Blog Emerging Gender Topics in Public Administration

Why Masculinity? Haven’t Men Had Enough Focus Already?

By: Nuri J. Heckler

Men have been over-represented in government, management, and research for most if not all of modern history. Why, then, would I (a cis-gendered White man) write a chapter for Shields’ and Elias’ Handbook on Gender and Public Administration dedicated to Masculinity in public administration? Haven’t men had enough focus? The answer is both yes and no.

In the yes column is the fact that men still occupy the majority of all but two legislatures in the US (Nevada and Guam are majority women), and most political bodies around the globe. Also, men are over-represented in the federal government, even more over-represented than they are in the private sector, and even better represented in management in government. Even in the nonprofit sector, where women are the majority of professionals, men still represent the majority of CEOS in large organizations (where the pay is better). Stivers’ noted that public administration scholars and leaders approach public service in a way that more closely resembles the mostly men who occupied the New York Bureau of Municipal research than the mostly women who occupied the settlement house movement. Because so many men have occupied the power centers of governance, and because so many men have decided what to research within those power centers, I concede the point that public administration has little need of more research on how men have run public administration.

Given the fact that men in governance have received so much attention, it is therefore baffling that there is so little research on how masculinity influenced all of these men as they engaged in their public service. Public administration scholars have called for more research on masculinity at least since Wamsley et al. in 1990, and certainly Jane Addams had a thing or two to say about the influence of masculinity on public service. This research consists mostly of calls for better understanding of how it is that the presence of so many men in public service has influenced governance. How has masculinity made governance more or less effective, efficient, economical, and equitable? I argue that this question needs more focus and more energy because the lack of understanding of the ways that men have influenced public service is the source of a large amount of administrative disfunction, including distrust, inefficiency, and inequity.

Let’s take as an example Riccucci and VanRyzin’s finding that domestic violence units with more women are more trusted. I argue that this finding indicates that masculinity in the police force is creating distrust. Women as well as men can enact masculinity, but when the public see men, they assume masculine. This is sometimes a benefit. Often it is not. Public servants would be better served if they could choose between masculinity and femininity to make deliberate use of both when appropriate. But none of that is possible until public administration researchers and public servants have enough knowledge of the ways that masculinity influences public service.

Okay, so why not start by focusing on femininity? I recently shared my research with Seba Bishu on femininity and masculinity in city management offices with a student who is a deputy city manager being groomed to take over when her boss steps down. Her response was to tell me that she felt seen. In her work, she was constantly engaged in doing both masculine and feminine tasks to be the best deputy city manager she could be. Because she was a woman in a space that was predominantly masculine, she was more aware of the moment when she reached for masculine tools. As more women come into public service, it becomes even more important to understand how they will need to conform to, change, or leverage the assumed masculinity in many public service organizations. It is not that we need to focus on masculinity to the exclusion of femininity. But to support equity, effectiveness, and democracy, scholars and public servants must focus on both masculinity and femininity in public service. With my chapter, I hope to give scholars and public servants a head start on understanding the masculinity at play in their research to enable a broader and deeper understanding of one of the most powerful influences on governance across the globe.

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About the author:

Nuri Heckler, J.D., Ph.D. focuses his research on Whiteness and Masculinity in public organizations including nonprofits, social enterprise, and government. Using experimental, qualitative, historical, and theoretical research methods, he examines the mechanisms that reinforce inequities and inefficiencies in public organizations. As a Maryland barred attorney, his research also examines the role law plays in the work of public administrators. His research can be found in Administrative Theory & Praxis, Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory, Administration & Society, Journal of Public Affairs Education, Urban Affairs Review, and Public Integrity among others. He is an avid commuter cyclist who spends his free time with his two children and baking award-winning cookies.