What is Masculinity?

Mod 8 or 9 Reflective Blog


Connell explores the definition of masculinity as a social order related to biological reproduction (p. 71 1995) and white heterosexuals as the default of patriarchy (p. 77 1995). Connell (p. 78 1995) also notes that being gay is a detraction from being a real man, due to its associated femininity, with specific forms of violence targeted only at gay men. Gillespie (10 September 2021) wrote about Ian Roberts and his experiences coming out: he learned to survive by hiding his sexuality from childhood and when he identified as gay as a professional footballer in 1995, he became a threat to patriarchal Australian culture.

Interesting was Connell’s position of connecting gender and sex with race as a method of defining the patriarchal system and I felt immensely gratified that he included subordination of gay men (Connell, p. 78 1995). I often feel like being gay is still a taboo subject. Reading about Roberts’ ongoing experiences in dealing with victimisation and suicide really bother me: I felt safer as a white gay male in Japan than I do as a white gay man in Australia. Roberts’ support of Suicide Prevention Day resulted in my venerating him. To me, he is the definition of a ‘man’: courage and integrity as a male.

I found Connell’s article thorough and illuminating of our social pecking order: if ‘male’ is viewed as superior to female based on procreation, then I must conclude that who penetrates is the superior. This, therefore, also applies with the pecking order of straight vs. gay. Gillespie’s article clearly presented Roberts’ experiences in an enjoyably understated way. Thanks to Roberts I see that Australian culture has changed somewhat but certainly not enough.

I did not necessarily reach any new conclusions as I have lived as openly gay since my early teens. Reading Connell’s article, I gained clearer insight into how people can justify homophobic, misogynistic and racist behaviour. I do not support any of it. Gillespie’s article connects suicide to being gay and that suicide prevention services are specifically designed to help gay men. I can only conclude that white male heterosexuality as part of patriarchy costs society, families and individuals more than it is worth. However, I believe it is white straight males who must teach each other the how and the why of human rights.


Connell, RW 1995, Masculinities, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, pp. 67-86, <https://usq.alma.exlibrisgroup.com/view/delivery/61UOSQ_INST/12116128770004691&gt;.

Gillespie, E 10 September 2021, Australia’s first openly gay NRL player on what got him thorugh his darkest moment, The Feed website, viewed 12 September 2021, <https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-feed/australia-s-first-openly-gay-nrl-player-on-what-got-him-through-his-darkest-moment&gt;.


What kind of masculinity conveys superiority?’ 

This essay extends from the above blog, arguing that contemporary notions of masculine superiority can be defined more clearly in relation to gayness.

Bigotry seems to be standard practice with social interactions at one time or another, even where it is only experienced third-hand. Attempts to define masculinity indicate in the relative definition of femininity. Applying a non-binary definition of gender and sex provides insight into privilege and marginalisation endured by other community members. This essay argues that masculinity is an idea without an objective definition but which inherently engenders social superiority. Female signifiers and definitions of femininity continue to form the basis of vitriol targeting gay men, feminine straight men and men in drag which indirectly help define ‘manliness’ and ‘masculinity’. The role of masculinity through Western history, the changing role of gayness in recent Western culture, and the contemporary reaction to feminine straight men will be used as anchor points in an effort to pare down the definition of masculinity. Finally, an impromptu gauging system of privilege, adapted from McIntosh’s (1989) article on white privilege, will be presented in an attempt to reveal how gay men experience marginalised masculinity. This essay concludes that heteronormative masculinity provides the context of social interactions and that the idea of maleness continues playing the deciding role in equality and social welfare in patriarchal cultures. 

Masculinity is a concept often taken for granted, perhaps more often than is femininity. Attempting to define these two creates a dichotomy which is neither realistic or inherently productive. Connell (pp. 67-8 1995) notes that masculinity is merely one aspect of gender relations and that the concept of masculinity arose with the Age of Reason in the 1600s in Western Europe, also noting that it is directly connected to the rise of capitalism, individualism and colonialism. The almost exclusive role of men as monarchal rulers, famous historical figures, business owners and adventurers throughout western cultural history reflects this (The Famous People n.d.; vonhohenzollern 2010; Lunk n.d., Bitanga 2019). Femininity, despite its depiction in media and entertainment, likewise is difficult to qualify. De Beauvoir notes (p. 4 2011) that Enlightenment thinkers ascribed the word ‘woman’ to such people who were not ‘men’ with very little discourse on the matter and that gender signifiers plague the efforts of women who both reject their femininity and assert their ‘maleness’. The psychological cause, she notes (p. 6 2011) is a fundamental definition of female ‘otherness’ to male ‘self’ which results in femininity being defined in terms of masculinity but not the other way around. However, there are queer groups of people who identify as neither ‘women’ yet are not ascribed the privilege of being ‘men’. Masculinity is defined as not holding any qualities of being ‘feminine’.

The term ‘heteronormative’ is where behaviour is standardised upon one male and one female resulting in the only valid form of partnership, and where socialised behaviour is an extension procreation and white heterosexual male domination (Walton 2011). A clear example of heteronormativity is marriage equality which Australia voted on by plebiscite in 2017: that there needed to be a public vote to bring equality to legal partnerships indicates what is ‘normal’. The reader may wish to consider two effects this had on the populace: the impact of the ‘No’ campaign on part of the community already marginalised, and the public recognition of being ‘abnormal’ until the Marriage Act 1961 was updated that December. Heteronormative assumptions and values play a major role in society whether this role is consciously recognised or not (McIntosh 1989). That there was a debate about marriage equality clarified the masculine and heterosexual nature of marriage.

Appearance conveys gender information (Kossen et al. p. 282 2021) which reinforces this binary of gender identity. For example, tuxedos and make-up are normative signifiers in contemporary western culture. What happens when these gendered signifiers are reversed confronts heteronormativity: departing from unconsciously associated gender identifiers can create unease for those who have not addressed gender previously. Behaviour also conveys gender identity and sexual orientation through facial expressions (Bjornsdottir & Rule 2020). Zhou (2 September 2021) reports that the Chinese government has blocked Korean pop groups due to fears that boys will not become aggressively masculine, future defenders of the country, merely based on appearance and behaviour. This action is state-sanctioned support for the ‘normality’ of heterosexual appearance and behaviour of men and provides a clear outline of the expectations ‘masculinity’ constitutes: aggressive, not smiling, militant and murderous for military purposes. 

Marginalisation, as part of the gay community, is a clear extension of heteronormativity. The definition of maleness given by China state government banning effeminate men relates to the experience of many effeminate gay men have with intra-community rejection (Rose 2019). This indicates a clear boundary between what is male as opposed to what is gay and to what is female, adding more nuance to the concepts of gender and sex. Masculinity conveys a level of privilege within all-male groups, yet as Avery (2012) highlights, there are different types of gendered identity, all social constructions, which co-exist. Connell (p. 69 1995) also highlights the subjectivity of the definitions of gender: some women are ‘masculine’ and some men are ‘feminine’. As in China just as in gay communities, feminine men experience greater degrees of marginalisation than do masculine men. 

The degree of marginalisation, rejection and disrespect experienced by various people reveals the hierarchical nature of patriarchy, and suicide and murder rates provide a social barometer of that marginalisation. According to one of many studies (Nystedt et al. 2019), bisexual men and women and gay men are at much higher risk of self-harm and suicide, and are specifically targeted in hate crimes: these phenomena have no comparison for white straight male members of the community who embody masculine traits. In her review of Meyer’s book on anti-LGBT violence, Jenness (2017) articulates these forms of marginalisation with an understanding of power and privilege where Meyer clarifies the intersection of ‘race, class, gender and sexuality’. Campbell (p. 70 1993) continues refining masculinity as being the unquestioned locus of authority, the penis as signifying superiority, and femininity as that which lacks both this assumed authority and a penis.

The degree to which someone exhibits feminine traits may indicate how much marginalisation they experience. Any signifier of femininity such as refined hair styles and make-up, behaviour and speech, and delicate and intricate clothing designs render that person inferior in patriarchal society regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Axelsson et al. (2013) noted that bisexual men experienced higher levels of violence than gay men. This may be due to bisexual men interacting with heteronormative men more often than gay men who have well-defined communities.

This heightened violence reported by bisexual men may also be related to the ‘gay panic’ phenomena: in both instances, apex men are threatened not physically, but their privileged position in society: a threat worse than death. Michalski and Nunez (2020) found that homophobia and religious fundamentalism were strong indicators of apex men receiving reduced sentences: no similar phenomenon of murder sentences being reduced for any other gender-based interaction could be located. This hyper-violent reaction of apex men was explicitly reinforced by the Chinese government and is implicitly promoted by the Australian armed forces as well as other military organisations: the intersection of murderous capability and targeted marginalisation imbues ‘masculinity’ with the role of oppressor (Bickerton 2015). Writ small, this oppressive role is re-enacted within gay communities where feminine males are ostracised and harassed (Rose, 2019). Masculinity may not have a direct correlation with gender and sex, but it has a very clear set of signifiers both personally and socially.

Contemporary Western concepts of maleness and masculinity arose in 1600s Western Europe with capitalism, individualism and colonialism; femaleness and femininity were initially defined as ‘not male’. Patriarchy is the framework within which gender and sexuality is defined, and indicates how marginalisation and privilege may be gauged. Women’s rights to have an education and the vote, Indigenous rights to autonomy and gay rights to marriage are all safety zones for marginalised groups within patriarchal society. There are different levels and types of masculinity which are de-privileged by race, gender and physical signifiers. Apex masculinity conveys aggression, violence including murder, unfriendliness, authority, unquestionable sovereignty over their persons, and socially broadcasts their group membership as a defensive mechanism. Further research may indicate both passive and active systems in society, such as the media, education and psychology, validate the idea of apex maleness.

Total word count: 1533

Word count excluding quotes and citations: 1490?

Take one step forward if, because of your sexual orientation:

  1. you have asked to see healthcare staff with the same orientation
  2. you have felt uncomfortable in a professional situation
  3. you have been called names
  4. you have felt afraid in public
  5. you have been physically assaulted
  6. conversations have started
  7. there have been no actors like you on screen or in books
  8. the only actors like you on screen or in books are assaulted, humiliated or murdered
  9. your identity has been questioned
  10. you have defended yourself
  11. you have felt unable to do something
  12. conversations have stopped
  13. you have been ordered to leave the house
  14. you have been ordered to leave a social group
  15. you have been ordered to leave a religious group


Avery, J 2012, ‘Defending the markers of masculinity: Consumer resistance to brand gender-bending’, International journal of research in marketing, 29(4), pp.322–336.

Axelsson, J Modén, B Rosvall, M Lindström, M 2013, ‘Sexual orientation and self-rated health: the role of social capital, offence, threat of violence, and violence’, Scandinavian journal of public health, 41(5), pp.508–515, doi:10.1177/1403494813476159.

Bickerton, AJ 2015, ‘’Good soldiers’, ‘bad apples’ and the ‘boys’ club’: Media representations of military sex scandals and militarized masculinities’, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,<http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.une.edu.au/dissertations-theses/good-soldiers-bad-apples-boys-club-media/docview/1761573976/se-2?accountid=17227&gt;.

Bitanga, M 7 March 2019, Bold souls: 12 most inspiring adventurers of all time, Hiconsumption, viewed 25 October 2021, <https://hiconsumption.com/most-inspiring-adventurers-of-all-time/&gt;.

Bjornsdottir, RT & Rule, NO 2020, ‘Emotion and gender typicality cue sexual orientation differently in women and men’, Archives of sexual behavior49(7), 2547–2560, <https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01700-3&gt;.

Connell, RW 1995, Masculinities, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, pp. 67-86, <https://usq.alma.exlibrisgroup.com/view/delivery/61UOSQ_INST/12116128770004691&gt;.

The Famous People n.d., Leaders, The Famous People, viewed 25 October 2021, <https://www.thefamouspeople.com/leaders.php&gt;.

Hooton, C 27 August 2015, Please stop calling it the Bechdel Test, says Alison Bechdel, The Independent UK, viewed 20 September 2021, <https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/please-stop-calling-it-bechdel-test-says-alison-bechdel-10474730.html&gt;.

Jenness, V May 2017, ‘Violence against queer people: race, class, gender, and the persistence of anti-LGBT discrimination’, Contemporary sociology, 46(3), pp.338–339, <https://www.jstor.org/stable/26425227&gt;.

Kossen, C Kiernan, E & Lawrence, J 2021, Communication for success, Pearson Australia, Melbourne.

Lunk, J n.d., The 10 greatest business leaders of all time, Benchmark One, viewed 25 October 2021, <https://www.benchmarkone.com/blog/g-o-a-t-business-leaders/&gt;.

McIntosh, P July/August 1989, White privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack, Psychology UMBC, viewed 25 October 2021, <https://psychology.umbc.edu/files/2016/10/White-Privilege_McIntosh-1989.pdf&gt;.

Michalski, ND & Nunez, N 2020, ‘When is “gay panic” accepted? Exploring juror characteristics and case type as predictors of a successful gay panic defence’, Journal of interpersonal violence, p.886260520912595, <https://doi-org.ezproxy.une.edu.au/10.1177%2F0886260520912595&gt;.

Nystedt, T Rosvall, M & Lindström, M 2019, Sexual orientation, suicide ideation and suicide attempt: A population-based study. Psychiatry research, 275, pp.359–365, <https://www-clinicalkey-com-au.ezproxy.usq.edu.au/#!/content/playContent/1-s2.0-S0165178119300265?returnurl=null&referrer=null&gt;.

Stinchcombe, A & Hammond, NG 2021, ‘Sexual orientation as a social determinant of suicidal ideation: A study of the adult life span’, Suicide & life-threatening behavior, 2021–04-06.

Vonhohenzollern, 11 August 2010, Top 10 greatest monarchs, List Verse, viewed 25 October 2021, <https://listverse.com/2010/08/11/top-10-greatest-monarchs/&gt;.

Walton, G 2011, ‘Spinning our wheels: reconceptualizing bullying beyond behaviour-focused approaches’, Discourse (Abingdon, England), 32(1), pp.131–144, <https://doi-org.ezproxy.une.edu.au/10.1080/01596306.2011.537079&gt;.

Zhou, V 2021, ‘Sissy Pants’ Celebrities Banned in China, Vice World News, 09 September, viewed 06 September 2021, <https://www.thesillytv.com/kpop-news-the-big-kpop-ban-bts-nct-and-blackpink-banned/&gt;.