Wolfman, Gregory (2019) Male femininities? The redefinition of men within neoliberalism. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Masculinity today is not the same as it was thirty years ago, with new concepts such as metrosexuality, hipsterism, and spornosexuality emerging as dominant images of man, and frequent lamentations that men today have become soft or effeminate – hence the “male femininities” of the title. While recent scholarship on nerd, metrosexual, hybrid and caring masculinities has examined these phenomena, in this thesis I suggest that they can be linked to the dominance of neoliberalism and neoliberal culture. I argue that an examination of the ways in which neoliberalism is gendered, and particularly how neoliberal subjectivity deploys a certain conception of femininity that conflicts with masculinity, elucidates many of the debates around the changing face of masculinity.

To this end, I use two methods: first, a critical discourse analysis of four US sitcoms – Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, and New Girl – and second, a discursive psychological analysis of interviews and focus groups with 16 men aged 18-30 based in different areas of England in which I showed them selected clips from the sitcoms to ascertain the discursive conflicts and negotiations between neoliberal and masculine subjectivities. I develop a typology of male subject positions in the sitcoms – postfeminist male singleton, douchebag, and the househusband – and examine three different interpretative repertoires from the focus groups and interviews, which I call advanced masculinity, outsider masculinity, and individualism. I find that both the sitcoms and the participants performatively rejected masculinity, often doing so by exhibiting or endorsing what I have called “hollow femininity”, a version of femininity that detaches context and definition from the concept of femininity. These performative rejections, I argue, give way to an enduring fear of being labelled feminine, indicating masculinities might have substantively changed only for the sake of survival.

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