IDEALIZED MASCULINITY: IMAGES OF WHITE MEN'S BODIES AND WHITE MEN'S IDEAS ABOUT MASCULINITY
Degree awarded: Ph.D. Sociology. American University
This dissertation explores the ways an idealized - overtly muscular - male body type influences how relatively young, white, middle class USAmerican men, both heterosexual and homosexual, understand the meaning of masculinity. The multi-method approach included analysis of magazine cover images and focus group discussions. A probability sample of 104 cover images appearing between 1999 and 2009 from four men's magazines - two directed at heterosexual men and two directed at homosexual men - was studied using both traditional content analysis and visual analysis. In the spring of 2011, 27 men participated in five focus groups - four groups of straight men only and one group of gay men only. Immediately prior to the group discussions, the men responded to a questionnaire asking about media exposure, exercise habits and ideas about masculinity; these were also the broad topics discussed in the focus groups. Magazines convey the social message that an idealized muscular body is the form against which all men should measure their masculinity. All of the men place physical strength at the core of masculinity although certain contrasts emerged between straight and gay men's ideas about their own masculinity and their ideas about masculinity in USAmerican society in general. The results confirm existing arguments about the impact images have on social comparisons men make regarding masculinity in USAmerican society. The results also support the notion that heterosexual and homosexual men perceive their masculinity and others' masculinity from a perspective informed by a hegemonic ideal, as put forward and elaborated in the work of Connell, and this ideal includes an idealized version of the male body as a central element. The results extend existing literature by indicating that men are not immune to issues of social pressure emanating from idealized body images.
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