Commentators have provided reasons as to why they think engaging the topic of hegemonic masculinity is important, particularly for boys and men but also for girls and women. As we briefly have seen before, hegemonic masculinity is one of several masculinities. It is termed ‘hegemonic’ because it is the dominant form of masculinity within a particular society. As the dominant form it is often held in the collective consciousness of members of society and designates boundaries and qualifiers of what it takes to be considered the “ideal man” (Gennrich, 2013; Morrell, 1998). Unfortunately, not all the traits are positive and the negative ones can affect the well-being of boys and men (Haenfler, 2004; Nagel, 2003). As a result, theorists, commentators, and activists have provided reasons why engaging the topic of hegemonic masculinity is important.
Oppression and Suppression of Boys and Men
Certain traits of hegemonic masculinity results in the oppression and abuse of boys and men. As Gennrich observes, many South African men “align themselves with an oppressive version of masculinity” (Gennrich, 2013, p. 3). Young boys, for example, adhere to hegemonic rules that are established and enforced by older or more popular boys (Gennrich, 2013). These rules are policed, and individuals who do not meet hegemonic expectations will become the focus of ridicule and even violence by other boys and men (CSU, n.d.; Elliott, 2003). Often abuse will take the form of degradation via homophobic and feminine insults (CSU, n.d.). Consequently, because hegemonic views of masculinity remain vigilantly enforced many men have the fear of not being “man enough” and will, as a result, feel the need to constantly prove their male identities (Connell, 2005; Seidler, 1998). Men who ascribe to oppressive traits of hegemonic masculinity are more likely to condone anger, violence, and restricted emotionality, and especially so when compared to femininity (Mthembu, 2015). Fortunately, through the PACSA and the Sonke Gender Justice Network men have shared anecdotes of overcoming oppression stemming from hegemonic masculinity (Marock, et al.). The South African Men’s Forum has similarly engaged these issues publicly via local media channels (PMG, 2017).
Research in the last half century has suggested that certain masculine traits can result in problems for men (Eisler, 1995; Pleck, 1995). One major issue is that certain hegemonic masculine traits lead to emotional suppression (Mthembu, 2015) which is often a way of men proving a lack of femininity within themselves (Cook, 2006). However, the facade of toughness, competitiveness, and bravery at the expense of vulnerability in public spaces and the company of other males is often not a true representation of the lives of the boys and men behind the facade (Cooper, 2009). As Cooper argues, hegemonic masculinity presents concepts of how boys and men ought to behave in society that are merely “fantasies, ideals and desires” (Cooper, 2009, p. 3).
Gender Relations and Male Violence
As sociologist Tal Peretz highlights, studying masculinities is imperative for an intersectional analysis of gender relations, necessary for reducing men’s perpetration of violence, and because it might provide a means for revealing where social change can most effectively be encouraged (Peretz, 2016). Research suggests a possible link between oppressive hegemonic masculine traits and male issues such as violence against women and children, substance abuse, and risky behaviours (Connell, 2000). South Africa is a violent nation, and violent crimes occur commonly between males and females, and mostly towards women. Sexual violence is incredibly high (SAP, 2016), 2011 saw roughly 64 500 reported rapes (SACAP, 2018), and other statistics suggest that 40% of South African men have hit their partners and that 25% have raped a female (Mashego, 2017; Naidu-Hoffmeester, 2017). Most cases of homicide involving an intimate partner is committed by a male (a current or ex boyfriend, husband, partner) (Goetting, 1988).
Expression in Pornographic Content
Hegemonic masculinity is expressed within internet pornographic material and therefore filters into the consciousness of the millions of men accessing it (Garlick, 2010). The result is, as Ian Cook suggests, that heterosexual men experience a significant source of ‘anxiety’ that could result in significant personal and/or social issues (Cook, 2006). Cook further argues that this is relevant to gender relations and violence as one way for men to conquer these anxieties is for them to dominate, control, and denigrate the feminine while further privileging the masculine (Cook, 2006).
All masculinities, including hegemonic masculinity, are malleable and change over time (Gennrich, 2013; Morrell, 2001). This lends support to efforts attempting to transition men away from the oppressive masculine traits. As Morrell highlights, “Masculinities are constantly being protected and defended, are constantly breaking down and being re-created. For gender activists this conceptualisation provides space for optimism because it acknowledges the possibility of intervening in the politics of masculinity to promote masculinities that are more peaceful and harmonious” (Morrell, 2001, p. 7). Morrell argues that men are capable of making positive changes, and that they should be central in this process (Morrell, 2001).
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