“Irish Masculinities and Illegal Recreational Drugs”
Clay Darcy, PhD Candidate, School of Sociology, UCD
Stag’s Head, Dame Court, Dublin 2.
Hi everyone, I’m Clay. I’m a PhD candidate in the School of Sociology, UCD.
My research explores two topics, or areas of interest – Irish masculinities and illegal recreational drugs.
To help explain my research, I want to tell you how I began my PhD, and why I am really interested in these two topics. I have been working as a specialist youth worker for a number of years now. I deliver drug education and prevention programmes to young people, sometimes in schools and sometimes in youth groups or youth clubs. A number of years ago, a young male in one of these youth groups attempted to take his life. I had worked with him and his group of friends for over a year and a half, and I felt I had developed a good relationship with them. However, I never saw his suicide attempt coming, nor did his friends or family. Thankfully his attempt was unsuccessful, and he is now ok. However, at the time it had a real impact on me, especially because of the way it affected his group of friends. They really struggled to come to terms with his action and they felt huge guilt. They were upset they hadn’t recognised their friend was in difficulty, and they wished they had been able to prevent his suicide attempt. This really got me thinking about why men often seem to find it difficult to express emotion, and why some men don’t disclose when they are in distress or difficulty. This is what sparked my interest in masculinities and men’s studies, and it became the topic of my master’s thesis.
At the same time, while I was delivering drug programmes, I noticed more young males seemed to be using drugs than females, and that males and females seemed to use drugs differently and for different reasons. This got me thinking about why exactly males tended to use drugs more than females, and I was curious about what motivated the males to use drugs in particular ways or in particular contexts. I became curious whether some men’s drug use may have contributed to them feeling more like a man, and whether this might explain why more men were using drugs. And so, I began my PhD studies to explore these types of questions.
I started by formulating research questions and carrying out a review of the literature. What I found in the literature was men are much more likely to use illegal drugs than women, and in Ireland, men are more than twice as likely than women to use cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy. These three drugs are generally regarded as recreational drugs, in other words, drugs that people tend to use socially and during leisure time. The literature revealed men are much more likely to develop drug problems, and be in treatment for drug use. However, my interest lies in recreational drug use and not problematic or addicted drug use, but the literature didn’t reveal what factors influence men to recreationally use drugs. In Ireland, we have a good idea of how many people are using illegal drugs but no one has explored what men’s recreational drug use means to them, as men. There is a real absence of research on the gendered meanings men and women attach to drug use. However, there is lots of research exploring how for some men, alcohol contributes to their notion of what it means to be a man, but there nothing to suggest whether men’s recreational use of illegal drugs might be similar or different to alcohol.
Once I had a grasp of the literature, I refined my research questions and research design; I sought ethical approval from my college to begin fieldwork. I decided I wanted to talk to different groups of Irish men, to gather their views on drugs, and find out why they think men recreationally use illegal drugs. I also wanted to talk to men who have used or do use illegal drugs, to try find out what their drug use means to them as men, and find out if their drug use in any way related with their notion of what it is to be a man. I decided I needed to gather data in two different ways, firstly through focus groups with a diverse sample of men, and secondly through in-depth interviews with a focused sample of men who have or do use illegal drugs socially or during leisure time.
I have just completed the first part of the fieldwork and data analysis. I have completed 9 focus groups (the first a pilot) with 44 men in total, ranging in age from 18 – 85 years. There was a diverse mix of life experience, social class and occupation types among the men, however, all were white Irish and to best of my knowledge heterosexual.
This is what the focus group data reveals:
The men’s notions about masculinity and what is it to be a man was quite complex and varied. There seems to be a shift for some men away from traditional notions of masculinity, however, for many participants their notion of what it is to be man was rooted in traditional ideas. Many of the research participants subscribed to the idea that a man should be a provider, a protector, that he should be tough and capable. Many believed men shouldn’t publically express emotion, and that men had to maintain a front, especially among other men.
The men expressed very mixed views about the recreational use of illegal drugs. Unsurprisingly, some men were very anti-drugs whilst other’s were much more liberal, but this depended on whether the men had exposure to drug use through social circles or personal use. In general, there was a perception that cannabis is a relatively harmless drug in comparison to others, and to use cannabis is relatively normal. But this again depended on the men’s level of exposure to drug use. Some men did disclose information about their own drug use; this mostly consisted of smoking weed or hash.
One participant, an older man from a rural area, shared a funny story about a young man who was nervous about a date he had planned with a woman. The young man had approached the older man and asked him whether he might be able to source some ‘blue fellas’ or Viagra. The young man wanted to be ‘in order’ for his date. The older man obliged and managed to procure two Viagra for him. Sure enough the young man went on his date, but not long after he rang the older man shouting and screaming, saying ‘what did you give me?’ his date was ‘ready for it’ but his head was pounding and nothing down there would work. The focus group found this quite funny and had a good laugh about it. But for me this revealed another aspect of how men using drugs contributes to their notion of what it is to be a man. It seems this young man felt strong self-expectation he must perform, and perform well. He was using drugs to try boost his sexual performance.
Interestingly, many participants tried to understand men’s recreational use of illegal drugs by comparing it to alcohol. Some participants were of the opinion that one man’s recreational use of illegal drugs is similar to another man’s recreational use of alcohol. This is important because there is a really strong link between alcohol and masculinities, so if men view certain illegal drugs as being similar to alcohol, then for some men, these illegal drugs may contribute to masculinities in a similar way that alcohol does.
Participants spoke of different groupings of men who use drugs. Based on participant’s accounts, I have identified five patterns of masculinity. By a pattern of masculinity, I mean the ways in which different groups of men try to be men. Masculinity is something that has to be done or achieved, and there are many ways someone might try to do masculinity. The five patterns that emerged through the focus group data, describe how different groupings of men accomplish masculinities through different means, and how groups of men relate to other groups of men. Significantly, in the eyes of some participants, men’s recreational use of illegal drugs may contribute to or retract from these five patterns of masculinity.
In other words, many focus group participants were of the view that men’s recreational use of illegal drugs may contribute to or retract from some men being men. Some participants observed or knew of men who engaged in competitive drug taking. These men would compete with other men to see how much drugs they could take in one session, or who was best able to maintain control while intoxicated. Participants were aware of some cannabis using men, who would try to out smoke other men. These men would try to smoke their competitor under the table. Again, this is another example of how some men’s recreational use of illegal drugs contributes to their notion of what it is to be a man. In the eyes of others, competitive drug taking men who are able to consume large quantities of drugs and maintain control, are viewed similarly to men who are able to drink heavily and maintain control.
However, this is still only one part of the story, I have for the most part gathered the views of non-drug using men. What I need to do next is begin to interview men who were or are recreational users of illegal drugs, and find out what their drug use means to them as men. Trying to recruit men to take part in this part of the research is going to be challenging. Maybe if anyone here tonight knows of a man who occasionally uses an illegal drug during their leisure time, they might talk to them about my research, and see if they would be willing to take part. It would of course be in the strictest confidence.
Thanks for listening and being a fantastic audience!
© Clay Darcy, September 2015.