Oof. The term “hegemonic masculinity” is definitely a mouthful, but it’s also a super important thing to know about, especially considering the current state of, um, everything. Honestly, we all know what hegemonic masculinity is – we’ve all experienced it or witnessed it in action – we just might not be aware that there is a name for it. I first learned about hegemonic masculinity this past summer during my Communications and Gender class, and my mind was blown. Here is this thing that is all around us, and there’s actually a name for it, and there’s something we can do about it! I think it’s important for both women and men to know about this.
There is a hierarchy of masculinity, with hegemonic masculinity perched at the top. Within hegemonic masculinity, there are five “tenants”: (1) that power relies on physical force or strength, (2) that success is focused on capitalist accumulation and acting as the primary breadwinner for their family, (3) to assert dominance over women and children, (4) that it is modeled off of rugged frontiersmen, cowboys, outdoorsmen, and the like, and (5) one word: heterosexuality. Within the hierarchy of masculinity, this is seen as top-tier, the ideal, what every man should strive for.
Underneath hegemonic comes complicit masculinity, which encompasses men who fit some but not all of the tenants of hegemonic masculinity, yet still aspire to reach that level. This is followed by marginalized masculinity (men who still fit some of the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity, but may be excluded because of something like skin color), and lastly, subordinate masculinity (men who intentionally diverge from the tenants of hegemonic masculinity).
Okay, take a breath, that was a lot of information that I just threw at you. But it’s important to know. Why? Because hegemonic masculinity not only perpetuates the subordination of women and minorities, it teaches young boys that this is an okay way to go about life. And when you look at the political climate and the decisions that are being made, it becomes clear that there is an underlying sense of this epidemic within our culture. While it might not be blatant, a lot of the way our society is shaped revolves around this ideal. And perhaps the best thing to do about it is to educate. The more people that begin to recognize these trends, the more people will be capable of avoiding them. Teach kids young. Teach young boys that there is more to “manliness” than being tough and powerful. Teach young girls that they have the capacity to be just as tough, and just as powerful as boys can be. Teach acceptance of every variation of human, because there are a lot, and everyone deserves to be valued.