Q&A: Social Scientist Discusses Hypermasculinity and Black Men

January 14, 2011  |  

By Brittany Hutson

How would you describe a masculine man? What does he look like?

Now how would you describe a hypermasculine man? What does he look like?

According to social scientists, a hypermasculine man exhibits three qualities: verbal or physical aggression, overt sexuality and enjoyment of risk taking. While these qualities are commonly perceived to be negative it’s not necessarily where the problem lies. Wherein the problem does lie however is how the term hypermasculine is casually tacked on and perpetuates stereotypes about black, Hispanic and certain homosexual men. Vanderbilt University’s assistant professor of sociology, Richard Pitt, explores this troubling field of study in a chapter titled “Revisiting Hypermasculinity: Shorthand for Marginalized Masculinities” in the book Where Are the Brothers: Essays and Studies on African American Masculinities. We spoke to Dr. Pitt to learn more about this ambiguous word and how it marginalizes minority men.

What is troubling to you about the idea of hypermasculinity?

People just use the word as if the word doesn’t have a real definition. So by using the word that has a real definition and just slapping it casually around on, for example,  on black men who are standing on the street corner, then that by itself is a problem because remember, the definition of hypermasculinity says that these are men who are very violent, are likely to rape you and are risk takers.

The second issue winds up being that people tend to use hypermasculinity in literature as a way to study the behavior of men of color, gay men who are “straight” acting, working class men and Hispanics. You would be hard-pressed to find an article that says let’s look at hypermasculine behavior on Wall Street or let’s look at hypermasculine behavior in white men—they don’t do it. So these groups wind up owning the term because when we’re looking at these particular behaviors, we tend to describe their behavior as hypermasculine, but we don’t describe other populations’ behavior as hypermasculine.

Where did the negative perception surrounding hypermasculinity come from?

Masculinity itself doesn’t really have a good name. If we’re looking at masculinity as problematic and you throw the word hyper- on that, then it’s really bad. I think where we start out is those of us who study gender, because we’re often feminists, look down upon masculinity. We tend to come down hard on men and men’s behaviors and we tend not to do that for women. We could never look at men’s hypermasculinity and see positives in it. It wound up being the question of how do men become this horrible thing that is hypermasculine, not should we sit down and deal with our sort of negative issues around our sense that hypermasculinity is bad.

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