Hegemonic Masculinity in Boys Don't Cry (1999)

By Renee S. Grozelle
2014, Vol. 6 No. 03 | pg. 2/2 |

Gendered Violence

When looking at gendered violence it is important to consider the configuration of gender practices within hegemonic masculinity (Messerschmidt, 1993; Jones, 2004). Gendered violence committed by men is “designed to control, dominate and express authority and power” (Kordvani, 2002, p. 2). In today’s society there is a growing connection between being a man and being violent. Violence associated with hegemonic masculinity, as a cultural norm, places pressure on men to use aggression as a method to solving problems.

The scene in the film, which occurs after John and Tom find out that Brandon is not biologically male, depicts gendered violence used as a way to assert their masculinity over Brandon (Goodey, 1997; Prest, 2012). After Brandon is exposed as a female, John and Tom bring Brandon to an abandoned parking lot where they viciously beat and rape him (Peirce, 1999; Swan, 2001). The two men use rape and abuse as a way to re-enforce their masculinity, making Brandon take a submissive ‘female’ role. Brandon’s sexuality is seen as a threat to the men’s position within their group and the use of gendered violence allows them to re-enforcing their control over women (Goodey, 1997; Siegel, 2003). The two men who rape Brandon are engaging in what has been labeled as “corrective rape,” which is described as the rape of a lesbian or trans women by a man to either punish her, or to ‘correct’ her sexual behaviour (Wood, 2011, p. 297).

The Amplification of Heterosexuality

Hegemonic masculinity, in Western culture, has caused the targeting of individuals who do not conform to heterosexual norms to become accepted and encouraged (Kordvani, 2002). San Francisco’s Community United Against Violence (CUAV) reported that out of 920 cases, of homophobic violence, committed in 1990, where the perpetrator’s gender was known, 92% were males (Herek & Berrill, 1992). This statistic is not surprising considering a number of theorists have linked hegemonic masculinity to heterosexuality and homophobia (Flood, 2007; Howson, 2006; Lusher & Robins, 2006). A central element of hegemonic masculinity is seeing women as sexual objects, used to provide heterosexual men with sexual validation (Donaldson, 1993; Happé & Hüsken, 2007). Hostility towards homosexuality is seen as fundamental in the construction of heterosexual masculinity which sees homosexuality as subversive and associated with effeminacy (Donaldson, 1993).

After John and Tom find out about the report filed by Brandon they get drunk and set out to kill him: Brandon is confronted by the two men at Candace’s house. John shoots Brandon in the head killing him, while Tom shoots Candace in the head in front of her infant child (Prest, 2012). John then stabs Brandon repeatedly in the abdomen before fleeing the scene (Peirce, 1999). The film ends with a camera heading down a deserted open road, representing the freedom Brandon sought his whole life, but never was able to achieve. Brandon was getting ready to go down that road with Lana to escape, minutes before he was executed (Siegel, 2003; Swan, 2001). Brandon’s experience, portrayed within the film, as a transgendered person, shows the restricting categories of gender that are produced and imposed on people by the wider culture (Fagot & Leinbach, 1993; Herz, 2007). In order for someone to be seen as a real ‘man,’ they must only show particular parts of their selves that are defined by society as ‘manly.’


The film Boys Don’t Cry shows the portrayal of a transsexual female who, in the end, was raped and murdered because of her unwillingness to become submissive in a world controlled by hegemonic masculinity (Kordvani, 2002). The dominant ideologies associated with hegemonic masculinity reinforce power to heterosexual men over those with differently abled bodies, women, homosexuals, and transsexuals (Goodey, 1997). These people, like Brandon, are deemed as ‘outsiders’ who become targets of social punishments (Butler, 1990). Violent hate crimes committed against the LGBTQ community are especially brutal. Like the murder of Brandon Teena, who was not only shot but stabbed multiple times, victims of homophobic hate crimes are targets of aggressive over-kill. Examples of aggression in the deaths of transgendered persons, by male attackers, can be seen in the deaths of Rita Hester and Barretta Williams. In December 1998, Rita Hester a male to female transgendered person was stabbed nearly 20 times in her apartment located in Boston, Massachusetts (Cuklanz & Moorti, 2009,). Less than a year later in July 1999, Barretta Williams was tied up, beaten and shot sixteen times in Chicago, Illinois (Stevens-Miller, 2000).

Although Brandon Teena was the first transgender murder to receive a large amount of media attention, it was not the last. In the winter of 2003 the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report (SPLCIR) noted the murders of 14 transgendered persons in the United States, and by the end of September 2003 another thirteen (Altschiller, 2005). The FBI reported a 13 percent rise in homophobic and transphobic violence from 2009 to 2010, and a 23 percent rise in the murders of LGBTQ people (Dixon et. al., 2010). When taking these statistics into consideration, it is important to note that hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals remain grossly un-reported (Herek & Berrill, 1992).

The social construction of homosexuality, like that of any other characteristic used to justify unequal treatment, has been placed into a category that is seen as threatening to notions of hegemonic masculinity. The rise in hate crimes against LGBTQ persons, as shown in the movie Boys Don’t Cry, is linked to the dominant heteronormative masculine ideologies present within society (Herek & Berrill, 1992; Messerschmidt, 1993). In order to properly address this inequality, we must first understand the misguided social perceptions. Whether it is the actions of a single person, or an entire town, discrimination at any level should not be tolerated. As suggested by Halberstam (1998), in order to address motivations of hate crimes, consideration should be given to transexuality and transgenderism, as presenting transgressive forms of masculinity, which disrupts the hegemonic norm.


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