Book Chapter

Language and Masculinity


Benwell B (2014) Language and Masculinity. In: Ehrlich S & Meyerhoff M (eds.) The Handbook of Language, Gender and Sexuality. 2nd ed. Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, pp. 240-259.

First paragraph: A chapter entitled “Language and Masculinity” in a Handbook of Language, Gender, and Sexuality is not unproblematically descriptive, but embeds within it certain assumptions, some of which I hope to problematize in what follows. One reading is that, with no companion chapter on “Language and Femininity,” it offers a kind of performative judgment on how we have historically viewed the study of gender as synonymous with the study of the (oppressed) condition of femininity or women. So what does it mean to isolate masculinity from broader considerations of gender in this way? In her insightful overview of the field of language and masculinity, Johnson argues that by exposing the hitherto neglected topic of masculinity to analytical scrutiny we offer a corrective to the view that the female/feminine is the problematic or “marked” sex/gender in the gender order (Johnson 1997, 12–13), and we challenge the status of masculinity as an unmarked and thus “invisible” category (Black and Coward 1998, 118; Benwell 2003, 155). An explicit (rather than implicit) (Johnson 1997, 13) study of masculinity, particularly as a relational, and power-based phenomenon, facilitates a clearer feminist understanding of the operations of male power and the perpetuation of the gender order. Such a project is not without contention, however: a common feminist critique of the “exposure” and topicalization of masculinity is that it is an ideologically mobile and appropriable politics which has fueled the antifeminist, reactionary strand of men’s studies (see Ashe 2007 for a useful overview) as much as it has facilitated a critical deconstruction of the operations of masculine power and privilege. As Sally Robinson argues in Marked Men: White Masculinity in Crisis, “there is much symbolic power to be reaped from occupying the social and discursive position of the subject-in-crisis” (2000, 19).

Title of seriesBlackwell Handbooks in Linguistics
Publication date31/12/2014
PublisherWiley Blackwell
Publisher URL…-0470656425.html
Place of publicationOxford