Hegemonic Masculinity and Its Effects: A Social Stigma

In Pakistan, trans men are highly segregated and provided no incentives to attain education and earn a healthy living, which coerces them to be street beggars, so heterosexual men get all the power.

PAKISTAN-SOCIETY-TRANSGENDERThe concept of hegemonic masculinity enables us to acknowledge the existence of plural masculinities and how it encourages domination between men and women, as well as between men themselves. Hegemonic masculinity, even though globally prevalent, seems to be invisible; it breeds in the society and causes violence against women and trans men, strengthens the patriarchal norms, and leads to gender disparities in the private and public sectors. Hegemonic masculinity is a global phenomenon, which breeds at different levels in various societies. The concept of hegemonic masculinity was first proposed by R.W Connell to divert the attention to the overt practices that had promoted favorable conditions of men over women and the emergence of a dominant kind of social masculinity (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005, p.831). According to the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, hegemony is about winning and attaining supremacy to exercise power, ability to coerce, if need be (Donaldson, 1993, p.645).

Hegemonic masculinity is a concept which explains the culturally dominant behavior of men in society. It is not hegemonic to other masculinities only, but it is a representation of privilege and leverage men collectively have over women. Such a social structure generates gender discrimination and defines a pattern of conduct of being ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine.’ A feminist and socialist theorist, Simone de Beauvoir, explains that the binary understanding of sex implies man being superior to others and demarcates between the idea of ‘sex’ and ‘gender.’ “One is not born woman, but rather becomes a woman” (Beauvoir, 1949, p. 17) represents gender as a social role.

Therefore, it sets specific codes of behavior to be employed by men to conform to their masculinity. The tenets of hegemonic masculinity include violent behavior, aggression, resistance to the expression of emotions, and display of toughness.

Therefore, the quest for manhood and the desire to prove their masculinity by demonstrating power over women and other men forms the central mechanism of the society. However, men remain oblivious of the inequality breeding based on gender, and the problem of hegemonic masculinity becomes invisible. It was feminism, gay liberation movements, and women’s studies that brought gender into the literature and public discourse, which demanded transformation in the existing asymmetric power balance and structure of society. Since the historical formation of masculinities, the construction of two different dimensions and gendered power relations are made to appear static, regular, and fixed, so it goes without notice. However, sexism, racism, and homophobia, which make up hegemonic masculinity have embedded the dimensions of power that we often fail to see it as an issue. 

The public and international discourse regarding gender discrimination mainly focus on the oppression of women, as it should. However, the implication of stereotypical male standards also plays a role in the perpetuation of gender inequality. It roots from the flawed norms of the society which are practiced in homes, as well as in the public spheres. From early childhood, boys are instructed not to cry, be strong and brave, and refrain from being sensitive because it pertains to being feminine. Young boys are given different toys to play with and made to watch favorite warrior cartoons in which violence is considered justified when it occurs within a struggle between good and evil. When these boys fantasize about the heroic characters and reenact the plays, they are often subtly encouraged by their fathers and male relatives (Edwards, 2015). Consequently, the distinction between men and women into two binary categories eventually subordinates women because the social construction typically places masculinity above femininity.   

Hegemonic masculinity is rare, but it does exist, and to reach its singular vision is not easy, so it comes at its own cost. Men who feel inferior, weak, and incomplete, try to subordinate other men utilizing bullying to achieve the ideal state of manhood and feel less marginalized. Hegemonic masculinity distinctly defines men as independent, unemotional, aggressive, non-nurturing, and non-passionate in contrast to femininity. Therefore, men who adopt feminine characteristics are primarily excluded, made a victim of violence, and perceived as less manly. Moreover, in Pakistan, trans men are highly segregated and provided no incentives to attain education and earn a healthy living, which coerces them to be street beggars, so heterosexual men get all the power.

To stabilize gender dominance, men engage in toxic practices, including physical and sexual violence against women and gay men, which eventually affects the health of men, women, and children (W. Connell, R, 2001, p.26). Research has found that men who adhere to the norms of hegemonic masculinity have worse mental health and general well-being (JM, 2008). They are more likely to involve in sexual violence with their partner and practice a high degree of control of women. Such a display of aggression and lack of healthy engagement with family and acquaintances makes men more prone to depression, which often leads to mental breakdown or suicide. Hegemonic men may also incur high rates of morbidity and mortality due to resistance to seek medical health early (Schrock & Schwalbe, 2009, p.289). Since they are in a relentless struggle of proving their manhood, men expose themselves to risk-taking behavior such as drinking, smoking, reckless driving, and sporting danger ventures. It makes them appear as invulnerable, reliable, and fearless, but it is considered a toxic way of living.

Hegemonic masculinity produces a particular benchmark that every heterosexual man needs to comply with and adhere to the ethos of dominance and toughness. Boys learn that they can impress their fellow peers if they break the rules, belittle their academics, and adapt rebellious behavior, which will evoke their fear in others and elicit their deference (Bhana, 2003, p.42). However, it is imperative to note that boys who are subordinated are raised in a society that supports and normalizes male domination, expecting that they should have power. 

Men are always in a struggle to prove their masculinity, and the normative expectations make them flaunt their sexual relations with girls with aggression and disdain. Therefore, sexual harassment of girls comes as a necessary means through which boys can secure their position in the masculine hierarchies. According to an investigation, girls suffer harassment and violence in school frequently and beginning as early as elementary school (Gadin, 2012; Ormerod, Collinsworth, & Perry, 2008; Sagrestano, 2009). However, such violence and harassment in schools are made invisible and considered as a regular part of boy-girl interaction. This reflects how society supports it by not acknowledging the challenges caused by hegemonic masculinity.

Hegemonic masculinity is cultivated in Pakistan where women, queer, and transmen are highly marginalized and stripped of their fundamental rights. Patriarchal domination in Pakistan is practiced through restricted codes of behaviors, gender segregation in private and public domain, and the notion of associating family honor to female virtue. Abnormal and immoral traditional practices in Pakistan include rape and sexual harassment, honor killing, acid attacks, being burned alive, kidnapping, domestic violence, forced marriages, dowry murder, corporal, and emotional torture.

The cases of domestic violence often go unnoticed because they are dealt with as the private matters of the family and not a social stigma. Therefore, the toxicity of hegemonic masculinity remains unnoticed while women face psychological, physical, and sexual abuse and cannot utter a word for justice. According to the sociologist Richard Gelles, except for the police and military, the family is the most violent group of the society. (Hadi, 2017). Men see it as their duty to discipline their wives with violence if they are disobedient because it is a cultural myth that wives should obey them, which gives them an ultimate right to punish them if they do not. In some cases, women are also abused by their fathers and brothers if they do not adhere to their rules.

Pakistani social media star, Qandeel Baloch, was asphyxiated by her brother for honor, which signifies the invincible power of men over women. By killing a woman, he does not only restore the honor of the family but also publicly demonstrates his ability. Such honor-based violence against women takes place not only in small towns but in significant cities of Pakistan as well. Rather than seen as a crime, honor killing is regarded as a legitimate and fair punishment for those who dared to cause disgrace to the traditional honor of society. It is heart-wrenching to note how women are forced to bow down the hegemonic masculinity or die fighting for rights. There is no value and respect for women if she does not conform to the supremacy of men, while it is ironic to see that there are public brothels made for the pleasure of men, and no one bats an eye. Hence, it proves the dominance of men and the inequality caused by hegemonic behavior.

The effects of hegemonic masculinity permeate into the institutional, political, and economic sphere of the society where it teaches the inequality between and within genders. According to the Gender Gap Index of 2015, Pakistan ranked 144 out of 145 countries concerning the rate of difference in terms of economic opportunities and political participation of women. The key to this system resides in the fact that male authority has a material base, while male responsibility is normatively controlled. In a traditional Pakistani household, a senior man is unarguably the head and the breadwinner for the family, which ultimately gives him authority and power over everyone else, including younger men. Women have a negligible role in the public sector and are mostly restricted to the private sector of the household due to the different roles assigned to them. The sexist division of labor excludes them from participation in the public sphere, and such a normative social set up reaps the burden on men to sustain their family.

Moreover, the culture of our society tends to promote sexually assertive behavior of men and view women in sexual terms, which leads to the interaction between men and women to take sexual connotations. In workplaces and educational institution where men are usually in a position of power and authority quickly get a chance to exploit their rank to harass women. There is a common misconception about rape that it is the fault of women who seduce and invite men by their provocative attire and behavior, which ultimately gives men the power to punish them sexually. Therefore, men can instill their fear in women, which further restricts their economic opportunities, so they are financially depended on them and ultimately subjugated.

However, some aspects of hegemonic masculinity do include positive actions as bringing home a wage, sustaining a sexual relationship, and being a father. Indeed, it is difficult to see how the concept of hegemony could be relevant if the only traits of the dominant group were this. Women may be compelled to seek protection and solace from men as they feel insecure in the dominant male society. For example, when women go out of homes, they are a target of the male gaze who view them as sexual entities for their pleasure. Hence, women feel secure and comfortable traveling if they are accompanied by their male partner, which further cements the authority of men over women.

There is no easy answer which could help to tackle the inter and intragender hierarchies. However, we can start by acknowledging the effects of the hegemonic masculinity on the societies and try to create awareness regarding the possible solutions for them to be implemented. Multiple organizations and institutions are working for the empowerment of women and the LGBT community, such as Girls Not Brides, Global Action for Trans Equality, and UN Women, to mention a few. The situation can get worse if not addressed because of the growing gender disparities, which pave a way towards chaos and instability of the societies. It is necessary to share the burden of responsibilities that are exclusively entitled to men and share the joy of equity by giving women socio-economic independence. And this is why we need Aurat March. This is for all the questions and uproar against the legitimacy and cause of Aurat March. 

Fizza Fatima is a sophomore studying Social Development and Policy with a minor in Comparative Literature at Habib University. Her research interest includes gender studies, human and civil rights, and environmentalism.


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Filed under Discussion, Gender, Human Rights, Pakistan, Politics, Women

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