A Few Helpful Ways to Positively Engage Hegemonic Masculinities

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This post is a follow on from our previous article The Importance of Engaging Hegemonic Masculinity in which we briefly looked at several reasons why it is important to think hard about the question of masculinity. Now we briefly turn to a few ways some have suggested are helpful in changing attitudes away from harmful traits within masculinity.

There is a two pronged approach to changing the oppressive traits often associated with hegemonic masculinity: deconstruction and reconstruction (Hadebe, 2010). Deconstruction involves a careful analysis of hegemonic masculinity and its components that cause problems (Hadebe, 2010). It therefore deconstructs an often harmful system to pave way for efforts of positive reconstruction. Reconstruction includes the construction of new masculinities to replace the negatives of hegemonic masculinity (Hadebe, 2010). As several researchers have proposed, there are several areas within which reconstruction can take place.

A first area of engagement should be gender equality that includes an emphasis on promoting equal roles in the household, and educating men and women on the South African constitution which affords equal rights to all South Africans irrespective of religion, race, and sex (Gennrich, 2013).

A second area should focus on gender violence (CSU, n.d.). Men can play a crucial role in the process of addressing these issues, especially issues stemming from male violence against women (CSU, n.d.). Education should play a central role, especially in showing why men, women, and children all deserve dignity and respect.

A third area should engage relations between males (Marock, et al., 2018). A holistic understanding of the male should be emphasized. This would highlight the fact that boys and men are also emotional human beings, and that there is nothing wrong with emotional expression in response to certain circumstances. Moreover, education should include elucidating the ways that boys and men are taught to adopt specific masculine narratives. They should also be shown which of these traits can result in male oppression and the suppression of emotions.

A fourth area should engage pornographic usage among boys and men, and how this usage can result in male anxieties (Cook, 2006). Moreover, an awareness of the negative traits of hegemonic masculinity in pornographic material should be highlighted.

Women should also be involved in these discussions (Gennrich, 2013). One reason is because they are directly engaged, impacted, and influenced by men and should therefore have a voice. Further, many women, unknowingly, play a role in perpetuating hegemonic versions of masculinity through the socialization of their own children (Gennrich, 2013).

How might these suggestions look practically? Because hegemonic masculinity is enforced in the public space via mass media, societal institutions, and the corporate world, these areas should be prioritized (Cooper, 2009). One method is to approach places where mostly men congregate. Approaching men in religious institutions, bus and taxi ranks, pubs, and on sports fields would help provide a significant reach to the intended target audience (Gennrich, 2013). Activists should approach men in rural areas, in townships, correctional centers, and in affluent neighbourhoods. Further, a safe space needs to be created for South Africans, both men and women, to come together to discuss issues relating to hegemonic masculinity and gender relations (Gennrich, 2013). This could take form via forums, symposiums, conferences, and online networks which cultivate safe spaces for dialogue (Gennrich, 2013). Campaigning and accessing the media via newspapers, news networks, and radio programs would further assist in publicity. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are accessed by millions of South Africans and should be used to bring about awareness. School curricula could be gender sensitive, and also include an awareness of masculinities so boys can choose freely from them (Gennrich, 2013). Boys should also be encouraged to play non-aggressive sports alongside the more aggressive ones. Further, South Africa is a religious nation and it is important for NGOs and government departments to engage religious leaders in gender justice work (Gennrich, 2013). As highlighted, a number of local organizations are actively engaging these issues. These include PACSA, Sonke Gender Justice Network, and ADAPT (Agisangang Domestic Abuse Prevention and Training). Importantly, educational material should be available in all of South Africa’s official languages (Gennrich, 2013).


Cook, I. (2006). Western Heterosexual Masculinity, Anxiety, and Web Porn. Journal of Men’s Studies, 14(1), 47-63. doi.org/10.3149/jms.1401.47

Colorado State University (CSU). (n.d.). Men and Masculinities. Retrieved from https://wgac.colostate.edu/education/gender-and-identity/men-and-masculinities/

Gennrich, D. (2013). Men and Masculinities in South Africa: Essays and Perspectives. PACSA and Sonke Gender Justice Network. Retrieved from pacsa.org.za/images/docs/men_and_masculinities_in_south_africa_volume_2.pdf

Hadebe, L. (2010). Zulu Masculinity: Culture, Faith and the Constitution in the South African Context (masters thesis). University of KwaZulu-Natal, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Marock, C., Morgan, C., Jobson, G., Soal, S. & Yeowart, S. (2018, 14 May). Sonke Gender Justice Achievements Against Results: A Meta Review. Retrieved from http://genderjustice.org.za/publication/sonke-gender-justice-reviewing-achievement-against-results/

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