RE/EN ACTING MASCULINITY: CONSTRUCTING IDENTITY IN THE NORTHERN BARENTS
Aileen A. Espiritu
“The sole justification for Kirkenes as a well-equipped seaport and settlement of about 3800 people is the occurrence a few miles inland of large iron ore deposits.”
In one clear concise sentence, Trevor Lloyd, a geography professor writing from Dartmouth College in the United States in 1955, encapsulated the identity of the Sør Varanger region, deeply embedded in its mining history and the hundreds of men who toiled and moiled for iron ore between 1906 and 1996. This hard work will surface again when the Sydvaranger mines re-open in the summer of 2009. Indisputably, the Norwegian High North has undergone a massive transformation over the last hundred years since the mines were first opened just a year after Norwegian independence. Widely considered the frontier of the Norwegian south, the High North’s natural resources has proved invaluable to nation-building and economic development in Norway. It was a frontier to be confronted, if not conquered and tamed. Most notable of these frontier territories is the Commune of Sør Varanger in the Northeast of Norway, bordering Russia to the east and Finland to the south, rich in fish and iron ore. However, despite modernization, Cold War, strident gender equality policies, the end of Soviet communism, and a new millennium, it is clear that many elements have also not changed in this frontier region. This brief article explores just one of those elements that apparently lingers in this region, and that is the persistence of a hegemonic masculinity very much defined by the history of iron ore mining in Sør Varanger and its position as a border region on the Norwegian frontier. I argue that “hegemonic masculinity” endures in the prevailing discourses produced and performed in the region, thereby constructing identities that seem inextricably linked to massive industrial projects. I shall examine three major themes: memory and landscape; livelihoods and industry; popular and touristic viewpoints.
Simply put, I define discourse analysis(2) as a critical examination of the texts (spoken, written, acted and repeated) about Sør Varanger as a former and future mining region. Discourse analysis, by definition, is multi- and interdisciplinary in its scope and breadth, inclusive of differing approaches to the subject being analyzed. The discourse analysis I engage in is anchored in Judith Butler’s gender theory of performativity, outlined in her various writings, most notably Gender Trouble.(3) I argue that masculinity is performed and repeated in the identity of the Norwegian Northeast as a highly industrialized place. As Butler argues, gender is far from being essential and
…ought not to be construed as a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts follow; rather, gender is an identity tenuously constituted in time, instituted in an exterior space through a stylized repetition of acts. …Significantly, if gender is instituted through acts which are internally discontinuous, then the appearance of substance is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief.(4)
Borrowing from Hogan and Pursell in their study of “The ‘Real Alaskan’,(5) I use three different yet intertwining sites, namely: text (government and industry discourse, as well as news reports in print and on the world wide web, and advertising), ethnography (formal interviews) and the everyday (informal conversations and observations of living in Kirkenes, the administrative centre of Sør Varanger Kommune) to examine the three themes outlined above. In the examination of text, I look at the policy-making agenda in the High North as well as the journalistic representations of the region analyzing the identity projected (intentionally or not) to the local, national, and global audiences. An ethnographic analysis of the interviews I have collected for a study of quality of life in the Barents Region will demonstrate the somewhat ambivalent enactment (embrace and rebuff) of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ in Sør Varanger. Having lived in Kirkenes for only the past 18 months, my examination of everyday practices, as with Hogan and Pursell, can only be from a touristic gaze that stems from personal and anecdotal day-to-day experiences in a former and future mining and border town, but still very much informed by the first two sites of exploration.
What is 'hegemonic masculinity'?
A term popularized by R.W. Connell beginning in the mid-1980s, Connell argued that while hegemonic masculinity was just one among many kinds of masculinities, and while it was not statistically normal, “it was certainly normative. It embodied the currently most honored way of being a man, required all other men to position themselves in relation to it, and it ideologically legitimated the global subordination of women to men.”(6) Though not unproblematic, I use the concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ to lay the foundation for my arguments regarding the performance of masculinity in the Norwegian Northeast. The criticisms leveled against Connell’s ‘hegemonic masculinity’ can be encapsulated in the argument that her articulation does not take into account the many various kinds of dominant or hegemonic masculinities. Beasley points to the slippages in Connell’s typology and argues that
… the slide to dominant types of men/actual men—even if understandable
and related to an attempt to give embodied materiality to the political mechanism of a legitimating cultural ideal—has problematic consequences. For example, to put Connell’s conception of hegemonic masculinity as political mechanism to work, it is important to be able to disentangle hegemonic from merely dominant types/dominant actual men and their associated personality traits…. As Connell himself notes, many men who hold significant social power do not embody hegemonic masculinity.(7)
Hence, hegemonic masculinity implies a “politically legitimating cultural ideal”(8) that, I argue, is
…performance – what individual subjects do, say, `act-out' -- and performativity -- the citational practices which reproduce and/or subvert discourse and which enable and discipline subjects and their performances -- are intrinsically connected, through the saturation of performers with power.(9)
I will not get into a deeper discussion of this complex debate here, but suffice it to say that what we see in the Sør Varanger Kommune is masculinity expressed in hegemonic discourses defined by several factors: by policies of industrial and Northern development, cross-border relations, and the everyday discourses among civil society heard and seen in the landscape and spaces(10) of Sør Varanger. It is the inclusion of civil society in the repetition and performance of the masculinist discourse that takes it beyond power dominance. The use of the term “hegemonic”, as Beasley argues, harkens to the Gramscian multi-faceted power that goes beyond both military and economic power(11). That is, the masculinist discourses that pervade the conversations and performances in Sør Varanger are not dictated from above or from governmental or economic powers, but rather are enacted in everyday social, political, economic and cultural relations.
Sites of discourse
As I have explained previously, I analyze memory and landscape, livelihoods and industry, popular and touristic gazes. This mode of discourse analysis is defined by an exploration of text, ethnography, and the everyday to illustrate that hegemonic masculinity prevails in conversations and performances in the Norwegian High North. Within the repetition of these discourses themselves, we see hierarchies of hegemonic masculinities born out of the centre-periphery, metropole-hinterland and urban-rural dichotomies. Thus, not only can we examine written and pictorial texts, policy decisions, actions and spoken words as part of the discursive arena, we can also include space within our discourse analysis.
Memory and landscape
Military discourses at the border
If we accept that war and military have historically been the preserve of men, a trip through the Sør Varanger Kommune brings seemingly endless tropes of the spatially performed masculine. Driving into Kirkenes from the airport, the administrative centre of the Commune and its largest town with a population of 3,300, just over one-third the population of the Commune, one is immediately confronted by a militarized zone with the appropriate warnings not to trespass. Every six months, 350 new recruits, women and men, are enrolled in the Grensekompani/Utdanning (Border Company Education), of which 40% are culled from the rigorous training required to be a border guard at the 196km frontier with Russia.(12) While three decades of gender equality legislation and training have rendered Norway an egalitarian society at least in policy, it is clear that the boundaries between genders, between masculine and feminine, still persist. That it is news on the Sør Varanger garrison website that there were more “girls”(13) entering in the summer of 2008 than ever before suggests that sex and gender barriers remain. The website itself as text is rife with masculinist performance of military training and duties: a room full of newly-shaven recruits; painted faces ready for military exercises; enormous military machines in camouflage paint, etc. Women tend to be depicted as teachers, a clear stereotype of an accepted function of the female. To be fair, the discourse includes engagement with the neighboring communities of Sør Varanger, reaching out to children from kindergarten to school-age. The cynical view here, however, would be to suggest that this is all part of the nationalist program to instill in the young the possibilities and potential of a military career.
In addition to the obvious existence of the military presence at the border to punctuate the sovereignty of Norway over this space, history has also imbued this landscape with memories of hot and total war (not to mention Cold War politics). There are plenty of reminders of the populace and the industry that was in place here during World War Two. One cannot take a walk along the streets or suburbs of Kirkenes without coming upon bunker after bunker after surveillance viewpoints left by the Germans. The presence of these bunkers leaves an outsider like me to question why such stark reminders of total war are left to exist in this space.
During the war, Kirkenes itself became a Nazi stronghold with between 70-100,000(14) German soldiers to protect the flank and from which to launch attacks against Soviet military convoys.(15) Moreover, the Nazis brought 65,000 prisoners of war as laborers, presumably all men, to the territory in and around Kirkenes. Without doubt, the original 7000 inhabitants of Kirkenes and the surrounding towns were inundated by a massive number of men. Adding to the already masculinist society of the iron ore industry in Sør Varanger, the arrival of German soldiers and prisoners of war in such massive numbers certainly overwhelmed the landscape and space with men and masculine performance. The hegemonic masculinity built around iron ore mining was replaced by the hegemonic masculinity of Nazi German occupation and total war itself, so that layers of masculinist discourse were performed during wartime defined by offense, defense and resistance. Additionally the acceptance of the German hegemonic masculinity was enacted in romantic relationships between Norwegian women and German soldiers.(16) The liaisons of thousands of Norwegian women with German soldiers would be rejected as a traitorous acceptance of Nazi hegemonic masculinity when these women were placed under arrest after WWII and denied war pensions until 2005.(17)
Livelihoods and industry
Work and the weight of ore
As a centre of German naval and air operations, Kirkenes was massively bombed by the Allies, leaving very little standing by the time the Soviet forces that came across the border as liberators defeated the Germans in 1944.(18) The mining infrastructure was all but destroyed, and it was at this juncture that the Norwegian state could have decided to close down the mines. With combined private and public financing, however, the equipment and mining infrastructure would indeed be re-built and continue until its closure in 1996. Immediately after the end of WWII, surveys of the mines at Bjørnevatn were estimated at 50,000,000 tons of ore.(19) With this potential, the mining industry in Sør Varanger Kommune was rebuilt, modernized and expanded. Men both married and single were enticed into the region with work and Northern benefits. New and high-tech equipment and techniques were imported from the United States and once again the area became a thriving mining region with nearly 10,000 people.
Current statistics place the gender distribution of the 9, 518 people of Sør Varanger as nearly equal, with 101.5 men for every 100 women.(20) It must be noted that the Mayor of Sør Varanger is currently a woman, Linda Beate Randal, elected in September 2007, and Sør Varanger is ranked highly in terms of gender equality measured by the Norwegian Statistics Bureau.(21) Sør Varanger is nationally ranked third on measures such as percentage of female municipal council members, kindergarten spaces, levels of education of women and men, and labor force participation. This evidence seemingly belies my argument of a hegemonic masculinity in Sør Varanger. How could an analysis of the discourse and performativity of hegemonic masculinity be salient here if gender equality can be statistically shown? Let us not forget that even if hegemonic masculinity cannot be shown in numbers, it can be demonstrated as the normative in the discourse and the repetition of the performance of masculinity of Sør Varanger Kommune as a geographical space dominated by mining, even with its closure in 1996. The greatness of the mine in physical terms overwhelms and dominates (in a masculinist sense) the streets, countryside, and environment in and around Kirkenes and Bjørnevatn, leaving a moonscape, albeit beautiful, where nothing else can be built and no flora or fauna survives.
By the summer of 2009, the mines at Bjørnevatn will again be teeming with activity as the mines open providing as many as 200-250 (mostly) men with jobs. Attitudes towards the re-opening of the mines, while ambivalent and cautious in some circles,(22) have on the whole been celebrated in this frontier territory as one more marker of economic potential and prosperity. Despite the fact that the closing of the mines in 1996 was concurrent with the opening of commerce between Norway and Russia, which has led to more economic diversity than ever seen before in this region, the sentiment that the weight of iron means prosperity still remains.
In the past, the people of Sør Varanger thought that if it weighed 100,000 tonnes and made of iron, it was of value. But if you could not touch it, like tourism for example, it was dismissed as not of value for the economy.(23)
In conversations with political leaders and local community members, one of the overriding fears is that this corridor of mining will again be a masculine preserve as it had been for the first 90 years of its operation. Both women and men worry that the regime of work of two weeks on, three weeks off offered by the Sydvaranger Company will lead to a space subject to male transient workers who earn large sums of money without being part of the community. “We must be especially careful that Kirkenes does not accept having transit workers who come to work for two weeks on two weeks off.”(24) And yet, this regiment of working days is what the employers at the mines are using to entice workers from abroad to come to work in the Norwegian High North. There is clearly a tension here between the now much more gender-balanced concerns voiced by influential community members with regards to mining and the will of the mining industry (and its supporters including the community) at large. Observably, the dominant discourse of industrial development as necessary for the economic development of Norway and the High North (including gas development in Hammerfest) has drowned out the alternative voices of economic diversification, sustainable development and environmental concerns. I argue that this dominant discourse is profoundly rooted in the performance of hegemonic masculinity so that its citational practices, its performativity, have subverted alternatives to big industry and industrial development. The quotation from Linda Beate Randal is both rooted in the reality of the continued economic development of a modern industrial state and profoundly astute as to the political will of the population she serves. The performativity of hegemonic masculinity then is much more complex than males simply enacting masculinity. It is clear that the apparent wholesale acceptance of the seemingly unstoppable effort to once again open the Sydvaranger mines, politicians, local community members and Sydvaranger Company itself are the disciplined subjects of the performativity of hegemonic masculinity defined by having to develop big industry as a tool of state- and nation-building.
Popular and touristic gaze
Like most towns and cities dominated by one industry, Kirkenes and the outlying suburbs were built by or for that industry. Houses and buildings that flank the towns of Kirkenes and Bjørnevatn were built to house mine workers and managers in hierarchical fashion: upper level management and owners took homes high on the hills around Kirkenes, while those who worked in the mines getting their hands dirty lived at the bottom of the valley, for example. Houses built at the bottom tend to look alike, often distinguished only by the color of exterior paint. Looming over the town of Kirkenes, there is evident activity in the once shuttered massive buildings that will again be used to process the tons of rocks from the mines and sent off to far-off destinations in Asia. Living here, one is assaulted by the performance of this one big industry on a day to day basis. Yet, Sør Varanger is surely much more.
In the interviews I have conducted asking residents about their quality of life in Kirkenes, conversations about everyday life ultimately point to the natural surroundings afforded by the Varanger fjord and the Pasvik River valley. Indeed, the geographical space on which industrial Kirkenes and Sydvaranger mines sit is very beautiful. Often what is cited, especially in regards to questions of quality of life, is how easy it is to get from urban space to rural countryside.
This is the best place in the world to live. I can drive 15-20 minutes outside of town to go fishing and hunting. I don’t need a place to get a café latte or whatever…. I have a very high quality of life.
Clearly, leisure use of this non-urban space is still bound up in a masculinist discourse, especially when held up against more urban, suggested feminine, affectations such as a café latte. While women seem to regard the countryside around Kirkenes as a place for relaxation and enjoyment of nature, men see these places as spaces to perform the masculine: snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, crab safaris that may require ice diving, paddling a canoe on the Pasvik River along the forbidden Russian border, sleeping in a snow hotel, etc.(26) It would be disingenuous not to point out that these activities are not necessarily confined to male interests and performance. Yet, the language and discourse used to describe these activities conjures the images of conquering the frontier and of looking for adventure that may include elements of the extreme climates and geography and danger. While the allure of conquering nature, of experiencing the extreme and the dangerous may also appeal to women, one cannot overlook that this discourse around the conquest of the environment harkens to the language of explorers and exploration, which has historically been dominated by men and of which Norway has a long and deep history certainly dominated by men: Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen, Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink, Arctic and Antarctic explorers, just to name a few. Even the advertisement to entice people to come try the High North as a place to live or tour is resplendent with the imagery and language of adventure and exploration: a king crab positioned on a rock by the rough Barents Sea enticing its audience with “Jobb og opplevelser—prøve Finnmark!”(27) The advertising has a double-entendre, advertising job opportunities in Finnmark for those with experience, and in return what you get is a job and experiences beyond the workplace, as promised by the picture of the king crab.
My gaze on Kirkenes and Sør Varanger is certainly one of a tourist. Not only am I a newcomer to this region, I am also a newcomer to Norway. And so I look at this place still with an outsider’s eye, fairly or unfairly. In observing the identity construction in this highly industrialized space in the Norwegian High North on the territorial boundary with Russia, I conclude that the repetition of hegemonic masculinities – its performativity still persists amidst the enormity of industrial Sør Varanger, in the High North, even though Norway and Norwegians regard themselves as an egalitarian society. Not only is this evident in the Second World War history of this region, but also in the local level discourses in the re-opening of the mines and in this region’s economic interests across the border. It can also be seen at the national level where political policies have privileged the development and promotion of massive extractive industries such as iron ore, oil and gas. In the privileging of these industries that tend to employ mostly men, and which rely on big machines and muscle power to get the job done, the polity and the population repeat the performativity of hegemonic masculinities subverting alternatives to industrialization. They discipline the population to continue to accept the 19th century idea that industrialization is key to the advancement of nation- and state-building.
(1) Trevor Lloyd, “Iron Ore Production at Kirkenes, Norway,” Economic Geography 31 (no. 3, 1955): 211-233.
(2) “Discourse analysis theory proposes that relations of power in our society affect and shape the way we both communicate with each other and create 'knowledge.'” For a definition of discourse analysis, see Irena. R. Makaryk, General Editor and Compiler Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory. Approaches, Scholars, Terms, University of Toronto Press, 1993.
(3) See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge: New York and London, 1990).
(4) Ibid, pp. 140-141. Italics in original.
(5) See Maureen P. Hogan and Timothy Pursell, “The "Real Alaskan": Nostalgia and Rural Masculinity in the "Last Frontier," Men and Masculinities 11 (Number 1, October 2008): 63-85.
(6) R.W. Connell and James W. Messerschmidt, “Hegemonic Masculinity
Rethinking the Concept,” Gender & Society 19 (No. 6, December 2005: 829-859; “The historical displacement of the gentry by businessmen and bureaucrats in core countries was plainly linked to the transformation of peasants into working classes and the creation of working-class hegemonic masculinities as cultural forms. The separation of household from workplace in the factory system, the dominance of the wage form, and the development of industrial struggle, were conditions for the emergence of forms of masculinity organized around wage-earning capacity, skill and endurance in labor, domestic patriarchy, and combative solidarity among wage earners…. The expulsion of women from industries such as coalmining, printing, and steelmaking was a key moment in the formation of such masculinity.” R. W. Connell, “The Big Picture: Masculinities in Recent World History,”
Theory and Society 22, No. 5, Special Issue: Masculinities (Oct., 1993): 597-623.
(7) Christine Beasley, “Rethinking Hegemonic Masculinity in a Globalizing World” Men and Masculinities 11 (Number 1, October 2008): 86-103.
(9) Nicky Gregson and Gillian Rose, “Taking Butler elsewhere: performativities, spatialities and subjectivities,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18 (2000): 433-452.
(10) Ibid. I concur with Gregson and Rose who argue further that not only speech, written text, and performance are in the toolbox of discourse, space must also be included as a “performative articulation of power.”
(11) Beasley, p. 93.
(12) Garisonen i Sør Varanger, “Grensekompaniet Utdanning,” http://www.mil.no/haren/styrker/gsv/start/grensekomputd/.
(13) The web article uses the Norwegian word for girls “jenter”, accompanied with a photograph of the blonde Norwegian heavily laden with her military bags and ready for her tour of training and duty as a borderguard. http://www.mil.no/haren/start/article.jhtml?articleID=171910
(14) For official tourist information on Kirkenes involvement in World War II, see.http://www.kirkenesgateway.no/english/facts-history.html.
(15) Lloyd, p. 219.
(16) See Helle Jørgensen, Norske kvinner og tyske soldater Mastergradsoppgave i historie, Universitetet i Tromsø, 2006.
(17) Kate Connolly, Norway finally forgives women who slept with Nazi soldiers, 27 October 2005, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/norway/1501622/Norway-finally-forgives-women-who-slept-with-Nazi-soldiers.html. It would also have generational impact as children of these liaisons would be regarded with suspicion and contempt by Norwegian society.
(18) While I do not have space to discuss it here, it cannot be underestimated the gratefulness that Sør Varanger residents feel towards their Soviet liberators. A monument to the Soviet soldier stands on one of the high hills near the middle of Kirkenes town, and it is these feelings of gratefulness to Russians that defines the cross-border relationship between Russia and Norway and why Sør Varanger Kommune proudly asserts its Russian identity. The street names in Kirkenes, for example, are transliterated into Russian Cyrillic.
(19) Lloyd, p. 221.
(20 Figures on Sør-Varanger Municipality., 2008, http://www.ssb.no/english/municipalities/hoyre_side.cgi?region=2030
(21) Gender Equality Index for Norwegian municipalities, by ranking, 2008, http://www.ssb.no/english/subjects/00/02/10/likekom_en/tab-2008-12-16-02-en.html
(22) “Many people think that re-opening the mines would be good for Kirkenes. I don’t think so, unless it is done in the right way. We [at the Sør-Varanger Kommune] must do it right by having women and families move here, not just the men.” Lisbeth Isaksen, Vice Mayor Sør Varanger Kommune, Personal Interview, October 2007.
(23) Linda Beate Randal, Mayor Sør Varanger Kommune, Personal Interview, 11 July 2008.
(24) Arve Tannvik, Director, Kirkenes Næringshage, Personal Interview, 10 July 2008.
(25) Rune Rafaelsen, Director, Barents Secretariat, Personal Interview, July 2008.
(26) Mai Camilla Munkejord found the same sentiments in her study of Vadsø, the town across the fjord from Kirkenes, and the administrative centre of Finnmark. See Mai Camilla Munkejord, “Challenging Discourses on Rurality: Women and Men In-migrants' Constructions of the Good Life in a Rural Town in Northern Norway,” Sociologia Ruralis 46 (Issue 3, 2006): 241 – 257.
(27) This add appeared on issues of Widerøe Airlines flight magazine and various others including Annonseinnstikk utgitt av Finnmark fylkeskommune, Dagbladet, 10 November 2008.
Dr Aileen Espíritu is born in Canada.
Espíritu is a Senior Researcher at the Barents Institute in Kirkenes, Norway. Currently, her areas of research include quality of life studies in mono-industry towns in the Barents Region, cross-border identities and performances, gender, and inter-ethnic relations.