We sat down with Dane Isaacs, a graduate student at Stellenbosch University in Stellenbosch, South Africa, to talk about his groundbreaking research on masculinities among men who stutter. Below is the full citation, and you can read more about this study here.
Isaacs, D., & Swartz, L. (2020, August 20). “Stammering Less so That I Can Be More of a Man”: Discourses of Masculinities Among Young Adult Men in the Western Cape, South Africa, Who Stutter. Psychology of Men & Masculinities. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/men0000302
What were the research questions you were answering with this study?
In this study, we were interested in answering the following research questions:
1. What discourses do men who stutter draw on to construct their masculinities?
2. How does stuttering impact on men’s views of themselves?
3. How do men negotiate these masculinities in relation to their stutter?
4. How do men who stutter position themselves in terms of hegemonic or dominant constructions of masculinities in South Africa?
What are some of the key findings of this study?
1. Hegemonic and contradictory versions of masculinities
Most of the men we spoke with drew predominately on hegemonic ideals to construct their masculinities. Accordingly, men who stutter typically associated masculinity with physical strength (which included exercising control over emotions), heterosexuality, financial security, and being a provider. At the same time, however, contradictions were also evident in men’s construction of their masculinities. For example, while men who stutter accepted dominant practices of masculinities, they also rejected these practices in their daily lives and across the different social contexts in which they found themselves in.
2. Characterizations of masculinity and its associations with dominance
Men who stutter also emphasized occupying a position of power and control as central to their masculine identities. For men who stutter, this position of power and control was obtained through fluent speech. Due to dysfluent speech, however, men who stutter indicated struggling to obtain a position of power and control, which made the performance of hegemonic masculinities a difficult process. As result men who stutter typically reported a low self-confidence and low self-esteem, and feeling powerless, incompetent, weak, and shameful. However, men who stutter were determined to alter their marginalised positions and enhance their masculine position of power and control. Men reported attending speech therapy and joining self-help groups as way to gain control over their speech. Men who stutter reported an increased self-esteem and self-confidence once they gained control over their stutter.
3. Stuttering and affirmative masculinities
Not all men in our study relied on hegemonic norms of masculinities to define their male identities. In light of experiences of oppression and disablism, some men who stutter resisted and rejected dominant ideals of masculinities they were exposed to and constructed positive and affirmative masculinities accepting of their stutter.
What are some key implications of your findings for research or practice?
Our research study was one of the few research studies to examine disabled masculinities in response to a specific impairment. Through our findings we have contributed a new dimension to the theorisation of disabled masculinities. In addition to the physical, social and cultural barriers previous studies have found to compromise disabled men’s performance of masculinities, we have shown how the performance of hegemonic masculinity is associated with fluent speech. We also showed how men who stutter are disabled and oppressed by dominant communication practices. We encourage future research studies on disabled masculinities to employ impairment-specific analyses. Such analyses are important for illuminating issues of disablism associated with a specific impairment. This will in turn provide a critical and comprehensive account of disabled masculinities, which we believe is important for issues of transformation and redress.
Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?
Future research will focus on extending our current analysis. For our research study, we specifically examined the construction of masculinities among young adult men from predominately middle-class backgrounds. Going forward, we aim to engage in intersectional research and explore the construction of masculinities among men who stutter from different age groups, and from different racial, religious, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?
I (the first author) am a young man who stutters myself. Similarly to the experiences of men in my study, my stutter has also challenged my masculinity. I have frequently felt weak, emasculated, shameful and embarrassed as a man who stutters. In the second year of my Masters research internship, I became interested in disability studies research. It was during this time that I got exposed to the large body of research on disabled masculinities. I began to recognise the gap in research examining the masculinity and disabling experiences of people who stutter. This led me to the current line of inquiry.
Dane Isaacs, Department of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, and Human and Social Capabilities Division, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa.