Doing gender in degendered places : men in a mental institution
In order to see gender as a process that is negotiated in human interactions with structural limitations, I spent three months observing, conducting interviews, and looking at client records in a total institution. The setting was a mental hospital where males were not given avenues to access legitimate power that they normally would have received in mainstream society, such as decision-making power at work and home. These male clients carried with them the patriarchal, cultural ideals of ?the dominant man.? The hospital, however, gave them little of the respect normally given to men. As a result of this subordination, they found ways to create social closure as usurpation. They felt that they must assert their ?natural? male power and that they ?naturally? deserved a dominant position in the hierarchy. They had no choice but to work within the institutional setting that stripped both men and women of traditional material resources for doing gender. Given the lack of material resources, male clients were forced to draw primarily upon ideological components of gender in order to assert their gender identities. Using other clients and staff as their audience, men amplified their masculinity by drawing upon different resources related to their bodies such as verbal communication, touch, and sexuality. The goal of all the men was to be ?normal.? The enactment of normalcy varied, but always related to masculinity. Some men enacted a more traditional masculinity for selfsatisfaction purposes, whereas other, more hypermasculine men enacted masculinity for domination purposes such that they felt like "normal" men only through making other men look less masculine. The clients were not gender-bender revolutionaries. They perpetuated the gendered ideas that they saw both before their institutionalization and during this period. They even went beyond perpetuating general gendered behaviors to exaggerating them as primary ways to enact masculinity in a setting where masculinity was structurally undermined.