Keeping Men Men and Women Down: Sex Segregation, Anti-Essentialism, and Masculinity

38 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2010 Last revised: 2 Aug 2010

See all articles by David S. Cohen

David S. Cohen

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law

Date Written: January 29, 2010


Current-day sex segregation is one of the central ways that law and society define and construct who is a man and what it means to be a man. When law or society tells people that a place or activity is reserved for men alone, or in the converse, that men are excluded from a particular place or activity, two important messages are sent: one, that there are distinct categories of people based on reproductive anatomy and that these anatomical distinctions are a legitimate way of organizing and sorting people; and two, that people with the reproductive anatomy labeled “male” are supposed to behave in a certain way. As I have argued in the past, these messages produce distinct harms for women, who are often subordinated to men based on these differences and characteristics, as well as men, both men who conform and do not conform to the expected notions of masculine behavior.

In looking at sex segregation and masculinity, I focus in this article on two separate theoretical concepts – hegemonic masculinity and the hegemony of men. Ultimately, I argue here that the various forms of sex segregation still existing in the United States help create and perpetuate a particular form of dominant masculinity, what theorists call hegemonic masculinity. They also substantially contribute to the dominance of men over women and non-hegemonically masculine men, what other theorists call the hegemony of men. In both ways, sex segregation contributes to an essentialized view of what it means to be a man – both in the attributes associated with an idealized manhood and the power ascribed and available to men.

This article is the second in a project examining still-existing forms of sex segregation. The first part of the project, which introduces the empirical and theoretical basis for understanding sex segregation, is available by following this link.

Keywords: gender, anti-essentialism, sex segregation, masculinities, hegemonic masculinity, hegemony of men

Suggested Citation

Cohen, David S., Keeping Men Men and Women Down: Sex Segregation, Anti-Essentialism, and Masculinity (January 29, 2010). Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, Forthcoming, Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law Research Paper No. 2010-A-10, Available at SSRN:

David S. Cohen (Contact Author)

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law ( email )

3320 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
215-571-4714 (Phone)

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