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The Man Box

The dominant masculine construct has been defined by researchers as hegemonic or hierarchical masculinity, as men are marginalized if they do not perfectly fit the prescribed notion of what a "real man" is or does. Because no man perfectly fits the definition, all men are harmed by hegemonic masculinity.

Hegemonic masculinity has been described by Mark Greene (2013) and others as the "Man Box." The metaphor of the Man Box allows us to see the limiting nature of the construct. The Man Box is a structure, something that boys learn at an early age that they need to fit in to. The central premise of the Man Box is that if you don't fit in, you're not a "real" man, and not being a real man carries a heavy social price. Boys learn that they need to prove they fit in the box, and as they grow into men they realize they have to continually prove their worthiness as men throughout their lives.

The frame of the Man Box is made up of comparison, competition, and performance among men, by men, and for men. Because it is a hierarchy, men compete against one another in subtle and obvious ways to prove who is the winner, the "man," or the "alpha." Men who are not the alpha are "dogged" by male peers — and sometimes by women — for not being manly. The glue and nails of the framework are feelings of shame and inadequacy, the belief that they are not good enough to be a real man.

Covering the framework of the man Box are society's perceptions of what it means to be a real man, including limited emotional expression, being aggressive, tough, and strong. Young men learn to see this covering as the ideal of masculinity, one that is popularized in action movies, video games, in sports, and in other forms of popular culture.