Question Joseph Social Sciences

Hegemonic masculinity in swimming

How does hegemonic masculinity relate to youth culture in swimming?

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Answer Expert #13630

The term “hegemonic masculinity” emerged in the late 1980s in reaction to feminism. It focuses on men, and their role in society. Hegemonic masculinity is a dominant masculine role that is often presented as normative in the media and in professional sports (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005). The underlying idea is that there is pressure on males in society to wield power, over each other, and over women too. It is not the only kind of masculinity, since many males reject this pressure and perform a gender identity that is different. In youth culture, there are many ways of expressing masculinity, for example through music, gay culture, or volunteering and in some geeky or intellectual pursuits where competition is not the focus. In swimming, however, the visibility of the male body encourages a focus on physical prowess.

Muscles, strength and determination to win are highly valued, and this projects an image of the powerful, dominant male. Competitions are organised hierarchically, and only a few individuals become successful at the higher levels. Hard training and self-control are part of the youth culture in swimming, at the expense of other, more gentle qualities. The institutional effects of swimming are to create a tough physical and mental ideal of masculinity that most young men will never be able to live up to. This focus on physical strength can affect young men’s confidence in education, or in social groups, especially if swimming achievement is seen as a test of masculinity. It can engender a narcissistic focus on the body in some young men, and a feeling of shame in others (Wellard, 2012). Hegemonic masculinity is therefore a useful concept for explaining some of the tensions and social pressures in youth culture in swimming.


Connell, R. W. and Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005) Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept. Gender & Society 19, pp. 829-859.

Wellard, I. (2012) Sport, Masculinities and the Body. London: Routledge.