Masculinity refers to the ways of embodying and enacting male identity. Unlike the ‘male sex’, it is not a biological classification but a concept that refers to behaviors, dispositions, attitudes, temperaments, and cultural belief systems.
But we may notice that different men can behave in different ways, while still being seen as adhering to a male archetype. A highly physical, rough, assertive male and a calm and authoritative gentleman both embody masculinity, but obviously, of different types.
This has led cultural theorists and sociologists to posit that there are various different recognizable types of masculinity.
Typically, these various types emerge from different cultures, subcultural groups, classes, time periods, and so on. As Fernandez-Alvarez (2014, p. 49) highlights, “no model of masculinity exists that is universal and valid for every place, period, social class, age, race or sexual orientation, but rather a diverse mix of male identities and ways of being men [exist] in our societies.”
This article lists and explores several possible archetypes of masculinity.
Types of Masculinity
1. Hegemonic Masculinity
Hegemonic masculinity represents the stereotypical vision of the ideal male in traditional Western society. In layman’s speak, we might recognize it as the “alpha male.”
But within sociological theory, it also has a very distinct meaning. Connell employed Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, which was defined in an explicitly Marxist framework: one groups dominates and subordinates other groups (Fernandez-Alvarez, 2014).
So, for Connell, a key defining feature of hegemonic masculinity was that it “is always constructed in relation to various subordinated masculinities as well as in relation to women” (Connell, 1987, p. 183).
In other words, hegemonic masculinity is all about subordination – being stronger, better, tougher, more physical, more violent, more domineering than both other men and women. It is through this domination that it garners its power.
See More: Hegemonic Masculinity Examples
2. Subordinate Masculinity
Connell’s next two versions of masculinity are the versions that hegemonic masculinity asserts its dominance over. Let’s start with subordinate masculinity.
As Messerschmidt (2019) defines it, “subordinate masculinities are constructed as lesser than or aberrant and deviant to hegemonic masculinity, such as effeminate men.”
Subordinate men are those who embody identities that might be identified as being too close to femininity. Such men do not fit into a cultural framework that privileges strength, power and authority in men.
This might include men who are effeminate, gentle, overly intellectual, emotional, and so on. Nduati et al. (2020) list some traits that might fit into this model: “a caring ethos towards people, an emphasis on feelings and emotions, [and] solidarity with feminist stances”.
3. Marginal Masculinity
Marginal masculinity refers to all the forms of masculinity that are embodied by people who are socially marginalized for factors other than gender, such as race and social class.
This is another type of masculinity that helps legitimize hegemonic masculinity. The hegemonic group positions themselves as above or in power over marginalized groups of people.
Nevertheless, Connell argues that, on the whole, men from marginalized groups still tend not to challenge patriarchy or their role as dominant over women within their marginal groups. As a result, they benefit from the patriarchal structure created by the hegemonic group, while simultaneously being harmed by it ().
4. Complacent Masculinity
Complacent masculinity refers to those men who do not embody hyper-masculine traits – they don’t care much about being an alpha male.
They may be men who don’t think much about being a tough guy and are just “normal” men getting on with their lives.
Nevertheless, according to Connell, these men are still beneficiaries of the patriarchy. They benefit when going to job interviews or when they’re implicitly addressed as the authority figure in the family when walking into a shop, even though the wife is right there, too.
Fernandez-Alvarez (2014) highlights that these men may not be going out of their way to support the patriarchy, but they’re not particularly outraged either and happy to accept their implicit power. As a result, she says that this model might also be called “accomplice masculinity.”
5. Protest Masculinity
A lesser-discussed concept from Connell’s work is protest masculinity, which refers to marginalized men who overcompensate for their lack of power by trying to perform hypermasculinity (Connell, 2005; Cheruiyot, 2020).
Connell initially coined this term after interviewing working-class men in Australia who lacked access to social or cultural capital, workplace participation, finances, or other types of power that are enjoyed by the hegemonic male class.
In reaction to their lack of power, such men can sometimes try to grab power by leaning into the patriarchy, embodying identities that appear strong, aggressive, blase, risk-taking, and intimidating. Through embodying these traits, such marginalized men attempt to tap into patriarchal power (Connell, 2005).
Positive vs Toxic
The following two forms of masculinity are not from Raewyn Connell, but are two separate forms that are often discussed in sociological literature.
6. Toxic Masculinity
Kupers (2005) presents a definition that defines toxic masculinity as aggression and a desire to be dominant:
“Toxic masculinity involves the need to aggressively compete and dominate others and encompasses the most problematic proclivities in men.” (Kupers 2005, p.713-714).
This model may overlap with Connell’s hegemonic model, but does not lean on a Marxist-Gramscian theoretical foundation. Rather, it focuses on how men can choose to lean into the hard-edged and destructive forms of masculinity (toxic) or prosocial forms (positive masculinity).
So, toxic points to all the traits that we see in the male archetype that we may not like in a civilized world – desire to be dominant, use physical strength as a way to win arguments, seeing themselves as been more authoritative or deserving than women in certain areas of private and public life.
Read More: Toxic Masculinity Examples
7. Positive Masculinity
Positive masculinity, on the other hand, represents an alternative to toxic masculine traits.
This refers to instances where men use their privilege to advocate for women, who seek to create more equal gender relations, and are not afraid to embrace historically feminized traits such as emotionality, caring, and kindness.
Positive aspects of masculinity, such as a desire to protect people you love, caring for others, personal integrity, staying physically healthy, defending moral truths, and a desire to take responsibility for yourself and family, can manifest as prosocial behaviors that define positive masculine traits.
The following are other possible archetypes that I am proposing as extant in the social imagination. They are less connected to sociological research than the five above.
8. The Gentleman
Another archetype of masculinity that most of us would recognize is “the gentleman” – a version of masculinity that is supposed to exist in civilized and upper-class cultural tropes.
The name reveals its traits – this man is supposed to be gentle, reflecting his respect for women and his embrace of civilized culture. He is supposed to be calm and composed, reflecting the traditional male trait of stoicism, authority and control.
We often see that this trope can overflow with more aggressive versions, such as with Bond 007 who, while being a suit-wearing suave gentleman, is also a deadly assassin.
9. Postmodern Masculinity
In reference to masculinity, we see this in men such as Harry Styles and Jaden Smith, who choose to undermine and mock masculine tropes in the clothing they wear and their fluctuations between overtly feminine and overtly masculine behaviors.
Another central trope in postmodern iterations of masculinity is fluidity (Wooden & Gillam, 2014). Men choose to move in and out of gender identity constructs, understanding that all masculinity – even those embodied by ‘traditional’ alpha males – is inherently performative and a means to project a self-image to the world that brings you certain forms of power (Butler, 2006).
As such, a postmodern man might mock gender by playing with different ways of being a “man” at different points in time and in different contexts.
See More: Examples of Postmodernism
10. The Metrosexual
The concept of the metrosexual comes from the idea of men living in inner cities embodying a different type of man from the traditional alpha male.
The metrosexual male embraces fashion, chases power through climbing corporate ranks, and embraces high culture. While first associated with homosexual men (because this archetype is concerned with traditionally feminine pastimes – fashion, etc.), men such as David Beckham brought this concept into the mainstream, making it another idealized way of being a man within a specific context – the inner-city.
As you can see, the concept of masculinity is slippery – different forms of masculinity are privileged in different situations. While we may have a stereotype of “the traditional man” in our cultural zeitgeist, we also need to turn our eye to different societies, cultures, subcultures, countercultures, and so on, to get a grasp of the ways this concept changes and adapts – it is inherently a social construct.
Read Next: Masculinity vs Femininity
Butler, J. (2006). Gender Trouble. California: Penguin.
Cheruiyot, J. C. (2020). Masculinities and young men’s involvement in sexual and reproductive health: the case of Family Health Options hospital, youth program in Eldoret, Kenya (Doctoral dissertation, University of Lethbridge (Canada)).
Connell, R. (1987). Gender and Power. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
Connell, R. & Messerschmidt, J.W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender and Society, 19(6), 829-859.
Fernandez-Alvarez, O. (2014). Non-hegemonic masculinity against gender violence. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 161, 48-55.
Kupers, T. A. (2005). Toxic masculinity as a barrier to mental health treatment in prison. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61(6), 713–724 doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20105
Messerschmidt, J. W. (2019). The salience of “hegemonic masculinity”. Men and masculinities, 22(1), 85-91.
Nduati, S. K., Aura, R., Parsitau, D., & Mbugua, S. N. (2020). Relationship Between Categories of Masculinities and Incidences of Family Crises in Modern Family: A Case of Selected Faith-Based Organisations in Bahati Sub-County, Nakuru County, Kenya. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences, 10(4).
Wooden, S. R., & Gillam, K. (2014). Pixar’s boy stories: Masculinity in a postmodern age. Rowman & Littlefield.