Hegemonic masculinity is a dominant socially constructed form of masculinity that culturally promotes an ideal masculine version above other forms of masculinity as well as femininity. It brings a set of expectations for boys and men in the expression of their masculinity and holds them accountable to this normative standard. In Western culture this standard is an authoritative, hyper-masculine and heterosexual image of manhood which simultaneously rejects behaviours and traits perceived as feminine. When these standards are not met men often face social rejection and sanctions which involve expelling them from the circle of legitimacy (not a real man) and subjecting them to verbal abuse (“sissy” “wimp”etc).
Gender is a biologically based social construct and we are taught from the time we are born what “normal” looks like for our particular gender. Hegemonic masculinity limits gender to binary terms and binds it to sex in that XY is masculine and XX is feminine, thus saying our gender identities are biologically set in binary terms and unchangeable. Science proves this untrue. Gender is hotly debated and there is no single theory that can claim truth. What we do know is that gender has a biological basis in that the hormonal environment a fetus is exposed to in utero influences the development of the gender platform on which society constructs gender stereotypes. Even supporters of a biologically based gender agree that it’s not strictly binary and society heavily influences the attributes, characteristics and roles that are assigned to them. This makes gender far too variable in it’s natural state to be valid as a qualifier and definer for roles.
Neurogeneticist Kevin Mitchell gives this summary:
The hegemonic masculinity ideal is the lessor evil of patriarchal gender supremacy in that patriarchal societies are aggressively oppressive, taking power by force if need be, hegemonic societies enter into a type of negotiation where one gender gives up their right to equality for what is perceived to be the greater good. This negotiation is not a fair or reasonable process but one where privilege is given to the complicit and those that don’t comply are ‘punished’ through social exclusion. This is where power imbalances become generational forces that further breed inequality and although we see fluctuations in the degree of power imbalances we don’t see its reversal or elimination
Even now we’re seeing society shifting the parameters of what is “normal” and “acceptable” toward a more egalitarian spousal relationships and away from strict gender roles but this is simply broadening the scope of normal whilst adhering to the gender hierarchy and gender as identity problem.
At its most noble, the hegemonic ideal is still misogynistic. Hegemonic masculinity is naturalised in the form of the hero and culturally presented in the media through books, movies and in sporting events.
This is romanticised misogyny where masculinity is represented as hero figures that save the vulnerable (mostly women and children but also disabled or ‘weak’ men). Our media is full of these archetypal figures and a quick look at the box office hits shows our delirious addiction to the super hero. It is this promotion of the male hero figure that makes our current form of masculinity ‘hegemonic’ because it culturally exalts a pattern of masculinity that reinforces a societal structure of dominance and oppression (most notably, against other men).
Beyond the media we see men who wish to break away from the aggressive patriarchal misogyny and instead embrace this noble hegemonic ideal without understanding that it has devastating repercussions by perpetuating helplessness and in its recipients and gender myths in society. It’s worth noting that the majority of men don’t actively pursue hegemonic ideals with the view to dominate but rather fall into the lure this ideal presents where a man can feel successful and strong without having to aggressively dominate others or are pressured to adopt the ideal when faced with social exclusion if he doesn’t.
The staggering suicide statistics for men world-wide are evidence of the truth of hegemonic masculinity and its true cost to society. This model creates a fantasy image that the majority of men can’t attain to and they’re killing themselves in their efforts to be good enough. This year alone 32, 000 men will commit suicide in the USA and in the UK the figures are even grimmer with suicide being the single leading cause of death for men aged 20–49. Those numbers are horrific yet they tell only part of the horror story that is consuming our men and boys. The cost of chasing an unrealistic fantasy impacts massively on our society through lost productivity in business, skyrocketing violence, broken marriages and fatherless children. Add to this the individual burden every boy and man faces as he chases an elusive ideal only to fall short time and time again and you have a mental health crisis of unprecedented proportions.
Gender as Identity — The Hegemonic Hinge-Pin
Our personal identity classifies us using the idiosyncratic things that make a person unique. Our social identity classifies us according to who we are as part of a collective. Our gender, race, religion etc. all contribute to our identity collage and we enter into negotiation with society for acceptance of our identity. Different cultures have different requirements for acceptance but most of them are hinged on gender with the scope of variance determined by the prevailing hegemonic or patriarchal masculinity. Hegemonic (and patriarchal) masculinity weights gender more heavily than other identity definers and says that social acceptance can only happen when certain gender requirements are met.
When gender is the hinge pin of identity’s pendulum, femininity becomes the opposite of masculine and therefore all feminine qualities become the antithesis of all masculine qualities. You simply cannot have a strong successful male without marginalising women and men who fall outside of the ideal hegemonic masculinity parameters because it requires contrast for context. It requires the subordination of everything that doesn’t reflect the archetypal masculine. Who a person is and how they become successful is then fully dependent on how they express their gender rather than how they express their humanity.
The only solution to this is to take gender out as the hinge pin and replace it with humanity where human characteristics such as integrity, honesty, self-discipline, empathy and tolerance become definers of our identity and thus our success.
Humanity then becomes the language and masculinity and femininity become accents. If the message is good it shouldn’t matter how it’s spoken.
Society will never know true gender equity whilst men continue to believe in their gender as identity and by rejecting the idea of fluid masculinity or masculinity as an expression of humanity (as opposed to identity) we’re condemning our men to chase an illusion.
Why I wrote this.
The gender war is as fierce as it is futile. Instead of progress we’re seeing rabid feminism and toxic masculinity. It’s a war no one will win. I am well aware of all that women have suffered, painfully aware, but I’m choosing to focus on men here to open up dialogue about this vitally important subject.
Some years back I trained as a mechanic. I was the only female to apply for the pre-trade class and the only one made to interview for it. The course facilitator told me he needed to be sure I wasn’t “on the prowl”. Out of the 13 people in the class only 3 passed; I was one of them. I didn’t pass because I was smarter, I passed because I worked my ass off whilst being a single parent to four kids. I got myself an apprenticeship by approaching the dealership’s owner and told him that it makes good sense to hire a woman to cater to their female clients. He agreed. I was one of only two female mechanics in the city.
My time there was rough to say the least. The workshop manager didn’t want me there and told me, on my first day, that I should be at home looking after my kids. The uniform was designed for a man and I have curves in places guys don’t. They refused to let me wear a t-shirt under my work shirt and would stand opposite me as I was bent over working on cars so they could see my breasts. They would sabotage jobs by parking other cars in my work bay and hiding the keys, take parts I’d removed from engines or swap parts for the wrong one. They’d urinate in my tool box and making sexual sounds whilst standing behind me. One day I came back from dropping a car off to find the workshop abandoned. It turns out there had been a Christmas barbeque with another firm and my work mates had decided to keep it a secret so I’d miss out. I put up with this because I didn’t want to be that girl, the one complaining about harassment in a male dominated industry.
Given the appalling behaviour of those men why do you think I am here writing an article about the abuse of men?
I do it because pain is pain.
I do it because I want men to know that their pain is valid, that I care about their well-being and their happiness just as much as women’s.
I just think if we stop with the pissing contest and actually acted like human beings, like a collaborative collective instead of caged animals fighting over a bone we might be able to save some lives, we might be able to make things a little bit better, for everyone.