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Men and Masculinity

Hegemonic Masculinity

But different masculinities do not sit side by side as alternative lifestyles that men can freely choose. There are definite relationships between different masculinities. Most importantly, there are relationships of hierarchy and exclusion. In most communities there is a specific pattern of masculinity that is more respected than others. The hegemonic pattern of masculinity is often associated with national identity, celebrated in popular films and sports, presented as an ideal to the young, and constantly used as a basis of advertising. Other patterns of masculinity exist but do not attract the same respect—indeed, some forms of masculinity are actively stigmatized.

A good deal of debate has surrounded the concept of "hegemonic" masculinity. In some usages, it has turned into the concept of a fixed identity or stereotype, not very different from the old model of the male sex role. In others, however, it is recognized that only a minority of men actually embody a hegemonic model. Yet the hierarchy around this version of masculinity can be an important source of conflict and violence among men.

Recent social research also stresses that masculinity exists not only as a pattern of personal life, but also impersonally in communities, institutions, and cultures. Collective definitions of manhood are generated in community life, and are likely to be contested—and change—as the situation of a community changes, for instance with the decline of industrial employment or changing definitions of marriage, such as attempts in the early years of the twenty-first century to include same-sex domestic partnerships or gay marriage within the legal systems of some of the developed countries. Organizations such as armies and corporations embed particular hegemonic patterns in their organizational cultures, and mass media circulate particular icons of masculinity while discrediting others.

Historical and sociological research has produced convincing evidence that masculinities change over time. Men's patterns of conduct, and beliefs about gender issues, do not change with dramatic speed. But research has shown significant generational shifts, for instance in sexual behavior, and in beliefs about men's and women's roles in society.

Change is to be expected because of the contradictions and tensions in gender relations. These give rise to a complex field of masculinity politics—mobilizations among different groups of men, some of them challenging for the hegemonic position in the local gender order, some defending more limited agendas. This conception is crystallized by Michael Messner in The Politics of Masculinities (1997).

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