Tuesday, May 01, 2007
The concept of hegemonic masculinity has done much for the cause of deconstructing that which is rarely questioned. Masculinity, although the dominant gender in our current dichotomy, often remains invisible from scrutiny and challenge, paradoxically enough, because of its omnipresence. Any discussion of “gender”, according to Jackson Katz, elicits an immediate assumption that it solely involves women, never men. This phenomenon renders masculinity obscured and directs all focus on women and femininity instead of the way in which both masculinity and femininity exist relationally. It also discounts the social constructionist viewpoint which seeks to untangle common understandings of gender as necessarily attached to sex. Connell and Messerschmidt identify gender as an active process in constant need of reconstruction and enforcement. Hegemonic masculinity requires the “active struggle for dominance” (p. 832) and therefore points to the nonessential quality which defines gender. This concept allows one to reject the category of “man” as monolithic, and recognize the hierarchy of masculinities located within relations among men and women, which change given the context—historical, cultural, social or otherwise. The concept of hegemonic masculinity necessarily relies on subordinated others, either those enacting other masculinities (homosexual males, for example) or women. Connell and Messerschmidt emphasize that it is a position held by few but maintained by many, and because of this, it signifies a certain consent on behalf of the all parties involved. Masculinity, at first glance, may appear static, but once one recognizes the constant struggle on the part of men to sustain the particular dominance definitive of hegemonic masculinities, and how the qualifications change (often drastically) over time, one can clearly detect countless contradictions. The historical and cultural (re)construction of masculinity is demonstrated in the film “Tough Guise.” The representation of the gun-wielding man, the epitome of masculinity and power, has undergone tremendous alterations since the Humphrey Bogart’s of the 1940s and 50s. Jackson Katz maps the increase in size of gun and sinisterness of the pose in images of leading males in films from the 1950s-the 1980s, culminating in the enormity of the gun and muscles exhibited by the hyper-masculine characters of Rambo and the Terminator. His discussion of the influence of white Italian mafia portrayals on black rap culture and the subsequent influence on white suburban boys truly reveals the process of cultural and historical construction of masculinity and in turn de-essentializes the category itself. Both the Connell & Messerschmidt piece and “Tough Guise” portray the constant construction and reinforcement of masculinity and display the contradictions of the seemingly “inherent” nature of gender. Gender is a performance, influenced and changed by interactions with subordinates and so-called “equals”, although hegemonic masculinity rarely allows for this at all.