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Men and masculinity

Intellectual origins of the topic

Patriarchy – ‘father rule’

  • Social, economic, legal, religious, customary dominance by men



  • The state of possessing qualities or characteristics considered typical of, or appropriate to, a man
  • ‘unwomanly’
  • implies a relational construct (Roper & Tosh) based on either gender, race, class


history of masculinity

  • evolved from
    •  work on women’s history
    • men’s movement of late 1970s and early 1980s
      • men pay a v. high price for patriarchy
      • society’s expectations on men too high
      • prevent them from expressing their emotions


  • response to certain orthodoxies
    • history writing focussed on men which
  • treated masculinity as an unproblematic, all-inclusive category

  • assumed men’s behaviour regulated by ‘hegemonic’ definitions of masculinity

  • marginalised forms of male behaviour that were deemed ‘unmanly’


Models of masculinity

  •  Importance of religious belief and thinking on constructions of masculinity


  • 18c elite  - variety of notions

      • based on military and public power + private pursuits of hunting, drinking, duelling

        • libertine culture
          • ‘the rake’
          •  ‘civil society’

  David Hume

  • early 19c – influence of Evangelical religion
    • home was central to masculinity (Tosh)

  • domestic ideology

    • influenced masculinity as well as femininity

    • this model of masculinity beset with contradictions and inherent tensions (Davidoff & Hall)

  • homo-sociability
    • male bonding
      • drinking – culture of the pub or tavern (Anna Clark)
      • consumption and display
      • blood sports, incl. bare-knuckle boxing matches
  • appealed to libertine members of the aristocracy and rougher strands of working class

  • often associated with violence towards women, other men, animals


  • late 19c/early 20c - hegemonic masculinity
    • ‘all embracing male stereotype’
      • combination of external qualities (e.g. physical strength and endurance, courage) and internal qualities (e.g. self-control, stoicism)
      • qualities typical of the English public school system
        • chivalrous and protective of women
        • frequently centred on Empire
          • civil servants
          • missionaries
          • businessmen
          • muscular Christianity’ – confusing and controversial phenomenon
  • appealed to the middle class, less popular with sections of working class

  • mid 19c onwards - work-based norms of masculinity
    • complex, probably only achievable by a minority of working-class men
      • ‘aristocracy of labour’
      • respectable artisans

This version of masculinity - product of domestic ideology transmitted from middle class or an independent working-class identity?

  • Fatherhood

  • Most important masculine role?

  • Multiple models of fatherhood

  • 3 most common – polar opposites

  • distant/brutal

  • involved/loving

  • absent from home/constant presence

  • fatherhood and masculinity – based on

  • birth and rearing of legitimate sons

  • successful inter-generational  transmission of ideas of masculinity

  • 19c models of  fatherhood

  • elite – contained contradictions and paradoxes but re-inforced dominant models of masculinity (David Roberts)

  • upper-class fathers typically

  • remote (physically and emotionally) from their sons

  • benevolent

  • dominant

  • working class – multiple models

  • (Lummis) – fathers absent for extended periods but involved when at home

  • (Chinn, Ross) – fathers largely alienated from their homes


  • Alternative models of masculinity

  • Deviant masculinity

    • Non-white men

      • Young single men
        • ‘yob culture’

            • resistant to

              • patriarchy
              • ‘muscular Christianity’
  • temporary or permanent condition?


  • homosexuals

o  early c19 – law concerned with prevention of homosexual activities in public

o  1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act

  • homosexual acts in public or private were criminalised

  • punishable by 2 years’ imprisonment, with or without hard labour

  • 1895 trial of Oscar Wilde, sentenced to 2 years + hard labour 

  • late c19 – differing views of homosexuality

  • legal and scientific (Michel Foucault, Jeffrey Weeks)

  • police and legislators – homosexuality = a crime

  • doctors, psychiatrists – scientific methods, particularly medical treatments for nervous and sexual disorders

  • results of this debate

  • failed to reduce incidence of homosexuality

  • encouraged development of

  • distinctive homosexual identities

  • visible homosexual subcultures

  • classification of deviance based on powerlessness


Crisis of masculinity

  • Situation where traditionally dominant forms of masculinity have become so distorted that men no longer know what being a ‘real’ man means

  • Problematic and complex issue

  • Historical explanations

  • Late 19c – part of fin de siecle pessimism

  • ‘hegemonic’ masculinity challenged by

  • ‘New Women’

  • visible homosexuals

  • early 20c – masculinity challenged by

  • WWI (dealt with later in course)

  • Historical explanations unsatisfactory

  • identification of periods of ‘crisis’ implies that masculinity is stable at other times

  • men’s anxiety about their gender identity

  • based on need to free themselves from ties to their mothers and

  • to make transition from boyhood to manhood distinctly and irrevocably

  • Roper and Tosh –

  • masculinity is always in crisis

  • masculinity is in a continual process of contestation and transformation

  • masculinity is a relational construct

  • mens’ power over women/other men is an organising principle of masculinity

  • method of organisation may change over time

  • but dominance and subordination remain