In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Masculinity

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Historical Background
  • Journals
  • Bibliographies and Data Sources
  • Sexuality
  • Race
  • Politics
  • Health
  • Worldwide

Sociology Masculinity
Michael Kimmel, Tristan Bridges
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0033


Masculinities studies is a vibrant, interdisciplinary field of study broadly concerned with the social construction of what it means to “be a man.” Masculinities scholars study the social role and meanings of masculinities. A vast majority of scholarship dealing with gender inequality focuses on women and the ways that they are structurally and systematically subordinated to men and disadvantaged. Scholars of inequality note, however, that there are two sides to inequality: disadvantage and privilege. Masculinities scholars study the various ways that men are—as a group—privileged, as well as focusing on the costs of those privileges and the ways in which not all men are granted equal access to them. “Masculinity” refers to the behaviors, social roles, and relations of men within a given society as well as the meanings attributed to them. The term masculinity stresses gender, unlike male, which stresses biological sex. Thus studies of masculinities need not be confined to biological males. Masculinity studies is a feminist-inspired, interdisciplinary field that emerged in the last few decades of the 20th century as a topic of study. It deals with the diversity of identities, behaviors, and meanings that occupy the label masculine and does not assume that they are universal. Thus scholars of masculinity often refer to masculinities in the plural to highlight the diversity of meanings, roles, and behaviors consumed in the term. Despite the fact that gender is often experienced as intensely personal—an internal facet of our identity—masculinities are produced and reproduced through the course of our daily interactions as well as within the larger institutions of society. This bibliography provides resources and an introductory overview of historical studies of masculinity, theories of masculinity and gender inequality, the relationship between masculinity and sexuality, the literature dealing with diverse men’s movements, and a summary of findings within various social institutions (education, the family, the workplace, sport, and the media).

General Overview

Scholars of masculinity discuss men and masculinity as socially constructed. Rather than focusing on biological universals, social and behavioral scientists investigate the different meanings that masculinity and femininity have in different contexts. While biological “maleness” varies very little, the roles, behaviors, bodies, and identities that are thought of as “masculine” vary enormously. This variation allows scholars to argue that masculinity is socially constructed. Scholars of masculinity come from diverse disciplines, and these various backgrounds illustrate the multiple levels of variation in masculinity. First, masculinity varies historically—what is thought of as masculine changes over time. Second, masculinity varies cross-culturally—conceptualizations of masculinity are culturally specific. Third, masculinity varies intra-psychically—what it means to be a man changes over the course of one’s life. Finally, masculinity varies contextually—even within a given society and time period, masculinity can mean different things to different people. Simply put, not all American or Nigerian or Chinese or Australian men are the same. More specifically, “being a man” means something very different to a college-age, white, heterosexual boy living in Maine than it does to a middle-age, homosexual, Latino man living in San Francisco. Since masculinity varies so much, we cannot speak of “it” as though it were a timeless essence common among all men. Rather, we must speak of “masculinities” precisely because masculinity means different things to different people in different cultures and in different historical periods. Studies of men and masculinities takes its lead from feminist studies of women and gender and seeks to both identify the social construction of gender as well as illuminate the ways that men play a role in gender and sexual inequality. Thus studies of masculinity seek to highlight both the collective privileges from which men as a group benefit as well as the disadvantages that certain groups of men face. Whitehead 2002 and Edwards 2006 are excellent overviews of the field of study. Both are interdisciplinary and clearly address the origins and trajectory of the field. Kimmel and Messner 2010 is suitable for classroom adoption with chapters summarizing important research in the field. Kimmel, et al. 2005 (cited under The Family) contains original material by experts in the field in various areas of research (family, education, theory, etc.). This would be an ideal place to begin research on a topic or broadly introduce a specific topic to a course.

  • Edwards, Tim. 2006. Cultures of masculinity. London: Routledge.

    This compact book is interdisciplinary in focus and is a survey of the main findings, dilemmas, and disagreements within studies of men and masculinities. Drawing on material from throughout the social and behavioral sciences as well as the humanities, the broad scope makes it an excellent tour of the field of study.

  • Kimmel, Michael S., and Michael A. Messner, eds. 2010. Men’s lives, 8th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

    Currently in its eighth edition, this textbook provides a good starting point for studies of men and masculinities. It publishes work from leading scholars in the field, organized in such a way that it provides an overview of the important theoretical and empirical findings from noteworthy books and articles.

  • Jeff Hearn, and R. W Connell, eds. 2005. Handbook of studies on men & masculinities. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This book is edited by leading scholars of men and masculinities on three continents. It is both interdisciplinary and international in focus, providing readers with summaries of scholarship on particular topics in the field (e.g., globalization, fatherhood, education, the workplace) as well as directions for future research. Each chapter is a summary of work on a particular topic, and the contributors are among the best scholars in the field.

  • Whitehead, Stephen M. 2002. Men and masculinities: Key themes and new directions. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    This book is a good introduction to studies of men and masculinities, dealing with its central theories, controversies, and findings. It is highly readable and provides useful references on a host of topics for study.

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