Week 5: SOCB22:
-Hegemonic masculinity is a contested concept.
-Yet the issues it names are very much at stake in contemporary struggles about power and
political leadership, public and private violence, and changes in family and sexuality.
Origin, Formulation and Application:
-The concept of hegemonic masculinities was first proposed in reports from a field study of social
inequality in Australian high schools; in a related conceptual discussion of the making of
masculinities and the experience of men’s bodies; and in a debate over the role of men in
Australian labour politics.
-The high school project provided empirical evidence of multiple hierarchies – in gender as well
as in class terms- interwoven with active projects of gender constructions.
-The beginnings were systematized in an article, “Towards a New Sociology of Masculinity”,
which extensively critiqued the “male sex role” literature 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.
-In the context of dual system theory, the idea was easily transferred to the parallel problem of
-Power and difference were the core concepts in the gay liberation movement, which developed
a sophisticated analysis of the oppression of men as well as oppression by men.
-Some theorists saw gay liberation as bound up with an assault on gender stereotypes.
-The idea of hierarchy of masculinities grew directly out of homosexual men’s experience with
violence and prejudice from straight men.
-The concept of homophobia originated in the 1970s and was already being attributed to the
conventional male role.
-Theorists developed increasingly sophisticated accounts of gay men’s ambivalent relationships
to patriarchy and conventional masculinity.
-An equally important source was empirical social research.
-Finally, the concept was influenced by psychoanalysis.
Freud himself produced the first analytic biographies of men and, in he “Wolf Men” case
history, showed how adult personality was a system under tension with counter
currents repressed but not obliterated.
-What emerged from this matrix in the mid 1980s was an analogue, in gender terms, of power
structure research in political sociology- focusing the spotlight on a dominant group.
-Hegemonic masculinity was understood as the pattern of practice (i.e., things done not just a set
of role expectations or an identity) that allowed men’s dominance over women.
-Hegemonic masculinities as distinguished from other masculinities, especially subordinated
-Hegemonic masculinity was not assumed to be normal in the statistical sense; only a minority of
men might enact it.
-But it was certainly normative.
-It embodied the currently most honoured way of being a man, it required all other men to
position themselves in relation to it, and it ideologically legitimated the global subordination of
women to men.
-Men who received the benefits of patriarchy without enacting a strong version of masculine
dominance could be regarded as showing a complicit masculinity.
-It was in relation to this group, and to compliance among heterosexual women, that the concept
of hegemony was most powerful.
-Hegemony did not mean violence, although it could be supported by force; it meant ascendancy
achieved through culture, institutions, and persuasion.
-These concepts were abstract rather than descriptive, defined in terms of the logic of a
patriarchal gender system.
-They assumed that gender relations were historical, so gender hierarchies were subject to
-Hegemonic masculinities therefore came into existence in specific circumstances and were open
to historical change.
-This was the element of optimism in an otherwise rather bleak theory.
-It was perhaps possible that a more humane, less oppressive, means of being a man might
become hegemonic, as part of a process leading toward an abolition of gender hierarchies.
-In the late 1980s and early 1990s, research on men and masculinity was being consolidated as
an academic field, supported by a string of conferences, the publication of textbooks and several
journals, and a rapidly expanding research agenda across the social sciences and humanities.
-The concept of hegemonic masculinity was used in education studies to understand the
dynamics of classroom life, including patterns of resistance and bullying among boys.
-It was used to explore relations to the curriculum and the difficulties in gender-neutral
-It was used to understand teacher strategies and teacher identities among such groups as
physical education instructors.
-The concept also had influence in criminology.
The concept of hegemonic masculinity 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, football
“hooliganism” and white-collar crime in England, and assaultive violence in the United
-The concept was also employed in studying media representations of men, for instance, the
interplay of sports and war imagery.
-The concepts of hegemonic and subordinated masculinities helped in understanding not only
men’s exposure to risk but also men’s difficulties in responding to disability and injury.
It was deployed in understanding the popularity of body contact confrontational
sports—which function as an endlessly renewed symbol of masculinity—and in
understanding the violence and homophobia frequently found in sporting milieus.
-The concepts of multiple masculinities and hegemonic masculinity were increasingly used to
understand men’s health practices, such as “playing hurt” and risk-taking sexual behaviour.
-The concept of hegemonic masculinity also proved significant in organization studies, as the
gendered character of bureaucracies and workplaces was increasingly recognized.
-Analysis of multiple masculinities and the concept of hegemonic masculinity served as a
framework for much of the developing research effort on men and masculinity, replacing sex-
role theory and categorical models of patriarchy.
-Eventually, the growing research effort tended to expand the concept itself. The picture was
fleshed out in four main ways: by documenting the consequences and costs of hegemony, by
uncovering mechanisms of hegemony, by showing greater diversity in masculinities, and by
tracing changes in hegemonic masculinities.
-Five principal criticisms have been advanced since debate about the concept began in the early
The Underlying Concept of Masculinity:
-That the underlying concept of masculinity is flawed has been argued from two different points
of view, realist and poststructuralist.
The concept of masculinity is blurred, is uncertain in its meaning, and tends to deemphasize
issues of power and domination.
The concept of masculinity is flawed because it essentialisms the character of men or
imposes a false unity on a fluid and contradictory reality.
-The concept of masculinity is criticized for being framed within a heteronormative conception of
gender that essentializes male-female difference and ignores difference and exclusion within
the gender categories.
-The concept of masculinity is said to rest logically on a dichotomization of sex (biological) versus
gender (cultural) and thus marginalizes or naturalizes the body.
-Masculinity is not a fixed entity embedded in the body or personality traits of individuals.
-Masculinities are configurations of practice that are accomplished in social action and,
therefore, can differ according to the gender relations in a particular social setting.
-The idea that recognition of multiple masculinities necessarily turns into a static typology is
likewise not borne out by the development of research.
-In the developmentof the concept of hegemonic masculinity, divisions among men—especially
the exclusion and subordination of homosexual men— were quite central issues.
-The policing of heterosexuality have been a major theme in discussions of hegemonic
masculinity since then.
-The idea that the concept of masculinity marginalizes or naturalizes the body (because it is
supposed to rest on a sex-gender dichotomy) is perhaps the most startling of the claims in this
critique. Startling, because the interplay between bodies and social processes has been one of
the central themes of masculinity research from its beginning.
Ambiguity and Overlap:
-Early criticisms of the concept raised the question of who actually represents hegemonic
-Martin (1998) criticizes the concept for leading to inconsistent applications, sometimes referring
to a fixed type of masculinity and on other occasions referring to whatever type is dominant at a
particular time and place.
-Similarly, Wetherilland Medley (1999) contend that the concept fails to specify what conformity
to hegemonic masculinity actually looks like in practice.
-Hegemonic masculinities can be constructed that do not correspond closely to the lives of any
-At the local level, hegemonic patterns of masculinity are embedded in specific social
environments, such as formal organizations.
Yet the issues it names are very much at stake in contemporary struggles about power and political leadership, public and private violence, and changes in family and sexuality. The high school project provided empirical evidence of multiple hierarchies in gender as well as in class terms- interwoven with active projects of gender constructions. The beginnings were systematized in an article, towards a new sociology of masculinity , which extensively critiqued the male sex role literature 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. In the context of dual system theory, the idea was easily transferred to the parallel problem of gender relations. Power and difference were the core concepts in the gay liberation movement, which developed a sophisticated analysis of the oppression of men as well as oppression by men.