Hegemony, Ideology, and Power

Does hegemony and ideology influence power relations?

Reflection Response


Today’s gender norms are rooted in traditional gender ideologies. Men are expected to be tough, strong, and independent; and violence is an accepted expression of this masculine ideal. On the other hand, women are expected to be flawless inside and out, and “painfully thin,” as described by Jean Kilbourne in Still Killing Us Softly, to the detriment of our own lives. Ultimately, women are taught to have hyper-control of their unruly bodies, and men are unable to exhibit qualities meant for a woman. These gender classifications are “socially constructed meanings” (Allen, 2011, p. 42) based on physical, social, and psychological characteristics. This social construction is driven by hegemonic masculinity which is “tightly connected to patriarchy, and also described as a strategy to legitimate a particular gender order, and a constellation of cultural ideals, institutional power and politics” (Johansson & Ottemo, 2015, p. 194). Through the images we see, the language we use, and our interactions, men and women co-create a reality where women are subservient, and men dictate the rules of our public lives.

Allen (2011) identifies various ways in which power dynamics are revealed through our use of language and communication differences between genders (p. 52). The movies Tough Guise and Still Killing Us Softly exhibit examples of how language and communication differences reinforce traditional ideologies of gender set by hegemonic masculinity. Throughout the short film Tough Guise, men described common attributes they feel pressure to exhibit. Independent, tough, strong, powerful, physical, and respected are just a few adjectives used. Other terms such as wuss and sissy were used as insults forcing men to conform. Host and narrator Jackson Katz drew a parallel between the language used to describe masculinity to the images in various forms of media reinforcing this idea of male dominance, power, and control. He further connects this masculine ideology with violent crime statistics as a result of problems in contemporary concepts of masculinity.

In contrast, Still Killing Us Softly with Jean Kilbourne presented the effects of contemporary concepts of femininity. Her analysis of advertising and media uncovered powerful hypersexualized messages challenging women to be forever young, flawless, and skinny. As a result, these images teach women they have no value other than what their body has to offer. Kilbourne also uncovered a visible power imbalance in media images citing the angles and positions male bodies appear in juxtaposition to a female’s. Men are commonly seen standing over women and occupying more of the frame asserting their authority while women seemingly accept men’s power dominance. According to Kilbourne, this act of compliance by women works to dehumanize women further and normalize violence.

As men and women interact within these boundaries of gender, we co-create our reality. Hegemony and ideology work in tandem to maintain this social order. Johansson and Ottemo (2015) refer to Paul Ricoeur’s aspects of ideology from his work Ideology and Utopia (1986) stating that ideology: first legitimizes the existing order, distorts information, and establishes norms through integration. They further explain Ricoeur’s analysis:

“…hegemony [as] constructed through distortions – not least by media images presenting acceptable and normative definitions of gender, family and identity – and of the integrative function – creating an impression that the existing order is not only the best order, but that it has to be defended and kept…” (Johansson & Ottemo, 2015, pg. 197).

By mere definition, this intricate interplay of hegemony and ideology feed existing gender norms, and as Allen (2011) states gender is something we do over and over again in settings “saturated with gendered assumptions and expectations” (p. 42). Currently, these assumptions and expectations uphold a masculine ideal pregnant with power and dominance.


References

Johansson, T., & Ottemo, A. (2015). Ruptures in hegemonic masculinity: The dialectic between ideology and utopia. Journal Of Gender Studies, 24(2), 192-206. doi:10.1080/09589236.2013.812514

Allen, B. (2011). Difference matters: Communicating social identity. 2nd ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc., pp.41-63.