Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Consuming Media, Making Men: Using Collective Memory Work to Understand Leisure and the Construction of Masculinity

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Consuming Media, Making Men: Using Collective Memory Work to Understand Leisure and the Construction of Masculinity

Article excerpt


Despite an abundance of transdisciplinary research about adolescence and youth development, we seem no closer to understanding male youth violence such as the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado or the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming than we did 10 years ago. Parents, educators, researchers and policymakers have sought to identify the root causes of this violence by looking at three separate, but overlapping areas: access to handguns, parental influence/authority, and the media's influence on young people. Given that leisure has been identified as a central developmental context for young men and since they consume large quantities of media in their free time, an investigation on how media consumption can influence the ways in which young people construct their identities vis-à-vis gender socialization processes seems warranted. Therefore, the central purpose of this study was to explore the media consumption of young men to understand how they create and maintain masculinity. Despite more than 30 years of feminist advocacy for the eradication and/or alteration of rigidly defined gender roles, participants in this research project indicated that narrow roles and expectations of what it means to be a "man" and of "manhood" are still firmly entrenched in U.S. society. Using collective memory work (Haug, 1992), participants agreed that their earliest, individual memories of what it means to be a man were steeped in violent media representations of men and maleness. Finally, their collective analysis and theorizing led them to conclude that through media consumption, men actively construct and maintain impressions of masculinity based on notions of heroism, violence, and 'macho' images. In short, participants believed that the media was critical in the production and reproduction of hegemonic masculinity.

Theoretical Framework

Hegemonic Masculinity

Connell (2002, 1995) described "masculinity" as those practices in which men (and sometimes women) engage male social gender roles with the effects being expressed through the body, personality, and culture. Culture, then, serves as both a cause and effect of masculine behavior, and in our western society masculinity has taken shape in relation to securing and maintaining dominance. The masculine power is balanced by the general symbolism of difference whereby the masculine is valued over the feminine. While masculinity is grounded in difference, it is not a static characteristic or personal identity trait. Instead masculinity is a fluid construct that is organized within social relations and ultimately changes those social relations. According to Connell (2005), masculinity is not just an object of knowledge but the interplay between the agency of the individual and the structure of the social institution.

By placing masculinity in a historical moment and cultural context, researchers examine how, at that moment, in that culture, the framework of patriarchy emphasizes the control of emotions and denial of sexuality around the construction of masculinity. As Humphries (1985) suggested, researchers "cannot take seriously the staple references to masculinity and instead develop our own images of how we want to be." (p. 77). This argument contends that while there could be a variety of ways to perform masculinity, men often feel obligated, consciously or unconsciously, to perform masculinity in specific ways that are dependent upon the current cultural climate. These dominant ideological norms of masculinity are referred to as hegemonic masculinity.

What is hegemonic masculinity? According to Connell (2002, 1995), hegemonic masculinity can be defined as the configuration of gender practices that embody the currently accepted answer to the problem of legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees the dominant position of men and subordination of women. He describes how "terms such as 'hegemonic masculinity' name not fixed character types but configurations of practice generated in particular situations" (1995, p. …

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