Decades ago Judith Butler wrote about a concept called ‘gender performance’. This means that gender does not pre-exist the person, gender is a result of a set of behaviors. Nowadays the construction of gender has become a controversial topic. Especially in the light of awareness of transgenderism, there are debates about the differences between assigned sex and gender. Some believe these are the same, others believe that these are two separate concepts. Then the question arises whether gender is the result of socialization or genetics – or both. Though, one thing is clear, your gender influences your experience.
Throughout history men have generally been part of the dominant group in society. And on top of that, if we look at specific histories such as the U.S., we see that it also helps to be of a certain skin color and to be part of a higher social class. For instance, before the nineteenth century, voting was restricted to white men of age whom owned property. Therefore, gender alone does not predispose a person’s advantage, there are other intersectional factors. However, for now I will simplify matters by solely looking at gender.
Connell has developed a theory over the years, which is now referred to as ‘hegemonic masculinity’. Merriam-Webster defines a hegemony as “the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group“. According to Connell’s theory, a specific kind of masculinity is considered to be ideal. This type of masculinity dismisses any alternative forms of masculinity or femininity. Sexual prowess, physical strength, and stoicism are all considered to be ideal performances of masculinity. If one were to divert from these ideals, then a person would be performing an alternative masculinity.
Furthermore, there is pressure from others in the dominant group of hegemonic masculinity to strive to fit the ideals. This leads to the exclusion of gay peers or the sexual objectification of women. Because the standard is considered to be heteronormativity, this norm predicates that romantic and/or sexual relationships take place between a man and a woman. Moreover, let’s go back to intersectionality for a second. Hegemonic masculinity does not only exclude ‘deviating’ sexual orientations, but also other identity characteristics. Researchers posit that hegemonic masculinity is restricted to “white, heterosexual, upper and middle-class men”.
times are a-changing?
Other researchers now suggest that masculinity is changing. The pressures of performing behavioral ideals related to hegemonic masculinity is decreasing. Masculinity performances are becoming more inclusive, therefore researchers are proposing new theories, such as inclusive masculinity theory or other hybrid masculinity theories. These types of masculinities have no problems having gay peers in their group of friends and tend to be more emotionally open. Furthermore, tactility is accepted among these men, which means that affectionate acts such as hugging are encouraged.
According to the same researchers, this inclusive masculinity performance is likely possible due to a decrease in homohysteria. Homohysteria is the apprehension of being perceived as gay. A lack of such a hysteria paves the way for masculinities that are not in line with hegemonic masculinity ideals. Therefore, feminine behaviors by men will be less likely to be denounced. Because hegemonic masculinity creates clear lines between masculinity and femininity, ‘feminine’ behaviors such as emotional expression is discouraged. However, as alternative masculinities are more and more recognized, these binary gender lines start to blur. In this contemporary scenario, the objective of masculinity is no longer to dominate other genders. If this trend continues, it begs the question of how society will be shaped as a result. Will power relations based on gender be any different?