News & Politics

Professor Slams 'Hegemonic Masculinity' of Homeless Men

A feminist professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada recently published a book chapter documenting the myriad ways homeless men allegedly perpetuate “hegemonic masculinity” while discussing their hardships.

The book chapter, “When a Man’s Home is Not a Castle: Hegemonic Masculinity Among Men Experiencing Homelessness,” was published last Wednesday by Professor Erin Dej, in a book she co-edited on patriarchy in psychiatric wards and homeless shelters.

The goal of her research, she explains, was to “assess the ways hypermasculinity is performed among men experiencing homelessness.” And to do this, Dej interviewed 27 homeless men and spent and additional 296 hours spying on them in homeless shelters.

While research on vulnerable people typically requires informed consent and approval by an ethics board, it is unclear if Dej sought this. She declined to comment on this when emailed by PJ Media, and her research makes no mention of ethics review.

During interviews with homeless men, Dej claims she learned that many aspire to “hegemonic masculinity,” which she defines as the type of masculinity that serves to “fortify the dominance of men” and ultimately “subordinate women.”

However, she finds that it is difficult for homeless men to achieve this. Without the trappings of a successful life — such as a home or a career— many men instead develop what Dej refers to as “compensatory masculinity” to cope with their failed status.

This type of masculinity is worse than hegemonic masculinity, though not yet as bad as toxic masculinity, and it involves men “emphasizing whatever hypermasculine traits they can within their stratified social status” to the detriment, allegedly, of women.

Throughout her paper, as she writes up her research findings, Dej ridicules these men for everything from reinforcing gender stereotypes, to refusing to show emotion, to talking about how their ex-wives stole money from them.

For example, “Julien,” a homeless 45-year old man with severe anxiety was accused by Dej of perpetuating stereotypes when he confessed that “I’m ashamed that I have problems. Like, guys in our society are not supposed to have problems.”

Dej also interviewed “Ron,” a 41-year-old homeless man with depression and PTSD. Ron used various drugs to cope with his mental health issues, and by age 41, this had taken a heavy toll on him, causing breathing problems and muscle weakness.

“I walked down the street and, like, a little girl could have killed me. That’s how weak I was,” Ron told Dej during an interview. Extrapolating from this comment, Dej then suggested that Ron somehow views women en masse negatively.

“For Ron, the feminine subjectivity acts as the ultimate exemplar of physical weakness and the most absurd hyperbole of who constitutes a threat,” Dej wrote in her essay. She opines: “He has failed to live up to the basic tenets of hegemonic masculinity.”

Not surprisingly, Dej writes that the only alternative for these men is to become more emotional, insofar as men should “confront, display, and work through their emotions, adding to the complexity of what it means to be masculine.”

But even men who are open about their emotions are problematic. If a man opens up about his emotions, Dej laments that it still allows “masculinity to prevail without necessarily challenging the patriarchal foundation upon which it rests.” Catch 22.

Professor Dej declined to comment. According to her CV, she has been awarded at least $185,000 by the Canadian government to research homelessness since 2009, and she notes that this new study is an outgrowth of her previous research.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.