Performing gender by performing music: constructions of masculinities in a college music scene.
Abstract: Using interview data from twenty-eight men performing in independent rock bands in a college music town, this study examines the consequences informal careers have on constructions of masculinities. First, musicians illustrate the ways in which musical commitment poses challenges to normative masculinities as they move into adulthood. In particular, parents, families, and peers regard musicianhood as lacking the attainment of full adulthood, as well as a lesser achievement of normative masculinity. Second, musicians illustrate the consequences of musical commitment, particularly how they negotiate and construct their masculinities within musical contexts. In general, men use musical worlds as a site to play with innovative gender identities, but continue to be bound by traditional assumptions of culturally-appropriate adult masculinities.

Keywords: masculinities, identities, musicians, informal careers, early adulthood
Article Type: Report
Subject: Masculinity (Social aspects)
Rock musicians (Social aspects)
Identity (Social aspects)
University towns (Social aspects)
Music (Performance)
Music (Research)
Author: Ramirez, Michael
Pub Date: 03/22/2012
Publication: Name: The Journal of Men's Studies Publisher: Men's Studies Press Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Men's Studies Press ISSN: 1060-8265
Issue: Date: Spring, 2012 Source Volume: 20 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs; 310 Science & research
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 295058322
Full Text: Once considered a purely adolescent pastime, music is now seen as having the potential to persist with people throughout the entirety of their lives. In Feminism and Youth Culture, for instance, McRobbie (1991, p. xv) suggests that music subcultures can alter life trajectories during adolescence "or at least ... sharpen their focus by confirming some felt, but as yet unexpressed intent or desire." Though she is referring primarily to young women's experiences, music can of course influence young men's lives similarly, and its influence can continue beyond adolescence to the adult years.

Other scholars have extended McRobbie's thesis by investigating the extent to which music influences other social processes in life (Bielby, 2004). Of particular interest is the way in which music influences identity throughout the life course (Kotarba & Vannini, 2009). While early theorists suspected adolescence was the prime time for identity development, recent theorists instead suggest that identity development is most critical during the early adult years (Arnett, 2007). While various identities can be easily tried out and just as easily discarded during adolescence, identities undertaken during early adulthood are typically more serious endeavors and have the potential to become lifelong aspects of adult identities. As a result, the testing out period in early adulthood, while still uncertain, is a critical point of identity development. It is during this period that young adults are beginning to solidify their adult status and make decisions on their career and family lives. As such, the transition from adolescence to adulthood is particularly key to understanding identity development and how commitments to work--in the case of this study, musical careers--are negotiated.

This article is part of a larger study on the life course transitions of men and women who participate in music culture as musicians. Here I focus on men's experiences, particularly factors that sustain or impede their investment in music and ways in which musical participation influences their gender identities in early adulthood. I first examine the perceived costs of masculinity in pursuing musical careers as men move into adulthood. I then analyze the consequences of these decisions, particularly how musical participation influences constructions of masculinities in early adulthood.

Central to this study is Connell's (1987; 1995) theoretical work on constructions of masculinities. Connell suggests not only that masculinities are fluid, but also that multiple constructions of masculinities exist simultaneously. Of these multiple constructions, hegemonic masculinity is the most valued set of attributes that men in a given culture seek to attain. It supersedes all other constructions of masculinities and femininities (Connell, 1987). Furthermore, its dominance is rooted in the organization of the world and culture. In other words, hegemonic masculinity exists in a particular construction in a particular gendered social order (Connell, 1995). In the contemporary US, hegemonic masculinity is comprised of a core set of governing traits, namely heterosexuality, economic privilege, power, authority, aggression, self-reliance, and emotional control (Mahalik et al., 2003). Subordinated masculinities, in contrast, are the multitudes of alternate constructions that lack some of the core characteristics of the most prized hegemonic forms of masculinities.

Two primary lines of literature provide the backdrop for this study: 1) the historically male-dominated and masculine culture of rock music and 2) theoretical perspectives on gender in the workplace. While few researchers have posited links between these lines of literature, I attempt to fit these perspectives together in framing this analysis.


Masculinities have long dominated a range of musical genres. Researchers find virtually all music subcultures, including hard rock, "alternative" rock, independent rock, heavy metal, and punk, to name a few, to be male dominated (Clawson, 1999; Cohen, 1997; Haenfler, 2006; Leblanc, 1999; Rafalovich, 2006; Walser, 1993). Rock music is structurally a male domain in particular (Cohen, 1997). First, numerically, men far outnumber women in rock scenes, comprising two-thirds to three-fourths of the population (Leblanc, 1999). Bands are often constructed with the explicit goal of the exclusion of women. Cohen (1997:21), for instance, describes the Liverpool rock scene as one created "apart from women." Second, norms (particularly in punk scenes) are highly masculinist (Haenfler, 2006; Leblanc, 1999). Appropriate styles of dress in musical subcultures are masculine, as are behavioral expectations. Everyday life in music scenes--instrumentation, expectations, and even language--is constructed as masculine. Third, men's domination of music also takes the form of their overrepresentation in business sector of the music industry (Cohen, 1997). Men fill a majority of positions in recording and distribution companies (Cohen, 1997). As a site of commercialized cultural production, previous research illustrates the extent to which the music industry is highly gender stratified.

Despite the male domination of rock music subcultures, musicians (and their fans) enact gender in a variety of ways. Musical performance often has the "both/and" quality of simultaneously affirming and challenging gender hierarchies. Cohen (1997) characterizes independent rock as exhibiting a range of masculinities. Men in these bands "suggest a masculinity that is rather soft, vulnerable and less macho, less aggressive and assertive, less threatening or explicit than that promoted by many styles of heavy rock and metal, rap, or funk" (Cohen, 1997:29). Similarly, Schippers' (2000; 2002) analyses of an alternative rock scene finds that gender equality is key to behavior norms in the subculture. Norms in this music scene challenge male privilege in public settings (Schippers, 2000). The primary outcome of this type of social organization is that both women and men are able to engage in gender maneuvering--strategies members use to transform the rock culture into one that is not sexist, or at least less sexist than other social arenas (Schippers, 2002). Essentially, music settings may allow people to do gender in new and alternative ways--that is to say, to construct new meanings and performances of femininities and masculinities. In these social worlds, music provides a fluid arena where multiple forms of gender performances are created and potentially legitimated.

In sum, scholars have demonstrated the ways in which music can complicate normative expectations of gender in some arenas and reinforce them in others. Music can instigate individual level change in participants, particularly in terms of behavior and identity. It can also alter, at least temporarily, the gendered interactional norms of behavioral settings. Thus, it can produce temporary or perhaps more permanent macrolevel effects in which gender norms are redefined and participants' identities are reconstructed.


The workplace has long been a center-point of men's constructions of masculinities (Rubin, 1994). Men have used the context and content of work itself to inscribe masculinity in their identities. Historically, men have used the workplace as a marker of masculinity with relative ease, as both high-status and labor-intensive jobs and occupations have long been stratified by gender (Schrock & Schwalbe, 2009). Professional socialization contributes to gender performances as well, as men learn not only the workings of their jobs, but also the appropriate masculinities in which to engage in those settings (Schrock & Schwalbe, 2009).

Men in labor-intensive, working-class positions can often easily frame their work as masculine. Construction work, for instance, includes an inherent element of on-the-job danger, thus increasing its masculine capital (Haas, 1977). Men working as bouncers at bars and nightclubs similarly highlight "bodily capital"--often an intimidating and potentially violent masculinity--as a requisite for this masculine-heavy line of work (Monaghan, 2002). Such jobs are saturated with masculinity, thus providing men opportunities to demonstrate components of hegemonic masculinity with relative ease.

Men in nonstandard occupations, however, face challenges unlike their counterparts in standard careers, often adopting a range of strategies to establish their masculinities on the job. First, many men must work to reframe their work as legitimately masculine. They often do so by highlighting the most masculine aspects of their work. They often emphasize authoritative duties and pay in attempts to reframe their jobs as authentically masculine (Pierce, 1995; Williams, 1995). In caregiving occupations, men downplay the emotional and caring aspects of their jobs to safeguard their masculine identities (Calasanti & King, 2007; MacLean & Rozier, 2009; Russell, 2007; Sargent, 2000; Schrock & Schwalbe, 2009). Instead, they underscore their mastering of new skills, as well as the gendered division of labor in their workplaces (Calasanti & King, 2007; Sargent, 2000). Others emphasize their entrance into and success in female-dominated careers as the result of their being self-made men (Ahmed, 2006).

The structure of work, of course, has changed in recent years, illustrated by the decline of manufacturing jobs and the growth of the service sector (MacDonald & Sirianni, 1996). Correspondingly, constructions of workplace masculinities have adapted to these wider economic changes in return. Service work is generally less explicitly masculine than manufacturing jobs. To safeguard their masculinities in these work settings, men service workers identify as "experts" while their women counterparts are seen as responsible for the "service" component of these jobs (Brandth & Hausen, 2005). In general, men in the contemporary workplace engage in compensatory behaviors to demonstrate their authentic masculinity on the job and, perhaps more fundamentally, to themselves (Sargent, 2000)

While researchers have studied masculinities in music, as well as in the workplace, very few have attempted to make sociological sense of the intersections between these social worlds: the construction of masculinities by men progressing toward musical careers. It is this void I attempt to fill with this research. Of the numerous questions that remain about the influence of participation in music and the construction of masculine gender identities, I attempt to answer two in this article. First, how are occupational decisions in music negotiated as men move into adulthood? Second, upon committing to music, how do men's nonstandard occupations bear on the construction of their masculinities, especially in light of the challenges musical careers pose to masculine identities?


The data for this research come from semi-structured, intensive interviews with twenty-eight men musicians living in one college music town with a nationally-reputable music scene. The musicians performed in independent rock bands. Their up-and-coming bands had a significant following and were either signed to small, independent record labels or were yet to be signed. I set inclusion criteria to limit my sample to musicians who were intently committed to musical careers. To be included in this study, musicians had to meet at least four of the following criteria: be a member of their band for at least nine months, be a member of a band that rehearses regularly (at least twice a month), be a member of a band that performs in public venues regularly (at least once every two months), be a member of a band that has gone on tour at least once, and/or have at least one album recorded and released to the public.

I recruited band members for interviews using two primary methods. I typically contacted the bands through their self-administered websites. The band members themselves were responsible for maintaining their websites, and I often corresponded directly with the band members themselves. In other instances, I approached the band members after their public performances. I attempted to interview all members of the bands, regardless of their instrument specialization.

The men ranged in age from 22 to 37, with most (21 of 28) having not yet reached age 30. Half of the musicians either had college degrees or were currently enrolled in college. A majority of the musicians came from middle class backgrounds, though a few suggested their families of origin were working class. None of the musicians made a living solely from performing music. To supplement their incomes, musicians worked white-collar jobs, service-sector jobs, and a few worked in music-production jobs. The musicians stressed that the pay they received for performing in their bands was miniscule and that their "other" jobs in the "real world" brought in a majority of their monthly income.

I constructed a life course interview schedule, asking musicians about the entirety of their lives from early childhood up to the present. I asked about the time frame and context in which they first became interested in music itself, as well as when they first started performing music. The musicians then walked me through their lives, tracing their experiences learning and often switching instruments, and participating in music and non-music related extracurricular activities. Throughout the interviews, the musicians discussed the extent to which music influenced their identities, in terms of gender, age, and their anticipated futures. Interviews lasted between fifty-five and two-hundred-ninety minutes in length, with the average interview lasting seventy-five minutes. I audio taped all interviews and transcribed them myself.

I used a combination of grounded theory and interpretive biography strategies in analyzing my data (Denzin, 1989; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). While I attempted to code my data broadly, I was attentive in my analysis to issues of transitioning to the early phases of adulthood, gender, identity construction, and aspirations for the future. The emergent themes in line with other related research included opportunities and constraints experienced over the life course, the ways in which participation in this world influenced their identities (and vice versa), and factors that influenced their persistence. Other recurring themes focused on the various tensions of pursuing music during the transition to adulthood. Of course, numerous unanticipated issues emerged as well. I focus on the most recurring of these themes in this article.


As I trace men's experiences in music as they move through early adulthood, I pay particular attention to two key issues. First, I examine the ways in which musical commitment poses challenges to normative masculinities. In particular, parents, families, and peers regard musicianhood as lacking the attainment of full adulthood, as well as a lesser achievement of normative masculinity. Second, I examine how the musicians negotiate and construct their masculinities within musical contexts. Musicians work to align their musical identities with appropriate constructions of masculinities. These two issues illustrate how expectations of "appropriate" masculine gender identities influence both the directions these men take as they move into adulthood and the rationales they use to defend their life choices.

Challenges to Musical Masculinities in Early Adulthood

As the men reached early adulthood, they contemplated the directions to take in terms of education, career, and music. While they did exhibit some diversity in their backgrounds, all of the men with whom I spoke were similar in their considering possibilities of pursuing musical careers in adulthood. As they deliberated their decisions, they were also confronted with the ways in which their musical career choices would potentially pose challenges to their attaining hegemonic masculinities.

One of the primary influences in reaching musical decisions bore on others' expectations of the men. Parents and other adults shaped the musicians' ideas of what constituted an appropriate adult career. Such influences from individuals central to the musicians' lives became more frequent and impressive as they aged. Some men highlighted the tension between their chosen careers in music and their parents' expectations of them. Owen discussed at length the impact of adult family members on his decision to pursue music as a career. He cited his mother's former profession in music:

In contrast to other studies that illustrate how women's career histories can provide a supportive network for sons to try out nonstandard occupations (LaRocco, 2007), Owen's history illustrated a counter argument. His mother's experiences seemed to trigger his pursuing a more normative avenue himself. Although he had been able to make a "decent" living off music in the past, Owen's anxiety carries on to this day. Parental warnings coupled with norms of adulthood exacerbated musicians' doubts as to whether music was an appropriate path to adulthood. The musicians' stories also illustrate how these tensions are coupled with social class. On one hand, their middle class socialization encouraged them to appreciate and participate in artistic activities. On the other, as they grew older, they were expected to shed these interests and instead focus on more lucrative careers. They experienced a mounting pressure that maintaining a solidly middle class status is paramount to all else. A few musicians, such as Brandon, had family members prepping them for the family business at an early age. While he realized it would secure his status in the upper middle class, he knew that music "would be one of the sacrifices that [he] would have to make." To risk losing status and security at the expense of an artistic career is--or should be--too big of a risk for the men. And for some, it is, as exemplified by their surrendering their musical interests.

For other musicians, parental tensions arose in other ways. During the early college years, a majority of the musicians' parents not only accepted their sons' pursuits of music, but took pride in them as well. As the musicians neared graduation, parents fearful of their sons' continued pursuit of music attempted to steer them back to conventional paths of normative adulthood. For a number of musicians, the parental advice was direct. Those who decided to quit school to devote themselves to music were typically warned to not ask parents "for a damn thing." Roger's predicament was similar. Upon finishing college:

My dad was like, "Get a job. Get a job now. You're a college graduate. Get a job."

Even musicians who were several years into their post-collegiate life still wrestled with their parents' expectations. Adrian admitted that he contemplates abandoning music:

In reaction to these situations, musicians attempted to simultaneously accede to their parents' wishes while continuing their devotion to music. Roger took his father's advice and got a "regular" (i.e., white collar) job, although one he was overqualified for as a college graduate. These attempts by parents to veer musicians to conventional pathways were simultaneously attempts to shift men back to normative, traditionally wage-earning traditions of masculinity.

The breadwinner status has historically been a defining marker of hegemonic masculinity (Kimmel, 2011). And true to form, the wage-centered masculinity was internalized in many of the men's lives. Furthermore, the tension between pursuing music over other more stable jobs was a daily stressor for most musicians. When the men disclosed their hesitations to fully pursue music, they typically framed their hesitations in economic terms. They questioned whether the self-fulfillment they gained from music overweighed the minimal economic compensation they could expect to receive. Economic limitations of music seemed to threaten men's identities, as masculinity has historically been "measured by a paycheck" (Gould, 1974). Men musicians were concerned with the disadvantage their pursuing music may have not only on their economic futures, but also on their masculine gender identities.

Last, the potential economic consequences of musical careers were even more apparent for men who were married and/or had children, as well as for those who believed they may want to have children at some point in the future:

Men in comparable situations struggled to come to terms with what path they should take. Notions of the archetypal family man prompted men to consider abandoning music for the sake of the family or, more specifically (since more men imagined the possibility of children than currently had children), for a potential family in the future. All in all, while men musicians felt unique in many ways from the average U.S. man, they nonetheless felt compelled to maintain the traditional role of the breadwinner. As other studies have illustrated, employment and fatherhood are "mutually reinforcing, for having children provides a motivation for dedication to employment, and supporting a family is crucial to successful fatherhood" (Sorensen & Cooper, 2010; Townsend, 2002:78). Contemporary fathers, musicians included, realize that being a "good father" means going beyond the role of economic provider, yet they continue to value contributions as the provider more than any thing else.

In general, normative masculinities influenced men's decisions as to whether to persist in music. The men highlighted various aspects of hegemonic masculinity as they made sense of their career decisions. On the whole, conceptions of a normative adulthood shaped men's career decisions and subsequent reactions in constructions of their masculinities. The economic implications of musical decisions weighed on men as well, as the potential for a less lucrative and less stable payoff may result. Finally, worries of starting and/or supporting a family inhibited men. These factors--all of which are bound to career and working life--are ultimately weaved with constructions of masculinities.

Adult Masculinities in a Musical World

In describing their coming of age within musical contexts, nearly all of the musicians with whom I spoke shared the impression that musical participation shaped their identities as men. As I illustrate next, their identities as musicians were often critical components in their constructions of masculinities. I also highlight the extent to which musicians strategically framed music as appropriately masculine in response to challenges

lenges of masculinities they experienced by others (as discussed in the previous section). Only a few of the men (6 of 28) regarded music as having no influence on their gendered lives, believing men musicians generally adhered to characteristics of hegemonic masculinity. They simply assumed music, though an interest in their lives, to be detached from their gendered senses of self. These conceptions of music's minimal influence on masculinities, however, were rare. Most men (22 of 28) instead believed music had soundly shaped their identities. These musicians expressed two variations of this theme: 1) musicians were categorically distinct in comparison to non-musician men or 2) musicians' masculine gender identities were innovative in some respects, but conventional in others. I discuss each in turn next.

About one-third of the musicians with whom I spoke (9 of 28) were consistent in their beliefs that men musicians have masculine gender identities wholly unique from other men in contemporary society. They believed musicians were a world away from non-musician men. Isaac felt that "there is something special about musicians." When pressed to pinpoint exactly what it was, Isaac believed it encompassed men musicians' entire lives--their identities, their interests, their goals, their perseverance, and their relationships. Others, such as Cliff, believed alternate constructions of masculinities "probably [have] something to do with creating art, similar to someone being a writer or an artist." He more pointedly suggested creative professions lend themselves to flexible ideas of gender. Indeed, a number of the men were critical of hegemonic conceptions of masculinity. Adrian said:

Music provided a safer context for these men to express their alternate (and subordinated) masculinities and to otherwise play with gender.

Almost half of the men (13 of 28) felt that they and other men in music scenes enacted a range of masculinities that incorporated both traditional and nontraditional qualities of masculinities. In discussing the complex mix of characteristics in men musicians' masculinities, most men with whom I spoke believed not only that men musicians exhibited a range of gender performances, but also that most enacted both hypermasculine and hyperfeminine attributes. They spoke of men musicians as comprising sets of dualities that, at first glance, do not seem reconcilable. The men described themselves, their band mates, and other musicians generally, as enacting normative and transgressive gender performances simultaneously. They characterized men who performed music as being "meatheads" but having meaningful lives, as being narcissistic but having intense empathy for others, as being selfish but anti-materialistic, and as adhering to normative masculine expectations while adopting feminine personas on stage. For many men, of whom Owen is one, they believed these contradictory dualities at play were typical of men who create art:

Owen's analysis of the contradictions in musicians' gender identities mirrors contradictory expectations faced by men in contemporary society. Particularly among musicians, accepting one's vulnerability is increasingly more acceptable for men today. In many ways, divulging one's vulnerability as a man (and doing so through music) may be a therapeutic solution for dealing with the unattainable demands of hegemonic masculinity. Masculinity, in this music scene in particular, seems to be constructed in opposition to hegemonic ideals of appropriate manhood (Connell, 1987).

Furthermore, there may be a payoff for such identity constructions. Other research has illustrated how gender conformity has different consequences for men and women on the job. In some contexts, men who enact cultural expectations of femininity may be regarded more positively than women who do so (Meltzer & McNulty, 2011). Such may similarly be the case for musicians. Their work requires a softer masculinity in which they "wear their hearts on their sleeve" through the emotional and artistic vulnerability inherent in their work. Men who perform music were, by and large, rewarded for nonconformist displays of masculinity.

The musicians with whom I spoke suggested the music world to be a site in which purposely playing with gender is standard. Men musicians "do" masculinity in non-normative ways. Some performed in makeup, in feminine clothing, and adopted androgynous personas on stage in other ways. Charlie liked the ways his band challenged gender:

Some musicians who wittingly enacted subordinate masculinity purposely did so in reaction to stereotypical images of men in rock. Marcus recognized male heterosexist sexuality as an historic core component of rock musicians. He believed it still to be the case today, although bands are increasingly playing with notions of gender and sexuality. For instance, he cited a local band in which the lead singer intentionally complicated ideas of masculine sexuality. He attended a show in which:

This singer was trying to "make people upset" by disturbing heteronormative expectations of male sexuality in rock culture. In other interviews, a number of men critiqued musicians who were in bands to increase their access to sex with women. While Marcus's example does parallel traditional enactments of sexuality on stage, it does so in a way that threatens ideas of hegemonic (heterosexual) masculinity. The singer, according to Marcus, was not intending to flirt with men in the audience, but rather to tease the boundaries of acceptable masculinity. The stage is literally a platform on which to engage in "gender maneuvering" and reshape the gendered order (Schippers, 2002).

Many musicians performed masculinity in contradictory ways. A number of men maintained a masculine front externally, but simultaneously highlighted their emotional vulnerability through music, two seemingly contradictory notions of their musical and gendered performance. Ben, whose band had a reputation of not taking themselves too seriously, consistently straddled the line between normative and novel masculinities. He emphasized the contradictory nature of his band:

Ben's performance in his band (both in terms of music, as well as in gender) complicated ideas of masculinity. While his band has a solidly masculine sound--loud guitars and aggressive rhythms--they also were critical of hegemonic masculinity. Likewise, their masculine performances were intended to be satirical critiques of hegemonic masculinity. While some men in female-dominated lines of work are "ironically feminine" (Robinson et al., 2011:42), musicians at times seem to be ironically masculine. In a site in which hypermasculinity has been the norm for generations, these musicians mimicked hegemonic masculinity in an attempt to reveal its fabrication.

Still other musicians framed men's gender identities in terms of their lifestyle and life pathways. A number of musicians contrasted their lives with their non-musician peers, focusing on distinctions between their working lives. Paul took stock of his life, saying:

Men explicitly tied masculine gender identity to their working lives. It is not simply that working in a different (musical) context made this population of men unique. More importantly, it was the impact working as a musician had on the development of their gender identities. Having a passion for the work one does positively contributed to men musicians' masculinities. It provided Andrew, as well as other musicians, with "a purpose for your life, something to live for, a reason to get up." While work has traditionally anchored men's gender identities, increasing numbers of men as of late distance their identities from the work they do (Williams, 1995). Among musicians, however, having a satisfying work life, one in which they are autonomous, creative, and self-directed, may ease the construction of a suitable and satisfactory masculine gender identity in comparison to non-musician men. Over half of the musicians felt fortunate to have a job that contributed to their selfhood in positive ways, speculating that men in other careers may not be equally satisfied in their jobs. This job satisfaction may be one avenue of fulfilling masculinity--they worked on their terms, doing work they enjoyed. They had more satisfying lives and were more fulfilled as gendered beings.

Other men used the milieu of music as a platform to construct normative masculinities for themselves. For instance, they credited their aggressiveness and determination as factors that led to their unrelenting pursuit of music, all of which implicitly paints their work in masculine hues. Some musicians portrayed career musicians as similar to men in professional careers. They did so by adopting a business-oriented approach to musicianhood. Many framed music as a "normal" career by highlighting the business approach required for success. Some felt like "real" musicians when they began making money off of their musical performance. Adrian remembered first internalizing the musician identity:

This economic trajectory continued once his rock band became more established and began earning income through record sales and touring. For Adrian and other musicians, earnings were tightly bound to his ideas of career and true musicianhood. For these men, the internalized identity as a musician was explicitly linked to economics. They identified as musicians when it was treated as a business, namely when others hired them for pay. Similar to workers in other contexts, they used wages as the axis on which recognition as a real worker rested. It is often challenging for those in positions with no direct or unsteady economic compensation to frame their work as "real" (DeVault, 1991). Despite the musicians' non-normative career contexts, they still use the established markers of work--namely direct economic compensation--as indicative of its legitimacy as "real" work. This construction may also allow men to construct for themselves a normative (wage-centered) masculinity which too may allow them to persist in what may otherwise be seen as an unstable, less masculine position.

In sum, musicians used musical milieus as a foundation on which to construct a range of masculinities. Most men used music to build new, innovative masculinities that challenged customary conceptions of appropriate manhood. Other men, in contrast, used their statuses as musicians to maintain normative masculinities, thus reinforcing the construction of masculinity as wage centered and independent. While the music world is a site in which men may feel freedom to play with gender, they have been historically constrained by normative masculinity, expected to perform it in a particular manner. Their masculinities intertwined aspects of both hegemonic conceptions with their subordinated innovations. As a result, they simultaneously reaffirm and challenge normative constructions of true masculinity.


In this article, I sought to uncover how the life course unfolds for men pursuing musical careers. In general, as men reached early adulthood, they experienced constraints and stresses that prompted them to question their commitment to music. These stressors centered on the subordinate masculinities others saw resulting from pursuing music, as well as the inherent economic instability of musical careers that would further curb their masculinities. However, after circumscribing these obstacles, the men successfully negotiated viable masculinities within these musical worlds. They came to value constructions of masculinities that were subordinated in other contexts. They also ultimately framed the musician masculinity as consistent with many hallmarks of hegemonic masculinity. Their lives illustrate the numerous ways in which musicians used music as a literal and figurative stage on which to play with gender in new ways.

This study makes several contributions to the study of masculinities and gender identity development during early adulthood. First, this study reveals the internal contradictions within men's middle class socialization. While other research finds middle class athletes to opt out of sports to pursue more stable and lucrative careers in adulthood (Messner, 1989), such is not the case for the middle class musicians with whom I spoke. Instead, they persist in their drive for musical careers, despite having alternative and more lucrative options from which to choose (with college degrees and credentials in hand, no less). These dilemmas of resolving musical career aspirations may be partly the result of contradictory middle class socialization. Like other middle class boys in the US, the musicians were encouraged to explore a range of activities and possibilities early in life to attempt to find their "true calling." Through such explorations, the men discovered and ultimately committed themselves to musical participation. However, upon reaching early adulthood, they are expected to disengage from music and commit to stable middle class occupations. The pursuit of non-standard career tracks, such as music, is sanctioned, particularly when it threatens one's middle class status.

As key agents of socialization, parents hold expectations for their children's futures that especially complicate men's commitment to music. Though parents initially support their sons' interests in music, they become wary of musical performance as a route to adulthood. Instead, a majority of the men's parents expect (or hope) their sons to grow in adulthood pursuing normative careers. Furthermore, the economic toll of committing oneself to music is personally taxing on the men. Masculinity has been historically tied to the economic role, and men musicians feel delinquent from other men in this way. Collectively, these factors prompt men to consider leaving music for a more traditional lifestyle and hence a more normative masculinity.

Men musicians, however, generally resolve the tensions of adulthood with success. Internally, they are self-actualized in their career choices and fulfilled in their life choices. Their identities and life decisions, however, require regular maintenance. They continue to have tension with parents, families, and even themselves as they forge ahead in their musical careers. Theirs is a perpetual attempt to stake their claim as bearers of appropriate adult masculinities.

Second, this study illustrates ways in which career aspirations are organized by constructions of valued masculinities. This research dovetails with work by other scholars who have examined men in contexts that challenge hegemonic masculinity (Kahn et al., 2011). Similar to research on men's success in college settings, musicians' lives demonstrate the extent to which men with flexible enactments of masculinities may succeed not only in college contexts that require some degree of fluid masculinity (Kahn et al., 2011), but also in musical contexts in which cooperation is warranted. As is the case with successful college men, musicians encompass a more flexible masculinity that lends itself to collaborative endeavors such as working, performing, and networking for bands. This study illustrates the ways in which aspiring to and attaining hegemonic masculinity may be difficult, if not unfeasible, for those on nonstandard career paths. Furthermore, it suggests that the refusal of hegemonic masculinity may be key to men's persisting in nonstandard occupations. Men in these lines of work may instead be invested in attaining other social-psychological and intrinsic rewards via their careers.

Third, this study extends work on the maintenance of masculinities among men on nonstandard occupational paths. Similar to men in female-dominated lines of work, committed musicians work to defend their masculinities in musical occupations by framing their work in masculine tones (Ahmed, 2006: Calasanti & King, 2007; Henson & Krasas Rogers, 2001; Pierce, 1995; Russell, 2007; Sargent, 2000; Williams, 1995). Though theirs is a world dominated by men, the context of their work does not lend itself to hegemonic masculinity. For one, musicianhood does not provide a steady income. It also includes an emotional aspect of work via songwriting that requires the disclosure of emotionality. As such, many musicians--similar to men in other nontraditional lines of work--emphasize the masculine aspects of their work (Williams). In particular, some men suggest a business sensibility to be key to success in the music world. It is no different than requisites for success in any other line of work, according to the musicians. As such, they reframe their work as analogous to men in traditionally valued professions, which in turn reframes their masculinities as consistent with mainstream masculinities.

Men in music participate in a complex and somewhat contradictory set of practices as they construct their masculine gender identities through their work as musicians. They engage in some conventional masculine behaviors while avoiding others (Evans & Frank, 2003), such as asserting their "self-made man" status as musicians while blurring lines of heteronormative sexuality. Doing so enables them to downplay their status as anomalies and simultaneously assert a normative masculine gender identity. Ultimately, despite the musicians' challenging hegemonic masculinity, they simultaneously "collaborate in sustaining" its supremacy by essentially reifying the traditional markers of hegemonic masculinity (Connell, 1987, p. 185).

Some limitations to this study are worth noting. First, the population of musicians examined was somewhat heterogeneous. A majority came from middle class backgrounds, and most were in the early part of adulthood. While my data were extensive, they were essentially a snapshot of men's lives in early adulthood. While the musicians with whom I spoke did express a commitment to persist in music for the entirety of their lives, their mid-adult outcomes are not captured in this study due to the age of the study's participants.

Future research should extend this work. Studying a population of musicians from backgrounds other than the middle class would further illustrate how social class impacts the entirety of musicians' lives, including their career prospects in adulthood. Examining musicians beyond the young adult years would be insightful, as to illustrate how transitioning into full adulthood may influence careers later in life. Last, scholars should examine other nonstandard careers to uncover the extent to which gender identity construction and aging are similar across a range of other nontraditional work choices.

In conclusion, through their participation in creating and performing music in bands, men experimented with new forms of masculinities, and several have been playing with gender for many years of their lives. During adolescence, many of them avoided the established route to adolescent masculinity. Instead, they opted for a more arts-centered and, for some, softer masculinity. As they transitioned to adulthood, they continued to test out alternate forms of gender, sometimes intentionally and other times without much thought. They have created and are secure in their constructions of masculinities that often blend what they see as the most beneficial aspects of hegemonic masculinity with normative femininity. In sum, men's experiences over the life course provided them with both opportunities and constraints (though more of the former than the latter) that enabled them to seriously consider pursuing music as a vocation during adulthood. At the same time, they learned appropriate gender identities within this subculture, as well as ways to manipulate gender in ways that led to the construction, display, and pride in masculinities in which they were most comfortable.


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MICHAEL RAMIREZ, Department of Social Sciences, Texas A&M University--Corpus Christi.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Michael Ramirez, Department of Social Sciences, Texas A&M University--Corpus Christi, 6300 Ocean Drive, Unit 5826, Corpus Christi, TX 784125826. Email:

DOI: 10.3149/jms.2002.108
I think it's important to remember that my morn gave up a career in
   the opera to raise two kids. So the behavior that I saw modeled for
   me was that music was an impracticality and that you should not
   dwell on it too much because it will distract you from the really
   important business of making a living.... It's a constant struggle.
   A foot in two worlds. Impractical for all society's messages you
   get from parents, teachers, vocational counselors, grandparents:
   the music is a luxury. There's no way to make a living, so you tend
   to second guess the impulse as a musician. And also you don't allow
   yourself the luxury of enjoying some of it. I see that behavior in
   my band members when we travel. They forget to have fun because
   they've been told that what they're doing is stealing away from
   their responsibilities by deciding to be creative. "This is
   irresponsible. It's indulgent." The thing is, I made a fairly
   decent living, not a great living, but a decent living in [my
   previous band], so I've seen that it's possible to make a living as
   a musician ... It's hard to help people see [that it's possible]
   when they've got twenty plus years of their parents telling them,
   "Music is not a career. Art is not a career."

Every day. I phone my dad about twice a week. And in some way, it
   always comes up in every conversation. Maybe not directly, maybe in
   just tone or something. Just the ever-looming call of reality. It's
   definitely there. There's always the feeling of impending doom and
   you've got to regroup and do something practical.

I think I want to have kids, but I don't want to do it right now.
   And [my family] see[s] music as an impediment to that because of
   the lack of financial security in being a musician. So yeah, the
   pressure exists.

I really hate it when men come across in a very masculine way. At
   least in the mainstream culture, you get so much of that where
   things have to be so masculine. Anyone who flirts with the notion
   of femininity, they are laughed at in our culture.

I think that is the essential duality of being a rock and roll
   musician. That's what makes the best rock and roll musicians great.
   It's that combination of toughness and vulnerability. That duality
   intrigues people and draws them in because they are experiencing
   that on their own. And then when you're a teenager, you're
   overflowing with emotions, and you feel both like your balls weigh
   five pounds each, but also that you just want to be loved by
   someone. That's rock and roll in a nutshell. I think that [my band]
   is the most overpowering, heavy band, and it's very masculine.
   We're all pretty much guy guys.... But we also feel things really
   intensely. Every one of us has wrestled with depression, and every
   one of us has wrestled with anxiety, and every one of us wants more
   than anything to be with someone who loves us and to be safe in the
   world. But part of being in [my band] is understanding that you're
   never really safe. Life is a constant struggle against irrelevance,
   against superficiality, against being co-opted and sucked into a
   life that doesn't allow you to completely be who you are. So I
   think that both of those stereotypes, they are both completely
   wrong and absolutely right.

I don't think intentionally the dudes in [my band] say, "We're
   going to present ourselves this way and write songs like this [in a
   non-normative way]." ... But at the same time, what I think is cool
   about [my band] is there is sort of that sexy, androgynously thing
   that maybe fosters some comments or at least gets people talking
   about it, or even thinking about it.

The singer would come into the audience and sort of just feel up on
   guys. Not to say that he was gay, but [he would do it] just because
   the guys were uncomfortable with that. And that's entertaining.
   That's what he's trying to do. He's trying to make people upset.

A lot of [my band] is very much the masculine, power riff end of
   the spectrum, [but] it's very tongue-in-cheek.... It's all done
   with a sense of humor.... I've never been like genuinely, "Let's
   write a 'dude song.'" And you know that would be funny, if we wrote
   a "dude song." We would do it intentionally--because it's
   funny--not because we're tough.

I turned thirty this year, and I had to think about: I'm not gonna
   go back to school, and I don't have a future plan other than I want
   to play music. If I wasn't doing that, I would probably be very,
   very unhappy. I would probably be doing what I'm doing now, working
   at whatever kind of jobs [I could find], but without the additional
   comfort and outlet of music.... I probably wouldn't have left my
   hometown, like a lot of the people I went to school with. So I feel
   like a success story on that level. Even though I don't really have
   a career, I'm a lot happier than I would've been if music hadn't
   come along.

When people were actually calling me to come play jobs for money. I
   started doing musical theater, playing bass for orchestras [in high
   school]. I guess when I started getting a paycheck.
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