William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


Jamie R. Abrams


Before an enraged gunman fired thirty-six deadly shots into an exercise class filled with women, on August 4, 2009, in Pennsylvania, he blogged that his killing spree was the result of his failure to meet society’s expectations of him as a man. This violent act tragically affirms that hegemonic masculinity — a dominant form of masculinity whereby some types of men have power over women and over some other men — can directly cause violence against women and reveals both an underlying connection between masculinities scholarship and feminist scholarship and the value in exploring that linkage further in both theory and praxis. This article examines the victories and collateral consequences of feminist law reforms challenging hegemonic masculinity as codified and perpetuated in the law. This article focuses on expressions of hegemonic masculinity in the family and the military — two institutions that occupy the theoretical feminist “front lines.” It concludes that feminist law reforms launched a foundational challenge to hegemonic masculinity through its domestic violence reforms. Yet these reforms also entrenched hegemonic masculinity in other ways by perpetuating gender stereotypes positioning all men as prone to violence and all women as vulnerable to victimization and displacing the men and women that function outside these binary constructs. These reforms also masculinized the state by positioning it as the surrogate masculine defender of women and of traditional families. While the domestic violence movement may have contemplated and mitigated these collateral consequences in context, this article examines a previously unexplored angle: how the further entrenchment of hegemonic masculinity migrated to impact women’s military integration. The momentum of feminist law reform successes criminalizing domestic violence in the family also advanced military integration advocacy, reforming military codes and policies to penalize violence against women. More notable, however, the domestic violence movement successfully contributed to women’s expanded access to combat positions, signaling the partial extraction of hegemonic expressions of male violence from the law more broadly — not just to protect women from violence, but to expand professional opportunities for women. But as the victory migrated, so too did the collateral consequences entrenching hegemonic masculinity; indeed they were compounded. Positioning the state as the surrogate masculine protector of women and of traditional families compounded in the military because it reinforced protectionist arguments opposing integration. This article concludes by examining the implications of this analysis to feminist theory and praxis. It recommends that feminism re-engage its narrative grassroots methodology to absorb more holistically the experiences of women who would wield strength, aggression, and violence in all its forms. This article considers how and why masculinities scholarship reveals the synergistic benefits of generating more complex and interconnected responses to violence against women, women’s violence, male violence, and male vulnerability.