Engendering Men: Masculinity and the History of Design

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In the introduction to one of the first volumes to address the relation of men to feminist criticism, written by a group of male literary critics, two American academics, Joseph Boone and Michael Cadden expressed exasperation that men were rarely seen as gendered subjects but rather masculinity appeared to be “transhistorical and genderless.” Any attempt to interrogate masculinity’s sphinx-like status was generally seen as inherently flawed and, Boone and Cadden concluded, “male critics may want to retheorize our position within patriarchal culture, [but] our efforts at engendered self-clarification cannot help but be complicated by our access to male privilege.” The advent of emancipatory political movements in the 1960s-70s, especially Second Wave Feminism and its critical reframing of gender as socially constructed as much as biologically determined, gave rise to a wave of critical writing about masculinity in the 1980s-90s which grew into an academic field of its own with theoreticians, schools, courses, conferences, key texts and even its own peer-reviewed journals (Men and Masculinities; Journal of Men’s Studies; Masculinities). It is widely accepted that few disciplines in the humanities have been left untouched by the “new politics of masculinity.” The study of design history, however, as it evolved in the same period sought to overturn heroic narratives and canonisation of individuals that placed men and male privilege at its centre, yet as a subject area it seemed largely unaffected by the widespread scrutiny of masculinity until only relatively recently. This paper offers a reflection on researching men as engendered subjects in the production and consumption of design, and suggests that today, even as long-held conceptualisations of cis-gendered masculinity are widely and openly questioned, most societies remain patriarchal in structure and the masculine in all its manifestations, from its fragility to its toxicity, necessitates sustained engagement and analysis more than ever before.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 25 May 2022
EventMasculinities in Design: Objects, Identities and Practices - University of Applied Arts, Vienna/Universtät für angewandte Kunst Wien, Vienna, Austria
Duration: 24 May 202225 May 2022


ConferenceMasculinities in Design: Objects, Identities and Practices
Internet address


  • Masculinity; design history; craft; fashion; textiles; gender; sexuality


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