Hegemonic Masculinity

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Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept

Origins: it formulated 2 decades ago, it was first proposed in reports from a field study in social inequality in Australian schools. “Towards a new sociology of Masculinity” critiques male sex role literatures and proposed a model of multiple masculinities and power relations. The gramscian term hegemony was current at the time in attempts to understand the stabilization of class relations. Before the women’s liberation movement, a literature in social psychology and sociology about the male sex role had recognized the social nature of masculinity and the possibilities of change in men’s conduct (hacker 1957). During the 70’s there was an explosion of writing about the male role, criticizing role norms as the source of oppressive behaviors by men. Some saw gay liberation as bound up with an assault on gender stereotypes. The idea hierarchy of masculinities grew directly out homosexual men’s experience with violence and prejudice from straight men. Homophobia originated in the 70’s and was already being attributed to conventional male role (Morin & Granfinkle 1978). Those studies added the ethnographic realism that the sex role literature lacked, confirmed the plurality of masculinities and the complexities of gender construction for men. The concept was influenced by psychoanalysis.

Formulation: hegemonic masculinity was understood as the patter of practice that allowed men’s dominance over women to continue. Hegemonic masculinity was distinguished from others, especially subordinated masculinities. Hegemonic masculinity was not normal in the statistical sense; only a few enact it. Ideologically legitimated the subordination of women to men. Hegemonic did not mean violence, although it could be supported by force; it meant ascendancy achieved through culture, institutions and persuasion. They assumed that gender relations were historical so gender hierarchies were subject to change. Hegemonic masculinities therefore came into existence in specific circumstances and were open to historical change.

Application: the concept of masculinity formulated in these terms, found prompt use. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, research of men and masculinity was being consolidated as an academic field, supported by a string of conferences, the publication of textbooks. The concept hegemonic masculinity was used in education studies to understand the dynamics of classroom life, including patters of resistance and bullying among boys. It was used to understand teacher strategies and teacher identities among such groups as physical education instructors. The concept also influenced criminology. All data reflect that men and boys perpetrate more of the conventional crimes and the more serious of these crimes, than women and girls. It helped in theorizing the relationship among masculinities and among a variety of crimes and was also used in studies on specific crimes by boys and men, such as rape in Switzerland, murder in Australia, white-collar crime in England and assaultive violence in USA. It was also employed in studying media representations of men, for instance, the interplay and war imagery. The concept hegemonic masculinity also proved significant in organization studies as the gendered character of bureaucracies and workplaces was increasingly recognized. A particular focus of this research was the military, where specific patterns of hegemonic masculinity had been entrenched but were becoming increasingly problematic. It was also included in psychotherapy with men, violence prevention programs for youth and emotional education programs for boys, in discussions of art (Belton 1995), in academic disciplines such as geography (Berg 1994) and law (Thornton 1989) and in general discussions of men’s politics and relation to feminism. Research in criminology showed particular patters of aggression were linked to hegemonic masculinity. Machismo was a well-defined public...
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