Lecture # 5: The Construction of Masculinities
“There is nothing objective about objectivity”
the importance of taking history into consideration
Gendering as a complex process that starts even before we are born
We often look more at difference between boys and girls rather than similarities
between boys and girls and similarities between girls and similarities between boys
more than differences between girls and differences between boys.
Freud – Bisexuality
Today the focus is on Masculinity
Here it is important to note that masculinity and being male are different things.
While male may be the biological designation
Normatively “Masculine” is the gender assignation that must accompany the one who is
males acquire masculinity through Gender Work,
as females acquire femininity through Gender work
How does masculinity affect individual men,
men in relation to other men,
men in relation to women
and men in relation to the larger society.
First let us begin by discussing Male/Masculinity and its relationship to power
men’s experience of male power is a contradictory experience
because the kind of power that masculinity hinges on is tainted. This means that
hegemonic masculinity is a promise given to boys that is difficult to attain and comes at
the heavy price of suppression, alienation and distance.
Make no mistake about it, being born male gives boys and men a great deal of privilege
in the world compared to girls and women, but while all boys are made this promise of
power, it very much depends where these boys and men are located, whether or not they
get to exercise the power and privileges promised to them. Men enjoy social power and
1 privilege by virtue of being men. But the contradiction is that by virtue of being men they
also experience pain, isolation and alienation not just from women but especially from
This contradictory experience of power is really the experience of dominant masculinity
Age, biology, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, location, ethnicity.
Weave through the experience of masculinity and shape how much power these men get
to wield in the social world
Is biological sex a fact, what does this fact tell us? Possibilities and potentialities are
suppressed, repressed and channeled in the process of becoming men and women in a
particular time in a particular society.
Gender is a central organizing category (but that may be more true for those for those
whose culture is hegemonic), for others it is a central organizing category but mediated
by so many other factors.
Gender describes and prescribes the actual social relations between males and females
and the internalization of these power relations
So that men’s contradictory experience of power and privilege is at the level of gender
No man can feel that he possibly measures up to the dominant ideal of masculinity, yet
these dominant ideals maintain their power throughout our lives
Patriarchy: the rule of the Father
So that patriarchy defines not only men’s power over women but it is also a way to
establish hierarchies or power relations between different groups of men and also
between different ways of performing masculinity
Power and Masculinity
Power is the common feature of the dominant form of masculinity, and manhood is
equated with having some sort of power.
If you are pussy whipped for example (a notion I find particularly offensive) because it
uses the denigration of women to denigrate men) then you are not a ‘real’ man.
We could think of power as
Power: the potential for using or developing our capacities
Power: the capacity to impose control on others and on our unruly emotions; controlling
material resources around us, etc.
To have power is to be able to take advantage of the differences between people
In other words power over others, resources, nature etc.
2 “Power over” is our dominant understanding of power
Societies generally have real domination of men over women and the valuation of males
So this social organization comes to be internalized to contradictory effects. Whether
individual men exercise this power or not, they all profit from this general social relation
of men’s power over women.
Normative manhood is produced through patriarchal family relations,
These relations do not function on their own but are the fabric of a generally patriarchally
organized society. The internaliza