Performative Masculinity: A New Theory on Masculinity

In: Masculinity/Femininty: re-framing a fragmented debate

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Connell’s theory on masculinity has dominated this field since 1987. Hegemonic masculinity and its dynamic relationship with femininity and other masculinities has passed from a conceptual model to a widely used framework for research and debate about men and masculinities. Connell proposed that masculinities and the relationships between them are necessary to interpret and furnish meaning to the behaviours of men. Connell’s formative work on multiple masculinities and the power/dominance relationship between masculinities is challenged in a new framework. Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, which marries the relevance of social structures and interaction in the development of the masculine habitus, is applied to masculinity. West and Zimmerman’s ‘doing’ gender thesis and Butler’s concept of performative gender are presented to shift the focus away from social structures, in order to demonstrate that gender is also constructed through social interactions rather than being an inherent trait of individuals. Connell’s theory can no longer be applied to the ways men ‘perform’ masculinities in the post-modern world. This paper posits a new way of examining masculinities with a framework of orthodoxy, heterodoxy, and cacodoxy to understand the ways men construct their masculinity. Orthodox masculinity can be constructed as the traditional notions of what it is, and what it means to be a man and to be masculine. Heterodox masculinity can be framed as strategically taking up an orthodox masculinity, but with a conscious act of (re)making it. Heterodox masculinity is still masculine; yet, at the same time, less a process of tradition, and more a process of conscious, reflexive performance. Cacodoxy when applied to masculinities alludes to that which it is not: the feminine. Yet cacodoxy is not established in opposition to orthodox masculinity, but like heterodoxy, is part of a continuum. However, when gender performance by males crosses into cacodoxy, punitive consequences can follow.

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