With the aim of concisely explaining the concept of hegemonic masculinity in the context of media content, UNESCO have produced this brief which introduces the topic, describes how the media portrays and globalises hegemonic masculinities, and suggests how to combat this negative portrayal. The concept of hegemonic masculinity refers to traits predominantly ascribed specifically to ‘real men’, and which are used to justify all men being in domination over women in all aspects of life. This dynamic is evident in many societies all over the world, although coming in a variety forms with hegemonic masculinity manifesting differently according to cultural contexts. It is also constantly evolving, leading researchers to conceive the idea of multiple hegemonic masculinities. In addition, hegemonic masculinity emphasises superiority of ‘manly’ men over the ‘not-so-manly’ men, thus delineating not just men from women, but also among men as well.
This social ascendancy is often portrayed through religious practices, the mass media, business and even through government policies and practices. A common misunderstanding of hegemonic masculinity is when the concept is used to refer to boys or men behaving badly, but such practices are not always the defining characteristics of the concept. Cultural ideals of masculinity need not conform to the personalities of actual men or the realities of everyday achievements of men. Instead, they are often framed as idealised, aspirational, or exaggerated traits, as exemplified by the US film industries elevation of ‘action-heroes’, the sensationalisation and normalisation of violence and aggression (including sexual), the objectification of muscled physiques, and the promotion of rebellious, tough characters over more positive attitudes and emotions.
Some theorists posit that hegemonic masculinities can be analysed at three levels: the local level, constructed in the arenas of face-to-face interaction of families, organisations and immediate communities; the regional level, constructed at the level of culture or the nation-state, as typically found in discursive, political and demographic research; and the global level, constructed in transnational arenas such as world politics and transnational business and media. Challenging these negative hegemonic masculinities requires a comprehensive approach focusing on: military, social and political cultures; scholarly research that deconstructs cultural production and provides new avenues for interventions; government policy ensuring consistent regulation of all media to ensure continued focus on providing more gender-equitable content; curriculum development; media-based self-evaluation and reflection; and community and NGO activism