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.

“I don’t think I ever heard or would recognize one of his songs.”

“Just don’t understand the infatuation with a mediocre entertainer.”

“Mediocre songs…Almost as annoying and arrogant as Kanye West…Changed his name to a squiggle…I never went to see him cus he was shit!”

“Prince’s death is not terrible news – unless you are Prince.”

Justin Bieber on Prince: “Well not the last greatest living performer.”

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.


Will is the admin of Queereka, part of the Skepchick network. They are a cultural/medical anthropologist who works at the intersections of sex/gender, sexuality, health, and education. Their other interests include politics, science studies, popular culture, and public perceptions and understandings of anthropology. Follow them on Twitter at @anthrowill and Facebook at

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  1. Seriously, mediocre? Okay, keeping to the Prince theme, Vanity’s “Pretty Mess” is an example of a mediocre song.

    The comparison to Kanye West is odd because the latest Reason to Hate Kanye is his cover of a song by another LGBT icon.

    As for Justin Bieber’s comment…no, too easy.

    1. Well, technically, if everyone else in the world died, I would be the last greatest living performer (I have successfully worked my way through “Froggy Went A-Courting” on the guitar, which is one chord.) But I somehow doubt Justin Bieber was trying to make a point about logic.

      There are many “greatest living performers” in many times, places, and genres of music, and it’s tragic when any of them die, for their families, for their friends, for their fans and for the people who never got to know them while they had a chance. Note to Brian Dunning, Justin Bieber, and all the others… John Donne wrote 400 years ago:

      “Any man’s death diminishes me,
      Because I am involved in mankind”

      (Prince would probably have said “Anyone’s death…”)

  2. Seriously, who sees a message of condolences to fans, and feels the need to mention that they wouldn’t even recognise one of his songs? That’s weird. I mean, for one thing, I’m pretty sure that’s impossible – he wasn’t remotely obscure, and he had a distinctive sound. I’m pretty sure you need to be the sort of person who has never listened to the radio to be unable to recognise a Prince song. Mostly, though, who sees a message, sees that it is quite clearly not directed at them and which expresses nothing but sympathy, and thinks, “I must inform them that this message does not apply to me!” I don’t know… maybe I’m the weird one here? But I just scroll past those messages.

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