaces, encouraging high-risk behaviors by male workers, and limiting opportunities for participation by people of other genders. Male dominance in the leadership of emergency management organizations also impacts policy and practice, including in the distribution of resources and in attentiveness to the role of gender in the disaster experiences of many survivors.
Dominant disaster narratives, as seen in movies and the news media, contribute to the idea that disaster landscapes are ideal places for the performance of hegemonic masculine identities. Male voices dominate in media reporting of disasters, often leaving invisible the experiences of other people, with consequences for how disasters are understood by the wider public. Common tropes in Hollywood cinema similarly depict disasters as masculine events, in which brave cisgender men protect vulnerable cisgender women, with people of other genders entirely invisible.
Identifying and addressing the role of masculinities in disaster is increasingly important within the crisis of global heating. As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of disasters, new ways of engaging with the environment and constructing DRR policy has become more urgent. Research in this field offers a critical baseline by which to move beyond binary gender definitions and to address damaging masculine ideals that ultimately harm the environment and people of all genders.
- Policy and Governance
- Gender Issues