of this essay is to explain to what hegemonic masculinity is. There have been many literatures written
on masculinity especially by writers such as Connell and Messerschmid. I will
be using Connell’s idea of ‘hegemonic masculinity'(1995) as a central theme in
relating masculine identity to male offending.
masculinity was based on the Gramscian model of hegemony where it shows the
dominance of one form of the social hierarchy over all forms (Gramsci 1971
cited in Silvestri and Crowther – Dowey 2008: 61). Hegemonic masculinity is
suggested to be highly accepted in mainstream society and is seen as an ideal
form of manhood which is embedded in all men than individual ideas of
masculinity. Masculinity has been expressed through risk taking activities such
as excessive drinking, drug consumption and predatory violence (Jefferson 1996a
cited in Silvestri and Crowther – Dowey 2008: 61). Gramsci’s model of hegemony
was selected by R.W Connell to explain gender relations. She argues that hegemonic
masculinity shows many characteristics, such as power, dominance, strength and
competition (1995 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 388). Connell also
argues that masculinities is mainly displayed during the secondary socialisation
process, especially in school playgrounds, classes where boys behave both aggressively and violently towards
the teachers, their classmates and play truant (1995 cited in Maguire, Morgan
Connell’s work on gender relations, James Messerschmidt’s book Masculinities
and Crime (1993) proposes an extensive
analysis concerning the link between masculinity and crime where he develops an
idea of situational accomplishment and crime symbolises the means of doing
gender (1993 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 389). Messerschimdt
further addresses themes of race, class alongside gender in his theorised
categories of ‘structured action’ (1997 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner
2007: 389). Messerchmidt (1993 cited in Silvestri and Crowther Dowey 2008: 63)
took a glimpse on the correlation between youth crime and its interconnection
with broad structural inequalities and demonstrates that masculinities are in
relation of power and the division of labour. He also drew attention to the
groups that are excluded from the labour market and describes that men commit
crime in order express their masculinity or obtain a masculine identity because
they lack in the legitimate initiatives that would enable them to achieve
economical and materialistic goals.
It is very
obvious that masculinity and violent crime are linked in some way, as it is overwhelmingly
committed by males. This is no new fact. It is more acceptable for men to be
deviant than women; Hirschi (2002) expanded this, suggesting that conformity is
gendered too. Thus, the gender of the perpetrator influences how they are
treated in the criminal justice system, and how they are perceived by wider society.
However, because of the spectrum of gender, the perpetrator is more likely to
be treated based on how far they match or deviate from ‘hegemonic masculinity’.
Durkhiem (1965, orig 1895) argued that crime is functional and necessary to
maintain society. This can then be argued that the potential for criminality in
hegemonic masculinity is regulated by the criminal justice system to maintain
boundaries of violence acceptability. By doing so, it allows masculine power to
be normalised and ultimately maintains gender inequality. If crime is
inevitable, then society (in its ‘concern’ over violent crime) is reaping what
it has sewn. Wilkins (1965) theorised the irony of this self-fulfilling
prophecy as a ‘paradox of social control’.
arguably, a problem that comes with covert social control. Interestingly,
Connell argues that men who are from
socially disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to use the their violent
characteristics of masculinity in order to gain power. It is often those whose
masculine status is in jeopardy who display violence when “denying one’s own
vulnerability” (Goodey, 1997: 401).
men who are in prison for violent crimes, are there because they have used the gender power too overtly.
So, society accepts that gender power is ‘normal’ as long as it does not exceed
the acceptable boundaries. How can violent crime be eradicated if violence is
normalised in certain contexts? It cannot. The army is an institution that is
characterised by violence and hegemonic male figures. It maintains power that
makes extreme violence such as wars, socially acceptable. It is clear then that
hegemonic masculinity is advantageous. For as long as the power in hegemonic
masculinity is both desirable and accessed through violence; violent crime is
prison, there are sometimes exaggerated forms of violence, and exaggerated
masculinities. This is generally thought to be because of the ‘bad’ people who
are there. But if truth be told, violence in prison can be explained as product
of the institution; that in actual fact prisons create violent masculinity. It
has already been acknowledged that some men commit violent crimes in order to
defend their masculine identity, especially those who are socially disadvantaged.
Keeping this in mind, it seems unhelpful that the solution (prison) is to group
them together as ‘outsiders’, and strip their status as a valued member of
society to the bare minimum. Is this not an amplification of what caused some men
to commit violent crime in the first place? Carribine and Longhurst (1998)
understood that prison facilitates hegemonic masculinity. If all other means to
achieve it are taken away, then they are increasingly likely to use violence.
Similarly, Sabo (2001) asserted that ‘toxic confrontations’ in prison are
battles for status. The significance of the lack of means to achieve
masculinity that is reinforced in prison, is important for wider society too
when considering that rates of recidivism are high. If a person has no means to
achieve masculinity on the outside, then they are more likely to rely on
violence as a way to do so. This would then result to them returning to prison
and their being part of a marginalised group becomes increasingly reinforced.
Therefore, if the institution created to resolve an unacceptable level of
violence in masculinity, actually promotes it, there could be some serious
ramifications for the individuals who most use violence, for victims of it and
for society; as the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system is therefore
problematic for all.
of hegemonic masculinity has been criticised by many but particularly by Collier (1998 cited in
Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 388) who argues that hegemonic masculinity is
an extensive collection of negative masculine behaviours and criminal
activities rather than masculinity being expressed positively in sports and
other physical activities, employment and academic success. Tony Jefferson
(2002 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 388) contributed to the
criticism of hegemonic masculinity by saying that it captivates an exaggerated
socialised view of masculinity, where men are under pressure of achieving the
values within that form of masculinity.
to be obvious that Connell’s notion of hegemonic masculinity seems to be
straight forward into explaining the persistent link between masculinity and
crime which seems to associate with the strain theory where crime symbolises an
expression of masculine traits, such as power, aggression and competition even
through drinking in order to gain a sense of “Dutch” courage to carry out
violent crimes and violence against women to gain a sense of power, as they are
unable to achieve masculinity through legitimate means. It can be agreed with
the criticisms about hegemonic masculinity as it associates with negativity
through criminal activities rather than positive outlets, such as sports and
other physical activities, academic success and making the most commissions in
the sales industry.