Complicit Masculinity: Definition & Example

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  • 0:04 Masculinity
  • 0:44 Theories
  • 2:12 Examples
  • 3:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Cummins
In this lesson, we'll talk about a well-known theory of masculinity by the sociologist R.W. Connell. Complicit masculinity is an important idea in this theory, one that addresses how men in our society conform to dominant ideals about masculinity.


What makes men and women different? What makes men different from other men? How do cultural and societal pressures enforce these differences? Sociologists have long been interested in these questions.

In this lesson, we will talk about different forms of masculinity, which in sociological terms, does not simply mean men. Instead, it's about gender relations and the positions of power of men relative to women and to other men in Western societies.

Specifically, we'll talk about the idea of complicit masculinity, which is a form of masculinity that does not challenge the dominant forms of masculinity in Western society. Before we explore this concept further, we should talk a little bit more about some important theories of masculinity.


The idea of complicit masculinity is derived from an overarching theory on masculinity by the Australian social scientist R.W. Connell. In her book Masculinities, Connell discusses three additional types of masculinity.

First, hegemonic masculinity is the dominant form of masculinity within a society, specifically heterosexual, middle class, white men. Hegemonic masculinity, the celebrated and idealized form of masculinity in Western culture, is only achieved by men who possess physical strength and suppress their emotions.

Second, marginalized masculinity is a form of masculinity that is unable to conform to or derive benefits from hegemonic masculinity. Marginalized masculinity might refer to a lack of some of the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity, like being disabled or non-white.

Finally, subordinate masculinity is a form of masculinity in which a person lacks many of the qualities of hegemonic masculinity while also expressing qualities opposite to hegemonic masculinity. For example, it may involve acting in a feminine way, being overly emotional, or not being heterosexual.

So, this finally brings us back to complicit masculinity, which does not include all of the qualities of hegemonic masculinity, but doesn't challenge it, either. In society, a man may benefit from and fit in by 'looking the part' of someone who falls under the catergory of hegemonic masculinity. Complicit masculinity might also involve admiring and striving for the qualities of hegemonic masculinity. Let's go over a few examples of how this works.


In a lot of ways, complicit masculinity is about trying to achieve hegemonic masculinity. But since hegemonic masculinity is only available to a select few, many men who strive to achieve the ideal fail.

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