"American men have no history," declared pioneering masculinities scholar, Michael Kimmel. Masculinities, the study of how men relate to each other and construct their identities, can be used as a powerful sociological and legal tool to understand institutions, power structures, and human relations. While the history of American immigration law has revealed rich multi-dimensional narratives of class, race, and domestic and international politics, sparse historical work has considered the masculinities dimensions of immigration law.Abrams states -
This Article considers how unpacking the masculinities dimensions of our paradigmatic shifts in immigration policy might offer an additional - even unifying - dimension to previously disparate and divergent immigration laws worthy of further research. This Article concludes that it is critical to make masculinities visible in immigration law and policy to understand how dominant masculine imperatives shape citizenship itself. This Article suggests that our immigration laws and policies reinforce dominant masculinities at the border by excluding marginalized masculinities and admitting those who comport with dominant masculinity norms. This Article considers whether the state is not just enforcing immigration laws at its borders but whether it also enforces masculinity norms.
Such an analytical and historical examination might prove influential in modern immigration reform. As private citizens take up guns and machetes to "defend" our nation's borders, as political movements call for the "taking back of our country," and as anti-immigrant violence and sentiment escalates to dangerous levels, deepening our understanding of immigration law's under-pinnings in terms of masculinities is acutely important. Contemplating the unifying thread of dominant and marginalized masculinities underlying immigration law suggests a cautionary tale for modern immigration legal responses.
This Article first provides a brief overview of hegemonic, dominant, and marginalized masculinities concepts, revealing the insider/outsider dimensions of masculinities theory that are relevant to its application to immigration law. It then provides examples of how our immigration laws enforce masculinities - admitting immigrant populations that conform to dominant conceptions of western masculinities and excluding marginalized masculinities. Finally, this Article notes the implications of this thesis to modern immigration law in its endorsement of a masculinized state, and the enforcement of a masculinized conception of citizenship. This Article introduces the relevance of this methodology. There is indeed rich and robust work to be done to test these theories and to reveal the value in and the limits of this unitary narrative.Abrams claims that -
Masculinity is "both omnipresent and invisible." After famously declaring "American men have no history," Michael Kimmel - and other masculinities scholars - undertook the monumental task of documenting how manhood and masculine relations in America have shaped history, institutions, and social order, and have evolved over time. He revealed the history of changing con- ceptions of "ideal" masculinity, but also the competing versions that challenged the normative view. Kimmel's work identified transformational historical moments during which American masculinities were in crisis as men reinvented and redefined their identities and their social interactions. This Article suggests that these masculinities crises or transformational episodic periods align with peak nativist sentiments and dramatic shifts in our immigration law and policy in notable ways.
Masculinities are distinctly a relational concept as institutions create masculinities and masculinities also construct institutions, rendering them keenly relevant to a thorough account of immigration law. Masculinities are fluid and characteristically dependent on the "other" to define itself, rendering it hard to capture and explore masculinities in isolation without its relational constructs. It is the framing of the "other" to define masculinities that positions masculinities theory as so informative to understanding immigration law. Likewise, our immigration laws explicitly and implicitly reflect a legal, political, and social framing of the "other," which, this Article reveals, aligns tightly with prevailing masculinities.
This Article particularly relies on concepts of hegemonic masculinity, dominant masculinities, marginalized masculinities, and hyper-masculinity to support its thesis. Hegemonic masculinity has been described as the "defining gender performance of Euro-American males." Hegemonic masculinity theory defines a dominant conception of masculinity as synonymous with power. It explains how definitions of manhood in American culture reinforce the power that some men maintain and wield over women and other men. "It is a "culturally idealized form of masculine character."
Hegemonic masculinity frames manhood as the quest to acquire and retain the symbols that express manhood," such as strength, success, and control.' Hegemonic masculinity imperatives exert pressure on men to conform to its ideals, but these cultural traits need not correspond closely to the actual person- alities of the majority of men. Hegemony is thus described by the "successful claim to authority," distinct from actual authority. Indeed, while men as a group may be dominant and powerful, most men as individuals do not feel powerful. The hegemonic model only actually represents a small number of men, but large numbers are "complicit in sustaining the hegemonic model." Men who do not meet these hegemonic norms will conclude that they are somehow "unworthy, incomplete, and inferior." Hegemonic masculinities are thus a relational concept, "not a fixed character type, always and everywhere the same," and "always contestable."
Hegemonic masculinity is sustained by the quest for a dominant strand of masculinity and the perceived powerlessness that men can derive from the constant pressure to achieve this masculinity. This perception of inadequacy can lead to hyper-masculine expressions. Hyper-masculinity is a theory of exaggerated masculinity expressed as a manifestation of one's insecurities. Hypermasculinity is a "hedge, an effort to offset feelings of masculine inadequacy. " Hyper-masculinity has been used to explain some acts of male violence, extreme conservative viewpoints, and bodybuilding behaviors, to name a few expressions.
Dominant and marginalized masculinities are hallmark characteristics of Western masculinities - particularly, the use of marginalization as an inter-group dynamic to sustain dominant masculinities. As Cheng explains, "[O]ne's membership in either the dominant group or a marginalized group is based on our conformity to hegemony": you either conform and belong to the dominant group or you do not conform and you are marginalized because you threaten the dominant hegemonic strand. Dominant masculinities refer to the"most common, celebrated, widespread, or powerful" types of masculinities. Marginalization describes "the relations between the masculinities in dominant and subordinated classes or ethnic groups." Marginalization is thus always relative to the "authorization of hegemonic masculinity of the dominant group."
The exclusion of marginalized and threatening groups has long been a "masculine retreat" in our nation's history, as dominant masculinities have espoused consistent sentiments of nativism and fears of feminization. Hegemonic masculinity is distinctly framed "in relation to femininities and subordinated and marginalized masculinities." It necessitates a hierarchy by positioning masculinity in a hierarchical relationship to femininity. It refers to the "cultural dynamic by which a group claims and sustains a leading position in social life. At any given time, one form of masculinity rather than others is culturally exalted." It is thus framed heavily by what it is not: namely, that men not be gay and not be feminine. Connell described "gayness" as the "repository" of what is "symbolically expelled from hegemonic masculinity . . . ." Masculinity is historically anchored in an exclusionary paradigm, systematically excluding women, immigrants, and gays. Hegemonic masculinity is also historically anchored in nativism and shaped by governing race relations.
Masculinity is historically fluid, rendering it rich for analysis in immigration law. R.W. Connell explains, "To recognize gender as a social pattern requires us to see it as a product of history, and also as a producer of history." Masculinity is often deployed as a political tool, as this Article will examine. The next sections of this Article examine how paradigmatic shifts in immigration law and policy have aligned with masculinities in crisis and how masculinities have shaped the ultimate direction of immigration law.