April 06, 2020

Race, Class, and “Hybrid” Masculinities

Jessica poling author photoBy Jessica Poling

In 1995, gender theorist R.W. Connell wrote her seminal book, Masculinities. In this book, Connell expands our understanding of gender by focusing on gender relations (rather than roles) with a specific focus on masculinity. Connell argues that rather than a universal quality among men, masculinity refers to a practice with the goal of embodying the dominant, male position in the gender hierarchy. In this perspective, masculinity is not an innate quality of men but rather a practice that aims to achieve some hierarchical relationship in reference to the female “other.”

Moreover, Connell argues that a multitude of masculinities exist, but that they are not all the same. While masculinity is always defined in opposition to the feminine, not all masculinities occupy a dominant position. Connell refers to the dominant masculinity as “hegemonic masculinity,” borrowing Gramsci’s original term which described how social groups claim power through dominant ideologies in addition to politics and economics.

Hegemonic masculinity, she argues, legitimizes men’s dominant position and the subordination of women and other non-hegemonic men. Traditionally, hegemonic masculinity has included the qualities of white, cis-men who are strong, able-bodied, and embody the qualities of the traditional, capitalist breadwinner. Clearly, not all men can embody this masculine ideal, and therefore have “subordinate” or “marginalized” masculinities.

Connell notes that one’s masculinity is not fixed. Rather, individuals may embody and move between multiple masculinities depending on the time or context. More recently, gender theorists have elaborated on Connell’s theory by exploring “hybrid” masculinities. In creating hybrid masculinity, men actively take bits and pieces of femininities and subordinate masculinities to create unique gender identities. These theorists note that men are increasingly constructing hybrid masculinities in response to growing critiques of white, male privilege in order to seem progressive. However, hybrid masculinities also draw upon qualities of hegemonic ideals, thereby perpetuating hegemonic masculinity as the dominant position while simultaneously obscuring it.

Until recently, this research continued to privilege white, cis, middle and upper-class men. However, Kjesrstin Gruys and Christin L. Munsch’s recent research, “’Not Your Average Nerd’: Masculinities, Privilege, and Academic Effort at an Elite University” aims to fill this gap by studying how hybrid masculinities are enacted among a diverse student body on a college campus. The authors argue that a college campus is an ideal place to study hybrid masculinities given that academic work is typically seen as “feminine,” thus prompting us to consider how young men make sense of their masculinity in the context of academic pursuits. Moreover, by studying a diverse student body the authors are able to examine how this process looks different between men of various backgrounds.

The authors interview 24 men attending an elite northeastern university regarding their beliefs about their masculinity in relation to their academic work and note several important findings. They find that the majority of class-privileged white men considered scholastic work unmanly, focused on extracurricular and social activities and, consequently, considered themselves to be achieving an ideal masculinity. Conversely, less privileged men embraced scholastic pursuits in an effort to become a responsible man. These findings confirm Connell’s foundational theory that frames hegemonic masculinity as a largely white, cis, upper/middle class achievement.

The authors note that some groups of men constructed three different hybrid forms of masculinity in an effort to navigate normative expectations for them. What hybrid masculinity these men constructed in part relied on their race and class background.

First, “complicit nerds” encompassed class and race-privileged men who dedicated themselves to scholastic efforts and neglected their social life. Yet they openly and explicitly recognized the superiority of hegemonic masculinity, therefore cementing the gender hierarchy. Next, “renaissance men”, similarly embraced scholastic effort but did not sacrifice their social life or extracurriculars; instead, they actively reframed hegemonic masculinity to encompass many different spheres of life in an effort to fit themselves into that reified category.

The majority of less class and race-privileged men, however, described themselves as unequivocally committed to their academic efforts. These “subordinated scholars” recognized the main characteristics of hegemonic masculinity such as strength and confidence, but also included that the ideal man uphold their responsibility and fulfill obligations like caring for others and protecting their families.

In doing so, these subordinated scholars created a hybrid masculinity that reframed their academic obligations under the umbrella of a redefined hegemonic masculinity. Finally, “subordinate stragglers”, which were exclusively people of color, both embraced and rejected academics as they sought to integrate their commitment to academic efforts with new, non-academic goals introduced in college. The authors note that while these men tried to integrate these masculinities, they ultimately ended up straddling them precariously, moving in and out of different worlds.

These findings are theoretically important. First, the authors note that not all privileged men engage in hybrid masculinity; in short, even if men recognized the privilege of being a white man they did not necessarily change their behavior. Furthermore, the authors illuminate how hybrid masculinity is raced and classed. They note, for example, that class and race-privileged men were not able to enact hybrid masculinity as successfully as the privileged “renaissance men.”

The less-privileged men could not successfully integrate their academic obligations with hegemonic expectations and were therefore left moving in and out of two cultural contexts without being able to maintain both at the same time. These findings indicate that privilege might be a determining factor in the ability to create hybrid masculinities. This conclusion is particularly noteworthy given that existing work on hybrid masculinity has insufficiently studied the role of race and class.

The concept of hybrid masculinity might be useful in other contexts moving forward. For example, how does the presence of hybrid masculinities impact the organizational culture of colleges? Does the manifestation of masculinity change depend on the campus context, such as between an Ivy League school versus a large, diverse university? How do these masculinities impact the experiences of women on campus? Finally, how do trans men engage in hybrid masculinity? Are their experiences different due to their less privileged status?

Gender theorists have come a long way in theorizing masculinity and power. Studying masculinity as a practice rather than an innate quality reveals power hierarchies within gender categories and the effort needed to maintain a dominant position.

Comments

Takeaway from this summary of a study of 24(!) men: no matter what form masculinity takes, it is always in the service of dominance and patriarchal authority. There is no such thing as a constructive or more egalitarian masculinity, no such thing as a softer, kinder version of the gender role which is not inherently oppressive, no difference without dominance. It doesn't matter that the masculine role has changed at light speed in the last 50 years, shedding a colossal amount of patriarchal baggage: men who reject older norms are doing so "in order to seem progressive", masculinity is always about power, and there is no way to be a man without oppressing someone.

Thank you for your valuable service, Gender Studies.

Great! can i share your post It will be helpful for many people to read this article of yours.

My Post says my assignment posted at on June 26 @ 12:46 AM but today is still June 25th its 9:48 PM (PST)What happened?

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