Prince and Hegemonic Masculinity
On Thursday, April 21, the world lost a truly unique and eminently talented artist. Prince was a prolific musician who put out albums nearly every year since 1978 (and a few times two in one year). But even more than that, Prince was a cultural icon who challenged normative beliefs about race, gender, and sexuality.
So it should come as no surprise that amidst the outpouring of sadness about Prince’s death and celebrations of his life, white straight men are doing their usual song-and-dance on social media, inserting their Important Thoughts and Opinions wherever they find space.
Contrary to those who are mourning Prince’s passing while being queer- and transphobic, the tweets and Facebook statuses above seem to me to be a display of hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity can be understood as practices of manhood that enable the continued domination of men in society. The ideals of hegemonic masculinity, at least in Western societies, are represented by the white, straight, middle-class, cisgender male. Hegemonic masculinity is one of many kinds of masculinity according to its formulation by Australian sociologist R.W. Connell. It is not the most common pattern of masculinity in the lived experiences of boys and men, but instead works as an idealistic exemplar of masculinity that society says boys and men should try to live up to. Thus, even when men aren’t fully embodying the ideals of hegemonic masculinity, they often engage in practices and/or discourses that maintain it as a hegemonic ideal.
I read the messages like the ones above that are dismissive or claim ignorance of Prince coming from (mostly) white, straight, cisgender men as indicative of hegemonic masculinity because Prince threatened (and continues to threaten) the ideals of hegemonic masculinity, and what better way to maintain those ideals than to claim that one of the most powerful challenges to hegemonic masculine ideals did not matter, is over-appreciated, and/or was basically non-existent?
It is not necessarily the intent of these men to uphold hegemonic masculinity, but the discursive effect of their attempts to erase Prince’s importance nonetheless work to maintain a particular social image of manhood that they benefit from. I don’t know why they would feel the need to make such comments if they genuinely did not care or know about Prince, as I doubt they go around vomiting out their opinions on every single famous person who dies. Acting like you don’t care while simultaneously roaming around social media telling everyone how much you don’t care really comes across as you being threatened. If you truly did not care, you would feel absolutely no need to share your opinion, you’d just shrug and move on with your life.
Prince showed the world that people typically marginalized due to their race, ethnicity, gender, and/or sexuality can be successful even in the face of a society that continually devalues their existence and makes their success difficult. And that’s threatening to the gendered social structures that allow white straight cis men to maintain their positions of privilege and dominance.