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Developed in the 1980s to provide a relational and socially constructed conception of men and masculinities, hegemonic masculinity describes the hierarchical interaction between multiple masculinities and explains how some men make it appear normal and necessary that they dominate most women and other men (Connell 1987).
Hegemonic masculinity describes a position in the system of gender relations, the system itself, and the current ideology that serves to reproduce masculine domination.
Connell posits four types of masculinities, more as positions in relation to one another than as personality types: hegemonic, complicit, subordinated, and marginalized. The hegemonic position is the currently accepted male ideal within a particular culture at a particular time. Connell notes that this image changes over time and place, as well as being subject to contestation within a particular culture.
Most men fall within the second category, complicit. These men accept and participate in the system of hegemonic masculinity so as to enjoy the material, physical, and symbolic benefits of the subordination of women and, through fantasy, experience the sense of hegemony and learn to take pleasure in it, and avoid subordination.
The relations among the four positions are hierarchical. A man in the subordinated position suffers that fate despite appearing to possess the physical attributes necessary to aspire to hegemony. Men run the risk of subordination when they do not practice gender consistent with the hegemonic system and ideology. Marginalized men are those who cannot even aspire to hegemony — most often, men of color and men with disabilities.
Secondly, Connell uses hegemonic masculinity to describe the current system of gender relations: ”configurations of practice” organize social relations and structures to the overall benefit of men in relation to women and of some men in relation to other men. These configurations of practice take place across four dimensions: power, the division of labor, emotional relations, and the symbolic. Hegemonic masculinity as a system becomes built into social institutions so as to make it appear normal and natural for men’s superordinate position to be maintained.
The third usage of hegemonic masculinity, as an ideology, provides the justification through which patriarchy is legitimated and maintained. Hegemonic masculinity structures the manner in which all people experience and thereby know their world, although those experiences vary as both men and women are differentially situated by race, class, and sexuality. This ideology, referred to as hegemonic complicity, can be measured across four dimensions: ideal-type masculinity, hierarchical ranking of self and others, subordination of women, and the subordination of woman-like behavior (Levy 2005).
Those who criticize the concept of hegemonic masculinity for confusion, reification, colonialism or elitism fail to recognize its multiple usages and see that those allegations have merit only if the critic refuses to consider simultaneously the three understandings of hegemonic masculinity: position, system, and ideology. Given the ubiquity of hegemonic masculinity as both a system of gender relations and as a justificatory ideology, resistance can be expressed politically or interactionally; that is, rather than contesting the hegemonic position, resistance seeks to alter the configuration of gender practice that reproduces the system of hegemonic masculinity.
- Connell, R. W. (1987) Gender and Power. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.
- Levy, D. P. (2005) Hegemonic complicity, friendship and comradeship: validation and causal processes among white, middle-class, middle-aged men. Journal of Men’s Studies 13 (2): 199—224.
- Carrigan, T., Connell, R. W., & Lee, J. (1985) Toward a new sociology of masculinity. Theory and Society 14: 551—604.
- Lorber, J. (1998) Symposium on R. Connell’s Masculinities. Gender and Society 12: 469—72.
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