Marginalized Masculinities and Hegemonic Masculinity: An Introduction

By Cheng, Cliff | The Journal of Men's Studies, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Marginalized Masculinities and Hegemonic Masculinity: An Introduction


Cheng, Cliff, The Journal of Men's Studies


This essay reviews the masculinities and intergroup relations literatures while introducing the authors whose research is highlighted in this special issue. The complexities of identity group politics are also examined. Not only does intergroup conflict occur in society, so does intragroup conflict. Marginalized people have multiple group memberships--some marginalized, some dominant. Some marginalized people commodified their marginalized performance of masculinity. Others seek escape by passing or forming their own group where their marginalization is normative.

What could be more interesting than taking a "zoo" approach to editing a special issue dealing with marginalized men--that is, publishing one article on those identity groups that are marginalized. For instance, the zoo approach would examine the marginalized masculinities of the obvious identity groups like African Americans, Latinos (Hispanic Americans), Asian Americans, Native Americans, homosexuals, the elderly, non-Christians, working-class, and the poor.(1,2) It is impossible though, within the page limits of a special issue, or even within a large book, to explore all of the theoretical and empirical possibilities that our topic raises. Instead I will do the more manageable: introduce what we were able to do, while encouraging further study.

As marginalization based on gender performance is the focus of this special issue, we need to be clear about the term. When we speak of "marginalization," we are broadly referring to intergroup and/or intragroup relations, "activities between and among groups" (Alderfer, 1987, p. 190). Specifically, marginalization means peripheral or disadvantaged unequal membership, disparate treatment.

In the articles that follow we find Michele Dunbar's study of Dennis Rodman, the cross-dressing, African-American basketball player and MTV host, and how he exemplifies multiple marginalizations. Next, Judi Addleston writes about, among other things, women who perform hegemonic masculinity. Then, Lori Kendall writes about computer nerds; while Peter Chua and Diane Fujino's survey deals with how Asian-American men's masculinity is perceived by themselves and others. Steve Kurtz studies gay men of color, specifically Cuban and Puerto Rican gay men living in Miami, Florida. And last, my own contribution focuses on organizations that endorse hegemonic masculinity, while at the same time permitting non-hegemonic or "marginalized" masculinities and femininities.

STUDYING "GENDER" AND NOT ESSENTIALIST "SEX"

Conventional thinking suggests that "masculinity" could not possibly be marginalized.(3) Such a view, known as "essentialism," argues that biological sex (and race) determines behavior. Basically, essentialists think there are only two sexes (female and male) and two bi-polar gender roles (masculine and feminine).(4,5) "Masculinity," as seen from this perspective, is at the center, never the margin, always dominant, never subordinated. If one is to study gender, though, one should not assume that "masculine" behavior is performed only by men, and by all men, while "feminine" behavior is performed only by women, and by all women.

   Gender and sex are not equivalent, and gender as a social construction does
   not flow automatically from genitalia and reproductive organs, the male
   physiological differences of females and males (Lorber, 1994, p. 17).

   Gender is neither sex organs nor sex acts, but the socially constructed
   ideal of what it means to be a woman or man. Gender exists outside of us in
   our culture, but also resides inside of us, and our everyday activities
   provide opportunities for expressing, and perhaps transforming, the meaning
   of gender (Coltrane, 1994, p. 1).

A gender scholar takes into account that there may be multiple versions of masculinity and femininity. It is conceptually more accurate to speak of masculinity and femininity in the plural--that is, masculinities and femininities, rather than their singular essentialist form.

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