Hegemonic Masculinity: 15 Examples, Definition, Case Studies

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Hegemonic masculinities represent the “masculine norms” and the dominant ways of “being a man” in a given society at a given time.

Hegemonic masculinities are socially and culturally constructed, dynamic, and keep evolving over time.

Examples of hegemonic masculinity in traditional Western culture include heterosexuality, risk-taking behaviors, heroism, physical prowess, and sporting skill.

Hegemonic Masculinity Definition

The concept of “hegemonic masculinity” was coined by Australian Sociologist R.W Connell in the late 1980s as part of her social theory of gender relations.

It was partly a critique of gender or sex role theories, which conferred certain behaviors and attitudes to men and women based solely on their sex (masculine or feminine).

Connell borrowed the Gramscian term hegemony, which refers to the domination of society by the ruling class through ideological and cultural means, and transferred it to the analysis of gender norms.

Connell proposed a theory in which gender was socially and culturally constructed, a result of larger social structures, learned through gender socialization, and not just a product of biology or a matter of personal identity.

Hegemonic masculinities can thus be defined as those ideologies that privilege some men by associating them with certain forms of power.

What hegemonic masculinities do is define successful and dominant ways of “being a man” and simultaneously mark other less dominant ways of embodying manhood as inadequate or inferior.

Thus, according to Connell (1995) there are four predominant patterns of masculinity in the West:

  • hegemony,
  • subordination,
  • complicity, and
  • marginalization

Connell argues that hegemonic masculinity is not a set character type that stays the same, and is the same, everywhere.

It is rather the masculinity that is positioned as hegemonic. And this position can always be contested (Connell, 1995).

Hegemonic masculinity is not the norm in the sense that most people embody it. Rather, it is an idealized and quite often unattainable social identity that does not necessarily represent the day-to-day lives of men.

Hegemonic Masculinity Examples

With the acknowledgment that hegemonic masculinity differs across cultures and generations, the following examples of hegemonic masculinity reflect current dominant ideals of masculinity in Western culture.

  • Heterosexuality: hegemonic masculinity contemplates heterosexuality as the dominant sexual orientation, and homosexual men are seen as belonging to a type of subordinate masculinity (Carrigan, Connell and Lee, 1987).
  • Muscular body type: perhaps most importantly, the hegemonic masculine ideal must be very muscular.
  • Stoicism: men should be quiet and not show emotions or else they fall out of the masculine ideal.
  • Physical sporting prowess: sportsmen represent a type of masculinity linked to physical strength, which is the desirable masculine body type. Big football stars and boxers may sometimes also represent wealth and power, both linked to masculinity.
  • Risk-taking: hegemonic masculinity entails risky practices, which go from driving your motorcycle too fast to participating in extreme sports like base jumping and skydiving.
  • Political strength: Men who hold political positions can come to be seen as the hegemonic masculine in their society due to the political power they possess. A good example here is Putin.
  • Autocratic leadership style: the strongman authoritarian populist can be seen as a person who embodies the hegemonic masculinity ideal. They create a sense of a world where a strong and powerful man imposes order on the world they reign over.
  • Heroism: in Hollywood, the idealized masculine man is often presented as the hero who sweeps in and saves the day all by himself.
  • Health: in the field of health, we see the masculine stereotype who avoids asking for help on issues related both to mental and physical well-being, as to not show weakness.
  • Breadwinning practices: although a relatively recent creation, from the mid-19th century, the often unattainable role of the breadwinner has been equated with hegemonic masculinity.
  • Manual work: the decline of certain traditional masculine professions, such as mining or factory work, has been linked to a decline of what is perceived as hegemonic masculinity (Kimmel, 2013)
  • Beautiful women: The ideal masculine man is idealized by other men because of his ability to attract beautiful women. He shows off his masculinity by being seen with beautiful women.
  • Sportscars: Fast and aggressive cars are embraced by the idealized masculine man for two reasons. First, they represent power in the form of wealth. Second, they represent risk-taking and adrenaline.
  • Money: The idealized masculine man has access to money which, ideally, he acquired through conquest. While in the past this may have been through war, these days it’s often through business prowess.
  • Power: Many of the above examples point to this one final idea. The hegemonic masculine man holds unquestioned power. He is the authority, with money and resources, whose possession of power makes him the idealized man.

Case Studies of the Hegemonic Masculinity Ideal

1. Masculinity in Sports

Sports personalities from a variety of fields can be taken to represent many of the traits of hegemonic masculinity: physical strength, professional success, and wealth.

Media outlets frequently use sport imagery as a way of representing hegemonic masculinity (Connell, 2005).

But sports influence the construction of maleness amongst boys and young men.

In a paper from 1983, Connell speaks about how central is the experience of school years for many boys and how the learning of many practices of hegemonic masculinity, such as power, force, strength, and even patterns of sexuality, comes from that time.

2. Movie characters and actors

There are certain movie characters or actors that, throughout time, have come to represent the values of hegemonic masculinity.

From actors like Clark Gable to Humphrey Bogard, Brad Pitt or Chris Hemsworth, to movie character like James Bond, Rambo, or superheroes like Batman or Superman, all these are part of the collective imaginary in terms of masculinity.

What the representation of normative masculinity through movie characters show is the dynamic and changing nature of what “being a man” is.

The way these actors and movie characters are dressed, their body type or ways to speak are different, but all were taken as examples of hegemonic masculinity in the time they lived.

3. Politicians

Just like in the film industry, male politicians can also embody and be an example of hegemonic masculinity.

Being a political leader is equated with power, leadership, hierarchy, subordination and other traits that can be taken as part and parcel of that represents “being a man”.

Part of this catalogue of male politicians who can represent normative masculinity (for different reasons) are the Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump or Emmanuel Macron.

On the contrary, politicians such as Justine Trudeau and Barack Obama can be taken as representing what is known as “new masculinities” – progressive men who idealize a softer and more inclusive masculinity and who embrace feminism. This makes them simultaneously a threat and an object of scorn for those who idealize traditional hegemonic masculinity forms.

4. Traditional masculine professions

Since the 1980s a number of traditional masculine professionals, such as miners or manufacturing jobs, have been in decline and some have even disappeared.

This has been taken by some men as a threat to their masculine identity, as they represented a type of work that required force over intellect, which is another typical trait of hegemonic masculinity.

But not only this, the change of the nature of the labor market, from manual to service jobs, meant a more feminized labor force and the massive entrance of woman in the formal economy.

The result was a huge number of unemployed men, the progressive disappearance of the “breadwinner family model”, and the erosion of hegemonic masculine identities linked to earning and working (Kimmel, 2013)

5. Hegemonic Masculinity and Deviance

The evolution of studies of masculinities has started pointing out how these dominant and hegemonic ways of “being a man” and social relations based on patriarchal values are harmful not only to women but also to men.

Deviance is a phenomenon that had been mainly ascribed to men, as shown by the fact they are the most heavily incarcerated

However, from a hegemonic masculinity point of view, men are seen both a risk to society (related to creating deviant identities by reproducing normative masculinity traits) and at risk from society (positioning men in places and spaces that make them more vulnerable to becoming victims).

Conclusion

In a given social order, hegemonic masculinity is the dominant form of masculinity that represents “what being a man” is, with characteristics such as physical strength,  toughness, aggressiveness, risk taking, leadership as well as emotional illiteracy at its core.

Hegemonic masculinities are bound to the time and social context in which they are produced, and for this reason we have to think of them as evolving, not static. The values of a society at a given, the economic context, and intersectional aspects such as race, social position or disability play a role in the construction of gender.

References

Connell, R.W. (1983) Which Way Is Up? Boston: Allen & Unwin.

Connell, R. W (1995) Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press

Crawshaw, P. & Scott-Samuel, A. (2014), Masculinities, Hegemony and structural violence. Centre for Cime and Justice Studies. 81(102)

Kimmel, M. (2013). Angry white men. New York: Bold Type Books.

Messerschmidt, J. W (1993). Masculinities: Critique and Reconceptualization of Theory. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher

Scott, J. (2015) A dictionary of Sociology. London: Sage

Rosa Panades (PhD)
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Dr. Panades is a multifaceted sociologist with experience working in a variety of fields, from familiy relations, to teenage pregnancy, housing, women in science or social innvovation. She has worked in international, european and local projects, both in the UK and in Spain. She has an inquisitive and analytical mind and a passion for knowledge, cultural and social issues.

Rosa holds a PhD in Sociology on the topic of young fatherhood from the University of Greenwich, London.

Chris Drew (PhD)
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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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