This panel explores aspirational masculinities while attending to both structural constraints and agentive projects. Do men's life projects support and/or resist hegemonic ideals? How are emergent masculinities entwined with broader shifts in gender and sexuality in Africa?
Over the last three decades, academic, development and public discourses have framed African men as problematic, presenting them as abusive, violent and sexually deviant. Diseases, unwanted pregnancies, suffering and fear among women and children are attributed to men's pathological and predatory behaviors. Especially poor men, who are likely to be objects of structural and historical inequalities, are described as unable to cope with change, powerless and lacking in role models. Economic insecurity, urbanization, shifting gender norms and growing gender parity have led to claims that African masculinity is in crisis. This way of theorizing men and masculinities in Africa forecloses other ways of understanding. Drawing on ethnographic case studies of the everyday lives of men in Africa, we aim to disrupt this dominant discourse by critically examining aspirational masculinities in all their complexity—taking into account both structural constraints and agentive projects for a good life. To what extent do men's aspirational life projects support and/or resist hegemonic manliness ideals? In what ways are norms of masculinity contested and by whom? How might emergent masculinities be entwined with shifting norms of gender and sexuality more broadly? We invite papers that explore and theorize aspirational masculinities with the aim of disrupting the crisis narrative and developing a more coherent (if necessarily fragmented) theory of masculinity in Africa.