Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Constructions of Marginalised Masculinities among Young Men Who Die through Opiate Use

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Constructions of Marginalised Masculinities among Young Men Who Die through Opiate Use

Article excerpt

To date there has been limited research examining constructs of masculinities among marginalised men and how this relates to health experience. This paper aims to contribute to the literature in this field by exploring the biographies of young men who died through opiate use as seen through the eyes of those closest to them. The paper reports the narratives of family and friends of the deceased and examines how their accounts describe the role of risk-taking behaviours and how these behaviours can be interpreted in relation to marginalised forms of masculinities. Themes identified include risk taking, emotional expression, unemployment, fatherhood, and peer identity. The impact of hegemonic masculinity on marginalised men appears to be integral to constructing and sustaining risk-taking and self-destructive masculinities. This implies that risk taking motivated by "protest masculinity" may only be reduced if population health promotion measures are taken to reduce the inequalities that exist between men.

Keywords: masculinities, opiate use, mortality, young men, psychological autopsy


Until recently, men, or at least men and masculinity, remained relatively invisible as an explicit focus in research and sociological theory (Hearn & Morgan, 1990). Since the '70s, however, social scientists have begun to theorise about gender and men's health (Sabo & Gordon, 1995) and over the past 30 years there has been a considerable increase in literature on masculinities. Nevertheless, for many, the term "gender and health" remains synonymous with women's health; there is still some way to go before it is widely accepted that gender is as significant an influence on the health of men as it is on the health of women.

Development of the gender and men's health literature has been accompanied by rapid social change in Britain. The decline in manual occupations and the growth of more flexible employment contracts has brought greater job insecurity and unemployment. At the same time, men and women are reshaping their domestic lives with more moving into and out of cohabitation and marriage (Graham, 2000), but this does not imply that inequalities in health between men and women are declining. On the contrary, Popay and Groves (2002) argue that, despite this social change, patriarchal ideologies and structures continue to mould women's and men's lives differently, and as a consequence, these processes are continuing to generate gendered inequalities in health. Thus, the relatively more fluid movement between male and female dominated spheres in recent years has not necessarily made things more equal. In addition, change is unlikely to have impacted equally on different subgroups of women and men (Annandale 8,: Hunt, 2000). Men benefit in varying degrees from patriarchy, and the most marginalised probably do not benefit at all. In fact, it is likely that the most marginalised are oppressed by patriarchy, albeit in a different way from women. Marginalisation in this context refers to the relations between the masculinities in dominant and subordinated classes or ethnic groups. Marginalisation is always relative to the authorisation of hegemonic masculinity of the dominant group (Connell, 1999).

This paper reports on a study of biographies of 11 young men who died through opiate use as seen through the eyes of family and friends. In particular, it examines accounts of risk-taking behaviours, how these behaviours relate to marginalized masculinities, and how they may have contributed to the deaths of the men concerned.


More recent work on masculinity has no settled paradigm, but some common themes are now emerging: the construction of masculinity in everyday life, the importance of economic and institutional structures, the significance of differences among masculinities, and the contradictory and dynamic nature of gender (Connell, 1999). …

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