Although masculinity is a complicated concept bound up in questions of power, privilege, and the political and social organization of society, the representations of masculinity that are most often visible express fairly stereotypical masculine tropes. In media representations we see regular returns to hegemonic masculinity in the form of superheroes, or action movie stars, for example, alongside the increasing availability of representations of other forms of masculinity, such as the ‘new man’, the ‘metrosexual’, the bumbling dad, and the man child who resists the responsibilities of adulthood. Some of these are in less sharp contrast to femininity and gay masculinity than hegemonic masculinity. Representations of masculinity are increasingly ambivalent and contradictory, and this becomes particularly apparent when we consider the ways in which representations vary across social role, class, race, generation, and sexuality.
The post-war era and the 1950s saw the growth of the office worker and a diminishing of the perceived value of ‘traditional’ masculine traits such as physical strength, stoicism, heroism, and aggression. Concerns around the ‘crisis of masculinity’ focus around the fact that stereotypes of strong, hard men who provide for their families persist despite the decline in traditional male jobs and roles which would allow them to do this. This has been linked, for example, to the high rates of suicide amongst men, although causal links are extremely difficult to determine in such areas. Academics working in the field of men’s studies argue that patriarchy is just as oppressive to men as it is to women and that masculinity as an ideological concept restricts and structures male experience.
Masculinity is often associated, across media and cultural representations, with authority. So authority figures like doctors, policemen, politicians, scientists, and lawyers tend to be represented as men. Masculinity also tends to be associated with labour and the workplace. A fundamental representational trope is that of the father figure. Representations of fatherhood have their origins in Victorian sentimental literature and tend to present a binary between the wise and nurturing father who is an admirable figure and the authoritarian brute. We see in both these examples how dichotomies are often set up between socially sanctioned ‘appropriate’ modes of masculinity (the domesticated male, the hard working industrious male) and inappropriate masculinities (the seducer, the drunk, the criminal).
186. Kimmel, M. S. (1996). Manhood in America. New York: Free Press.
187. Mind (2007). Men’s Mental Health, http://www.mind.org.uk/help/people_groups_and_communities/mens_mental_health on 14/112011