Masculinities and Feminist Legal Theory: An Antiessentialist Project

71 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2008 Last revised: 19 Nov 2008

See all articles by Nancy E. Dowd

Nancy E. Dowd

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: August 19, 2008


Men, patriarchy and masculine characteristics have predominantly been examined within feminist theory as a source of power, domination, inequality and subordination. Various theories of inequality have been developed by feminists to challenge and reveal structures and discourses that reinforce explicitly or implicitly the centrality of men and the identity of the top of a hierarchical power and economic structure as male.

The study of masculinities has been inspired by feminist theory to explore the construction of manhood and masculinity, and to question the real circumstances of men. It has explored how privilege is constructed, and what price is paid for privilege. Masculinities study challenges an essentialist portrait of men. Instead of seeing men as a single entity, and only described in terms of dominance and power, the study of masculinities reveals ways in which the dominant gender system subordinates and differentiates among men. At the same time, anti-essentialism also means exposing affirmative differences among men that challenge dominant definitions of masculinity. Masculinities analysis exposes how those alternative models are constructed as well as quashed by the dominance of a preferred, singular gender model that ultimately limits men's freedom as well as resisting women's equality.

The study of masculinity thus reveals not only a more complex portrait of men, but also enhances the understanding of the construction of gender for women.

This paper is linked to an larger project on the interface between masculinities scholarship and feminist theory, in which I hope to explore the theoretical relationship between the two, as well as looking at some particular examples that relate to boys and to men. In this article I suggest in is time for feminist theory to move toward a richer analysis of men, informed by masculinities scholarship. I outline the theoretical perspective of masculinities scholarship. I then explore how this plays out in specific areas related to boys and men. In this article I look at boys and education as well as men and fatherhood. Finally, I suggest how masculinities scholarship might inform feminist analysis. I hope to de-essentialize men in feminist theory, use masculinities scholarship to enrich efforts to identify male privilege and the specific practices that sustain male dominance, and challenge masculinities theory to more strongly address the means to undermine male power.

This paper should be of interest to critical scholars, as well as those interested in the range of masculinities scholarship across a broad array of legal subjects.

Keywords: feminist theory, masculinities, critical theory

Suggested Citation

Dowd, Nancy Elizabeth, Masculinities and Feminist Legal Theory: An Antiessentialist Project (August 19, 2008). Wisconsin Women's Law Journal, Vol. 13, 2009, University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 2008-05, Available at SSRN:

Nancy Elizabeth Dowd (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States
352-273-0930 (Phone)
352-392-3005 (Fax)


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