Alternative Masculinity and Its Effects on Gender Relations in the Subculture of Skateboarding

By Beal, Becky | Journal of Sport Behavior, August 1996 | Go to article overview

Alternative Masculinity and Its Effects on Gender Relations in the Subculture of Skateboarding


Beal, Becky, Journal of Sport Behavior


With the recent movement in men's studies there has been a growing popularity of investigating different forms of masculinity and their consequences for men, their relationships with each other, and their relationships with women. According to Clatterbaugh (1990) there has been several avenues of the men's movement including a conservative, profeminist, socialist, and gay and black perspective. Each avenue carries with it different social agendas with priorities for addressing social problems. For example, a conservative approach can be correlated with a pro-family values orientation which asserts traditional gender norms and family relations as a way of reestablishing social order. On the other hand, a profeminist approach sees traditional masculinity as the root of women's oppression, and therefore seeks to change traditional gender roles as a way of promoting a more democratic society. The black and gay perspectives have demonstrated that there is not just one form of masculinity from which all men equally benefit. Gay men must deal with homophobia and blacks must deal with racism, and to more of an extent than whites, poverty. Both these circumstances show that minority men have a different experience of masculinity.

Carrigan, Connell, and Lee (1987) effectively summarized the history of research on masculinity as moving from a "sex roles," (or an assumption of "natural" differences determining social behavior) approach to an emphasis on the social construction of gender. The latter approach has emphasized power relations associated with different genders. Carrigan et al. (1987) clarified that power relations are not only between masculinity and femininity, but among different forms of masculinity as well (e.g., gay & black perspective). The most powerful form of masculinity is called hegemonic masculinity. They stated "what emerges from this line of argument is the very important concept of hegemonic masculinity, not as "the male role," but as a particular variety of masculinity to which others - among them young and effeminate as well as homosexual men - are subordinated" (p. 174).

This paper will combine a profeminist and critical perspective to describe how one group of young males created a non-hegemonic or alternative form of masculinity. The subculture of skateboarders I investigated chose not to live completely by the traditional and hegemonic forms of masculinity. In doing so, they created an alternative masculinity, one which explicitly critiqued the more traditional form. This paper will not only describe how they distinguished their subculture from traditional sport and hegemonic masculinity, but also investigate the resulting gender relations within the subculture, particularly how the males maintained the privilege of masculinity by differentiating and elevating themselves from females and femininity.

Masculinity and Sport

The concept of masculinity is often broad and, as mentioned above, does not encompass all men's experiences equally. Generally, masculinity is defined as a "social role that belongs to identifiable groups of men who exist in reasonably historical, ethnic, or religious situations" (Clatterbaugh, 1990, p.3). Each culture and ethnicity has a masculine ideal, which may also not be the lived experiences of men, but the social expectations of the ideal can affect them nonetheless (Connell, 1990). In the United States' culture, the attributes of masculine ideal have included individualism, aggression, power, competitiveness, strength, stoicism, and protector. Two social institutions which have traditionally encouraged boys and men to live out the ideals of hegemonic masculinity have been the military and sport (Kimmel & Messner, 1989; Miedzian, 1991). As a football coach once declared, "Football is the closet thing to war you boys will ever experience. It's your chance to find out what manhood is really all about." (cited in Sabo & Panepinto, 1990, p. 124)

Several researchers have pointed to the crisis of masculinity in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as one of the main impetuses for the raise of modern sport (Bradley, 1989; Hantover, 1978; Kimmel, 1990; Lucas and Smith, 1978; Messner, 1992, Whitson, 1990).

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