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Recovering the feminine other: masculinity, femininity, and gender hegemony

Abstract

R. W. Connell’s path-breaking notion of multiple masculinities (Connell, 1995) and hegemonic masculinity (Connell, 1987, 1995) have been taken up as central constructs in the sociology of gender. Although there has been a great deal of empirical research and theory published that has built upon and utilized Connell’s concepts, an adequate conceptualization of hegemonic femininity and multiple femininities has not yet been developed. To redress this, the author presents a theoretical framework that builds upon the insights of Connell and others, offers a definition of hegemonic masculinity and hegemonic femininity that allows for multiple configurations within each, and that can be used empirically across settings and groups. The author also outlines how hegemonic masculinity and hegemonic femininity are implicated in and intersect with other systems of inequality such as class, race, and ethnicity.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The specific content of the relationship between masculine and feminine sexuality as outlined here (erotic attachment to difference and penetration as domination) is limited to contemporary Western cultures. However, my more general assertion that a central, hegemonic function of masculinity and femininity is to establish a symbolic relationship between the features of masculinity and those of femininity in a way that legitimates men’s dominance over women can be utilized as an analytic framework across cultures.

  2. 2.

    I want to draw the important distinction between the symbolic meaning of penetrative sexual relations and the lived, embodied experience and relations of power and domination. I am not suggesting, as Catherine MacKinnon (1989) and others have, that embodied intercourse is always/already relations of male domination. The relationship between the symbolic construction of the masculine in hetero-sex as penetrative and dominating and the lived experience and power dynamics of hetero-sex is an empirical question. As Lynne Segal (1994) suggests, the symbolic construction of penetration as domination might in fact be an ideological move to mask the real relations of power that work to women’s advantage in hetero-sex. That is, the erotic content of the relationship between masculinity and femininity serves the hegemonic function of masking women’s sexual power.

  3. 3.

    This is where Halberstam’s (1998) work on female masculinities takes on such great importance. Halberstam reveals not only how women can successfully engage masculinity as oppositional culture, but that these oppositional cultures are the building blocks of, not only drag queen performance, but also the performance of hegemonic masculinity by men.

  4. 4.

    Here I am referring to transgender. Judith Butler (2004) suggests that the heterosexual matrix or binary construction of hetero-difference to define “man” and ‘woman’ makes transgender un-intelligible and therefore, transgressive. It is essential to recognize that gender hegemony does not simply ensure men’s dominance over women, but also men’s dominance over people who are neither men nor women and women’s dominance over people who are neither men nor women. Gender inequality is not simply the unequal distribution of resources, power, and value between women and men, but also between those who embody intelligible gender and those who do not. And gender hegemony, as conceptualized here, explains how masculinity and femininity ensure and legitimate those relations of domination as well.

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Correspondence to Mimi Schippers.

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Schippers, M. Recovering the feminine other: masculinity, femininity, and gender hegemony. Theor Soc 36, 85–102 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11186-007-9022-4

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Keywords

  • Gender Relation
  • Male Dominance
  • Hegemonic Masculinity
  • Subordinate Masculinity
  • Masculine Characteristic