The beer talking: four lads, a carry out and the reproduction of masculinities

Brendan Gough and Gareth Edwards



Discourse analytic research on masculinity has produced some interesting and insightful understandings of male-bonding talk and/or talk around alcohol-related activities. These and other contributions have helped demonstrate the dependence of 'hegemonic' masculinities on the discursive subordination of the 'other', notably women and gay men. The present study builds on such work by examining the reproduction of masculinities in the context of a group of four young men interacting under the influence of alcohol. The talk was recorded with the permission of the four participants (one of whom is a co-author -GB) and subsequently subjected to discourse analysis. Particular attention is paid to definitions of (male) self and others - women, gay men and men from ethnically different backgrounds -which are negotiated during the inter- action. The analysis is discussed in the light of current debates on the discursive reproduction of masculinities.


Given the recent explosion in the study of masculinities (e.g. Kimmel, 1987; Segal, 1990; Connell, 1995), it is somewhat surprising that little research to date has been conducted on the types of things men say in relation to, and under the influence of, alcohol. In general, Western cultures advertise (excessive) alcohol usage as an exclusively male activity (e.g. Ratliff and Burkhart, 1984). The consumption of beer (in particular) with fellow males seems to be a potent resource for the enactment of conventional masculine identities (Kaminer and Dixon, 1995; Willot and Griffin, 1997). As Landrine et a/ (1988: 705) suggest, 'drunkenness may be an aspect of the concept of masculinity'.

In the sociological literature, the consumption of alcohol by (pre- dominantly young, working class) men is usually associated with ideals of masculinity such as toughness, endurance and aggression, both verbal and physical (e.g. Canaan, 1996). Yet the propensity for macho posturing and violence would not seem to require the presence of alcohol, since many traditional all-male gatherings out- side the public house (e.g. the locker room, the shop floor etc.) incorporate forms of abuse into the proceedings. In such contexts, aggression is (often playfully) distributed within the group, drawing in all men present to defend themselves against personal sleights (e.g. Tolson, 1977). When addressed in this way, 'masculine' expectations encourage standing up for oneself (strength) and keeping a hold on ones emotions (coolness) (see e.g. Lyman, 1987).

But the main targets of such 'joking' abuse usually turn out to be absent 'others', notably women and gay men. For example, research on male bonding activities in sporting contexts has noted patterns of sexist, racist and homophobic discourse (e.g. Lyman, 1987; Fine, 1987). The manifest pleasure which often attends such enactments of prejudice and aggression in all male (drinking) contexts has been interpreted in terms of 'release' from and 'resistance' to the confines of routine/work (discipline, deference, constraint, conformity) (e.g. Tomsen, 1997; Tolson, 1977). The enthusiasm and support which often accompanies such 'transgressions' attest to the important place which oppressing the 'other' (women, gay men, black men etc.) assumes in the articulation of certain forms of masculinity (Lyman, 1987).

Anxiety, masculinity and the other

In psychoanalytic terms, unconscious male anxieties and desires are likely to surface in the group situation -a simultaneous wish for and resentment of affection from others. These competing desires of belonging and autonomy can be seen in terms of masculinity. There are deep (unconscious) feelings of inadequacy (around comparative stature, performance etc.) in the presence of other men (originally the castrating father) who are therefore regarded as rivals and kept at a distance (intimacy is avoided). On the other hand, repressed 'feminine' tendencies (expressing emotion, intimacy etc.), originating from the (only partially successful) rejection of the engulfing mother, often become split off from self and projected on to others (see Frosh, 1993).

Within this account expressions of prejudice (when drinking) can be seen as reflecting fears about the power of others (e.g. other men, women) and about ones own sense of failure/femininity in relation to masculine ideals. However, cultural norms against prejudice have discouraged 'politically incorrect' public practices (see Billig, 1988; Gill, 1993). Consequently, those men interested in continuing with expressing prejudice despite - or perhaps because of - current values of tolerance and plurality may have to resort to more careful, discreet or 'ironic' expressions of bias, perhaps in private locations. Whilst some men attempt to adjust to non-oppressive ways of relating to women and 'other' men (see Christian, 1994), the influence of feminism, gay rights groups and economic instability, which have directly questioned conventional masculine and heterosexual practices, have led some men to construe the perceived ascendancy of 'alternative' voices as threatening, even 'emasculating' (e.g. Dennis, 1992; Horrocks, 1994).

As such, the bolstering of male egos and/by the critique of out- groups may well become more pronounced in all-male drinking contexts. According to Rutherford (1988: 54) the cultural 'disruption' of traditional masculinities encourages men to resort to male bonding as 'a place to which men can retreat in search of reassurance and validation'. As Gough (1998b) found, some male university students report 'biting their tongue' and containing their feelings about masculinity and related subjects when in particular public locations (e.g. university seminars), but that in all male groups prejudiced views are more frequently expressed. Similarly, in their study of unemployed men, Willott and Griffin (1997) have also found all male encounters in pubs to be a 'pivotal site for both the expression and reinforcement of traditional masculinities' (p. 11).

This study, then, is a detailed exploration of one all male gather- ing and the ways in which four young white heterosexual men (including one the researchers - GE) negotiate and reproduce a range of masculinities whilst drinking alcohol. The project seeks to enhance the existing literature through its focus on men's talk during a fairly typical drinking gathering (rather than talk about alcohol- related activities prompted by a researcher) and its 'middle-class' sample (avoiding the sociological bias towards working class men). With the present paper's emphasis on the drunken discourse/s of 'middle-class' lads, new opportunities are permitted for developing insights into the contemporary formulation of particular masculinities and their ideological effects. Further, the lads involved in the study are located indoors (in one of their flats) as opposed to standard 'masculine' sites, such as the public house, sporting arena or workplace.

Background to the study


All hail from Manchester and are white, aged twenty-one and identify themselves as heterosexual. Three have been 'mates' for years: 'George' and 'Dave' are from the same district and have known each other since childhood; 'Ewan' met up with the two of them at sixth form college. 'Chaz' entered the scene later -like Ewan, he was one of the few other lads on the university psychology course and this common identity brought them together. Ewan had introduced Chaz to the other two on previous social occasions and he had become part of the 'gang'. George was also a university student and Dave had recently dropped out of his course and was unemployed.

Ewan, also the co-researcher (GE), had lots of his friends volunteering to participate in the project but selected people who he had been drunk with before, friends with whom he was comfortable and who were regarded as similar in outlook. Other mates were thought to be too 'risky' in their capacity to disrupt proceedings and render the event non-routine - the idea was to document and analyse the talk of a sample of young males in a typical drinking context. For their part, the 'chosen' volunteers justified their interest mainly on grounds of 'fun' ('should be a good laugh') and altruism ('yeah, if it helps you out'). Although slightly uneasy about subjecting the (potentially embarrassing) talk of friends and himself to public scrutiny, the urgency to initiate and complete an important university assessment was the main concern for GE.

The 'group' do not easily fit into a tight class category. For exam- pie, although George and Dave come from the same council estate, differences exist in terms of parental occupations (compare George's unemployed father with Dave's factory-supervisor dad) and type of housing (George's rented terrace v Dave's owner occupied semi-detached property). In fact, Dave explicitly defines him- self as middle-class. Ewan, whilst also originating from the north side of the city, identifies his surroundings as distinctly 'suburban' (both parents are social workers). Chaz's background is similarly middle-class (his mother a teacher and father a businessman) and is from the south side of the city. In the light of this information the sample could be identified as broadly middle class, although clearly this label would miss some of the important differences mentioned. The north-south difference is also significant within this group - there is a shared history of 'debate'/'banter' as to which 'side' can claim authentic 'Manc' status, a desired but contested regional identity which hangs on disputed urban boundaries and postcodes (here the distinction between the favoured 'City' of Manchester and maligned 'Greater' Manchester is especially important).

The drinking session was organised by Ewan and took place in the flat he shared with his then girlfriend of two years standing (she was elsewhere at the time). Such gatherings involving alcohol and 'crack' were regular weekend features and normally involved various lads only, although girlfriends did participate on some occasions. At the time of the study, three of the participants (Ewan, Dave and Chaz) were in 'serious' relationships with women, with both Ewan and Dave living with their partners. Typically, such scenarios stimulated talk on a range of topics, including reminiscence about shared experiences, different 'northern' dialects (notably variation between Lancashire and Yorkshire phonetics and phrases), popular culture (e.g. cinema, TV, men's magazines etc.) and, perhaps more predictably, 'letting off steam' about gender relations and sexuality.

With all these topics, the emphasis is usually on humour, with the most original, outlandish or controversial contributions generally securing the all-important big laughs. Indeed, this form of all-male drinking context is construed by all participants as a relaxed, informal setting where certain comments, regarded as 'dubious' in most other contexts (e.g. university, home etc.), can more easily be expressed, a perception popular with male students interviewed elsewhere (Gough, 1998b) and which ties in with some of the work on 'rule-breaking' in which circumstances as pleasurable resistance to prevailing norms (e.g. Tomsen, 1997). The session lasted approximately five hours and all participants were given further details about the study (i.e. the focus on masculinity) the next day.

The two positions simultaneously inhabited by GE -researcher and participant (Ewan) -did cause some tension around being at once same and different. Prior to the actual event, GE thought about abstaining from alcohol with a view to taking field notes as the session progressed. However, as the hour approached this idea was rejected as it was felt artificial and unrealistic, somewhat against the spirit of 'high spirits'. Although the participants had previously agreed to the dialogue being recorded on tape (their anonymity had been assured) and had been enthusing about taking part, there was some initial suspicion about what the project was 'really' about and some anxiety expressed about being categorised (especially from Chaz, who was a psychology student like Ewan). It required some effort for Ewan to reassure people as to the innocuous nature of the research: 'honestly, there's no ulterior motive; I just want to identify themes from the conversation' etc., and soon these concerns dissipated and 'typical' chat ensued -the tape recorder was mostly ignored apart from some drunken singing into the microphone later in the evening, an indication of how 'relaxed' things had become. There are other issues around analysing the material in terms of Ewan representing himself and friends and these will be discussed as they arise.


Before considering the specific discourses evident in this paper, it is important to discuss the goals of discourse analysis in general. A general aim is the attempt to 'explore how cultural representations become part of subjective identity' (Roper and Tosh, 1991: 15) through the analysis of discursive patterns or 'regularities in spoken or written text through which phenomena are constructed, described, explained, or ignored' (Willott and Griffin, 1997: 5). The individual may be seen as 'a gifted craftsman and mediator of culture through his or her mastery of language' (Kvale, 1992: 36).

A number of assumptions associated with a discursive approach need to be stated here. First, in a postmodern age there is a multiplicity of perspectives and representations from which an individual can forge an identity at anyone time. Secondly, the representations 'must perpetually be achieved, asserted and renegotiated' (Roper and Tosh, 1991: 18). As will shortly be shown, the notion of 'masculinity' is constructed and formed between the men so that it becomes (at least for that period) a shared understanding, a product of joint work.

The third point refers to a notion of strength or 'hegemony' pertaining to various discourses, since they often function in the interests of particular sections of society struggling to advance their own version of 'reality' to benefit from its cultural acceptance (Edley and Wetherell, 1995). The dominance or 'hegemony' of a particular version then has to defend its' position as 'the most widely adopted frame of reference against challenges from the other, subordinated cultures' (Gramsci, 1971). As already intimated above, discourses around masculinity can readily be seen in this light.

Finally, precisely because of this operation of power between discourses, the project of understanding masculinity compels us to agree that 'masculinity as an object of knowledge is always masculinity-in-relation' (Connell, 1995: 44). This relational approach means we can recognise the many, often oppositional pressures towards self and 'the hard compulsions under which gender configurations are formed' (Connell, 1995: 76). Of course, this is not to say that for many man access to and use of culturally powerful resources is fairly unproblematic. Indeed, the present analysis throws up a range of discursive resources deployed by the participants which reinforce conventional masculinities.

The actual process involved in analysing the discourse began with 'chunking' the transcript into interactions concerning a topic, which were coded using 'in vivo' themes, such as 'penis', 'women', 'relationships' etc. (see Willott and Griffin, 1997). The different ways in which these themes were talked about were then grouped together in discrete clusters, with connections between themes being noted. At this point a more interpretative analysis was conducted to identify recurrent discourse patterns. The most common pattern was the construction of masculinities centring around a distancing from and rejection of 'others' and a creation of a 'circle of legitimacy' (Connell, 1995: 76) around self. It is therefore these two aspects of the construction of masculinity -self and 'other(s)' -which will be presented.

Constructions of 'self'

(A) The 'one-eyed trouser snake': phallocentric discourse

In this section we see how traditional forms of masculinity are reinforced with reference to heterosexuality. Although much feminist work has already examined the oppressive consequences of hetero- sexual discourse's for women (e.g. Hollway, 1989), few studies have investigated how men re-work conventional understandings in practice in order to bolster identities. Within the text produced by the present participants, a striking feature is the amount of talk focused on the penis, that privileged 'sign' of masculinity. Consider the following example of phallocentric discourse:

Extract 1 (pp. 50/51)

E: Susan had t'do a test in er, one of her seminars on. . .y' had t'think of all the names y' could think offer penis. . .'ave yer seen [the film] 'Naked Gun'?

G: in a seminar?

D: there's loads, in't there?

G: yeah

E: y' know y' 'member [the scene] where they're all fallin' asleep in the auditorium 'n they've gotta be all woken up t' get out 'cos there's a bomb in there or whatever?

G: yeah

E: 'n he gives 'im this book 'n it says 'he thrust his huge purple dominating head, no huge dominating purple headed warrior in to [G laughs] into her quivering mound of love pudding' [laughter]. She just sat there 'n said 'what name do y' use fer penis' she went. . .'huge dominating purple headed warrior' [laughter]

G: one-eyed trouser snake; one eyed forest-livin' fuckin' cave- seekin' blue-veined fucking [laughter] fucking trouser snake, ah go on pal

D: I just like t' stick with nudger [laughter]

E: nudger? [laughter] sounds like a fuckin' gamblin' machine -y' get in the. . .you have three nudgers

G: three nudgers?

D: if y' 'ad five yer undies 'd fit y' like a glove

There is an initial reference to how the penis (and vagina) are (comically) constructed in a particular film (the 'Naked Gun'). There is an undoubted 'hysterical' quality to the phallic imagery deployed here; vivid, almost surreal metaphors connoting potency and danger. The interest which these exaggerated depictions attract here hints at a desire to possess that which is diminished or absent (phallic/social power) -anxieties about sexual/social status provoke a defensive identification with symbols of heightened masculinity (see Segal, 1990).

So, the joking way in which the penis is addressed combined with the fascination with outrageously overblown representations would seem to suggest 'typically' male anxieties about stature and performance, both in the sphere of heterosexual relations and, symbolically, public positions in the social pecking order. There seems to be a straining after what can hardly be achieved (to be tough, hard, active etc.), also evident in visual depictions of the male pin-up (see Dyer, 1982). The laughter which permeates the play on words and images around the penis also points to a release of tension -the 'banter' allows anxieties to be simultaneously expressed and relieved (in passing at least), with the added benefit of entertaining/being entertained by friends.

This extract illustrates a further significant aspect of the penis and what it meant to (some) men, in that the penis is discussed in reference to heterosexual intercourse or, as George puts it, 'cave- seekin' '. As Edley and Wetherell (1995: 9) point out 'anatomical features such as the penis and breasts come to signify or stand for the sexes themselves. A penis means masculinity or manhood'. To a certain degree this is true, but it is clear that an exclusive focus on the penis per se is unsatisfactory, even when regarded in grandiose terms ('blue-veined'; 'snake-like'), for it must also be connected to its 'other' -the vagina, and hence penetrative sex. So, whilst breasts are commonly used to signal femininity (see later), the penis may only prove significant as a sign of masculinity if connected to its 'legitimate' deployment -heterosexual intercourse. This ties in with 'scientific' sexological discourses which impute power and activity to the penis (see e.g. Holland et al, 1990).

To clarify this point, we can compare the above talk with a subsequent reference to homosexuality (discussed more thoroughly in a later section). Whilst (male) homosexuals obviously possess a penis, they are nonetheless subjugated with reference to the disallowed use to which this is put, as encapsulated in pejorative allusions such as 'turd burglars' and 'chutney ferrets' (p. 81 of transcript). Thus, 'their' sexuality and masculinity is defined (and rejected) by the use of their penis for anal intercourse. To coin a popular phrase, 'it ain't what you've got, it's what you do with it that counts'.

In this way then, the construction of the penis (as/like masculinity itself) in these extracts is relational, and it is that relation that strengthens the heterosexual aspect of hegemonic masculinity. Prescriptions of 'correct' use of the penis then help assert one form of masculinity. This can also be seen when the penis reappears in conversation under the guise of male nudity:

Extract 2 (p. 43)

G: we was playin' naked football the other night

G: like it was only 'bout 'alf 11, er. . .

C: play that often, do ye?

G: well I was. . .in our pants like, we were only kickin' it 'bout back I live off

C: what, in yer duds or wi' fuck all?

G: duds, 'n boots like

In this extract George initially and unproblematically makes reference to a game of naked football in which he had been involved, but when the legitimacy of such an activity is questioned, he then claims that the participants were not totally naked - as if it would be unthinkable not to be wearing underpants. When George is then asked directly if they had 'duds' on or not, there is again a need to clarify the term 'naked' and make sure that all present know that they had their sexual organs covered. Whilst there are several good reasons to have underwear on (it was November after all), that this point required attention and clarification suggests a shared coyness about the penis when not engaged in heterosexual activity. Contrast earlier exuberant and uncensored use of symbols signifying magnitude and potency tied to explicitly heterosexual endeavours. This contingent 'forgetting' of the penis in talk suggests tight boundaries around its un/acceptable display/use for (some) heterosexual men, a sense of discomfort when removed from its 'natural' penetrative function.

Similarly, when the conversation unexpectedly turns to masturbation, it is characterised by humour and uncertainty which ensure that the topic is not seriously discussed:

Extract 3 (p. 16/17)

G: so I says to Frank the other night 'I'm going for a "whaz" '; he said 'you dirty bastard' [laughter]

D: no, 'whaz'

G: 'whaz -I'm going for a slash' [D laughs]

C: where you said I'm going for a whaz'?

G.' yeah

C: which means a piss?

G: yeah -he thought I was going for a wank, you know what I mean? [laughter] as if I'd fuckin' tell ya! [laughter] 'ere r Frank I'm gonna do it through your keyhole!'

When masturbation accidentally inserts itself into the conversation owing to confusion about the meaning of a slang word ('whaz') the joking way in which it is treated suggests anxiety about addressing this topic openly, betrayed further by the shared constructs of impropriety ('you dirty bastard') and privacy ('as if I'm gonna do it through your key hole') which emerge. Again, the likelihood is that this taboo is connected to the experience of pleasure in the absence of a female and hence outside the normative context of heterosexuality, thereby risking allegations of perversion, even homosexuality. In these three extracts then, we see that, if talk/practice are not clearly implicated in heterosexual activity, anxiety and fear may well be experienced, thus holding in place a particular and powerful hegemonic form of masculinity.

(B) Masculinities in relationships: dominance/vulnerability

The penis aside, a look at the way heterosexual relationships are discussed casts light on the elaboration of hegemonic masculinities. On page 44 George tells of his drinking partner (Sam Smith) who found his girlfriend in bed with another man and has 'been onna bender ever since'. The reactions to Sam's girlfriend's infidelity are unanimous:

Extract 4 (p. 45/6)

D: fuckin' 'ell, harsh that. . .

C: bit harsh that, innit?

D: yeah, it's a bit heavy innit?

G: blues big time

E: I'd be fuckin' gutted. . . ' e walked into her room and caught 'em at it

G; not 'at it' but she, like, sat up topless

E: has she defended 'erself or has she said. . . ?

G; nah, she didn't defend herself

C: it fuckin' blatant that, innit?

D: I'm sorry but I'd go fuckin' mad if I saw that [laughs] knock fuck out the pair of' em 'n throw' em out the window [laughter]

G: you would, wouldn't ya?

D: I fuckin' would l tell ya. . .'FUCK OFF! GETOUT'

G: he was quite, er restrained about it. . . fer the next two weeks we just got blasted

Obviously finding one's partner in bed with another person is distressing no matter what sex you are, but the way it is handled here recalls certain aspects of hegemonic masculinity. That the act was so 'blatant' (attention is drawn to the woman's 'topless' state) implies an attack on 'masculine pride' -since the sexual double standard promotes male promiscuity and ownership and female fidelity and dependence (see Hollway, 1989). The woman-as-male-territory theme is underlined here -she is marked by a lack of agency within male-centred heterosexuality. For a woman to engage in extra- relationship sex then is seemingly to undermine one's sense of masculinity. The case is clear-cut - the woman is the transgressor, all the more responsible for not offering any explanation for her crime (an omission which elicits disbelief), and the man is the victim, in need of support, as evidenced by George's heroics in sharing an alcohol binge with him (which is approved by the lads, who nonetheless express concern about the potential damage to George's degree hopes).

Dave's advocation of violent revenge would be expected of traditional masculine scripts, although in this case it would appear to be knowingly over-the-top (it is not believed by George). Since three of the four imagine emotional reactions (being 'gutted'; 'heavy' etc.) and Dave's threat of attack seems tongue in cheek, distance is created from an aggressive form of masculinity. Although George thinks Sam's response somewhat 'restrained' ('weak'?) in the face of Dave's mock aggression, the lads' preference would seem to be for a more passive, avoidance strategy i.e. getting drunk, whereby vulnerability may be approached only indirectly or side-stepped altogether. Men are allowed to be victims here, but may not be permitted to talk too much about their experience of pain.

Further on in the conversation the subject of relationships returns, this time the man is the one 'out of order':

Extract 5 (p. 49150)

G: 'cos Jack could be a bit of a cunt sometimes couldn't he?

D: Jack was a total bastard with 'er. . .it's when he thinks he can get away with it, innit -y'know what I mean?

G: yeah

D: he'll just try it on

E; that's it, once, y' know, y' can like abuse somebody

G: yeah, y' do it subliminally don't yet?

D: Jack needs somebody like Jack t' go out with [laughter]

G: yeah, take the mutual piss out of each other

E: equally abusive yeah

D: just gotta knock 'im about. . .yeah, 'n then he'll just go fuck off bein' abusive

G: chill out! ...'ows 'e goin' wi' that [new] girl?

Here we see an overall agreement that Jacks' foul treatment of his ex-girlfriend is not right - there are limits to how men should behave towards women. He is taken to represent an extreme form of masculinity which is opportunistic and exploitative - and implicitly outside the norm for these (gentle)men. A demonised 'other' is created who deserves punishment, even physical abuse. As well as reinforcing forms of hegemonic masculinity (see above), the participants conspire to criticise those dimensions deemed 'problematic', although the suggestions for confronting such misbehaviour verge on reproducing those very practices which are rejected (i.e. verbal and physical abuse).

Nonetheless, Dave's aggressive stance in turn is received as excessive (Ewan's exhortation to chill out') therein regaining some ground towards the 'nice' side of masculinity. Perhaps Ewan's intervention is significant at this point -it appears as if he was using his 'power' as researcher to discourage behaviour perceived to be 'out- of-bounds' (possibly to deter unfavourable interpretations of his friend's attitude). On the other hand, however, Ewan has a reputation within his circle of friends for challenging instances of 'problematic' talk independent of what might be expected of his more 'official' role in this case, although it is difficult to tease the two apart.

In this section it has been suggested how precarious men's negotiation of their masculinity can be when associated with the body and sexuality. The signs used to represent the penis are grossly exaggerated and much discussion about body parts and sexuality needs to be clarified and made unambiguous so everyone gets the message '1 am heterosexual and so are you'. In contrast, no boundaries are erected with respect to female sexuality -there is implicit agreement that women are territories to be colonised.

As well, moral talk around relationships suggests presented masculinities offended by perceived injustices and contained by coping strategies which emphasise passive (alcoholic) avoidance (where women are the cheats) and active revenge (where other men are at fault). Elements of ambivalence, conflict and anxiety can therefore be said to characterise the attempts of these men at self- definition in talk -themes highlighted further by discourse about 'others'.

In the following section then, the focus is on the negotiated boundaries of masculinity in reference to those excluded. In a cultural context in which being a man is allegedly suffused with uncertainty and anxiety, some men may well seek refuge in defending dominant discourses, which often means instituting a critique of significant others (e.g. Connell, 1995).

Constructions of 'other'

1 Sexist discourse

(1 A), She's got paps, big time': sexual objectification

It is clear from the above analysis that phallocentric discourse makes available various 'masculine' subject positions for men, but it also implicates women. We have already seen women constructed - and constrained -in various ways, as in the passive recipients of penetrative sex, 'love cheats' and (conversely) faithful partners to philandering men. Hegemonic masculinities thus derive their mean- ing in part from the (often oppressive) positioning of women. However, much more direct forms of prejudice may be presented.

Rutherford (1988: 54), for example, found that in male bonding activity women become 'disassociated objects' and suggested such objectification is done to reassure and validate masculinity (note the reference to the woman as 'topless' in extract 4). Similarly, research on sport suggests that women-as-objects stories are commonly and enthusiastically reproduced in locker room talk (e.g. Sabo and Panepinto, 1990). The construction of devalued feminities thus provides an 'other' against which hegemonic masculinities constitute themselves. Such overt and self-conscious appropriation of pejorative language about women structured much of the talk between the participants in this study. In the following four extracts then, we see women designated as (inferior) 'other' by virtue of biological/genital signs, notably the breasts:

Extract 6 (p. 41)

G: Spoke t' Daisy the other night 'n all

D: yeah?

G: well chuffed ...the legs phoned me

D: the legs innit

G: yeah

Extract 7 (p. 48)

G: If I'd a started goin' out wi' paps like. . .

D: who's paps?

G: she's got paps, big time

D: paps wi' the baps

G: she's got huge breasts. . .they're just fuckin' huge, they are really big

D: dead 'eat in a bag a zeppelin race? [laughter]

E; photo finish

G: mm bag o' puppies ready fer the drowning [D laughs]

E: oorr deary me [G laughs]

C: two puppies inna sack [laughter]

D: a pair 0' Barrat 'houses [laughter]

Extract 8 (p. 49)

E: Friend o' mine used t' be called Tracy Bellons ...use to er have very large mammaries [G laughs], called 'er Tracy Mellons

D: use to give 'er

G: [Ingle] Mellons

D: De decon it fer ages [G laugh] mammary batons 'n that [G laughs] MB, MB, 'what yer talkin' 'bout'? [little girl accent + laughter] fuckin' months, got told in the end stands fer mammary batons [laughter] went like that [G laughs], twin peaks we give 'er fer ages's well [G laughs]

Extract 9 (p. 50)

G: soon as his backs' turned check the paps on this [G & D laugh]

D: mammary batons [G laughs]

E: mammary batons [said with disgust]

G: glands supreme

D: nice set o' top bollocks [laughter]

By referring to women (im)purely in terms of disembodied features, the men are 'doing' their masculinity by reproducing sexist discourse. Joking about big breasts is a particularly male pastime that usually occurs only in all male groups, or at least in hushed tones or innuendo. The use of such language helps to alienate femininity by constructing it purely in the physical, thereby equating the feminine with female and hence marking a strong distinction between feminine and masculine (male). Rutherford (1988: 54) suggests that sexist views about women are framed 'in a language that originates in men's estrangement from their bodies and sexuality'. Particularly telling is the frivolous recounting of the abuse to which a female friend was subjected, a good example of male collusion in and insensitivity to the(ir) infliction of suffering on to women. When disapproval is intimated by Ewan on two occasions ('oorr deary me' (ex. 7); disgusted tone (ex. 9, the talk continues unabated.

Again the issue arises about Ewan's contribution to this discourse. From the four extracts presented (and the session in general), he tends not to join in the process of conceiving successively more ridiculous and derogatory images of women - in fact, he challenges this focus, as mentioned above. In extract 7 he does collude to some extent and gets the desired laugh, but is clearly uncomfortable with continuing in this direction. Although possibly attributable to his researcher role in this particular setting, this type of 'opting out' and/or taking offence at some of the 'worst' inputs is consistent with his behaviour at similar gatherings (to the extent that he has attracted light abuse from his mates in the past).

Two other interesting points arise from these extracts. First, two participants offer childhood recollections of such objectification, showing the early origins of sexist discourse. Secondly, there is an element of competition involved in the labelling of breasts wherein the initial term is followed by a succession of increasingly vivid and perverse alternatives the process ending in extract 7 with a rather surreal offering -'a pair o' Barrat 'ouses'. A curious variation on such terminology is provided in ex. 9 -'a set o' top bollocks' - where the female breasts are recuperated as male, perhaps revealing a desire to obliterate the feminine altogether? The same spiralling linguistic process featured earlier in the context of penis synonyms and (later) in terms of abuse for gay men. The immediate social motivation of such talk seems to be the achievement of humour and group approval. The Freudian idea that joking between men is undercut by competition and hostility would seem to be supported here given the immense imaginative effort evident in endeavouring to 'better' the last contribution in order to 'win' the valuable prize entailing ego-boosting loud applause. The wider political function of such sexist word play obviously entails the perpetuation of hegemonic masculinities through subordinating women.

(1 B), Was she wearin' dungarees?': anti-feminism

A further example of sexist discourse occurs shortly after this conversation, in which Ewan tells of a recent band he had seen:

Extract 10 (p. 59)

E: 'n this woman came on 'n started, it wont singin', it was shoutin' 'n 'y know the sort of erm, mid 80's er politically correct sort of

D: whaaaaahoooowhaaaahooo [0 laughs]

E: no no no no no nothin' like this, it was, ' I want to scratch your

D: probably use to do that, didn't yer? one of these days I'm going to rip you into little pieces

E: I want all, yeah, I want all men dead [G laughs] 'rrrr' just shoutin' inta this mike 'n she didn't even. . . it wont even done well, y' know what I mean?

D: mm oh yeah, proper shit

G: was she wearin' dungarees?

E: I was stood there tryin' t' dance thinkin' , I can't dance t' this woman screamin' abuse t' the whole of mankind' [laughter] 's terrible

G: was she wearin' dungarees?

E: no she was wearin' a fuckin' striped suit as it happens [laughter]

D: was she wearin' dungarees? [said laughingly] did she 'ave a skin'ead? [laughter]

G: nose rings? clit rings? [laughter]

D: chain

E: if she was wearin' dungarees how would I 'ave known? [laughter]

D: just like' at

G: just, er a conversation [laughter] that's what I call piss flaps [laughter]

E: ohhh

A particularly vindictive anti-feminist discourse can be seen here, with severe stereotyping to a rather dated 'feminist' image - shaved head, body piercing, dungarees etc. By constructing an extreme and hostile image of a 'typical' feminist and doing so in a joking manner, the men obscure, ridicule and generally play down the feminist threat to hegemonic masculinity. It also serves to reassure the validity of the hegemonic masculinity by implying the major attack to it is nothing more than a silly joke. This resentment of feminism and female incursion into traditional male preserves has already been well-documented (Ford, 1985; Dennis, 1992).

Ewan is clearly more involved in this scene -and more implicated in perpetuating critical 'backlash' views of a woman (and by extension, women) in a position of power (as the singer in control). As the conversation develops and becomes more derogatory towards feminist women, however, Ewan distances himself and ends up expressing disapproval ('ohhhh') with George's 'piss flaps' reference.

There appears to be a line which Ewan will not cross -he will con- tribute anecdotes and comments which condemn (particular) women, but refuses to proceed when the tone becomes more obscene and general. Negotiating his position with respect to his mates, who are both same and different (more naive in terms of the research and perhaps located as more sexist) seems a delicate balancing act.

(1 C), Susan get the beers': women as domestic servants

The two examples of sexist discourse hitherto presented are very blatant, but others are more subtle. In the following extract a female friend is positioned domestically in terms of servicing male wishes:

Extract 11 (p. 12)

D: you could keet Susan here just to go and get the beers when we can't be arsed. . .[laughter] am I in shtum [trouble] now?

Here we see a straightforward reproduction of the notion of separate spheres, with women confined to the domestic, and a suggestion of subordinated servant (see also Willot and Griffin, 1997). However, Dave knows such a view is not 'politically' acceptable and wonders if it has caused him to be in trouble ('shtum'), perhaps with the more progressively positioned Ewan. Such confinement and subordination (even jokingly) helps to elevate the perceived value and worth of masculinity. It is interesting to note that Dave's concern about the comment's 'wrongness' is not about the comment itself -it is only 'wrong' if he is caught saying it by the 'wrong' people (e.g. women; Ewan). Gough (1998b) also found that sexist or politically incorrect thoughts often contained in public, are more easily expressed in such a setting.

It can be seen from this part of the analysis of the 'other' that hegemonic masculinity is validated in part by presenting women as little more than specific body parts (legs, breast, 'clit') seemingly designed for the purpose of male surveillance and titillation. This reduction of women to sexual organs is combined with the strategy of locating women in domestic space, again for the pleasure of their male 'superiors'. Such discourses are hardly fresh but it is pertinent to note that they continue to exert much fascination for certain men and, consequently, control over women in a gender climate often regarded (usually by men) as hostile to men (see Dennis, 1992; Gough, 1998a). Humour is used to subvert 'politically correct' ideals.

2 'Fudge nudger': homophobic discourse

As noted, dominant masculinities are often bolstered with desultory reference to homosexuality and gay men:

Extract 12 (p. 80)

C: what about poofs? what words 'ave y' got for that?

D: fuckin' loads in't there? one day we came up with like. . .

G: fudge nudger

C: chutney ferret

D: mattress muncher

G: yeah, carpet fitter

C: pillow biter

G: pillow biter

C: turd burglar [laughter] what's

G: fudge packer [laughter]

E: any requests for type of tunes?

G: arse bandit, sausage jockey fuckin'

C: sausage jockey [G laughs]

The insulting tone encountered here was already prefigured by the request for words for 'poof', implying that such a label is itself 'nor- mal' or acceptable, tame by comparison. As Kinsman (1987: 155) states: ~s boys and men we have heard. . . the words "queer", "faggot", and "sissy" all our lives. These words seem to define, regulate and limit our lives'. Curry (1991) has also noted the prevalence of homophobic talk in sporting contexts and considers this a defensive manoeuvre designed to create distance between (heterosexual) self and homosexual other. The use of such language helps distance homosexuality and produces certain effects, and by doing so, strengthens hegemonic masculinity.

First, the derisory tone to the terminology renders homosexuality a thing to be ridiculed and abused. Secondly, there is an association with a submissive female sexual partner ('pillow biter' being a consensual term) implying a perceived effeminacy and weakness to homosexuality. As Kinsman (1987) points out, men who depart from conventional masculine scripts - the unathletic, the pacifist, the sensitive - are burdened with 'feminine' names, such as 'girlie' or 'mummy's boy'. Finally, there is the rather obvious but easily missed aspect to the discussion - all references are to male homosexuality. Whilst female homosexuality is often fantasised about in traditional masculinity (see Segal, 1990), male homosexuality is firmly and vehemently rejected and despised. Again, women are regarded as objects of male desire, whereas homosexual men are construed as {threatening) subjects.

However, the deployment of prejudice is rarely totally smooth and in this case Ewan does not engage in the negotiation and in his discomfort instead attempts to divert the conversation towards music (which fails). This highlights the point that difference can rarely be discounted, that simply passing this encounter off as a 'male' tendency, something which all men (present) do, is patently inaccurate. Interactions between men, even in such a 'traditional} environment, will inevitably produce moments of resistance to often taken-for-granted 'masculine' talk/practice.

Gough {1998b) found similar behaviour in an almost identical context. Here, one of the student participants ('Stephen') spoke about returning to his home town and meeting up with old male friends in a pub. In the light of the prejudiced talk which ensued, Stephen felt pressure to withhold objections and sympathy for the targeted other(s) as this breach of hegemonic masculinity would cause suspicion and threaten group harmony. In both these instances, however, the would be detractor is simultaneously positioned inside and outside the group -'Ewan' is the researcher as well as participant and Stephen, from a working class background, had acquired middle class status through university education.

One other reference to homosexuality is made and, again, the association is weakness and non-masculine behaviour:

Extract 13 (p. 25)

C: one can eh Ewan?

E: you what?

C: one can?

E: calling me a poof

D: yeah [laughs]

E: fair enough

Here, perceived non-masculine behaviour is (jokingly) criticised and linked to (homo)sexuality. That Ewan now indulges in the type of homophobic discourse he rejected above serves to underline the variability in an individual's talk and, further, possibly highlights the effect of peer pressure (to conform to expectations of targeting 'others' in male drinking talk). To counteract the (playful) threat to his masculinity, Ewan responds with an exaggerated masculinity ('I'II go and get the intravenous needle and start injecting meself', p. 25) to prove his eligibility within the constructed boundaries of masculinity. Again we see a clearly determined line drawn between what is masculine and what is not. Homosexuality is marked off as different and subordinate both by illegitimate sexual practices and association with a discredited femininity. The lads remain triumphant.

3 ' D' y' wanna speak English?': racist discourse

Other men are also cast outside of 'real' masculinity, particularly those viewed as ethnically different. In one story (previously recounted -see extract 2) where George was playing ('naked') foot- ball, his neighbour enters the picture:

Extract 14 (p. 43/4)

G: fuckin' next-door neighbour comes out like that fuckin' Gareth or whatever he's called from

D: is that what he's called?

G: 'I'm from Wales' [said in mock Welsh accent] fuckin'

D: 'hallo I'm from Wales' [mock Welsh accent] [laughter]

G: 'n he came out 'n says

D: fuckin' openin' line

G: ' don't ya think yer bein' a bit unreasonable playin' football at this time onna Monday night?' I says' FUCK OFF! [laughter] ya bunch o' nob'eads, go on fuck off back inside' [laughter] full o' beer. . . funny

As with the anti-feminist discourse, this man is constructed outside of masculinity by reduction to and mimicking of a stereotype ('Gareth or whatever he's called'). This is compounded by the perceived weakness or softness by virtue of complaining about the lads' activity. This man, and his associated ethnicity, is targeted for ridicule and abuse by those men positioned within dominant discourses of masculinity and ethnicity. A more overtly racist theme emerges in another conversation:

Extract 15 (p. 56)

D: 's like when ya go in an Asian shop innit 'n ya walk up wi' yet beers 'n that

C: yeah

D: 'n they go like' at nibleonderbewhit [Indian accent] C, D, and

G laugh] nibleonedewhit'

E: round 'ere, y', y' go in like, pack 0' cigs or whatever

D: they could be callin' y' fuckin' owt couldn't they? just like 'at look at this piss'ead 'ere get tin' a few beers, dunt understand a word we're sayin' what a wanker' (laughter). just like that,

yeah, 'd'y' wanna speak English I'll twat yer face in like' [G

and D laugh]

Racism has always been integral to the articulation part of hegemonic masculinities (Connell, 1995). Again, exaggerated and abusive characterisation is used. There is also a suggestion of suspicion -an assumption that Asians' view of white people is prejudiced, which then warrants reciprocal abuse. In so attaching blame to the victims or prejudice, the hearability of racism is reduced (see Billig, 1988). Whilst racism may not be necessarily masculine, this form of racism is used in the construction of masculinity, as there is the creation of an 'us and them' feel, the 'us' being white males unified by colour and 'shared' perception of the 'other'.

So, in this second half of the analysis we see masculinity shaped and negotiated not by direct reference to the participants as men, but rather implied by the rejection of 'others' not included within conventional definitions of masculinity. By ridiculing, abusing and construing other groups of people as weak and/or laughable, and then distancing themselves from those people and implying a polarised opposition to them, the participants reinforce their exalted position of hegemonic masculinity. This is not simply a replication of general views on those people, but is negotiated and forged between the discussants as they define, validate and re-assure themselves and others of their 'true' masculinity.


The lads' talk analysed above is clearly structured around a key distinction between selves-as-men (positively regarded) and 'other' identities (women, gay men, men of 'different' region/origins etc.) viewed in pejorative terms. As other work has suggested, such accounts of 'outgroups' highlight a relational dimension to masculinity, a reliance on the (derogated) 'other/s' for self-definition (e.g. Gough, 1998a, 1998b; Connell, 1995; Edley and Wetherell, 1995; Dicks, 1991). Although this sustained critique of other groups of men has been implicated in the promotion and maintenance of (white, heterosexual, middle class) male power, it also underlines the dependence of dominant forms of masculinity on marginalised others. Further, the 'humour' with which 'others' are excluded and oppressed by these lads suggests some degree of anxiety around, and perhaps fear of, the power that other people could wield power over them. In classic psychoanalytic texts two fundamental male fears revolve around the engulfing mother (hence women) and repressed homosexual ('feminine') desire (e.g. Frosh, 1992; Jefferson, 1994), both of which are subjected to ridicule in the talk.

On a more general level, the 'spiralling' nature of the 'hypermasculine' banter also stands out as a possible way in which hegemonic masculinities "become strengthened and reinforced in the construction of masculinity. Indeed, it has been noted that ('male') humour is often used to frame 'problematic' statements as innocuous (e.g. Kaminer and Dixon, 1996). Moreover, some writers have pointed to competitive and aggressive elements within male subculture (e.g. Tannen, 1993) whilst others go further to suggest that male humour is associated with the reproduction of hierarchy (e.g. Pizzizzi, 1991). Fine (1987) also found that such escalation of insults to be present in the talk of the young boys observed in the context of 'little league' baseball. This paper contributes insights from the perspective of young adult men in a university context and points to groups of 'educated'/'middle-class' men as ripe for investigation with respect to masculinities.

The all-male context notwithstanding, the consumption of alcohol may also serve to disinhibit the (insecure) aggression directed t 'outsiders' as well as enhancing feelings of companionship with and connectedness to one's company. As well, of course, potential objections to the discourse/s presented in this context can always be processed by attributing the remarks to the effects of alcohol and the environmental emphasis on humour (see Fine, 1987).

The humour-oppression-anxiety qualities of the discourse could also be connected to 1990s culture, often viewed from within the academy and beyond as 'profeminist', even 'emasculating' (e.g. Farrell, 1994; Horrocks, 1994; Bly, 1991). Indeed, in the present case one of the main reasons for these lads looking forward to and relishing all male drinking sessions concerned the opportunities afforded for presenting perspectives felt to be disallowed in every- day, public contexts. The (social science) university setting, for example, was certainly held up by all participants as 'pro-women', which perhaps helps account for Ewan and Chaz forming a bond and 'sticking together' on their degree course where most students were female.

This construction of the (social science) university as female- centred (in ethos as well as numbers) was also reflected in the talk of other male students (see Gough, 1998b). Related to this, poor prospects of employment for graduates combined with the contemporary successes some women have enjoyed in competing for jobs are factors that have been linked to negative attitudes towards women (see Willott and Griffin, 1997; Riley, 1997). Dave was unemployed at the time of the study and the others did not express great expectations about finding satisfying work post-degree.

With these considerations in mind, the all-male drinking context can be seen as an 'outlet' for 'letting off steam' against traditional heterosexual male targets. And yet, to leave the interpretation there would be to deny the expectations and even pressures on men towards 'heterosexual performance' in the company of other men. Certainly in Ewan's case there are difficulties experienced in balancing the benefits of belonging to the male group (sameness, affection etc.) against a professed commitment against forms of prejudice (such as the manifest sexism, racism and homophobia projected in his friends' talk). Moreover, to assume a coherent, problem-free conspiracy would be to neglect the range of different positions and (potential) conflicts between the participants in terms of competition for laughs, the boundaries of un/acceptable humour, regional identities (e.g. North v South Manchester; 'authentic Mancs') and possible tensions around social class.

As for 'Ewan', there were few problems experienced in assimilating the two roles of researcher and participant. After initial concerns about developing a 'strategy' for approaching the session (not drinking, taking notes. . .) he soon decided to go along with his usual self-with-mates-drinking stance. This included a critical attitude towards blatant or excessive expressions of prejudice (as some of the extract included would indicate), a perspective which is fairly consistent across drinking meetings (i.e. not reserved for this one 'researched' encounter) and which he attributes to the influence of his two older 'feminist' sisters. Indeed, whilst analysing the transcript and reflecting on his contribution some guilt was experienced at not having sufficiently challenged instances of 'problematic' discourse, as in trying to change the subject or going off to get a beer or put some music on.

As well, some anxiety was experienced about presenting (if not himself, then) his friends as a bunch of traditional, masculine misogynists, racists and homophobics. At one level the character of much of the talk undoubtedly invites such labels, but, as implied above, this talk could easily be construed as context-bound and functional, with the principal purpose to elicit laughter rather than convey 'true' opinions. That any talk is contingent upon time and place can hardly be denied, but reliance on this contextual account alone would be too convenient as it forgoes questions of responsibility. In addition, as suggested above, this talk can be connected to masculinities feeling threatened, both by 'deep' unconscious emotions and perceptions of contemporary gender relations.

Moving on from these conclusions, we wish to address the strengths and weaknesses of this research. As Gough (1998a) has noted, the past ten years have seen an abundance of work on masculinity, but it has mainly been composed of theoretical and cultural analyses. What has been attempted here is an exploration into masculinity as it is actually constructed by men, i.e. how individuals achieve their sense of masculinity through a dynamic process of negotiation. The focus then is not on identifying general socio- cultural discourses pertaining to masculinity per se but on explicating their expression and negotiation within a particular sample of men.

However, unlike similar research (e.g. Willott and Griffin, 1997) where men had to consciously reflect upon issues around masculinity, this research shows 'masculinity-in-action' or masculinity as it is 'done' in 'real' life -there was no request to step back from the business of spontaneous social interaction in order to offer considered commentary. (A follow-up interview of the men would, how- ever, be useful to see to what extent their thoughts about masculinity match their masculinity as it is expressed.) The men were in both comfortable surroundings and company (reflected in the 'smooth' interaction) and the conversations were not orchestrated.

In conclusion, this research can be seen as part of the current attempts to gain a more sensitive understanding of gender and how it shapes and is shaped by individuals. Construction of gender is a central aspect of what we and others consider to be 'personality'. Through this exploration we have seen how this aspect is unstable and relational (for masculinity at least). By sketching the rather shaky construction of 'self' and the more certain construction of the 'other(s)', we can see more clearly those factors that are in play as men strive to come to terms with their own masculinity.

Sheffield Hallam University Received 21 January 1997 Finally accepted 27 January 1998



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