Keywords: domination, entitlement to power, violence against women

In male-dominated societies, there is always a culturally normative and main-stream ideal of a man’s relationship with women and other men, characterized by an inclination to dominate other men and subordinate women. Connell calls this ideal-type of masculinity “Hegemonic” and defines it as “the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees (or is taken to guarantee) the dominant position of men and the subordination of women.”(1)

In all male-dominated societies, the hegemonic or normative masculinities are basically created for domination and control, and the core space of these masculinities is nothing but power over others. This version of masculinity is honoured in every male-dominated society or group, while other versions are either not praised or looked down and frowned on.

Spaces of hegemonic masculinities

Characteristics associated with hegemonic masculinity are toughness and strength, aggressiveness, motivation, ambition, goal-orientation, independence, self-sufficiency, accomplishment, detachment, dispassion, domination over women.  Ronald Levant depicts traditional masculine norms as "avoidance of femininity; restricted emotions; sex disconnected from intimacy; pursuit of achievement and status; self-reliance; strength and aggression; and homophobia.” (2)

Hegemonic masculinity does not precisely coincide with the lives of every single man, yet male-dominated societies firmly incite men to assimilate it and discourage women to do so.  It is not automatically the most frequent model of masculinity, but somewhat the most culturally exalted and recommended model that always bolsters the subordinate position of women.

The most obvious carriers of dominant masculinity are not necessarily the most powerful men, but archetypes such as sporting heroes, film actors and imaginary novel or film characters. Yet, domination is exercised only when the cultural model partly coincides with institutional power. Therefore, men at the top levels of government, business and the military are representatives of hegemonic masculinity.

Based on Ronald Levant’s et al (3), James O'Neil’s (4), Robert Brannon's (5), Herb Goldberg's (6) and Cliff Cheng (7) models of Western hegemonic masculinity, we can state that the traditional constructions of hegemonic masculinities in the West encompass eleven spaces:

1. Independence or self-reliance:  hegemonic masculinities require men to solve problems without the assistance of others.

2. goal-orientation.

3. Status and achievement: a norm that dictates men to always be obsessed with success at what they do, to strive for wealth and status, to be capable of competition and control. To be successful as a man, one must be suspicious of others, and able to manipulate and control them. (8)

4. Adventurousness, risk-taking, competitiveness, aggressiveness domination and violence: The norm of aggressiveness and adventurousness motivates men to expose themselves to dangers and to be violent or, at least, to be perceived as capable of violence. Aggressive and violent behaviour is a crucial element of hegemonic masculinity. By adopting aggressive or violent behaviour towards other people, especially towards those considered feminine, such as women and gay men, a man can demonstrate his masculinity.

5. Anti-femininity/ flight from the feminine, emotional control/ restrictive  emotionality / suppression of feelings and emotions /inexpressiveness/ self-discipline/stoicism,  non-relational sexuality / objectifying sexuality, and homophobia. Denigration and fear of femininity, which is the core space of dominant masculinity, includes repudiation of men who have feelings and express them, are vulnerable, or are gay - because homophobia is at the core of hegemonic masculine socialization. ‘No sissy stuff,’ sums up this socialization. Also, non-relational and objectifying sexuality is linked to the rejection of femininity.

6. Physical toughness and athletic prowess (muscular development).

7. Dominance/Power/Control over most women and some other men.

Hegemonic masculinity is primarily engaged in power, control and domination. This domination can be expressed physically – as indicated by bigger size and greater strength, or through taking power in a group hierarchy. Hi-tech skills can be used to acquire power; Bill Gates is a typical example of the power of the “nerd.” Any form of hegemonic masculinity involves the seizing and holding of power. In Michael Kimmel’s words, “the hegemonic definition of manhood is a man in power, a man with power, and a man of power.”(9)

One very important point about the male power: Although, realistically speaking, men are in power – both as a group over women, and some men by virtue of class, ethnicity, and sexuality, over other men - there are plenty of men who say they feel as if they have no power, or they actually feel powerless. They are right as much as the above statement is right. It is because hegemonic masculinity does not necessarily include the experience of power; it always includes the experience of entitlement to power. This can easily be demonstrated by some unemployed men’s complaint that employed women have taken their jobs. That is why so many men become defensive when feminism is presented to them – they feel like they will be coerced into abandoning their sense of entitlement to power. To many men, feminism feels like an injury to their ability to demand their natural right to power.

8. Hegemonic masculinity is a dynamic concept that involves a contest over leadership. It defines the hierarchical interaction among different masculinities and justifies why some men find it necessary and natural to dominate other men and most women. It defines the system of gender relations, a position in that system, and the masculinist ideology the function of which is to reproduce male domination. The omnipresent and institutionalised quality of hegemonic masculinity illustrates culturally valued forms of masculinity and grants advantages to men who to some extent accept these attributes.

9. Health care negligence: In order to be successful, a man has no choice but to repress his physical and mental needs. For instance, he needs to sleep less, suffer more pain, and go without food or with bad food choices.

10. Opinions that men are superior to women biologically.

11. Predisposition towards violence. Hegemonic masculinity is the main generator of violence against women. At the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, amid several topics, the issue of violence against women was the most important, and was considered an experience of international proportion. It is true that most men do not batter their wives; however this is because men have many other methods of control available to them, some intimidating and some more consensual - such as middle-class husbands making most of the important decisions with minor inputs from wives (10).

A woman’s idea of men’s violence is extensive and contains not only sexual and physical violence and its threats, but also emotional ill-treatment, economic subordination, and institutional violence (11). Jalna Hanmer (1996) notes that male violence by either known or unknown men is “designed to control, dominate and express authority and power” (12).

Non-lethal and lethal battering of women, the sexual victimization of women, the mass killing of women, sexual harassment, the victimization of women prostitutes, and the incarceration of women are not isolated from each other, but continuities in the broad deployment of hegemonic masculinity and men’s power.

Using data from the period between 1987 and 1991, Dawson and Langan (1994) conclude that women expose over 10 times as many episodes of male violence as men expose episodes of female violence (13). While men use violence as an expression of their entitlement to power and domination as well as their misogyny, women normally resort to violence in self-defence or as a deterrent to more dehumanization or death. Historical and current research shows that men’s violence against women is as prevalent in rural areas as it is in urban neighbourhoods (14).

Research shows that in the case of men whose wives are economically dependent on them, the greater this dependence, the more likely they are to inflict severe violence on them (15). In the Dobash and Dobash’s study of 109 battered women in Scottish shelters, there are three major triggers that cause male violence: his impression that his wife does not do her housework or does not serve him a hot meal; his jealousy, and his being confronted by his wife about monetary issues in the family (16).

In the USA, statistics show that from 1976 to 1985, 10,529 men killed their wives and 7, 888 women killed their husbands (17). However, from these statistics we cannot read the reasons for the killings. As Stark and Flintcraft (1996) report, most of the killings of women and children are the results of woman battering (18). Dobash and Dobash (1992) declare the same and indicate that

“When the woman dies [from battering], it is usually the final and most extreme forms of violence at the hands of her male partner. When the man dies, it is rarely the final act in a relationship in which she has repeatedly beaten him (19).

Stark and Flintcraft contend that, based on their research, three topics prevail in wife killings: growing entrapment of the battered woman, strong conflict over women’s role behaviour, and past communications with helping authorities (20). Daly and Wilson (1988), who have explored homicides in many types of societies, such as industrial and aboriginal ones, contend that husbands’ violence against wives has roots in husbands’ desire to control wives and their reproductive abilities, which they call “male sexual proprietariness” (21).

Another form of lethal violence against women is homicide-suicide, which involves the murder of one or more before the suicide of the murderer. The victims of male violence are often their ex-wives, ex-lovers, wives and lovers, sometimes along with the woman’s or couple’s children. A homicide-suicide incident is often preceded by woman battering. Referring to the research of Allen (1983) and Berman (1979), and along with Stark and Flitcraft’s views on male homicides and Marzuk, Tardiff, and Hirsch (1992) observe,

“While some murder-suicides occur shortly after the onset of ‘malignant jealousy,’ more often there has been a chronically chaotic relationship fraught with jealous suspicions, verbal abuse, and sub-lethal violence” (22).

Regarding the misogynist mass killing of women by men, which we can call femicide, there are two kinds of these rare forms of murder. Serial killing or the killing of a number of people in separate incidents, with a cooling off period between the killings; and Simultaneous mass killing or the killing of several people in one single incident. These crimes are always imbued with a deep misogynism on the part of the killer.

During the December 6, 1989 Montreal femicide, Marc Lepine  acted on his misogyny and entitlement to power by killing 14 women in their classroom at École Polytechnique of the University of Montreal.  He blamed feminists for his issues and affirmed that he intended to kill feminists. In the same year, Christopher Wilder bound, raped, tortured and killed many women. Jane Caputi likens these killings to lynching and she states,

“His were sexually political murders, a form of murder rooted in a system of male supremacy in the same way that lynching is based in white supremacy. Such murder is, in short, a form of patriarchal terrorism” (23).


Hegemonic masculinity justifies and perpetuates male-domination of women. It is established when it is linked with some institutions of power, such as the military or top governmental and top business positions. Hegemonic masculinity is not fixed, but constantly changes.

While not all men adopt hegemonic masculinity, all men do benefit from the patriarchal system and the comprehensive subordination of women. These benefits could be small, but they are still helpful to men. 

Violence against women is a means to conserve the subordination of women. In addition to masculine violence against women, we have structural violence, which is much more potent and decisive in perpetrating subordination. 


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8. Goldberg, Op. cit.

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20. Stark, E. and A. Flintcraft. 1996. Op.cit.

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Allen. N.H. 1983. Homicide followed by suicide: Los Angeles, 1970-1979. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 1, 155-165.

Berman. A. L. 1979. Dyadic death: Murder-suicide. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior,  9 (1), 15-23.

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