Hegemonic Feminism Definition Essay

In gender studies, hegemonic masculinity is part of R.W. Connell's gender order theory, which recognizes multiple masculinities that vary across time, culture and the individual. Hegemonic masculinity is defined as a practice that legitimizes men's dominant position in society and justifies the subordination of women, and other marginalized ways of being a man.[1] Conceptually, hegemonic masculinity proposes to explain how and why men maintain dominant social roles over women, and other gender identities, which are perceived as "feminine" in a given society.

As a sociologic concept, the hegemonic nature of "hegemonic masculinity" derives from the theory of cultural hegemony, by Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, which analyzes the power relations among the social classes of a society. Hence, in the term "hegemonic masculinity", the adjective hegemonic refers to the cultural dynamics by means of which a social group claims, and sustains, a leading and dominant position in a social hierarchy; nonetheless, hegemonic masculinity embodies a form of social organization that has been sociologically challenged and changed.

The conceptual beginnings of hegemonic masculinity represented the culturally idealized form of manhood that was socially and hierarchically exclusive and concerned with bread-winning; that was anxiety-provoking and differentiated (internally and hierarchically); that was brutal and violent, pseudo-natural and tough, psychologically contradictory, and thus crisis-prone; economically rich and socially sustained.[2]

Many sociologists criticized that definition of hegemonic masculinity as a fixed character-type, which is analytically limited, because it excludes the complexity of different, and competing, forms of masculinity. Consequently, hegemonic masculinity was reformulated to include gender hierarchy, the geography of masculine configurations, the processes of social embodiment, and the psycho-social dynamics of the varieties of masculinity. Moreover, proponents argue that hegemonic masculinity is conceptually useful for understanding gender relations, and is applicable to life-span development, education, criminology, the representations of masculinity in the mass communications media, the health of men and women, and the functional structure of organizations.[3]


Terry Kupers of The Wright Institute describes the concept of hegemonic masculinity in these terms:

In contemporary American and European culture, [hegemonic masculinity] serves as the standard upon which the “real man” is defined. According to [R.W] Connell, contemporary hegemonic masculinity is built on two legs, domination of women and a hierarchy of intermale dominance. It is also shaped to a significant extent by the stigmatization of homosexuality. Hegemonic masculinity is the stereotypic notion of masculinity that shapes the socialization and aspirations of young males. Today’s hegemonic masculinity in the United States of America and Europe includes a high degree of ruthless competition, an inability to express emotions other than anger, an unwillingness to admit weakness or dependency, devaluation of women and all feminine attributes in men, homophobia, and so forth.[4]



The concept of hegemonic masculinity was first proposed in field reports from a study of social inequality in Australian high schools;[5] in a related conceptual discussion of the making of masculinities and the experiences of men's bodies;[6] and in a debate over the role of men in Australian labor politics.[7] These beginnings were organized into an article[8] which critiqued the "male sex role" literature and proposed a model of multiple masculinities and power relations. This model was integrated into a systematic sociological theory of gender. The resulting six pages in Gender and Power by R. W. Connell[9] on "hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity" became the most cited source for the concept of hegemonic masculinity.[3] This concept draws its theoretical roots from the Gramscian termhegemony as it was used to understand the stabilization of class relations. The idea was then transferred to the problem of gender relations.

Hegemonic masculinity draws some of its historical roots from both the fields of social psychology and sociology which contributed to the literature about the male sex role that had begun to recognize the social nature of masculinity and the possibilities of change in men's conduct.[10] This literature preceded the Women's Liberation Movement and feminist theories of patriarchy which also played a strong role in shaping the concept of hegemonic masculinity. The core concepts of power and difference were found in the gay liberation movement which had not only sought to analyze the oppression of men but also oppression by men.[11] This idea of a hierarchy of masculinities has since persisted and strongly influenced the reformulation of the concept.

Empirical social research also played an important role as a growing body of field studies documented local gender hierarchies and local cultures of masculinities in schools,[12] male-dominated workplaces,[13] and village communities.[14] Finally, the concept was influenced by psychoanalysis.[3] Sigmund Freud produced the first analytic biographies of men and showed how adult personality was a system under tension and psychoanalyst Stoller[15] popularized the concept of gender identity and mapped its variation in boys' development.

Original framework[edit]

The particular normative form of masculinity that is the most honored way of being a man, which requires all other men to position themselves in relation to it, is known as hegemonic masculinity.[3] Originally, hegemonic masculinity was understood as the pattern of practice that allowed men's dominance over women to continue. In Western society, the dominant form of masculinity or the cultural ideal of manhood was primarily reflective of white, heterosexual, largely middle-class males. The ideals of manhood espoused by the dominant masculinity suggested a number of characteristics that men are encouraged to internalize into their own personal codes and which form the basis for masculine scripts of behavior. These characteristics include: violence and aggression, stoicism (emotional restraint), courage, toughness, physical strength, athleticism, risk-taking, adventure and thrill-seeking, competitiveness, and achievement and success.[2] Hegemonic masculinity is not completely dominant, however, as it only exists in relation to non-hegemonic, subordinated forms of masculinity.[9] The most salient example of this approach in contemporary European and American society is the dominance of heterosexual men and the subordination of homosexual men. This was manifested in political and cultural exclusion, legal violence, street violence, and economic discrimination.[1] Gay masculinity was the most conspicuous subordinated masculinity during this period of time, but not the only one. Heterosexual men and boys with effeminate characteristics ran the risk of being scorned as well.

Hegemonic masculinity is neither normative in the numerical sense, as only a small minority of men may enact it, nor in an actual sense, as the cultural ideal of masculinity is often a fantasy figure, such as John Wayne or John Rambo.[9] Hegemonic masculinity may not even be the commonest pattern in the everyday lives of men. Rather, hegemony can operate through the formation of exemplars of masculinity, symbols that have cultural authority despite the fact that most men and boys cannot fully live up them.[3] Hegemonic masculinity imposes an ideal set of traits which stipulate that a man can never be unfeminine enough. Thus, fully achieving hegemonic masculinity becomes an unattainable ideal.

Complicity to the aforementioned masculine characteristics was another key feature of the original framework of hegemonic masculinity. Yet still since men benefit from the patriarchal dividend, they generally gain from the overall subordination of women. However, complicity is not so easily defined as pure subordination since marriage, fatherhood, and community life often involve extensive compromises with women rather than simple domination over them. In this way hegemony is not gained through necessarily violent or forceful means, but it is achieved through culture, institutions, and persuasions.[3]

The interplay of gender with class and race creates more extensive relationships among masculinities. For example, new information technology has redefined middle-class masculinities and working-class masculinities in different ways. In a racial context, hegemonic masculinity among whites sustains the institutional oppression and physical terror that have framed the making of masculinities in black communities.[3] It has been suggested that historically suppressed groups like inner city African-American males exhibit the more violent standards of hegemonic masculinity in response to their own subordination and lack of control.[1] This idea of marginalization is always relative to what is allowed by the dominant group, therefore creating subsets of hegemonic masculinity based on existing social hierarchies.


As the earliest model of this concept grew, so did the scrutiny and criticisms surrounding it. The following principal criticisms have been identified since debate about the concept began in the early 1990s.[3]

Underlying concept of masculinity[edit]

The underlying concept of masculinity has been argued as flawed from both a realist and a poststructuralist point of view. To Hearn,[16] the concept of masculinity is blurred, uncertain in its meaning, and tends to deemphasize issues of power and domination. To Petersen,[17] the concept of masculinity is flawed because it reduces the character of men or imposes a false unity of a fluid and contradictory reality. The concept of masculinity is criticized for being framed within a heteronormative conception of gender that oversimplified male-female difference and ignores differences and exclusions within the gender categories. The concept of masculinity is said to rest logically on a dichotomization of sex (biological) and gender (cultural) and thus marginalizes or naturalizes the body. Brod[18] observes that there is a tendency in men's studies field to proceed as if women were not a relevant part of the analysis and therefore to analyze masculinities by looking only at men and relations among men. Therefore, a consistently relational approach to gender is being called upon.

Ambiguity and overlap[edit]

Early criticisms of the concept raised the question of who actually represents hegemonic masculinity.[3] Many men who hold great social power do not embody an ideal masculinity. Martin[19] criticizes the concept for leading to inconsistent applications sometimes referring to a fixed type and other times to whatever the dominant form is. Wetherell and Edley[20] contend this concept fails to specify what conformity to hegemonic masculinity actually looks like in practice. Similarly Whitehead[21] suggests there is confusion over who actually is a hegemonically masculine man. Inspired by Gramsci's differentiation between hegemony as a form of ideological consent and dominance as an expression of conflict Groes-Green[22] has argued that when hegemonic masculinities are challenged in a society dominant masculinities are emerging based on bodily powers, such as violence and sexuality, rather than based on economic and social powers. Through examples from his fieldwork among youth in Maputo, Mozambique he shows that this change is related to social polarization, new class identities and the undermining of breadwinner roles and ideologies in a neoliberal economy.

The problem of realness[edit]

It has also been argued that the concept of hegemonic masculinity does not adequately describe a realness of power. Holter[23] argues that the concept constructs power from the direct experience of women rather than from the structural basis of women's subordination. Holter believes in distinguishing between patriarchy and gender and argues further that it is a mistake to treat a hierarchy of masculinities constructed within gender relations as logically continuous with the patriarchal subordination of women. In response to the adverse connotations surrounding the concept, Collier[24] remarks that hegemonic masculinity is solely associated with negative characteristics that depict men as unemotional, aggressive, independent, and non-nurturing without recognizing positive behaviors such as bringing home a wage or being a father.

The masculine subject[edit]

Several authors have argued that the concept of hegemonic masculinity is based on an unsatisfactory theory of the subject because it does not rely enough upon discourses of masculinity.[3] Wetherell and Edley argue that hegemonic masculinity cannot be understood as the characteristics that constitute any group of men.[20] To Whitehead the concept fails to specify how and why some heterosexual men legitimate, reproduce, and generate their dominance and do so as a social minority since they are outnumbered by women and other men they dominate.[21] A related criticism also derives from psychoanalysis which has criticized the lack of attention given to how men actually psychologically relate to hegemonic masculinity. For example, Laurie argues that the hegemonic masculinity framework lends itself to a modified essentialism, wherein the "achievement of masculine goals is frequently attributed to a way of thinking understood as inherent to the male psyche, and in relation to an innate disposition for homosocial bonding".[25]

The pattern of gender relations[edit]

There is considerable evidence that hegemonic masculinity is not a self-reproducing form. Demetriou suggests this is because a kind of simplification has occurred.[26] He identifies two forms of hegemony, internal and external. External hegemony relates to the institutionalization of men's dominance over women and internal hegemony refers to the position of one group of men over all other men. Scholars commonly do not clarify or acknowledge the relationship between the two. This suggests that subordinated and marginalized masculinities do not impact the construction of hegemonic masculinity as much as critics suggest it should.


In one of the most widely cited works analyzing the concept, Connell and Messerschmidt sought to reformulate their theory of hegemonic masculinity in light of certain criticisms.[3] They readjusted their framework to address four main areas: the nature of gender hierarchy, the geography of masculine configurations, the process of social embodiment, and the dynamics of masculinities.

Gender hierarchy[edit]

Gender hierarchy seeks to explain not only why men hold a superior position to women but how each group influences one another. Research has documented the durability of nonhegemonic patterns of masculinity, which may represent well-crafted responses to racial/ethnic marginalization, physical disability, class inequality, or stigmatized sexuality. Hegemony may be accomplished by the incorporation of such masculinities into functioning gender order rather than by active oppression in the form of degradation or violence.[3] An example would include that of the mainstream adoption of black hip hop culture which was created in response to urban structural inequalities. Another example is that of "protest masculinity", in which local working-class settings, sometimes involving ethnically marginalized men, embodies the claim to power typical of regional hegemonic masculinities in Western countries, but lack the economic resources and institutional authority that underpins the regional and global patterns.

This new emphasis on gender hierarchy seeks to take a more relational approach to women as well. Women are central in many of the processes constructing masculinities, as mothers, schoolmates, girlfriends, sexual partners, wives, and workers in the gender division of labor. Gender hierarchies are affected by new configurations of women's identity and practice so more attention has been given to the historical interplay of femininities and masculinities.

Geography of masculinities[edit]

Change in locally specific constructions of hegemonic masculinity has been a consistent theme of masculinity research, but given the growing attention to globalization, the significance of transnational arenas for the construction of masculinity has also been argued. Hooper described the deployment of masculinities in the arenas of international relations,[27] and Connell proposed a model of "transnational business masculinity" among jet-setting corporate executives.[1] Because of this, Connell and Messerschmidt have proposed hegemonic masculinities be analyzed at three levels: local, regional, and global.[3] The links between these levels are critical to gender politics since interventions at any level giving women more power and representation can influence from the top down or from the bottom up. Additionally, adopting a framework that distinguishes between the three levels allows one to recognize the importance of place without making generalizations about independent cultures or discourses.

Social embodiment[edit]

Social embodiment calls for a more rigid definition of what a hegemonically masculine man is and how the idea is actually carried out in real life. The pattern of embodiment involved in hegemony has been recognized in the earliest formulations of the concept but called for more theoretical attention. The importance of masculine embodiment for identity and behavior emerges in many contexts. For example, in youth, skill in physical activity becomes a prime indicator of masculinity. This notion continues to manifest itself into many different health and sexual practices such as eating meat or having multiple sexual partners. The emergence of transgender issues has made it particularly clear that embodiment be given more focus in reconceptualizations.[28] The circuits of social embodiment may be very direct and simple or may be long and complex, passing through institutions, economic relations, cultural symbols, and so forth without ceasing to involve material bodies.[29]

Dynamics of masculinities[edit]

New theory has recognized the layering and potential internal contradictions within all practices that construct masculinities. This is a departure from a unitary masculinity and focus on compromised formations between contradictory desires or emotions. Masculinities are configurations of practice that are constructed, unfold, and change through time.[3] One area of focus may represent that of Western fathers given the gender division of labor in child care, the "long hours culture" of professions and management, and the preoccupation of rich fathers with managing their wealth.[3] While these practices may adhere to conventional Western ideas of hegemonic masculinity, this may not necessarily translate into a satisfying life experience. As gender relations evolve and women's movements grow stronger, the dynamics of masculinities may see a complete abolition of power differentials and a more equitable relationship between men and women and between men and other men.[26] This positive hegemony remains a key strategy for contemporary efforts at reforming gender relations.[24] Groes-Green has argued that Connell's theory of masculinities risks excluding the possibility of more gender equitable or "philogynous" forms of masculinity such as those he has identified in Mozambique. He urges social researchers to begin developing theories and concepts that can improve an understanding of how more positive, alternative and less dominant masculinities may develop even if these are always embedded in local gender power relations.[30]

Lifespan development[edit]

Early childhood[edit]

Children learn at an early age, mostly through educational and peer interactions, what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl, and are quick to demonstrate that they understand these roles.[31] This notion of "doing" gender involves differentiating between boys and girls from the day they are born and perpetuating the discourses of gender difference.[32] The idea of dualism of the genders are misconstrued by dominant ideology and feeds into social norms of masculinity. Children learn and show development of gender identity as an ongoing process, based on social situations. Gendered toys can play a large role in demonstrating the preferred actions and behavior of young boys in early childhood. The male role is also reinforced by observing older boys and reactions of authority figures, including parents.

Although gender socialization is well underway before children reach preschool, stereotypical differences between boys and girls are typically reinforced, rather than diminished, by their early educational childhood experiences.[33] Teachers have a large role in reinforcing gender stereotypes by limiting children's choices at this young age, thus not allowing boys to explore their feelings or their understandings about gender freely. This is done through the endorsement of hegemonic masculinity embodying physical domination, strength, competitiveness, sport, courage, and aggression.[32] These gendered performances are based on society's construction of femininity and masculinity in relation to heterosexuality. Heteronormativity is the standard for children; despite their obvious sexual innocence, heterosexuality is ingrained in children in their acting of gender from an early age.[31]

Another factor that contributes to gendered behavior and roles is the greater visibility, importance, and presence of males than females in literature, and in the language that teachers use for communication and instruction. Male-generic pronouns are a special problem in early childhood settings.[33] A recommended method to help gender barriers disappear is specific training for teachers and more education on the topic for parents. Though, an ultimate conclusion by one author notes that young children know, feel, and think gender despite the wishes of adults to make gender disappear in their lives.[32]

Middle childhood[edit]

A lifespan perspective must be considered when discussing gender normalization. But one must also consider cultural hegemony in this stage of the lifespan as a child develops more of an understanding of their culture and begins to display original ideas of cultural norms as well as social norms.[34] According to the constructivist emphasis, the man/woman dichotomy is not the "natural" state, but rather a potent metaphor in Western cultures.[35] Building social relationships and developing individuality are essential benchmarks for this age of middle childhood, which ranges from eight years old to puberty. A young boy is trying to navigate falling within the social structure that has been laid out for him, which includes interacting with both sexes, and a dominant notion of maleness. The gender environmentalism, which emphasizes the role of societal practices in generating and maintaining gender differentiation, still plays a part in this stage of life, but is possibly more influenced by immediate and close interactions with boys close to their age.[34] The boys organize themselves in a hierarchical structure in which the high-status boys decide what is acceptable and valued – that which is hegemonically masculine – and what is not. A boy's rank in the hierarchy is chiefly determined by his athletic ability.[36]

One site where gender is performed and socialized is in sport. Violent sports such as football are fundamental in naturalizing the equation of maleness with violence.[37] Displays of strength and violence, through sports like football, help to naturalize elements of competition and hierarchy as inherently male behaviour.[37] There is considerable evidence that males are hormonally predisposed to higher levels of aggression on average that females, due to the effects of testosterone.[38] However, the violent and competitive nature of sports like football can only be an exclusively masculine domain if girls and women are excluded from participating altogether. The only means through which women are permitted to participate in football is as the passive spectator or cheerleader, although women do sometimes participate in other violent contact sports, such as boxing.

When a child engages in behavior or uses something that is more often associated with the opposite sex, this is referred to as crossing gender borders. When gender borders are crossed in adolescence, the children are policed by themselves.[31] Conflicts and disagreements between boys are resolved by name-calling and teasing, physical aggression, and exclusion from the group.[36] This brings confusion to the natural order of building their individualism, and stifles their creativity and freeplay, critical to developing lifelong skills in problem solving and decision making.[39] Another notion which further confuses youth is "multiple masculinities" is introduced where variables such as social class, race, ethnicity, generation, and family status determines how these young men must perform their masculinity.[35] Boys who fail to fit the social norm are forced to enter adolescence having experienced alienation from their social group and marginalized from the social order they strive to achieve in this stage of life.[36]


The last stage of childhood, adolescence, marks the onset of puberty and the eventual beginning of adulthood. Hegemonic masculinity then positions some boys, and all girls, as subordinate or inferior to others.[31]Bullying is another avenue in which young men assert their dominance over less "masculine" boys. In this bullying schema, adolescent boys are motivated to be at the top of the scale by engaging in more risk taking activities as well. Oftentimes bullying is motivated by social constructs and generalized ideas of what a young man should be. Gendered sexuality in adolescence refers to the role gender takes in the adolescent's life and how it is informed by and impacts others' perceptions of their sexuality. This can lead to gay bashing and other forms of discrimination if young men seem not to perform the appropriate masculinity.

The male gender role is not biologically fixed, yet it is a result of the internalization of culturally defined gender norms and ideologies.[39] In this stage this is an important point as developmental psychologists recognize change in relations with parents, peers, and even their own self-identity. This is a time of confusion and disturbance; they feel influenced as a result of asserted hegemonic masculinity as well as social factors that lead them to become more self-conscious. De Visser et al.,[40] show that although men need not engage in all masculine behavior to be considered masculine, enacting in more masculine behaviors increases the likelihood they will be considered more masculine, otherwise known as building "masculine capital". It has been suggested that boys' emotional stoicism leaves them unable to recognize their own and others' emotions, which leaves a risk for developing psychological distress and empty interpersonal skills.[39] Boys in their adolescence are pressured to act masculine in order to fit the hegemonic ideals, yet the possibility of suffering long-term psychological damage as a result looms overhead.[40]

Media representations[edit]

The 1995 documentary, The Celluloid Closet discusses the depictions of homosexuals throughout film history. Furthermore, considering the media so heavily associates masculinity with heterosexual sex, it is no wonder that gay men in the media are given more feminine attributes, such as fragility, sensitivity, and a disregard for violence. Their disinterest in objectifying women's bodies makes them appear un-masculine. In Jackson Katz' film Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity, he explains: "We can't show any emotion except anger. We can't think too much or seem too intelligent. We can't back down when someone disrespects us. We have to show we're tough enough to inflict physical pain and take it in turn. We're supposed to be sexually aggressive with women. And then we're taught that if we step out of this box, we risk being seen as soft, weak, feminine, or gay".[41]



Hegemonic masculinity has been used in education studies to understand the dynamics of classroom life, including patterns of resistance and bullying among boys. It was also used to explore relations to the curriculum and the difficulties in gender-neutral pedagogy.[42] It was used to understand teaching strategies and teacher identities among such groups as physical education instructors.[43] This concept has also been helpful in structuring violence-prevention programs for youth.[44] and emotional education programs for boys.[45]


Hegemonic masculinity has greatly influenced criminology as data reflects that men and boys perpetuate more conventional crimes and more serious crimes than women and girls. Moreover, men are responsible for much more white-collar crimes than women as well. The concept of hegemonic masculinity helped in theorizing the relationship among masculinities and a variety of crimes.[46] It was also used in studies on specific crimes by boys and men, such as rape in Switzerland, murder in Australia, football hooliganism and white-collar crime in England, and assaultive violence in the United States.[47] Regarding costs and consequences, research in criminology showed how particular patterns of aggression were linked with hegemonic masculinity, not because criminals already had dominant positions, but because they were pursuing them.[48]

Media and sports[edit]

Hegemonic masculinity has also been employed in studying media representations of men. Because the concept of hegemony helps to make sense of both the diversity and the selectiveness of images in mass media, media researchers have begun mapping the relations between different masculinities.[49] Portrayals of masculinity in men's lifestyle magazines have been studied and researchers found elements of hegemonic masculinity woven throughout them.[50] Commercial sports are a focus of media representations of masculinity, and the developing field of sports sociology found significant use of the concept of hegemonic masculinity.[51] It was deployed in understanding the popularity of body-contact confrontational sports which function as an endlessly renewed symbol of masculinity and in understanding the violence and homophobia frequently found in sporting environments.[52] American football, and the prevalence of concussions in the sport, is a particularly salient example of the impacts of hegemonic masculinity. With the dominant mode of hegemonic masculinity valuing emotionlessness, invulnerability, toughness, and risk-taking, concussions have become normalized. Players have accepted them as simply "part of the game". If a man does not play through a concussion, he risks being blamed for the team's loss, or labelled as effeminate. It is noble to play in pain, nobler to play in agony, and noblest if one never exhibits any sign of pain at all.[53] Coaches buy into this unwritten code of masculinity as well, by invoking euphemisms such as "he needs to learn the difference between injury and pain", while also questioning a player's masculinity to get him back on the field quickly.[54] Players, coaches, and trainers subscribe to the hegemonic model, thus creating a culture of dismissiveness, often resulting in concussions, which can lead to brain diseases like CTE.


Hegemonic masculinity has been increasingly used to understand men's health practices and determinants. Practices such as playing through physical injuries and risk-taking sexual behavior such as unprotected sex with multiple partners have been studied.[55] The concept has also been used to understand men's exposure to risk and their difficulty in responding to disability and injury.[56] Hegemonic masculine ideals, especially stoicism, emotionlessness, and invulnerability can help explain an aversion to seeking mental health care. Men are less likely than women to seek professional services psychiatrists or counsellors, informal help through friends, and are more likely to report that they would never seek psychotherapy for depression.[57] In fact, men who adhere to the masculine norm of stoicism have difficulty in identifying grief, sadness, or a depressed mood, some of the conventional diagnostic symptoms of depression.[58] Recognition of weakness would be a recognition of femininity, and as such, men distract themselves, avoid the problem, or get angry – one of the few emotions permissible under hegemonic masculine norms – when depressive symptoms surface. On a global scale, the impact of hegemonic masculinity has been considered in determining unequal social and political relations which are deleterious to the health of both men and women.[59][60]


Hegemonic masculinity has proved significant in organizational studies as the gendered character of workplaces and bureaucracies has been increasingly recognized.[3] A particular focus has been placed on the military, where specific patterns of hegemonic masculinity have been entrenched but have been increasingly problematic.[61] These studies found that negative hegemonically masculine characteristics related to violence and aggression were required to thrive in the military at all ranks and in all branches. Additionally homophobic ideals were commonplace and further subordinated men in these positions. Studies have also traced the institutionalization of hegemonic masculinities in specific organizations and their role in organizational decision making.[62] This can be related to the glass ceiling and gender pay gap women experience.[63]

War, international relations, and militarism[edit]

Hegemonic masculinity has impacted both conflict and international relations, serving as a foundation for militarism. Charlotte Hooper discusses how US foreign policy, following the Vietnam War, was seen as a way of bolstering America's manhood.[64] It was believed that the Vietcong, often categorized "as a bunch of women and children", had humiliated and emasculated America.[64] In order to regain its manhood – both domestically and internationally – America needed to develop a hyper-masculinized and aggressive breed of foreign policy. Hooper also discusses the idea that since the international sphere is largely composed of men, it may greatly shape both "the production and maintenance of masculinities."[64] War, then, exists in a unique feedback loop whereby it is not only perpetuated by hegemonic masculinity, but also legitimates masculinity.

Hooper discusses how military combat has been fundamental to the very composition of masculinity "symbolically, institutionally", and culturally through body shape.[64] Moreover, Hooper discusses how women are seen as life givers, while men are believed to be life takers.[64] As a result, men can only exist as men if they are willing to charge into war, thereby expressing their "enduring 'natural aggression'."[64] Furthermore, this perception also explains the traditional "exclusion of women from combat", while furthering the myth "that military service is the fullest expression of masculinity."[64] This has troubling implications for the continuation of war, and for the enshrinement of masculine norms. Hooper also ideates about the instillation of militarized masculinity in boys, discussing how military service is a "rite of passage" for young men.[64] As such, "war and the military represent one of the major sites where hegemonic masculinities" are formed and enshrined.[64]

Militarized hegemonic masculinity has also impacted perceptions of citizenship as well as the LGBT community. Conscription is fairly common throughout the world, and has also been utilized in America during key conflicts. The majority of men expect conscription to be the price of adult citizenship, but religious objectors and homosexuals have been largely excluded from this.[64] These restrictions have led to the perceived subordinate status of these groups, and their subsequent exclusion from full citizenship, in the same fashion that women have been excluded.[64] This is reflective of the notion that men unable to, or unwilling to fight for their country are more effeminate, as they are breaking with hegemonic norms. The perceptions that homosexuals are unfit for service, and that women have a responsibility at home, is reflective of the heteronormative nature of the military. The institutional composition of the military, itself, reinforces this hegemony through the armed branch's subordination to a "dominating and organizationally competent" branch.[64] Essentially, there is an armed wing, which is masculinized through conflict, and there is a dominating branch that is masculinized through power. The hierarchical nature of the military is used to enforce, replicate, and enhance hegemonic masculinity.

Male rape is especially prevalent in male dominant environments, such as in the military and prison. In a popular 2014 GQ article titled “Son, Men Don’t Get Raped,” nearly 30 sexual assault survivors come forward to discuss rape in the military. According to the Pentagon,thirty-eight military men are sexually assaulted every day (Penn). The majority of the victim’s stories involve a highly ranked perpetrator, such as senior aides, recruiters, or sergeants, which are positions that young soldiers look up to. Some victims describe being weaker than the attacker and physically unable to stop the rape, while others felt too mentally dominated to speak up. Either way, the men were met with defeat and emasculation. In the article, James Asbrand, a PTSD psychologist explains, “The rape of a male soldier has a particular symbolism. ‘In a hyper masculine culture, what’s the worst thing you can do to another man?’ Force him into what the culture perceives as a feminine role. Completely dominate and rape him” (Penn). Asbrand refers to the military as a hyper masculine environment, which is consistent with its media portrayal. Joining the army is considered a noble act for men, which military movies, advertisements, and video games reinforce. Because of this, it is no surprise that recruits would likely embody stereotypical masculine personas, and therefore contribute to an environment of competition.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ abcdConnell, R.W. (2005). Masculinities (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 9780745634265. 
  2. ^ abDonaldson, Mike (October 1993). "What is hegemonic masculinity?". Theory and Society. Springer. 22 (5): 643–657. doi:10.1007/BF00993540. JSTOR 657988. 
  3. ^ abcdefghijklmnopConnell, R.W.; Messerschmidt, James W. (December 2005). "Hegemonic masculinity: rethinking the concept". Gender & Society. Sage. 19 (6): 829–859. doi:10.1177/0891243205278639. Pdf.
  4. ^Kupers, Terry A. (June 2005). "Toxic masculinity as a barrier to mental health treatment in prison". Journal of Clinical Psychology. Wiley. 61 (6): 713–724. doi:10.1002/jclp.20105. 
  5. ^Connell, R.W.; Kessler, Sandra J.; Ashenden, Dean; Dowsett, Gary (1982). Ockers & disco-maniacs: a discussion of sex, gender and secondary schooling (2nd ed.). Stanmore N.S.W: Inner City Education Centre. ISBN 9780908274246. 
  6. ^Connell, R.W. (1983). Which way is up? Essays on sex, class, and culture. Sydney Boston: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 9780868613741. 
  7. ^Connell, R.W. (May 1982). "Class, patriarchy, and Sartre's theory of practice". Theory and Society. Springer. 11 (3): 305–320. doi:10.1007/BF00211660. JSTOR 657273. 
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The cyclical pattern of how hegemonic masculinity is produced, reproduced, and perpetuated.

Intersectionality is most often invoked as a methodological approach, but what is its significance for feminist political theory?

The concept of intersectionality has made a significant contribution to feminist theory. In fact, McCall (2005, pp. 1771) has stated, “intersectionality is the most important theoretical contribution that women’s studies has made so far”. Despite its popularity amongst feminist scholars intersectionality has also been subject to much contestation. Due to the ambiguity surrounding this concept, the exact definition of intersectionality, in addition to how the concept should be utilised, is a source of disagreement amongst feminist scholars (Smooth 2013). Nevertheless, as this essay argues, intersectionality is extremely significant for feminist theory and has made an important contribution to feminist scholarship.

This essay argues that intersectionality is significant for feminist theory for two main reasons. First, intersectionality allows for feminist theorists to account for the differences between women. Although this may appear to be a simplistic observation, it has important implications for feminist theory and practice. Second, as a result of the diverse applicability of intersectionality, it has been embraced by various strands of feminist theory, providing a means of cooperation between scholars who have differing theoretical stances.

In order to present these arguments, this essay is divided into two main sections. In the first section, it is argued that intersectionality rejects the possibility of universalising women’s experiences. This section points out that feminist political theory must take this into consideration; failing to do so may risk marginalising women who do not comply with specific conceptualisations. Additionally, intersectionality also has practical applications and can be used in the realm of policy making, helping institutions to address women’s diversity. In the second section, it is argued that intersectionality offers an academic framework within which feminist theorists can cooperate, whilst still maintaining their different theoretical viewpoints.

Intersectionality: Background information


It is beyond the scope of this essay to evaluate the different definitions of intersectionality; in fact, feminist scholars have suggested that establishing one fixed definition is elusive (Nash 2008). In order to avoid defining intersectionality in a way that obscures its multidimensional meaning, the work of Hancock (2007a) and her conceptualisation of intersectionality as a ‘paradigm’ form the basis for this essay. Hancock (2007a) shows that intersectionality, instead of being demarcated as a ‘contents specialisation’, should instead be theorised as a paradigm, which includes “normative theory and empirical research” (Hancock 2007a, pp. 251). This paradigm is, in her view, characterised by several key assumptions. These include the fact that categories such as gender, class and race play a role in shaping lived experiences. What is more, these categories are the effect of individual and structural influences, which interact with each other to produce political ‘reality’. Hancock’s (2007a) conceptualisation of intersectionality is a sufficiently inclusive definition because it acknowledges intersectionality as both a theory and research method. The arguments put forward in this essay draw on this conceptualisation of intersectionality, as well as on a number of feminist scholars who have contributed towards this academic paradigm.


Academics often trace intersectionality back to the activism of black feminists during the 1970s and 1980s, particularly to the work of the Combahee River Collective, a black lesbian activist group based in Boston, Massachusetts (Levine-Rasky 2011). Even before this however, feminist activists were addressing the complex social reality of marginalised women. Black activists such as Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper and Ida B. Wells-Barnett were instrumental in putting black women’s experiences at the centre of their work and acknowledging the intersecting oppressions which informed their lives (Hill Collins 2000, pp. 44). What stands out about the Combahee River Collective is that they played a key role in bringing the complex reality of black women to the public forum at a time when the predominantly white middle class National Organisation for Women (NOW) dominated the public image of feminist activism (Thompson 2002). In the Feminine Mystique (1963), one of the founding members of NOW Betty Friedan claimed that achieving gender equality depended on women being active in “mainstream cultures of education, electoral politics and all public institutions” (Rudy 1999, pp. 38). Expanding women’s access to formal employment and education was at the top of the NOW agenda at that time. In response to this, the Combahee River Collective (1977) were instrumental in highlighting that the white feminist movement was not addressing their particular needs. They pointed out that white liberal feminists were theorising about women’s lives from a privileged point of view and therefore they were not taking the situation of women in marginalised social positions into consideration. The discrepancy between the political scholarship of Friedan and the Collective illustrates the political context within which intersectionality developed.

Differences Between Women

Before continuing, it should be noted that when referring to feminist political theory or scholarship, this essay does not mean to suggest that this is one undivided body of work. Rather, for purposes of clarification, intersectionality in this section will be used to critique liberal feminist political theory in particular because it is in relation to this strand of feminist theory that the advantages of intersectionality are most evident.

One of the fundamental contributions of intersectionality is that it points to the “limitation of gender as an analytical category” (McCall 2005, pp. 1771). Intersectionality shows how it is impossible to theorise about women’s lives by looking at one part of a person’s complex and multidimensional identity. Following from this, intersectionality decentralises gender as category of identity. This allows for theoretical consideration of other categories, such as race and class, the relationships between these categories, and how these relationships construct people’s experiences. This is significant because it challenges the problem of essentialism in feminist political theory (Fuss 1989). The isolation of the category of gender and the implication that identity is exclusively determined by this category is reductionist, and it is not representative of women’s experiences (Yuval-David and Anthias 1983). Young (1997) suggests that separating gender from other categories is exclusionary because it obscures other dimensions of identity. Furthermore, this separation also suggests that the category of gender is somehow superior to race and class, whereas intersectional research has shown that women’s experiences are a result of the intersection between multiple social categories as well as the socio-cultural context in which this interaction takes place  (Yuval-Davis 2007). This concept that gender is not the only defining feature of women’s lives has not always been embraced by feminist theorists, for whom issues concerning gender equality were at the forefront of their political agenda. For instance, under Friedan, NOW notoriously distanced itself from the issue of lesbian rights, fearing that it would damage the ‘image’ of the organisation (Levy 2006). According to Phelan (1989) the white liberal feminists of NOW did not want to work in solidarity with lesbians because they saw sexuality as a personal issue, which should not be considered on par with the category of gender. This demonstrates that within the feminist movement issues such as sexuality, evidence that the experience of womanhood is not universal and that women each have different “personal and social histories and positions” (Silvers 1995, pp. 32), were not regarded as relevant to feminist activism.

However, universalising women’s experiences is not limited to feminist activism; it is also evident in feminist theory itself (Bryson 1999).  Feminist theorists have often based key concepts on the experiences of a certain group of women without considering that this is not reflective of all women’s lives.  The somewhat biased feminist understanding and explanation of the ‘public/private dichotomy’ illustrates this argument. Feminist scholars such as Pateman (1988) have suggested that the private and the public realm are highly gendered constructs. Feminist scholars have critiqued liberal political thought for equating the private realm with femininity and the public realm with masculinity and for the role that this has played in structuring gender relations in reality (Rudy 1999, Bryson 2003). Although this scholarship is useful in articulating the problems facing some women, it does not reflect the experience of all women, a fact that intersectionality accounts for (Carby 1997). For instance, it is important to question how useful this understanding of the public/private dichotomy is when considering the issues faced by working class women. Working class women may be required to spend a vast amount of their time working in the ‘public realm’; spending time in the ‘private’ realm of the household may be a luxury (Hill Collins 1991). This understanding of the public/private dichotomy also obscures the way in which the participation of middle-class women in the public domain is made possible. It is important to note that women being able to take up paid employment often takes place due to the subjugation of women from ethnic and lower class backgrounds, who look after other women’s children and homes during the day time (Glenn 1992). This highlights the limitations of equating more women working in the public realm with achieving gender equality. Here, intersectionality is instrumental in highlighting the way in which, due to women’s different social positioning, key concepts in feminist theory do not account for the experience of all women and that categories other than women’s gender need to be taken into consideration when formulating feminist theory (Smooth 2011). It also reflects the need for feminist theorists to be self-reflexive and acknowledge how their specific social positioning influences their work (Mohanty 1988).

Another significant aspect of intersectionality is that it shows how experiences of oppression are not the same for all women; it highlights the historical and socio-cultural contingency of oppression. This issue is discussed in the published work of the Combahee River Collective (1977), which highlights how the structural effects of the slave trade influences black women’s lives in modern contexts. The Collective argue that it is not possible to fully understand black women’s oppression without looking at how it has been constructed over time. This issue is also well articulated by Thompson (2002, pp. 347), who states “Listen to women’s of color’s anger. It is informed by centuries of struggle, erasure, and experience”.

Highlighting the different historical contexts within which women’s identities and experiences are constructed is very important for feminist theory. The work of the Collective shows that although their identity as black women is naturalised, their identity is the result of the historical constructions of what it means to be a woman and black and how these categories “interrelate and effect each other” in the present context (Yuval-Davis 2006, pp. 200). This is another point that feminist political theorists should take into consideration when theorising about women’s lives. Not only does each person have a different epistemological standpoint, but also these perspectives have been shaped and re-shaped over time and in relation to different experiences of oppression.

Finally, accounting for the difference between women in feminist theory also has practical implications. Intersectionality allows theorists to make policy recommendations, which will more adequately address women’s needs (Smooth 2011). Young (1997) argues that theory must address specific problems and have a practical purpose. In agreement, Tickner (2006) suggests that an integral element of feminist methodology is the awareness that theory cannot be separated from action. Intersectionality is a research paradigm, which provides an opportunity to construct theory whilst also implementing this theory into political practice   (Hancock 2007b). For instance, Josephson (2002) shows that using intersectionality in feminist politics can be practically used in the area of public policy. Specifically, she discusses the problems associated with making the provision of welfare benefits for women dependant on them being formally employed. She shows that in many cases, women who apply for state-funded benefits are unable to take up work or be in employment for a prolonged period of time. This is because they are often victims of domestic abuse or suffer from serious health problems. In this piece, Josephson (2002, pp. 4) uses intersectionality to argue that services must to be responsive to the “particular need of women”. Her research points to how intersectionality exposes the way in which services are tailored towards providing for a certain category of women, which means that women who do not fit this model are not provided for (Josephson 2002). This also highlights the benefits of including the role of institutions and acknowledging the structural nature of women’s oppression within feminist scholarship. Smooth (2013), in support of this, states that developing knowledge on how institutions interact with individuals is key to developing a better understanding of the women’s position within society.

To summarise, intersectionality highlights the diversity that exist within the social category of ‘women’. It does this firstly by showing how defining women’s identity by their gender alone obscures the way in which other categories of identity inform their lives. Secondly, intersectionality challenges feminist theory, which claims to represent all women, but is in fact formed from a privileged epistemological standpoint. Thirdly, intersectionality points to how women’s experiences are constituted in specific socio-cultural contexts and therefore should not be paralleled with each other. Finally, this understanding of difference can also be practically utilised and reflects the practical implications of intersectionality.

Grounds for Cooperation

As mentioned before, it is impossible to talk about ‘feminist theory’ per se because different theories and political agendas occupy this category. However, intersectionality has been characterised as a paradigm which allows for feminist theorists to communicate with each other. Paradoxically, it is the ambiguity surrounding this concept that in turn makes it so appealing in the area of feminist theory (Davis 2011).

Lykke (2011) has described intersectionality as a ‘nodal point’ in feminist political theory because it forms a basis for cooperation between feminist theorists who have differing theoretical stances. The idea of intersectionality as a ‘nodal point’ is exemplified by the discrepancy between feminist theorists and their views on essentialism. On one hand, liberal and standpoint feminist theorists, although they acknowledge the difference between women, believe that in order to reach a certain political aim, the category of ‘women’ needs to be maintained (Harding 2004). On the other hand, post-structural feminist theorists such as Butler (1990) reject the existence of ‘gendered experiences’ because according to her there is nothing essential about being a woman. These two views are a point of tension within feminist political theory. Post-structural feminists have been criticised for preventing feminist theorists from being able to speak for ‘women’ because they reject the existence of a gendered reality (Nussbaum 1999). Conversely, using the category of ‘women’ in feminist research has been criticised for being reductionist and exclusionary (Butler 1993).

Intersectionality is based on the presumption that identity is complex and multidimensional. As stated before, the basic presumption in intersectional scholarship is that the category of gender does not fully account for women’s lived experiences. Intersectionality therefore de-constructs women’s social positioning in order to show how it is informed by interlocking relations of power (Brah and Phoenix 2004). However in this research paradigm social categories can still be maintained. To completely individualise someone’s experience prevents the possibility of looking at the way in which women are united by shared experiences of oppression. For example, the forced sterilisation of African-American women in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, is an issue which highlights this point (Waggoner 2012). Feminist scholars have pointed out how issues such as this are the result of women’s experience of intersecting oppressions (King 1988). The issue of forced sterilisation shows how oppression should not be simplistically understood as a matter of racism or sexism, but should take under consideration the coinciding experience of race, class and gender (Carby 1997). Issues such as this show how it is important to recognise shared experiences while at the same time revealing their complex nature. This also shows how intersectionality can be utilised to achieve political aims and theorise for the purpose of improving women’s lives (Egeland and Gressgard 2007).

Intersectional work shows the way in which different areas of feminist thought can cooperate, but also how this cooperation can be mutually beneficial. Intersectionality shows that problematizing women’s identities and experiences does not have to take place at the expense of preserving women as a social category. Even post-structural theorists acknowledge that categories of identity must be maintained. Although they question the actual nature of gender, they also acknowledge that it is impossible to theorise without referring to certain identity categories (McCall 2005). The extent to which gender is a natural characteristic does not have to be agreed upon in order to theorise about women’s specific social locations, as well as how this informs their daily struggles. Intersectionality is therefore beneficial for liberal and standpoint feminists, who have been criticised for simplifying women’s experience in their work. At the same time, it provides post-structural theorists with an opportunity to show that their theoretical understanding can be used to improve women’s lives, whilst maintaining their viewpoint about the construction of identity (Davis 2008).

This is significant for feminist theory because, as Lykke (2011, pp. 209) points out, it is “important to have a joint nodal point, a shared framework for the negotiation of conceptualisations”. Intersectionality allows feminist theorists to maintain their differences and uncover similarities, and provides a way in which feminist theorists can cooperate in order to implement political change.


This essay has argued that intersectionality has made a significant contribution to feminist scholarship. First, it has highlighted the issue of essentialism in feminist theory and how when thinking about the category of women it is vital to take under consideration the differences which exist within this social category. Additionally, intersectionality highlights how not only does the intersection of social categories produce lived experiences, but also how experience is very much dependent on the historical and cultural context within which a woman exists. Keeping this in mind is instrumental to facilitating the implementation of policies, which can adequately address women’s diverse needs. Second, for feminist theorists with differing theoretical backgrounds, intersectionality acts as “shared enterprise” (Davis 2008, pp. 72). This means that even though there may be certain disagreements between theorists, this research paradigm allows women to maintain their underlying beliefs while at the same time working towards a better understanding of women’s experiences whether they are a source of oppression or privilege (Smooth 2013).


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Written by: Julia Maj
Written at: University of Manchester
Written for: Dr. Angelia Wilson
Date written: May 2013


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