Keywords: Hegemonic, complicit, subordinate, marginalized, and resistant masculinities

In every social context, men have an active role in the process of producing their own masculinity, which leads to the emergence of different kinds of masculinities, which are nothing but gender relations. In other words, masculinities emerge as people interact. They do not exist preceding social relations.

In her ground-breaking book, Masculinities (1995), R. W. Connell theorizes that in the Western male-dominated societies, there are four models of masculinities, called hegemonic, complicit, subordinate, and marginalized masculinities. They are actively produced by *1)  the gender power relations among men as well as between women and men, and  *2) by the interaction and influence of issues of ethnicity, class, religion, and sexual orientation. These four models of masculinities refer more to the positions of men in the Western male-dominated gender order than to personality types. They are the patterns of practice by which people (both men and women, though mostly men) occupy that position. Although theorized in the context of Western societies, I argue that these forms of masculinities generally, with some additions and subtractions, apply to other male-dominated societies as well, including Iranian society.

Some patterns of masculinity include a tendency towards violence, even its glorification, including violence against women, while some other patterns of masculinity either avoid violence or completely reject it. Masculinities vary historically, from culture to culture, according to different social classes and ethnicities and in different political contexts. They are thus transformable.

As there exists interaction between gender, class and ethnicity, it is recognized that there exists varieties of masculinities. The patriarchal social system, or the general domination of women by men, revolve around the relations of hierarchy between these different masculinities.

1.  Hegemonic or dominant Masculinity

In every patriarchal social context, various masculinities form a hierarchy where the dominant and aggressive model has the highest position and is the standard with which other models are assessed. R.W. Connell calls this model “hegemonic masculinity.”

Hegemonic or dominant Masculinity is a culturally cherished practice of masculinity that secures the domination of men over women. The adjective “hegemonic” in “hegemonic masculinity” comes from Antonio Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony that analyzes the power relations among a society’s social classes. So, the term “hegemonic” alludes to the dynamics through which a social group asserts and preserves a dominant position in a social hierarchy. It is the belief in the existence of a normative ideal of male behaviour.

Characteristics of hegemonic/normative masculinity are: Independence, goal-orientation, status and achievement, adventurousness, risk-taking, competitiveness, aggressiveness domination and violence, anti-femininity, suppression of emotions, non-relational sexuality, homophobia, physical or mental toughness, power and control over most women and some other men, overt display of heterosexual desire, health care negligence, beliefs that men are biologically superior to women. In Western societies, masculinity of military men, CEOs, sporting heroes and bodybuilders are among the hegemonic types.

Raewyn Connell defines the hegemonic masculinity as:

“a social ascendancy achieved in a play of social forces that extends beyond contests of brute power into the organization of private life and cultural processes. Ascendancy of one group of men over another achieved at the point of a gun, or by the threat of unemployment, is not hegemony. Ascendancy which is embedded in religious doctrine and practice, mass media content, wage structures, the design of housing, welfare/taxation policies so forth is.” (1)

Although hegemonic masculinity does not allude to domination based on force, it is quite compatible with it. Hegemonic masculinity does not equate to complete cultural domination or abolition of alternatives. It requires subordination, not elimination.

Construction of hegemonic masculinity takes place in relation to women and to other masculinities that are subordinated or marginalized. During the 1950s in the United States, a key type of hegemonic masculinity or the ideal of manhood was that of white, heterosexual, middle-class men. This hegemonic masculinity accepted un ideal of manhood, which included traits such as aggression and violence, emotional self-control, courage, risk-taking, toughness,  competitiveness, achievement and success. (2) Men were encouraged to internalize these traits and behave accordingly.

However, cultural ideals of masculinity do not have to comply with the characters of real men or the facts of their success. Hegemonic masculinity does not represent powerful men; it maintains powerful men’s identity and what massive numbers of men are driven to support, by excluding “others,” such as women and gay men, as it is directed by the mass media.

Hegemonic masculinity is firmly connected to heterosexual orientation, marriage and family life, violence and misogyny. The majority of men in most societies profit from the subordination of women.

2. Complicit masculinities

Complicit masculinities are represented by the many men who do not take part in domineering behaviours, but still benefit from men’s privileges in the society. These are men who neither honour or disparage hegemonic masculinity, but receive gains from the subordination of other masculinities and women. Examples of complicit masculinities are working-class men, heterosexual- black men and egalitarian fathers who are involved in child-rearing. These men still receive some patriarchal advantages, although without the stress of being the defenders of patriarchy. It is because images of dominating masculinity promotes and maintains the position of all men.

3. Subordinated  masculinities

Subordinated  masculinities include ideas, preferences, attitudes and behaviours that are different from those connected to manhood in a specific society. These masculinities, such as those of gays, young men in the trades, young black men and male immigrants in the USA, are defined in contrast to hegemonic masculinity as well as exploited, oppressed and controlled by it. In most Western societies, rebel and hybrid masculinities are considered inferior, and men who possess characteristics such as sensitivity, nurturance, softness, compassion  and empathy are likely to be scolded. All subordinated masculinities are likely to be excluded from ideological, social and economic power.

Until 1950s, all black masculinities were subordinated, as black men were subject to economic discrimination, segregation and physical lynching.

                                                                                                       Another example of subordinated masculinity is that of homosexual men. Culturally, these men are regarded by many as second-class citizens, subject to economic discrimination and hate crimes and political oppression, simply because they display behaviours that are not typically masculine. The same goes for male members of the “Religious Society of Friends” (Quakers) and the Jain religion, who avoid any form of violence. These are men whose masculinities are subordinated to the hegemonic masculinities that favour violence.

Subordinated masculinities help to reinforce hegemonic masculinities.

4. Marginalized masculinities.

Marginalized masculinities are neither subordinated nor dominant. They can be found in constructs that are subordinated to hegemonic masculinities, although they obtain much more patriarchal advantages than subordinated masculinities. Working class masculinities are an example: although they are dominated by the middle and upper-middle class masculinities, they demonstrate physical toughness and muscularity, and are culturally admired.

Another type of marginalized masculinity is protest masculinity, which has been conceived, on the one hand, as an aggressive, destructive and alienating type of masculinity, and on the other hand, as opposing hegemonic masculinity and its sexism.

Protest masculinity, comparable to Adler’s Masculine Protest (3), is a marginalized masculinity that adopts some characteristics of hegemonic masculinity and changes them in the situations of poverty. By magnifying masculine behaviours such as risk taking, the more powerful men dominate the less powerful in the marginalized group. This extravagant affirmation of masculinity's authority, has roots in childhood powerlessness.

5. Resistant masculinities

Connell’s typology has been improved by adding more hybrid kinds of masculinities. These are ways of resisting patriarchal masculinities,  “strategic reversal of the process of domination” (4) Pro-feminist men who relentlessly examine and oppose male domination as well as working class men who reject the domination of middle- and upper-middle class men, represent these types of masculinity.

A small number of men with hegemonic masculinity enact hegemony by impeding alternative masculinities from acquiring cultural recognition, by restraining them in ghettos, in privacy, in oblivion.


To break away from hegemonic or hyper-masculinity means to abandon power, literally or symbolically. As Redman (1996) indicates, ‘there is no self‐evident reason why boys and men should want to give up any of the power that their social position affords’. (5) And when this happens, it is usually men who possess other sources of power, such as belonging to a dominant class or race, who can break away  from hegemonic masculinity, while still gain from patriarchal advantages. Connell (1995) gives the example of a man who “gave up a successful career and pressured lifestyle at the age of thirty’ (6), but abandonment of his masculine career was a very masculine performance. For instance, he told his wife about it only when he purchased their farm. (7) The way this repudiation is done turns it into a symbolically powerful renouncement of power.  Breaking away from hegemonic masculinity can therefore be empowering. So, it not contradictory to ‘empower men to disempower themselves’. (8) But this is, of course, about a minority of men.

For the last forty years, in Western societies, different processes of change in most men and their masculinities have taken place both collectively and individually. Regardless of the groups that have belonged to the reactionary Fathers’ Rights Movement, many progressive men have gathered together around the idea of equality between women and men, and for personal growth.

Work groups for men’s liberation aim at discovering and deconstructing the confining and damaging effects of dominant and sexist masculinities for men’s per­sonal welfare. Men are gradually becoming aware that their role of emotional impairment causes solitude and agony, and their risk-taking endeavours lead to abuse and violence.

While most of these groups basically zero in on men’s personal issues and emotional growth, they also engage in raising social awareness, castigating violence against women, publicizing the gains granted to men by their adoption of a more egalitarian mind-set, advocating men’s physical and mental health, and so forth.

The Western men’s movement for equality has adopted strategies that are equivalent to the empowerment of women. It recommends the ‘moral disarmament’ of men or the close analysis of men’s self-identity. It recognizes that patriarchal inequality and injustice grant men an inexcusable advantage by the sheer fact that they are males, and thus adopts the slogan ‘be prepared to lose privileges in order to win equality.’

Some of the common positions of various groups of Western men’s movement for equal­ity are the following:

Commitment to personal change (display of emotions, anger man­agement, emotional experience of sexuality, engagement against homophobia, etc.)

Forceful efforts against gender discrimination and violence towards women.

Equal acceptance of their responsibilities in caring for people.

Presentation, advocacy and support of positive standards of masculinity, such as sensitivity, nonviolence, caregiving.

Commitment to the change in the public sphere (mobilizing a large number of men to advocate and encourage equality, endorse reconciliation strategies, renouncing power so that it would be turned over to women, recommending legislative changes, etc.)



1.Connell, RW. 1987. Gender and Power: Society, the Person, and Sexual Politics. Stanford: Stanford University Press. P.184.

2. Donaldson, Mike. 1993. “What is Hegemonic Masculinity?” in Theory and Society 22(5):643-657.

3. Adler, Alfred. 1956. Individual Psychology.  Basic Books, New York.

4.  Bhabha, Homi. 1994.  The Location of Culture. Routledge, New York. P. 120.

5. Redman, P., 1996, ʹEmpowering men to disempower themselvesʹ: heterosexual masculinities, HIV and the contradictions of anti-oppressive education. In M. Mac an Ghaill (Ed.), Understanding Masculinities: social relations and cultural arenas. Open University Press, Buckingham. P. 170.                

6. Connell, R.W. 1995. Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press. P. 131

7. Ibid. PP. 131-32

8. Redman, P. 1996, Op.cit. PP. 168-179.