Work and Masculinity

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Work and Masculinity

This essay will critically examine masculinities as it relates to men's Labour relations and work environment. Hegemonic masculinity sees men as the main economic providers for their families. However, men atimes are faced with the uncertainties of life and thus fail in accomplishing their traditional roles in society. This paper will explore the statutes of men in non-traditional male occupations e.g. (childcare providers, nurses, hair dressers) and will also examine the impact of these “feminine” occupations in men's manhood and how these men view their masculinity as they are doing what is generally regarded as “women's work”

In other to understand the meaning of masculinity and how it relates to work, certain questions need to be addressed. Why do men often think that to be considered men; they had to be breadwinners of their families? Why do men usually measure and consider themselves successful or failures by the level of pay cheque they go home with? Why do men relegate family care giving as secondary and a feministic role? Why do they discriminate and marginalise men on less paying jobs as inferior and not being man enough? Why do men continue to see men working in the supposedly all - female work environment as being weak and not manly? To what extent does culture and genetics play a role in the expectations of man? These and many more questions address the concept of masculinity and its implication to work.

The issue of masculinity has been a reoccurrent topic in most debates and a source of concern to scholars. Masculinity is a subjective term, and in most cases it' definition and meaning is influenced by one's perception and culture.

Some argue that genetics is a contributory factor and that instincts make men to act more masculine, while some authors see masculinity as an unrealistic expectation of men, which stipulates who and what men are supposed to be and has certain characteristics assigned to it by culture and society. According to Connell (1995), Masculinity can be interpreted as a choice one makes in respect of his dressing, behaviour, and physical appearance. It involves access to power, status and resources and more importantly love and care. In most cases the traditional model of masculinity which is usually institutional and cultural is structurally based on power and domination.


Men in the traditional breadwinner model have internalised certain characteristics as a criteria in deciding their manliness and masculinity. This involves a number of activities ranging from the kind of work men are expected to do in the society, their manly responsibilities in the family their independence and the struggles they undergo, in other to meet up with the pressures and expectations of the society. A man is expected by the society to be strong, industrious and a good provider of his family. It is important to note, that these expectation of the society placed on man are therefore internalised as they grow and live their lives.

The way men explains masculinity could be seen from the type of work they chose to do, as they are judged by the standard of living they provide, the amount of pay check they go home with, their ability to cater for their family and living under the dictates of what society and culture depicts as being masculinity. Work therefore is thought to be ‘the area of life into which masculine traits are thought to fit best and the principal adult arena for proving one's masculinity.(Marc Fastenu,1975).Men identifies masculinity and defines themselves in terms of the kind of work they do as th eir self esteem is directly linked to their vocation and income.(Pease 2002).


The impact of work as a measure of a man's masculinity cannot be overemphasised. Men are considered successful by the kind of job they do and level of pay check they bring home. There is a constant struggle among men to compete amongst themselves for the limited jobs available. The struggle for these jobs no doubt is seen as a test of a man's masculinity for the more money he makes and is able to provide for his family, the more masculine and satisfied he is depicted. Consequently, men are continually measuring their successes and failures on their ability to have a job in order to provide for their families. They are socialised towards being competitive, aggressive, unsupporting and emotionally autistic. They have been modelled by society and culture to pursue work as a central life interest, relegating the family and care giving as secondary and more feministic in nature.

To understand men's experiences of work and how they use it to measure their masculinity, it is necessary to take into accounts the effects of different class locations on men's masculinity and how these class influences the place of work in their lives.

Working Class Masculinity,

There are two types of masculinity. The working class masculinity and the middle class masculinity. The working class masculinity exhibit physical strength as a criteria for their masculinity. Adams (1993) sees working class masculinity as being demonstrated and toughness.

Masculinity is measured by the level of doggedness men exercise at their place of work, their strength, and ability to engage in manual labour, tilling the ground and sweating out there in the sun. They tend to see jobs that are physically demanding as a demonstration of their masculinity and tend to regard men who don't follow the status quo as not being masculine enough. The implication of this assumption according to (Adams Marie Louise 1993) makes working class men more vulnerable to the psychological consequences of unemployment, disability and retirement. For as their strengths are gone and their bodies become weak, they live under the shame of not being breadwinners anymore and as such do not have choices to make and how to address the question of being masculine while performing work that is not male. This makes them loose their self esteem, feel down, and worthless, incapable, lacking self respect as they could no longer define themselves as breadwinners. The way forward in this scenario is to embrace the inclusive masculinity whereby men should have institutional power and membership equal to those enshrined in the traditional masculinity.

Middle Class Masculinity and work

On the other hand, there is also the Middle Class Masculinity which is stereotypically uptight and emotionally inhibited. Their ideology is built around professionalism and intellectual ability rather than wages based on manual labouring. They believe that they more professional and intellectually sound that they are, the more it keeps them in tune with their masculinity as the more professional they are, they more pay cheque they go home with and as such be better breadwinners which society and culture already stipulated out for them as test of masculinity. The whole essence of life to them is their work, as the pay cheque they take home is a determinant of the level of their self esteem. They regard the working class men as weak and not man enough. Hence, discriminating them in the social class by seeing them as the ‘have not's' who do not have what it takes to be men. This creates a challenge in the group as the working class men now feel let let down because of their low wages and the fact that they work under the middle class men who see them as being lazy, dull, not manly and unable to compete. They are regarded as second class because of their low pay check and this affects the psychological wellbeing of the working class men. The implication of this consequently is that more emphasis on professionalism and work that demands intellectual ability will eventually and ultimately lead to emotional illiteracy among the middle class men which no doubt will lead them to be unconcerned on what happens in the home front and regard women as the primary care givers. Hence, the emergence of gender segregation both at work and home.

It is imperative to note that the traditional and institutionalised model of masculinity based on societal and cultural norm is what is obtainable in societies even till this moment despite the economic changes and the emergence of dual earner/de-gendered model which is the product of the 21st century (Leira 2006). This new model is attributed to specific group of heterosexuals, who are well educated and professionals, despite the fact that, most men still feel resentment towards women for having sustained career as they feel that their power is being restricted and a blow to their self esteem. They react by showing hostilities and denying women competence and building the female image in their minds. They also embrace the use of sexual jokes and harassments to drive women away from invading what they see as all - men work environment. This goes to show that the traditional model of masculinity still exists today and more especially among the poor and illiterates in our society, who still see and believe that the sole responsibility of the man is to bread win the family, leaving care giving as secondary and a more effamative trait.

The reaction of middle class heterosexual males over women that are having sustained careers and the emergence of degendered model calls to question, the possibility of the sustenance of this model based on reciprocity and equal opportunities for self fulfilment and also equal participation in the family, where home-making should be degendered. Men, despite their level of professionalism and dual earning opportunities, still feel threatened and feel as if their powers are being weakened when that role is being partially taken away from them. This goes to show that the attitude towards masculinity is completely enshrined in the culture and norms of society and that it will take a drastic attitudinal change for men to completely embrace this new model, and to also have the ethical responsibility to make sure that power is used in ways that enhance equality both among the heterosexuals and females. (Hocking 1993).Much as genetics has a role to play in shaping the man/female being, it doesn't state roles for men. Rather, society and culture fashioned out roles that are considered masculine, hence, there is the need for a gradual generational shifts in the way men see masculinity and understand that roles could be reversed as there are no man/woman roles in this century.


The traditional model of masculinity has shown to be counter productive, as a result of the changes in the economic situations of families. Changes in economic situation and the need to seek for relevance in the work environment, has necessitated men to not only seek out the so called masculine roles, but to further be involved in roles that ordinarily would be considered an all - female work environment. They have realized that they too can do well and be fulfilled in those roles that they consider feminine and can compete effectively with men in all men-environment. Hence, there is no difference on what they could do. (Anderson 2005). Much as men still see themselves as breadwinners and make effort to abide with the characteristics that depicts them as masculine, the need to appreciate the ever changing economic status becomes paramount. And, as per what is considered masculinity as a result of societal norms and expectations which were built over years, attitudinal changes in perception will help men to understand and appreciate the roles that all inclusive masculinity model has to offer. Agreed that it will take time for these changes to take complete effect, making an effort by creating a balance and embracing an all inclusive masculinity((Anderson 2005) will go a long way. No longer should men consider masculinity based on certain characteristics expected of them by society, but to look inwards at those activities that offer them the opportunity to not only provide for their families but also make them support and appreciate those that don't share their views. After all, there is no evident to show that men are expected to behave in a certain way or do certain kind of jobs apart from what society has already stipulated as masculine. And this culture, which is dynamic and not static needs to change and embrace the fact that there are no jobs depicted as men's jobs anymore as women are gradually taking up roles in supposedly men exclusive roles, and even competing better. Therefore, the onus is on the men to create a balance in the jobs that fulfil them irrespective of whether it fulfils what society and culture expects of them, while also embracing the all inclusive masculinity whereby they are working together even as a group with males that don't share their views about male masculinity. That way, they will effectively change their attitude, become more involved in family, domestic work through shared parenting arrangements as opposed to just being breadwinners and begin to appreciate that despite the fact the genetics models the appearance of men, choices that are made as a result of socialization and parental guidance determines how they see the concept of masculinity.


Adams Marie Louise., (1993). ‘To be an Ordinary Hero: Male Figure skaters and the ideology of gender': Men and Masculinity. Pages 93 -110.Toronto Canadian School Press.

Anderson, E., (2005).' Orthodox and Inclusive Masculinity: Competing Masculinities among Heterosexual Men in Feminized Terrain'. Sociological perspectives, Vol.48, Issue 3, Pages 337 -355.

B, Pease, (2002), ‘Men + Gender relations'. Men at work: Masculinity, Class and Gender segregation: Pages 97-107.Croydon: Tertiary Press.

R, Connell. (1995). ‘Masculinities'. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Leira, A, (2006) Parenthood change and policy reform in Scandinavia, 1970s - 2000s.Bristol: Policy Press.