It is, thus, that images of masculinity and the implications of the concept are a topic of debate and academic research, questioning and exploration. Despite the stated, however, there remains a persistent tendency towards the maintenance of earlier images of hegemonic masculinity. Indeed, a review of Connell's notion of hegemonic masculinity will reveal the extent to which contemporary images of masculinity are being overtly countered and contested by the concept of hegemonic masculinity. Following a review of Connell's concept of hegemonic masculinity, this essay will argue that Connell's concept serves to shed invaluable light on the extent to which contemporary masculinity is experiencing crisis. This crisis, as briefly touched upon in the preceding, is a direct outcome of the dominant culture's refusal to accept changing notions of masculinity and its determination to maintain the gender status quo.
Hegemonic masculinity is predicated on the longstanding notion that distinct gender differences exist between men and women.1 Hegemonic norms are accepted because "mass culture generally assumes there is a fixed, true masculinity beneath the ebb and flow of daily life,"2 where men are expected to be strong, independent, competitive, risk-taking, aggressive, powerful, display sexual prowess, be emotionally distant, and be dominant over women in both the private and public spheres.3 Gender differences underpin an unequal system of power relations where "men, as a group, enjoy [access to certain] institutional privileges"4 not afforded to women. Although this is not a recently constituted ideology, Connell holds that the dominance of hegemonic masculinity represents an endeavour to maintain this system of inequality through efforts to quell challenges to its institution. He states, "Hegemonic masculinity can be defined as the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy."5 The social prescription for western hegemonic masculinity, aimed at preserving the legitimacy of patriarchy, thus includes elements of heterosexism, homophobia, and male-dominant gender roles.
Connell stresses that hegemonic masculinity is a "historically mobile relation" noting that when "conditions for the defence of patriarchy change," such as with economic or political pressures like the global movement for women's emancipation, "the bases for the dominance of a particular masculinity are eroded."6 In fact, the institutional and cultural features that give rise to any one form of masculinity also create alternate versions of masculinity that support or conflict with core assumptions. For example, dominant conceptualizations of masculinity portray adult males as family breadwinners. This conceptualization, alongside dominant discourse and practices perpetuate this belief, irrespective of evidence to the contrary and, in so doing, affirm a gender based division of labour. As may be inferred from the aforementioned, despite the fact that the concept of hegemonic masculinity is increasingly being questioned by contemporary economic realities, not to mention socio-political ones, the tenacious hold that this concept has on mass culture is such that alternative realities are labeled exceptions to the rule.
Connell does not only acknowledge the veracity of the above-stated but emphasizes the extent to which the