Hegemonic Masculinity

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Theory

Hegemonic Masculinity

Hegemonic masculinity, as described by R.W. Connell, is the idea that a dominant socially constructed form of masculinity exists which is "culturally exalted above other expressions of masculinity" as well as femininity. [1] This hegemonic ideal contains a set of expectations for boys and men in the expression of their masculinity, and "stands as a normative conception to which men are held accountable." [2] Men often face social sanctions when these normative standards are not met. Hegemonic masculinity in Western culture is largely reflective of an authoritative, hyper-masculine, and heterosexual image of a man which simultaneously rejects traits and behaviours percieved as feminine. Some have referred to hegemonic masculinity in this context as an "anti-femininity," [3] as it rejects any associations with traditionally feminine characteristics. Social norms and social sanctions hold men accountable to this normative conception of masculinity. For example, in Western culture, when boys and men do not exhibit the traits of the dominant from of masculinity, they are often "expelled from the circle of legitimacy" and can face sanctions in the form of verbal abuse ("sissy," "wimp," etc). [4]

"Overly Manly Man" meme

The concept of multiple masculinities relate to the theory of gender performativity,[5] which refers to the socially constructed nature of gender in that we perform our assigned gender according to cultural and societal expectations. Judith Butler explored gender performativity, and specifically how gender is constructed through a "stylized repetition of acts." [6] Such acts are those which convey messages relating to the social object, and include language, bodily gestures, movements and other acts which signal a "gendered self." [7] This concept, as well as the existence of multiple expressions of gender (e.g., multiple masculinities) point to weaknesses in the biological-reductionist argument which purports gender to be biologically-determined and unchanging. [8]

Gender Hierarchy

Patriarchy refers to a system of oppression which legitimates male privilege, as well as race, class, and sexual-orientation-based privileges. [9] The fundamental purpose of the patriarchal system is to legitimate male domination over females and femininity. This gendered hierarchy places hegemonic masculinity above other expressions of masculinity and femininity.

Heteronormativity

Heteronormativity refers to a "foundational belief that heterosexuality is natural and normal, and therefore, all nonheterosexual attractions, desires and practices are unnatural and abnormal." [10] According to R.W. Connell, heteronormativity refers to the notion of "heterosexuality as the taken-for-granted shape of sexual attraction." [11] In line with the heteronormative ideology is the idea of gender being binary, that is, humans are born either male or female. Further, there is the assumption that men will be attracted to women, and women will be attracted to men. Within this ideology, any expression of gender identity or sexual orientation outside of this heterosexual ideal is considered "deviant and unnatural." In this way, heteronormativity both contributes to and is feeds off of the current hegemonic brand of masculinity. Heteronormativity can be understood as an umbrella term. Closely related are heterosexism and homophobia. [12]

Heterosexism

Heterosexism refers to the privileging of heterosexuality over homosexuality and other sexual desires and expressions outside of the heteronormative ideal. [13] Heterosexism is exhibited through various social means, and can be overt or covert. [14]

Homophobia

Homophobia is a term used to refer to the psychological fear of homosexuality. In recent decades, it has been used to refer to the overt prejudice and discrimination against gays and lesbians, as well as bisexual, interest and transgender individuals [15] Dominant conceptions of masculinity, particularly in Western culture, can incite or perpetuate homophobia.

Modern Conceptions of Masculinity

Hegemonic ideals of masculinity persist, however it could be argued that this dominant configuration has undergone changes in recent years. As conceptions of patriarchy and masculinity change, groups may challenge old views and begin to construct a new hegemonic ideal. [16] One of the most notable changes to conceptions of masculinity seen over recent decades is the shift towards more egalitarian spousal relationships, and away from a more strict division of labour that is in line with traditional gender roles.

Changing norms and expections surrounding fatherhood provide a case in point. Traditional roles filled by women are being undertaken by men as shifts in the norms surrounding masculinity occur. In this study, 70% of men surveyed claimed that financial security ranked behind greater involvement with their children and the provision of love and emotional support in their order of preferences. Here, we see that some men are taking an active role to reverse patriachial norms by taking on previously a 'feminine' role and, in so doing, building a new hegemonic ideal.

Documentary Films

Tough Guise

“Tough Guise”[17] is a film by Jackson Katz which analyses the social construction of the dominant form of masculinity in the Western context, and how this representation is replicated throughout pop culture images of masculinity. Some specific examples of topics discussed in the film include heightened occurrence of violence and hyper-masculinity emphasized in the contemporary masculine identity. This film is geared towards young adults, namely those in high school and college.

See YouTube clip: {https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3exzMPT4nGI}

The Mask You Live In

“The Mask You Live In” is a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom that discusses how boys and young males come to define themselves as men within a culture that promotes a “narrow definition of masculinity.”[18] This documentary explores the various pressures that boys face, including those from the media, peer group, and institutional influences on their expressions of masculinity. The film argues that this hegemonic ideal of masculinity teaches boys to express themselves through violence and dominance, while encouraging their objectification of women and devaluing their expression of emotions. It is argued that this dominant narrative of what means to be a “real” man is doing a disservice to young boys, and is posited as the “boy crisis.”[19]

See YouTube clip: {https://youtu.be/hc45-ptHMxo}

Challenges to Gender Norms in Pop Culture

Boy George

Various public figures including artists and celebrities have challenged normative ideas of gender. Many do so through an androgynous appearance and/or "gender-bending". Some male figures who have challenged the dominant notion of masculinity include: David Bowie, Boy George, and Marilyn Manson.

The Influence of School

Jeffrey Smith explains that “schools are one of the institutions involved in shaping masculinities… by creating oppositions between girls and boys.” [20]

The formulation of hegemonic masculinities is shown in Smith’s research, regarding differing amounts of effort put into schoolwork and subsequent academic standing based on what the boys deem socially acceptable. To many, schoolwork is “a mental/intellectual pursuit positioned as ‘feminine’… and anyone displaying interest or enjoyment in study becomes a target for kind of homophobic taunting rife in adolescent peer culture.” [21]

Many boys believe that school isn’t cool and thus are turned “towards the capitalist interface of global sport and consumerism where exalted status is awarded.” [22] For many males, the tormenting that occurs in school dissuades them from engaging in academics at a higher level.

References

  1. [1] Kane, E. (2006). "'No Way My Boys Are Going to be like That!' Parents' responses to Children's Gender Non-Conformity." Gender and Society. Retrieved Mar 10 2016.
  2. [2] Kane, E. (2006). "'No Way My Boys Are Going to be like That!' Parents' responses to Children's Gender Non-Conformity." Gender and Society. Retrieved Mar 10 2016. p.5
  3. [3] Kane, E. (2006). "'No Way My Boys Are Going to be like That!' Parents' responses to Children's Gender Non-Conformity." Gender and Society. Retrieved Mar 10 2016.
  4. [4] Scott, J., Marshall, G. (2015). A Dictionary of Sociology (3rd revised edition). Oxford University Press. Retrieved Mar 10 2016.
  5. [5] Butler, J. (1988) "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory." Theatre Journal. p.521
  6. [6] Butler, J. (1988) "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory." Theatre Journal. p.519
  7. [7] Butler, J. (1988) "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory." Theatre Journal. p.519
  8. [8] Connell, R.W. (1987) "Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics." Polity Press. p.71
  9. [9] Kane, E. (2006). "'No Way My Boys Are Going to be like That!' Parents' responses to Children's Gender Non-Conformity." Gender and Society. Retrieved Mar 10 2016.
  10. [10] Sydney, T.A. (2009). Encyclopedia of Contemporary LGBTQ Literature of the United States. Greenwood Press. Retrieved Mar 10 2016.
  11. [11] Connell, R.W. (1987) "Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics." Polity Press. p.74
  12. [12] Sydney, T.A. (2009). Encyclopedia of Contemporary LGBTQ Literature of the United States. Greenwood Press. Retrieved Mar 10 2016.
  13. [13] Scott, J. (2015). A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford University Press. Retrieved Mar 10 2016.
  14. [14] Scott, J. (2015). A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford University Press. Retrieved Mar 10 2016.
  15. [15] Sydney, T.A. (2009). Encyclopedia of Contemporary LGBTQ Literature of the United States. Greenwood Press. Retrieved Mar 10 2016.
  16. [16] Scott, J. (2015). A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford University Press. Retrieved Mar 10 2016.
  17. [17] Katz, Jackson (2006). "Tough Guise"
  18. [18] (2015). "The Mask You Live In"
  19. [19] (2015). "The Mask You Live In" About the Film
  20. Smith, Jeffrey. (2007).‘Ye've got to ‘ave balls to play this game sir!’ Boys, peers and fears: the negative influence of school‐based ‘cultural accomplices’ in constructing hegemonic masculinities. Gender and Education, 19(2). http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09540250601165995
  21. Smith, Jeffrey. (2007).‘Ye've got to ‘ave balls to play this game sir!’ Boys, peers and fears: the negative influence of school‐based ‘cultural accomplices’ in constructing hegemonic masculinities. Gender and Education, 19(2). http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09540250601165995
  22. Smith, Jeffrey. (2007).‘Ye've got to ‘ave balls to play this game sir!’ Boys, peers and fears: the negative influence of school‐based ‘cultural accomplices’ in constructing hegemonic masculinities. Gender and Education, 19(2). http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09540250601165995