Science - June 23, 2005

Country men are wild but dependable

The wild man who cannot be tamed by women, but at the same time the real and dependable man: these are the images that come to mind in Americans, and perhaps Europeans, when they think of country men. We are more likely to think of urban men as sly, unreliable and after monetary gain.

Country men have affinity with nature, from which they derive their authenticity, dependability and a sort of classlessness, according to Professor Michael Mayerfeld Bell. The American rural sociologist is one of the few men engaged in gender studies. He is visiting colleagues in Wageningen this month, and gave a lecture this week on masculinity. Next year Bell will publish a book on the subject entitled ‘Country Boys: Masculinity and Rural Life’.

According to Bell there is a strong link between the concepts ‘rural’ and ‘masculine’. Much of what we call masculine is rural, and much of what we call rural is masculine. The rural image is one that emphasises the strength of the male physique, but is also associated with the notion of men who are straightforward. Rural masculinity is not just an issue for men who live in rural areas, however. Female farmers in the United States rarely refer to themselves as farmers. Farming is a masculine occupation. Even if the woman does more work on the farm than her husband, she still usually calls herself a ‘farmer’s wife’. Country masculinity also has important cultural meaning for city dwellers. Urban men make use of the image, for example the man from the city who goes hunting at the weekend and therefore feels he is a country man for a while.

George Bush is also someone who makes use of this imagery. Bell: ‘When Bush puts on a cowboy hat and boots he’s trying to convince us that he’s one of us who we can trust, and not just someone influenced by big capital.’ / JT

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