What is Hegemonic Masculinity? Definition and how it affects us

The concept of hegemonic masculinity has influenced gender studies across many a discipline. The concept has been influential in gender studies across many years and has allowed us to explore how different societies have developed their own specific masculine ideals.

In this blog post we will explore what hegemonic masculinity means and how it influences our understanding of sex, relationships, social hierarchy and violence within an individual’s environment.

What is Hegemonic Masculinity?

Hegemonic masculinity is a theory coined by R.W. Connell that describes the social pressures and expectations men face to be the “perfect expression of masculinity.”

It’s the stereotypes that our society sells us as the normal and “exulted” version of true masculinity. These stereotypes can disempower people if they don’t fit the stereotype, such as those with a physical disability, genderqueer, or transgender. 

This sense of conformity and internalized need to fit gender stereotypes can be viewed in all facets of our culture. Hegemonic masculinity is the result of a complicated social construction that has been adapting for centuries. Some societies promote quite different versions of hegemonic masculinity than others do: in some countries (Italy, for example), hegemonic masculinity is based on being a good worker, while in other countries (like the United States), it’s more about social influence and prestige.

Even so, it is displayed universally all over the world and throughout history. 

Negative Effects of Hegemonic Masculinity

Hegemonic masculinity’s harshest effects are the least noticeable. They can be hidden pressures and unspoken rules that perpetuate harm. 
Expectations and behaviors that are perpetuated by Hegemonic Masculinity:

  • Heterosexual is the only normal relationship
  • Aggressive and competitive is the only way to accomplishing goals
  • Men should be apathetic toward feelings
  • Men should always put on a facade of strength
  • If your “truly a man” you don’t need help

The constant pressure to put on a performance as a “manly man” might give some men deep psychological issues. People who identify as gay or transgender might feel even more pressure and stress as their self-identity clashes with the pressures that a hegemonically masculine society burdens them with.

In almost every country in the world, there are clear and massive gaps in pay for women, gay people, and anyone who isn’t at the top of the hierarchy sexually. On top of this, people have preconceived ideas about the abilities of non “alpha males”. This can lead to women/members of the queer community to not be considered or allowed to reach their best.
The pressure of Hegemonic Masculinity can also be internalized to the point where people don’t even bother trying to work hard, fight for fairness, or innovate. This huge waste of talent is a strain on our economy, and civilization as a whole.
To understand how hegemonic masculinity works, we have to take a look at the heart of the matter: Toxic masculinity.

How is Hegemonic Masculinity Different from Toxic Masculinity?

A lot of times, people will use the phrase “toxic” instead of “hegemonic” masculinity, and many use the words interchangeably, so what’s the difference?

Hegemonic masculinity describes the social pressures around masculinity, while toxic masculinity describes the harmful behavior that arises from that social pressure.

For example, if one was describing the gender pay gap in the STEM field, they would probably refer to hegemonic masculinity. If one was describing the certain way a man was unnecessarily loud and aggressive in a social situation, they would be referring to toxic masculinity.

This distinction is important because there are heavy focuses on both ideas, but less often are they both linked together. Toxic masculinity is one of many observable effects of hegemonic masculinity.

Check out this article on Positive Masculinity as the opposite to Toxic Masculinity.

Hegemonic Masculinity in Pop Culture

Hegemonic Masculinity can be seen throughout pop culture. It can be seen in the way men are depicted and how they are expected to act.

Hegemonic Masculinity example big bang theory and deadpool

Hegemonic Masculinity in movies and TV

We see Hegemonic Masculinity in movies, such as in the 2016 movie Deadpool, where Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson who takes up an alter ego to cure his cancer by undergoing an experimental treatment that leaves him horribly scarred but gifted with incredible healing abilities while simultaneously driving him mad and leaving him mentally unstable (the mental instability is never really addressed).

The Big Bang Theory was a wildly popular sitcom in the late 2000s and 2010s that promoted hegemonic masculinity and sexism casually. The show demonstrates how the “geeks” pressure the other men in the group to be macho, even when they are not. The comedy centers around the men trying to live up to a standard of masculinity and failing.

Here is a great video that shows how bad masculinity was displayed in The Big Bang Theory.


Hegemonic Masculinity in Fraternities

Another great example is fraternities.  On the surface, they offer a way for male students to live with each other, share study help/meals, and create lifelong friendships. These sound great, but many of these fraternities force unhealthy ideas and traditions on their members such as hazing, unquestioning loyalty, misogyny, and other rituals.

A paper from Flordia State University shows that fraternity members are less likely to meet people from various cultures and races, are less open to gender/racial diversity, score lower on exams, and see an increased likelihood of sexual violence and drug abuse.

In Conclusion

  • Hegemonic Masculinity is a useful term that points to the social pressures that are cast upon masculinity.  

  • Hegemonic Masculinity can also be internalized and lead to Toxic behaviors. 

  • Hegemonically masculine practices are so normalized they are not only invisible to many people but also the way in which we conduct our lives.

  • Hegemonic masculinity affects all of us, even today. We can see this depicted by our collective unconscious through social norms, economic injustices, and pop culture.

Read my other article on Fragile Masculinity is and how to overcome it.

Isaac Cotec
Isaac Cotec
Creator of HeroRise, Isaac Cotec has dedicated his life to empowering others through art and creativity. He is a scholar of the subconscious and has studied the power of symbolism to help create enduring change.

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