Academic journal article Outskirts: feminisms along the edge

Heroes, Retros and Metros: Narratives of Conflicting Masculinities within Contemporary Australian Media

Academic journal article Outskirts: feminisms along the edge

Heroes, Retros and Metros: Narratives of Conflicting Masculinities within Contemporary Australian Media

Article excerpt


Popular culture provides an intriguing space to explore social constructs of masculinity. This imagery has the potential to both influence and reiterate contemporary narratives about masculinity. This paper uses a qualitative content analysis approach to examine four contemporary, Australian-edition and/or produced lifestyle magazines that are for men, about men and targeted at men. This analysis includes Australian editions of international magazines such as For Him Magazine (FHM), Zoo Weekly (ZW) and Men's Health Magazine (MHM), alongside the locally produced Ralph Magazine (RM). These magazines reflect contemporary ideas about appropriate performances and embodiments of masculinity through the process of consumption, and demonstrate the shift from traditional 'Aussie' notions of masculinity towards more banal, globalised and commercialised forms.

Although there is an abundance of scholarship about social constructions of contemporary masculinity within Australia (e.g. Connell, The Men and the Boys 25; Drummond, 85; Stedman, 79; Walker, 40; Waitt and Warren, 353), there is a lack of focus on contemporary narratives of masculinity evident in Australian lifestyle magazines. Contemporary magazines such as ZW, FHM, RM, and MHM are valuable sources regarding how contemporary Australian masculinity is presented, leaving the question of what kinds of masculine narratives are depicted, how race, sexuality and class influence these representations, and whether these narratives retain any traditional aspects of Australian masculinity. Furthermore, they reflect the process by which a particular masculine narrative is idealised and perpetuated, thus requiring a critical examination of their material. I argue that these four magazines present three distinct narratives of masculinity available for consumption by Australian men. These narratives are significant as they demonstrate emerging tensions between these classed masculine identities while maintaining that whiteness and heterosexuality remain the key defining aspects of an appropriate, Australian masculine identity.

In unpacking narratives of masculinity in Australian media I am using a socio-constructionist approach, in which masculinity is understood not to be an essence with which men are born (Moynihan, 1072; Singleton, 43). Rather, masculinity is embedded through the performance of social interactions that are signified by beliefs, norms, cultural practices and behaviours associated with men. These ideologies are meant to stand in opposition to expressions of femininity and female gender roles (Buchbinder, 43; Moynihan, 1072; Singleton, 43). Throughout this paper I use the term 'appropriate masculinity' as a way to encapsulate what Cohen maintains is the notion of an idealised masculine narrative congruent with social norms (5). Ideals concerning displays of masculinity are formed by 'the shared beliefs or models of gender that the majority of society accepts as appropriate masculinity or femininity' (Cohen, 5). As Alexander maintains, gender ideals are constructed to specific historical and cultural contexts, changing over time, and warrant continued investigation (537). The work of Hermes (26), Crewe (9), and Holmes (510) in their theoretical approaches to the qualitative study of magazines provides the framework for my analysis. The implications of these findings suggest that despite Australia's emerging multiculturalism regarding race, gender, class and sexuality in city centres such as Sydney and Melbourne (see Jayasuriya, 27) where multiple narratives of masculinity exist, the average Australian male is still depicted as white, heterosexual and expected to subscribe to a hierarchical model of masculinity.

Defining Australian Masculinity

Defining the traditional Australian male requires a brief historical overview of Australian masculine tropes. Past examinations of masculine narratives within Australia outline the creation, maintenance and re-embodiment of the Australian male identity through tropes such as the swagman (eg: Lake, 98; Lawson, 557; Moore, 'Colonial Manhood' 35; Ward, 53), the lifesaver-surfer (eg: Booth, 24; Evers, 'Men Who Surf' 27; Evers, 'The Point' 893; Henderson, 'A Shifting' 321; Henderson, 'Some Tales' 70; Pearson, 5; Saunders, 96;) and the ANZAC (eg: Donoghue and Tranter, 3; Page, 193). …

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