Messerschmidt, J. W. (2016). Masculinities in the Making: From the Local to the Global. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Reviewed by Venessa Garcia, Ph.D., New Jersey City University and Sehar Tariq, B.A., New Jersey City University
Masculinities in the Making is a fascinating book that details how males develop their masculinity. We decided to write this book review for the Division of Women and Crime’s DivisioNews because it directly adds to knowledge of feminist criminology. This spring semester, we used Messerschmidt’s book in our Women and Criminal Justice class to supplement Mallicoat and Ireland’s (2014) Women and Crime: The Essentials. This approach allowed us to delve into the complexities of women’s place in society. It was explained that in order to understand women’s place in society, one must understand femininity and masculinity. Typically, we examine women’s position in criminal justice in relation to men’s position. This semester we also examined femininity using Messerschmidt’s explanation of masculinities. We write this review through the perspectives of professor (Dr. Venessa Garcia) and student (Sehar Tariq).
In his latest work, Messerschmidt cleverly explains that there is no one masculinity or femininity, and by examining the fundamental project of males he has interviewed over the years we can see that there are many forms of masculinities and femininities, any of which both males and females can embody at any stage of life. Messerschmidt opens his book with the claim that researchers tend to be limited in their descriptions of masculinity. Much of the research examines masculinity as a static state of being, as with Trevon Logan’s (2010) study of gay male escorts or Elizabeth Gage’s (2008) study of male college athletes. Many researchers define masculinity as one form of masculinity that can be defined by “certain masculine character traits” (Messerschmidt, 2016, p. 15). Other researchers examine doing gender in a limited capacity, examining the local, regional, or global impact doing gender has without understanding the process of doing gender or that there are many genders, or masculinities.
Messerschmidt begins his argument by defining hegemonic masculinity. Reformulating R. W. Connell’s concept, Messerschmidt argues that hegemonic masculinity is the masculinity that legitimizes gender inequality. It enables patriarchal society and creates a hierarchy of genders with itself at the top. It is the masculinity that is most culturally, socially, and politically accepted at a local, regional, or global level. But hegemonic masculinity cannot exist without its opposite, yet compliment, emphasizing femininity. While most feminists would argue that the most widely accepted femininity is also hegemonic, Messerschmidt does not use the term hegemonic femininity because, he argues, this femininity enables or emphasizes hegemonic masculinity and in turn contributes to gender inequality.
Messerschmidt attributes the state of gender inequality to a deliberate and intentional disenfranchisement of women by men. Messerschmidt argues that masculine domination is entrenched in existing political institutions that inherently work to disenfranchise women. While many have claimed that capitalism and the Industrial Revolution are the culprits of gender inequality, the patriarchal nature of society has existed at least since the dawn of human civilization and is much more firmly entrenched in societies worldwide. Messerschmidt argues that patriarchy actively seeks to maintain its hold on power, and that the suppression of women is necessary for its very survival. The state itself possesses a gender and that gender is masculine. However, because hegemonic masculinity requires legitimacy to exist, femininity cultivates hegemonic masculinity by “buying-in” and thus contributes to its own oppression.
According to Messerschmidt, emphasizing femininity cultivates hegemonic masculinity by practicing “a complimentary, compliant, and accommodating subordinate relationship with hegemonic masculinity” (p. 10). To hegemonic masculinity’s strength and protection, emphasizing femininity practices the need to be protected. To hegemonic masculinity’s breadwinner, emphasizing femininity is the homemaker and child care provider. Because this form of femininity emphasizes hegemonic masculinity, it stands to reason that femininity cannot be hegemonic in relation to hegemonic masculinity. This form of femininity enables patriarchy and gender inequality.
In addition to predominating over femininity, hegemonic masculinity predominates over other forms of masculinities and femininities. These other forms can be defined as dominant masculinities and femininities, which are the most common masculinity and femininity in a social setting, or dominating masculinities and femininities, which command and control gendered interactions. According to Messerschmidt, these are never hegemonic because cultural legitimacy of the social structure cannot be forced. Subordinate masculinities and femininities are constructed as lesser and deviant since they skew so far from the norm. Finally, positive masculinities and femininities may do gender; however, they construct egalitarian gendered relationships.
Messerschmidt uses structured action theory to describe the process of doing gender. The theory explains that doing gender “emphasizes the construction of sex, gender, and sexuality as situated, interactional, and embodied accomplishments” (p. 37). The process begins with the family and becomes a fundamental project that involves reciprocal relations and reflexivity. That is, people reflect on responses to their practiced gender and react according to how they define their gender at that point in their lives. As such, Sam was a subordinate masculine at school who was bullied and eventually constructed as feminine because he did not fight back. He struggled with his fundamental project and became a dominating masculine. Sam believed that in order to truly have power as a masculine individual, he had to manipulate and control girls by showing sexual power. As a result, Sam became a dominating masculine by repeatedly sexually assaulting two young girls he babysat.
Sam is just one of several individuals Messerschmidt has interviewed over the years. In order to demonstrate his theoretical framework, Messerschmidt applies the life-history method of four biological males. He also engages in a content analysis of the speeches of Presidents Bush and Obama in order to examine the “orchestration of regional and global hegemonic masculinities” (p. 5). Through the life histories of four biological males, Messerschmidt demonstrates that gender is fluid as a result of challenges, contestations, renegotiations, intersectionalities, and ultimately reflexivity. Thus, we can see that one individual can do localized subordinate masculinity, localized femininity, and localized dominating masculinity within a relatively brief lifespan. Messerschmidt also demonstrates that positive masculinity and femininity, which embraces gender inequality, can be overrun by hegemonic masculinity since the latter is much more widely accepted. These are but a few of the gender constructs that can be embodied within a person’s life.
We used Messerschmidt’s book to supplement a women and crime textbook (Mallicoat & Ireland, 2014). Women and crime textbooks are vital to understanding the conditions of women within the system, and surely there are not enough of these books. The unfortunate fact, however, is that many criminal justice students, those who often embody hegemonic or dominant masculinities or emphasizing femininity, often dismiss the legitimacy of books about women, written by women. Messerschmidt is a male scholar in the field of masculinities which compliments feminism. It was feared that students would accept this book as a work that legitimizes the information learned from women and crime books. It is unclear if this was the case within our class. While the language of the book was a bit complicated for many undergraduate students, they put a lot of effort into understanding and applying the Messerschmidt’s book to the conditions of women and criminal justice. They were able to identify the varying gender constructs within crime and justice and, when asked, reported complementary details to the textbook. Messerschmidt’s book was very hard to put down. He provided a good, though not exhaustive literature, on masculinities. He also provided an excellent and more detailed description of the process of doing gender using action theory that most scholars do not reach. We recommend this book as a definite must read. We also recommend this book as a supplemental reading for any women and crime or gender and crime course. The book is brief (190 pages, five chapters) but provides rich detail to the understanding of doing gender in any context of life.
Gage, E. A. (2008). "Gender Attitudes and Sexual Behaviors: Comparing Center and Marginal Athletes and Non-Athletes in a Collegiate Setting." Violence against Women, 14: 1014-1032.
Logan, T. D. (2010). "Personal Characteristics, Sexual Behaviors, and Male Sex Work: A Quantitative Approach." American Sociological Review, 75, 679-704.
Mallicoat, S. L. & Ireland, C. E. (2014). Women and Crime: The Essentials. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Messerschmidt, J. W. (2016). Masculinities in the Making. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.