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Feminism and Masculinity

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In contemporary society, hegemonic masculinity is defined by physical strength and boldness, heterosexuality, economic independence, authority over women and other men, and an interest in sexual relationships. While most men do not embody all of these qualities, society supports hegemonic masculinity within all its institutions, including the educational institute, the religious institute and other institutes which form the ideological state apparatus.

Standards of masculinity vary from time to time, from culture to culture. However, masculinity always defines itself as superior and different from femininity. For example, gay men and househusbands exemplify "subordinate" masculinities in our culture. They are not considered to be "real men". And yet, many still support hegemonic masculinity, for example, men being the main breadwinner for the family. Easthope (1990) states that, “masculinity tries to stay invisible by passing itself off as normal and universal” (Easthope, 1990: 1). The notion of masculinity tries to become a norm in society so then its counterpart, femininity is seen as different and deviant.

Against this backdrop, femininity is constructed around the adaptation to male power. Its central feature is attractiveness to men, which includes physical appearance, suppression of "power", and nurturance of children, heterosexuality, sexual availability, and sociability. Masculinity and femininity are societal euphemisms for male dominance and female subordination. However, hegemonic masculinity and subordinate femininity are not conspiracies. Rather, they are the result of widely accepted ways of thinking that define male dominance as fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of society.

In recent years there have been many assertions that masculinity has been in crisis, supposedly as a result of the feminist movement. The concept of mail dominance being in the best interests of society is greatly challenged by many feminists. Since the 1970s (find out when feminism first came about) feminism has had a great deal of impact on society as feminist protested against dominant male unity. Many other critics however believe that it is women’s lives that have changed more so than men’s. As Judith Stacey states in her book, Theory and Society (1993), “journalists and academics share recognition of a problem, a problem that is named not femininity in crisis but as a crisis in masculinity” (Stacey, 1993: 719). So although more changes are going on in women’s lives, men are more affected and the notion of masculinity is therefore resulting in a crisis.

According to Anthony Clare the heart of the masculinity crisis lies within the understanding of “the private and public sphere, the intimate and the impersonal, the emotional and the irrational” (Clare, 2000:212). Both men and women are both confined to their spaces and the line between the two has somewhat been blurred, thus resulting in a crisis. The way in which this line is blurred is by masculinity becoming more feminized. There have been two major shifts

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