I have critiqued the feminist concept of hegemonic masculinity before. The idea that there is a ‘masculine ideal’ that some men achieve and exploit, and others are oppressed by does not work for me. Also if there is a ‘hegemonic masculinity’ why is there not a ‘hegemonic femininity’. The concept relies on the idea that patriarchy exists, and necessarily is oppressive to women more than men.

I have also critiqued the feminist/academic blog Sociological Images. Its blindness to metrosexual men is particularly galling.

So I was interested when it came up with a cod analysis of some recent Superbowl ads, all featuring men. The description of Beckham’s H and M Bodywear video placed him as a beneficiary of ‘hegemonic masculinity’:

‘Tattooed, rugged, athletic, showcasing a lean musculature and menacing glare, Beckham embodies a hegemonic masculinity that would surely resonate with sporting audiences. And while not presented in this commercial, it is important to also note that Beckham carries other cultural traits that ad to his hegemonic masculine status – he is globally recognized, financially wealthy, and married to a woman who also holds currency in popular culture. This last point is critical. By being married, Beckham confirms his heterosexuality, and her extraordinary beauty and international popularity raise his standing as a “real man”.’

This is a stark contrast to [redacted] s analysis of the same ad a few weeks ago. He wrote:

‘In keep­ing with the trade­mark pas­siv­ity of met­ro­sex­u­al­ity in gen­eral and uber-metro Becks in par­tic­u­lar, the ad fea­tures much bat­ting of long eye­lashes, and arms held defence­less above the head, as the cam­era licks its lens up and down and around his legs and torso. Teas­ingly never quite reach­ing the pack­age we’ve already seen a zil­lion times on the side of buses and in shop win­dows — but instead deliv­er­ing us his cotton-clad bum, his logo and his mil­lion dol­lar smile.

I’m here for you. Want me. Take me. Wear me. Stretch me. Soil me. But above all: buy me.

All, curi­ously, to the strains of The Ani­mals: ‘Don’t Let Me Be Mis­un­der­stood’. Is it meant to be ironic? What after all is to be misunder­stood? Don’t the images tell us every­thing? Even what we don’t want to know. About the total com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of masculinity.’

[redacted] does the unheard of as far as feminists are concerned, and points out how Becks is a ‘model’ in much the same way many women are. And if he is being ‘commodified’ in a ‘feminine’ way as women and their bodies are, how does ‘hegemonic masculinity’ even begin to relate to representations of him and other metrosexual men.

I agree with SocImages up to a point about Becks’ role as a married hetero, albeit totally tarty man. But whilst they seem to be saying his marriage to Victoria secures him a place at the top hegemonic masculinity table, I, influenced by Simpson, see it more as a failed attempt on his part to ‘vanquish the fag’ within. In his essays on Sporno [redacted] points out how stars such as Beckham rely on and court gay men fans, and the ‘gayze’. They are negotiating what is becoming a very complex ‘line’ between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’, ‘passive’ and ‘active’, ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.

Sure, uber-metro uber-famous uber-‘virile’ men such as Beckham ‘get away with it’ usually. But look at other heterosexual metro-men who have been ridiculed and ‘queer bashed’ by the press, including sportsmen such as Shane Warne  and Ronaldo and politicians like David Miliband. It is not as straightforward as Sociological Images make out.

Or as boring. Feminist discourse on gendered representation of bodies just makes me fall asleep!

They can take their hegemonic masculinity and stick it where the ‘patriarchal’ sun don’t shine!

  1. Rick Powell says:

    As usual, your critique of this trad fem critique of Beckham’s image points out feminists’ refusal to surrender their own hegemony around the discourse about masculintiy. They’ve had the corner on that market for years and don’t like it when someone points out that the “patriarchy” is not what it’s all about anymore.

    You see similar reactions from gay male commentators (most of them don’t deserve the moniker, intellectual) who see their own territory gobbled up by folks like you and Simpson who have other, fresher ideas.

    Which is just to say: Rock on.

  2. redpesto says:

    This last point is critical. By being married, Beckham confirms his heterosexuality, and her extraordinary beauty and international popularity raise his standing as a “real man”.’

    Especially when he wears a sarong….

    This reveals more about some feminists’ problem with heterosexuality than it does about Beckham. Would it be better if he wasn’t married? Or if his partner was less conventionally attractive? Does he actually have to be gay – rather than metro – to challenge ‘hegemonic masculinity’? It reads like they’re just trying to find a stick to beat him with. It’s hard to believe that the fact that he’s married and loves his wife (and kids) is proof of ‘hegemonic masculinity’. If that is the case, what does that make ‘Brangelina’? At least Beckham’s body looks that way largely as a result of his job (as it were) – what’s Brad’s excuse?

    PS: Many feminists would always cite Barbie as an example of ‘hegemonic femininity’. The difficulty is whether the ‘project’ is to change that definition, or to eradicate ‘femininity’ altogether, even if no-one’s sure what exactly they’ll replace it with.

  3. john smith says:

    Following the theme of other postings.

    Notice how Mark Simpson only discusses the masculinity of the personal, just what is contained within the image, what draws him in, says to him,talks to him, what he would like to do him, what he would like “him” to do to and for Simpson.

    While by contrast, the feminist/academic blog, brings in externals, downplaying the person and intimate, dehumanizing him,turning him into a political object, reducing David Beckham, the sensual and erotic being, to a minor role to the political one.

  4. Ginkgo says:

    The whole thing over there sounds like a bunch of femspalining to me. It seems to start from a dogma of male supremacy and go from there. I can’t think of any other explanation that makes any sense.

    I could be wrong. What exactly do they mean by ‘hegemonic masculinity”? If they mean the masculinity that is hegemonic, that all little boyus have to learn to conform to, that’s fine, but then what do they have to say about that hegemonic mesculinity that isn’t external and derivative femsplaining?

    • elissa says:

      The term is very much in favor, regardless of where or why it is used, because it continuously reinforces the theory of female subordination by the hegemonic masculinity. Very much like using the word patriarchy, even when describing male issues – because it always stratifies and ensures that women are and forever will be, the ultimate downtrodden class of humans in the whole galaxy.

      It’s de rigueur in fashion feminism.

      • exactly elissa. the term ‘hegemony’ as I know it is Marxist. It represents how the power of the ‘ruling elite’ functions and continues. so, ‘hegemonic masculinity’ from a feminist pov, as you say, relies on the concept of a patriarchal ruling elite which always favours men.

        • redpesto says:

          It’s Marxist via Antonio Gramsci – but refers more to the dominant ideas or ruling beliefs that everyone takes as ‘given’ (e.g. how all three major UK parties bought into neo-liberalism and globalisation)

  5. Ginkgo says:

    Thanks all, especially Elissa. That makes more sense than my attempt at putting some kind of decent meaning on the term.

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