The homosocial construction of alternative masculinities: men in indie rock bands.
Abstract: This study explores the construction of masculinities and homosocial relationships within alternative subcultures. Through in-depth interviews, I researched men in "indie" rock bands that were redefining homosocial relationships in order to construct alternative masculinities within the indie rock subculture. The study's findings demonstrate that while the men upheld certain hegemonic gender norms inside and outside the scene, within the subculture they report constructing alternative masculinities through homosocial interactions and gender strategies involving their bodies and performances. This study provides an example of how gender is fluid within specific social locations and contexts. Furthermore, it emphasizes the idea that multiple masculinities are constructed within society and that homosocial relations can be places for challenging hegemonic masculinity rather than reinforcing them.

Keywords: hegemonic masculinity, homosociality, bodies, gender, sub-culture
Article Type: Report
Subject: Masculinity (Social aspects)
Subculture (Research)
Men (Social aspects)
Rock groups (Social aspects)
Alternative rock music (Social aspects)
Author: Houston, Taylor Martin
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: 295058325
Full Text: Homosocial relations among men have been identified as spaces for defining, maintaining, and redefining what it means to be a man. Researchers like Kimmel (2006) acknowledge that men construct and measure their manhood in relation to one another. According to Bird (1996), homosocial relationships are the social interactions, strategies, and desires maintained among men, where gender meanings are "socially shared" and either "reinforced" or "weakened" (p. 121) to uphold the power structure. Homosocial interactions are recognized as key in the maintenance of the hegemonic form of masculinity in U.S. society (Bird; Lipman-Blumen, 1976; Sedgwick, 1985).

Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) define hegemonic masculinity as "the currently most honored way of being a man, it require[s] all other men to position themselves in relation to it; and it ideologically legitimate[s] the global subordination of women to men" (p. 832). Contemporary Western definitions of appropriate and valued qualities of masculinity include an emphasis on strength, competition, violence, prestige, rationality, heterosexuality, sexualization of women, homophobia, and suppression of emotion (unless it is anger). While this version of masculinity remains the norm within society, it is not static or essential.

Given the unstable nature of hegemonic masculinity, multiple masculinities are constructed within society (Kimmel, 2006). Certain subcultural settings are known to be conducive to groups of men enacting alternative masculinities. These sites include: the arts, music, literature, and film world; gay, drag, and erotica lifestyles; skateboarding; wind surfing; and certain environmental movements (Beal, 1996; Cohen, 1997; Connell, 1997; 2005a; Hawkins, 2009; Hennen, 2008; Schippers, 2002; Taylor & Rupp, 2005; Wheaton, 2000). While these arenas do reinforce hegemonic masculinity in many ways, they also allow men to be creative and socially active in ways regarded as feminine or un-masculine in the larger culture. Although the contemporary norms concerning "feminine" characteristics are also in constant flux, for the sake of this article they are described as socially constructed behaviors and performances that uphold the gender dichotomy through such qualities as: expressing emotions such as caring, joy, sadness, anxiety, and fear; being openly affectionate with peers; maintaining stylized/fashion forward dress codes that accentuate the body; engaging in beautification practices like styling one's hair and adorning the body with accessories; and performing activities that sexualize the body and draw the gaze of onlookers. By incorporating these conventional feminine characteristics into the enactment of their masculinity and homosocial relations with other men, male participants in certain subcultures and social settings are challenging hegemonic masculine norms (Barber, 2008; Hawkins, 2009; Henson & Rogers, 2001; Schippers, 2000). One group that has embraced an alternative masculinity is the men of indie rock bands in North America. This study investigates the reasons behind indie rock men's construction of alternative masculinities, the ways they reinforce and challenge hegemonic notions of masculinity, and the manners in which they report engaging in and redefining homosocial practices. These men and their reported enactments of alternative masculinity and homosociality in a largely male-dominated subculture call into question previous findings that homosociality is solely a mechanism for reinforcing hegemonic masculinity. Therefore, I will argue that there are certain homosocial locations and contexts that can help produce alternative masculinities that reject notions of hegemonic masculinity.


Bannister (2006) defines indie (independent) rock as "a post-punk subgenre of independent or alternative rock, featuring mainly white, male groups playing mainly electric guitars, bass and drums ... to primarily white, male audiences, recording mainly for independent labels, being disseminated at least initially through alternative media networks ... and displaying a countercultural ethos of resistance to the market" (p. 57). Additionally, even though there is an increasing number of female fans and female fronted bands, the indie rock scene is still predominantly made up of male artists and patrons and thus a prime location for male homosociality. Another defining characteristic of indie rock is that it created autonomy for musical artists from corporations and mass marketing influence (Hesmondhalgh, 1999). The genre of indie rock emerged from many different forms of music over time, and in the 2000s has become a melting pot of musical influences. Leading away from more mainstream attitudes and record labels of the early 1990s and taking back the D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) approach pioneered by Minor Threat and later Fugazi and Pavement, the indie rock bands of the late 1990s and 2000s, such as Jawbreaker, Braid, The Faint, Mineral, At the Drive In, American Football, and Of Montreal have drawn back on the core sounds of their 1980s predecessors and autonomous notions of music.

The autonomy constructed within the indie rock subculture provides a space for male rockers not only to defy mainstream music industry norms concerning sound and promotion, but also to challenge hegemonic constructions of masculinity. In conjunction with autonomy, Battersby (1989) argues that notions of romanticism have allowed artists in general, especially 'feminine males,' to be valued for their "capacity to express their own feelings and imaginings" and for their "uniqueness and individuality" (p. 13) by the audience. The notion of romanticism, developed in the 18th century by male, elite scholars, is used to describe the genius behind both cultural and scientific creativity of men. Romanticism allows men the ability to appropriate traditionally defined female qualities like passion, imagination, and emotion as essential and necessary to the production of their art and to the separation from the mainstream. In the process however, romanticism also normalizes male creativity causing female artists to be identified as Other, thus maintaining gender inequality. The male indie rockers in this study do acknowledge upholding hegemonic masculinity in some respects. However, by taking advantage of the autonomy and romanticism provided to them within the indie rock scene, the artists also report constructing alternative masculinities through the use of traditionally "feminine" forms of fashion/style and physical displays of affection toward other men; the open expression of feelings in their songs and relationships with other men; and the outright rejection of hypermasculine attitudes and behaviors. Most significantly, these men report maintaining alternative masculinities through homosocial relations with other men.


A wealth of research has identified how men construct and reinforce hegemonic masculinity through homosocial practices (Bird, 2006; Lipman-Blumen, 1976; Sedgwick, 1985). Kimmel (2006) reports that homosociality among men has been prevalent throughout American history, symbolized through organizations like the Free Masons, the Boy Scouts, and fraternities. Scholars recognize certain behaviors as important in the construction of homosocial relationships, including men giving advice to friends on maintaining bachelorhood, sexist joking, and homophobia (Britton, 1990; Flood, 2008; Lyman, 2008). In addition, Kiesling (2005) points to the way men use indirect language, like talking about sports, to engage in homosocial behaviors; and Flood (2008) looks at how men in military academies construct a homosocial culture by prioritizing male-male relationships and engaging in competitive (hetero)sexual behaviors and storytelling.

Researchers have also looked at homosociality within subcultures. For example, West (2001) looks at drinking subcultures among men in fraternities and the U.S. Navy, and Singleton (2003) identifies men's church groups as spaces that are free of women and homosexuals and thus conducive for male bonding, competition, and recreational heterosexuality. Bannister's (2006) research on indie rockers in the 1980's and early 1990's found that the homosocial relations among men in bands were constantly in conflict, in their effort to uphold hegemonic norms. He argued that "the indie ideals of autonomy and independence, defined through a limited musical style ... are inherently masculinist;" and that the influences of the mass media and the fear of selling out, as well as "the presence of an audience, or women, highlights problems with homosocial bonds between men--specifically, the latent homosexuality and other suppressed emotions within male-male bonding" (Bannister, 2006, p. 92). For Bannister these problems are central to why so many indie bands break up. In contrast, I contend that within the new generation of indie rock men, the homosocial environment has the potential to lead the men to embrace alternative masculinities that are based on and produce more harmonious homosocial relations. In particular, these homosocial interactions allow the men to express rather than suppress their affection and emotions toward other men and support their construction of alternative masculinities.


Researchers attribute homosociality to men doing masculinity, which allows hegemonic ideals to become internalized individually, in group situations, and institutionally (Bemiller, 2005; Bird, 2006; Kendall, 2000; West & Zimmerman, 1987). Hierarchical relationships among men are identified as essential in the maintenance of masculinity. Connell (2005a & b) points out that by doing masculinity, a strict code of behavior and emotion is enforced among men, creating many problems for those who are unable to uphold the masculine ideal. Such constraints limit the full potential for how men may act, socialize, and affect the world around them.

When doing masculinity, bodies figure importantly into the displays of gender performed by men, especially in the case of indie rock men. Gender and masculinity theorists have focused on the body as a "vessel" for doing gender and reinforcing gender norms. Butler (2006) identifies how social ideals construct boundaries based on the binary sex norm that are used to maintain the "surface politics of the body," rendering it a "passive medium" (Butler, 2006, pp. 175, 185). Men and women adamantly work to uphold body politics through superficial bodily displays of normative gender practices, such as working out, dieting, maintaining a fashion sense, undergoing plastic surgery, and wearing makeup (Acker, 1990; Alexander, 2003; Butler, 2006; Dworkin & Messner, 1999; Georgakopoulou, 2004). However, Butler (2006) also states that when an individual's gender performance does not coincide with their sex, "dissonance" is formed identifying "a fluidity of identities that suggests an openness to resignification and recontexualization" (p. 187). Thus, when socially "appropriate" masculine behaviors are not upheld by the body, causing the performativity of being a man (or woman) to be highlighted and the notion that gender is static and innate to be problematized, then opportunities for change are created.

Research also presents the experiences of men in unconventional locations and cultures, and their effects on the men doing masculinity. Studies identified alternative subcultures such as snowboarding, the punk rock scene, the southern rock scene, and rock climbing as places for men to construct hegemonic masculine norms (Anderson, 1999; Eastman, 2011; Leblanc, 1999; Robinson, 2009). At the same time, other alternative groups, such as the early 1990's alternative rockers and both past and present day british pop dandies, are reportedly rejecting the normative gender definitions of their societies (Hawkins, 2009; Schippers, 2000, 2002).

In a similar fashion, Bannister describes the 1980's early 1990's indie rock scene as less macho and misogynist and producing more androgynous performances by bands in comparison to its punk/rock predecessors. Yet he found that normative homosocial relations remained intact among the male performers. Along with Bannister, Cohen's (1997) research on indie rock bands in Liverpool found that participation in the scene provided men with opportunities to create close relationships with other men and engage in the public expression of emotions that were attributed as unmasculine by popular culture. Yet, she found that for the most part women were excluded from the scene and its activities; and that there were contradictory masculinities within the scene--traditional masculinities that upheld competition, status, and assertiveness, and alternative masculinities that presented emotional, insecure, and subversive behavior. In line with the previous authors, research by Haenfler (2006) concerning the straight edge scene found that while many of the politics behind the culture promoted progressive ideas about gender equality, the scene also supported contradictory masculinities, profeminist and hypermasculine, and women tended to be placed at the periphery and ignored. Other research on alternative music subcultures, like southern rock, goth, and metal, have also found a variety of contested masculinities (Eastman, 2011; Wilkins, 2004; Rafalovich, 2006).

As a final point, Connell (2005a) recognizes that different masculinities are constructed in opposition to the hegemonic masculine norm. While these alternative masculinities might not challenge the gender structure, they provide new characteristics that might become part of the dominant masculine norm over time. In line with Connell and Messerschmidt (2005), then, the indie rock men in my study remind us that hegemonic masculinity is not stable, but rather a constantly challenged concept that is susceptible to change.


I wanted to understand how my respondents constructed and negotiated their gendered identity in their roles as indie rock performers and participants in the indie rock subculture and as members of the larger culture. I wanted to explore how they felt about masculinity in and out of the indie scene and the intimate details of their relationships with other men. Thus, I conducted semi-structured, in-depth interviews because they could provide the rich data needed to address sensitive issues related to my participants' construction of gender and sexuality (Berg, 2004). This method provided me with detailed knowledge of how my respondents understand their gender performances; however, because I did not conduct ethnographic fieldwork, I am unable to confirm whether their self-reports fully match their genuine actions.

I have been an avid listener of indie rock music since childhood and have close friends who were and still are in indie rock bands. A large portion of my life consisted of my engaging with the indie rock scene. I was not just a fan but also the occasional merchandise representative (I sold cd's, buttons, and t-shirts) or promoter (passed out flyers) for a friend's band, which gave me a marginal insider status in certain situations. Drawing upon this status, I used convenience and then snowball sampling to contact my interviewees. With friends' and participants' help, in 2008, I contacted potential participants through email, phone, and face-to-face interactions at shows and parties, inviting them to participate in my study. While my attachment to a core group of indie rockers did provide me access into the subculture, it also influenced my preconceptions about the community at large. In order to seek perceptions of the indie rock scene outside of my own (which might contradict my assumptions), I chose respondents who I either never met before, had only seen on stage, or who were only connected to my social network superficially.

I interviewed fifteen indie rock musicians. My sample consisted of thirteen white men and two men of mixed Anglo and Hispanic ethnicity, with ages ranging from early twenties to early thirties. Thirteen were lead singers in their indie rock bands, and the other two were lead guitarists. All identified as heterosexual. I chose musicians because they personify the indie rock culture. Not only do these performers live the indie rock life on a daily basis (especially when out on tour), they also directly contribute to the scene's primary purpose, music and performance. Furthermore, because the musicians experience both the backstage and frontstage of the indie rock culture, they are better able to provide an in-depth perspective of the subculture and its politics that a casual fan/observer would not be able to offer. Finally, the musicians are the trendsetters for their fans and the social representatives of indie rock to the outside culture, making them key figures in understanding the essence of indie rock. I chose the traditional "front men," in particular, because they tend to be the spokesperson for the band and represent for fans and outsiders what the band and music scene stands for.

After I had transcribed my interviews, I began content analysis on my interviews. First, I used open coding to highlight and write down themes and categories that seemed important in the interviews (Berg, 2004). Once I was through with open coding, I developed themes that had come up in all or in several of the interviews. After identifying the most prominent themes that related to my study, I went over my interviews again using focused coding in order to identify quotes directly related to my themes. This extensive data analysis method allowed me to find the most relevant and rich information contained in my interviews regarding the issues on masculinity, homosociality, and the indie rock scene I am focusing on (Berg, 2004).

The men represented bands from the local indie rock scenes of two geographically close major southwestern cities. I chose local bands for two reasons, convenience and because, as Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) point out, local constructions of masculinity, especially hegemonic masculinity, can be essential links to understanding wider gender dynamics. By understanding how local subcultures provide places for men to construct their gender alternatively in relation to the local hegemonic masculine norm, better insight can be gained into how notions of masculinity might be redefined in society more generally. In addition, while there are regional differences within any subculture, local indie rock artists are influenced by national indie rock artists, open for national acts, and tour nationally; thus they have access to knowledge about how indie rock operates throughout North America and reflect the most recent and popular trends among indie rock men. Also, the two southwestern cities my respondents are based out of are nationally recognized hubs for music, and attract musicians and listeners from across North America to move to and visit specifically for music related reasons. These reasons include numerous music venues, festivals, conferences, and showcases, all of which support a musician friendly lifestyle. Therefore, while regional location is important to understanding music subcultures and masculinities, certain national characteristics can also be found within local contexts.


Two major themes emerged from my interviews. The first concerned indie rock men's reported construction of an alternative masculinity through the integration of elements of conventional masculinity and femininity. Related to this theme were the participants' use of role models, masculine characteristics, anti-masculine characteristics, feminine characteristics, and defiance to establish their masculinity. The second theme was the use of homosocial relationships to maintain this new masculinity. I found that the men reaffirmed their alternative masculinity through their relationships with other men in the indie rock scene.

Constructing Alternative Masculinities: Strategic Use of Masculinity and Femininity

The indie rock men reported using both masculine and feminine typed behaviors when constructing and performing their masculinity on stage and off. One practice they frequently used to construct their alternative masculinity involved drawing upon unconventional male role models. A majority of the indie rockers acknowledged that one or more of the influential men in their lives deviated from normative ideals of masculinity. They pointed out that these men had challenged them in some positive sense, allowing them to construct new ideas concerning masculinity. This was the case for Corey (24 yrs. old, lead singer). (1) When I asked him if he was influenced by any men in the indie scene who were breaking masculine norms, he said:

Other respondents also indicated that men who are "emotional" (Jaime--26 yrs., lead singer/guitarist) and who "walk that line of gay or straight," (Bailey--26 yrs., lead singer/keyboardist) had some influence on their own expressions of masculinity. Logan (24yrs., lead guitarist) enthusiastically explained his connection to men who challenged gender norms, when he stated:

By identifying with these men, some of whom maintained subordinate masculinities due to their open homosexuality, my participants stated they modeled their gender around alternative forms of masculinity that "push[ed] society's limitations" (Tristan--23 yrs., lead singer). Learning alternative socially shared meanings through interactions with these more effeminate men, the indie rockers encountered alternative definitions of being a man.

However, the indie rock men were influenced by traditional masculine norms as well. All respondents mentioned particular family members, such as a father, mother, uncle, grandfather, or wife as an influence on their construction of masculinity. Sociologists define the family as a normative institution that plays a large role in the construction of an individual's gender. In general, the family teaches boys and girls the normative gender ideals, thereby reproducing the hegemonic, binary gender system (Connell, 2005b). The indie men used labels like "responsible," "protector," "provider," "chivalrous," and "honorable" to characterize what their family role models taught them about how a man should act.

In line with these ideas, some of the participants also indicated that they performed traditional masculine behaviors in a strategic way to draw attention to themselves when they were playing music. In describing how he uses his masculinity on stage, Corey stated:

Corey reported gaining attention among his peers through the use of his physical and vocal power. Through intimidation, Corey was displaying the normative behaviors of his sex. Similar accounts from other artists described high-energy performances where acceptable forms of behavior were "guys jumping around together" (Sammy--25 yrs., lead singer/guitarist), "projecting strength" (Bailey), and "losing my shit on stage ... like ... some sort of raw animal" (Tristan).

Along with doing hegemonic masculinity at certain times in the indie scene, the rockers also described maintaining hegemonic norms outside of the scene. Jaime reported "like at work I think ... I keep some normal social roles up there, where it's like I'm the, acting like a man." Casey (29 yrs., lead singer/guitarist) acknowledged acting in traditional ways when interacting with women outside the scene "like, just taking care of women. Giving up your seat, opening doors." Adrienne also reported that in the past he and his friends had "do[ne] stupid things, like have like fight clubs and things like that." Outside the indie rock scene, my respondents were more likely to uphold the hegemonic norms of masculinity such as strength, responsibility, chivalry, and violence. Their actions correspond to West and Zimmerman's (1987) research on "doing gender," and uphold the practices that reinforce hegemonic masculinity as the dominant gender norm for men (Connell, 2005a).

While the men's reported behaviors within the larger culture do call into question the extent to which they are challenging hegemonic masculinity, they do not diminish the alternative masculinity they reported practicing within the indie rock scene. In a sense, the men are performing multiple, sometimes contradictory, masculinities like those discussed by Cohen (1997) and Haenfler (2006). By constructing different masculinities depending on the social location and situation, the indie rockers demonstrate that gender is not static; but rather, fluid and susceptible to place and context. Also, the men's paradoxical gender performances highlight the argument that the indie rock scene is a social location in which it is possible to construct alternative masculinities that defy hegemonic norms.

The indie rock men indicated a number of strategies they used when constructing their alternative masculinity in the indie rock scene. These strategies included inverting gender norms, blending masculinity and femininity into their body presentations, and being emotionally expressive.

Inversion of Gender Norms--Rejection of Hypermasculinity. While some of the men reported playing up their masculine characteristics outside of the scene, many of them stated that masculinity was not important in the indie rock scene and implied that the culture supported relaxing and even inverting gender norms. Logan acknowledged this by stating "It's one of the fewest cultures where like the less masculine you are, the fucking, the more of a man you are." This statement was supported by other respondents' comments: "My masculinity, or lack of sometimes ... lets me play music that is more emotional" (Jaime); "The more masculine you are the less you'll be liked by indie rock" (Jordan--23 yrs., lead singer/guitarist). The men's statements indicate that the indie rock scene is a social location where hegemonic masculine behaviors are not an important part of constructing one's masculinity. Schippers (2002) would identify the indie rock scene as a place where "gender maneuvering" can occur, since the indie rockers were able to resist gender norms, therefore making hegemonic masculinity less relevant.

The men also reported anti-hypermasculine sentiment when describing how they constructed their masculinity in the indie rock scene. Corey feels "completely disgusted" and "embarrassed" when men act "macho" and "get into fights." He emphasized, "I don't want to have anything to do with that." These beliefs concerning hegemonic masculinity led the indie rock men to shun and ridicule such practices in the scene. Tristan's response to how hypermasculine men react to his alternative masculinity at certain shows best describes the indie men's intentions:

Similar to the women in Schippers' (2002) study, the indie rock men reported rejecting many of the attitudes and behaviors associated with hegemonic masculinity. While the men state that masculinity is not very important in the scene, the disproportionate number of men in all areas of the scene (fans, promoters, distributors, and musicians) should be recognized as a challenge to this claim. If gender were not relevant, we should see an equal proportion of women and men in the scene with equal access to the most important positions.

Feminine Body Presentations When Doing Masculinity. All of my participants reported that they incorporated feminine characteristics when constructing and performing masculinity. Many of the indie rock men identified some of their physical characteristics as effeminate. Corey exemplified the look of many of the men in the indie scene. He described his features as follows:

By not maintaining the correct surface politics of the body that are socially defined as masculine, the indie rock men negated the gender displays maintained by the binary sex system (Butler, 2006; Messerschmidt, 2009). The men's body politic is similar to that of Schippers' (2002) female participants, in that they used their bodies as a way to disrupt gender/sexual norms.

Some of the indie rockers identified their sense of style (clothing and makeup) as effeminate. Stella Bruzzi (1997) contends that "clothes are not just clothes" but "how the social world 'reads' and contextualizes" (p. 148) an individual's gender. From the pants and jackets to the shirts and shoes, the men labeled their fashion as feminine in style, and in some cases they even wore women's clothing. Corey said:

Dylan also recognized that his effeminate style, "typical indie rock kinda tight clothes," was a way for indie rockers to identify themselves to other indie rockers, thus inviting more listeners to pay attention to their performance. Schippers (2002) reports that some of the male musicians in her study adopted "feminine styles, not as parody, but as a stylistic maneuver" (p. 110). Those men reported the use of feminine style occasionally in their performance, but my interviews indicate that the rockers dress similarly on and off stage regularly. Schippers (2002) asserts that individuals do gendered dress as a way of associating their style with the binary sex system. However, Bruzzi (1997) and Butler (2006) point out that androgynous clothes can also assist in the blurring of gender. In addition, Mort (1996) reports that more feminine, style conscious, and fashion forward dress styles are historically associated with alternative forms of masculinities. Also, Hawkins' (2009) asserts that fashion and public display were essential mechanisms for British pop dandies to queer/redefine gender norms concerning their masculinity. For the men in my study, the reported use of a more feminine style allowed them to reject certain masculine notions of appropriate dress, placing them in what Schippers (2002) calls a "no-man's-land of gender," (p. 111) and also to express their affiliation with the indie rock scene.

Public Emotionality as an Accepted Masculine Behavior. Along with their style, respondents indicated that their strategic use of emotions allowed them to become more open with their audience and better express the feelings that inspired their music. While they recognized that this was not normal masculine behavior, they indicated that it was an essential part of being an artist. Jessi pointed this out when he reported that performing allowed him to be "really open with feelings and stuff like that ... I probably am a little too much of an open book for my own good sometimes ... music for me is really like a therapy." Similarly, Cameron acknowledged "if sorta leaving myself open emotionally, or show[ing] the sensitivity or a willingness to bare all [is] to be considered feminine, I mean that's the sorta thing that I try and do." Sammy also noted "I like to talk about my feelings, my raw emotions," it's a "way of saying 'hey this is what's bothering me.'" Unlike the men in Kiesling (2005), Kaplan (2005), and Singleton's (2003) research, the indie rock men reported creating a space of acceptance where the men could express their feelings without being forced to comply with the dominant masculine norm of being emotionless. Cohen (1997) reported similar emotional expressions as ways of alternatively performing masculinity among indie rockers in Liverpool, as did the dandy's in Hawkins (2009) research. Battersby (1989) would argue that notions of romanticism held by the audience, including praise for the passionate, creative, and expressive nature of the artist, permitted the men's actions on stage. However, she might also note that these same perceptions have excluded women from being identified as noteworthy musicians, and therefore are part of why there is not actually gender equality in the indie music scene.

The difference in the men's reported performances, in and outside of the scene, point to the idea that gender is fluid. At times both inside and more often outside the scene, many of my respondents described consciously doing hegemonic masculinity through their energetic performances on stage, actions at work, and interactions with women and friends outside of the scene. However, within the scene the majority of the men recounted instances of doing alternative masculinity by rejecting hegemonic norms through their performances and interactions with friends and fans offstage. Some caution in the indie mens' accounts must be taken, since contrasts can occur between what is said and actually done. Nevertheless, it should be recognized that the indie rock subculture does provide a social space and context for the indie rockers to not maintain some aspects of hegemonic masculinity.

Redefining Homosociality in the Indie Rock Scene

Many of my participants reported that their homosocial interactions in the indie rock scene were influential in maintaining their masculinity. The scene provided them a space to construct alternative masculinities freely, and receive support for these alternative constructions from similar-minded friends, band mates, and fans. An important aspect of the scene for my participants was the freedom it allowed them to interact with one another with less concern for upholding hierarchies and rigid boundaries among other men, making the maintenance of hegemonic masculinity less relevant. This is in contrast to previous research on homosociality, which asserts that men interact with one another under strict and unwritten rules in order to reinforce hegemonic masculine behaviors and maintain dominant and subordinate positions of power (Bird, 2006; Britton, 1990; Kaplan, 2005; Roper, 1996; Sedgwick, 1985).

Supportive Rather than Selective Relationships. My respondents reported that interactions with other men within the indie scene were casual, supportive, and tolerant. For Adrienne (24 yrs., lead guitarist), this freedom allowed him to "try to be understanding ... [and] just try to be pretty open to other people's [in particular, gay men's] ideas," because "it kind of keeps you grounded a little bit. It's nice to have another perspective in things." Because the homosociality among men in the scene allowed them "more opportunity for just more honest disclosure,... to share a strange sense of humor, or being more open about any number of things" (Morgan--24 yrs., lead singer/guitarist) there is less chance for stigmatization and more reinforcement of doing an alternative masculinity. My respondents' perceptions of their interactions to provide and promote a tolerant atmosphere among the other men in the scene are similar to Bird's (1996) research showing that interactions among men are used to construct "socially shared" (p. 122) meanings. However, in contrast to her research, which revealed that the meanings shared reinforced hegemonic masculinity, the indie men's perceived relations became opportunities for displaying less stereotyped masculinities and accepting alternative gender identities. However, since the men reported engaging in some traditional masculine behaviors, it is safe to assume that certain homosocial practices, like supporting aggressive behavior on stage, do occur within the indie rock scene. Furthermore, because men make up the majority of the population and positions of power in the indie scene, the hegemonic masculine notion of male exclusivity is being upheld.

Intimacy and Public Affection over Emotional Detachment and Homophobia. Some of the indie rockers reported family-like relationships with other men in the scene, especially their male band mates. These relationships created strong bonds among the men, and provided acceptance and support for practicing alternative masculine behaviors, rather than stigmatization. When describing his interactions with male band members, Sammy stated, "I mean I guess in a band there's a little brotherhood that develops, and [it] just becomes ... it doesn't become taboo your feelings to them." The close bonds formed by the indie rock men reportedly allowed them to be open, express their feelings, creating more intimate male-male relationships. Previous research by Bird (1996), Kaplan (2005), Kiesling (2005), Lyman (1987), and Singleton (2003) found that men used emotional detachment and stigmatization to resist intimate and meaningful behavior with other men, and that when they did express intimacy; it was through behavior that reinforced hegemonic masculine norms. In contrast, among the indie rock men, intimate behavior was acceptable and welcomed. All but one of the indie rock men acknowledged that he acted more affectionately with men in the indie rock scene than with men outside of the subculture. When talking about interactions with other male friends in the subculture, Casey stated: "You get away with a lot more stuff.., like you feel fine about just like going and causing a scene, giving your friend a hard time and just like giving him a big kiss or something like that." For indie rockers, homosociality is reconstructed, allowing for emotional attachment and affection to occur in order to create stronger friendships. Unlike Bemiller's (2005) and Henson and Roger's (2001) research on male cheerleaders and clerical workers who used masculine strategies to maintain normative masculine appearances, the indie rockers reported interacting in effeminate ways without worrying about the possibility of being stigmatized. Because other men in the scene reaffirmed the men in their actions, they were not labeled gender deviants.

In addition, many reported instances of intimacy and/or hugging and kissing other men as forms of interaction within the scene. Tristan remarks:

The men's reported actions clearly reject hegemonic heterosexuality. For some of the men, homoerotic participation was not only a way of showing affection, but also a way of rebelling against the masculine norm. In response to whether or not he is more affectionate with men in the scene compared to men outside of the scene, Dylan stated:

This reported behavior can be identified as what Schippers (2002) labels "gender maneuvering" because the men are stretching gender rules. Schippers (2002) defines gender maneuvering as "a process of negotiation in which the meanings and rules for gender get pushed, pulled, transformed, and reestablished," to "manipulate the relationship between masculinity and femininity in ways that impact the larger process of gender structuration" (p. 37). Like the alternative rockers in her study, by "blurring the masculine position," the indie rockers undermined male power relations within the scene through "intragender erotic play" without being labeled homosexual (Schippers, 2002, pp. 32, 148). Their non-normative homosocial interactions contrast with the normative notions of masculine behavior among men. Then again, the indie men's "brotherhood" at times upheld normalized masculine notions of exclusivity. Thus, while they challenged hegemonic masculine norms, they seemed to do little to actively promote equality between women and men in the scene. Yet, within the indie scene men are doing masculinity differently and providing an example of how homosocial relations do not always have to uphold hegemonic masculine behaviors. Through these small acts, constructing a more positive version of hegemonic masculinity that is less hierarchical and more emotionally healthy, supportive, and accepting becomes a more reachable goal.


A summary of my research findings can be found in Table 1. My findings show that when constructing their masculinity on stage and off, North American indie rock men described using both masculine and feminine characteristics. While they did engage in some normative masculine activities in order to draw attention to themselves during their performance, they more often reported acting in hegemonic masculine ways outside the scene to gain respect, joke around, interact in a chivalrous manner with women, and be seen as a male authority. In comparison to my respondents' gender performances outside the scene, they reported to more likely blend masculine and feminine behaviors and engage in gender strategies onstage and within the indie scene in order to do alternative masculinities (Bemiller, 2005; Bird, 1996; Connell, 2005a; Schippers, 2002). The interviewees reported that masculinity was unimportant in the indie rock scene and some even criticized any behavior thought of as hypermasculine or "macho." All of the indie rockers incorporated conventional feminine characteristics into the process of constructing their masculinity within the scene.

All of these social practices and beliefs were part of the construction of contradictory masculinities, both traditional and alternative, that the men reported performing within and outside of the scene. This paradoxical behavior by the men to uphold their male privilege within the larger culture, while resisting hegemonic masculinity in the indie rock scene points to the notion that there are social spaces and contexts that less rigidly enforce hegemonic masculine behaviors and identities onto men. Still, the indie rock scene is predominantly a male space. Thus, even though it reportedly provides a place to construct alternative masculinities, it has characteristics that limit women's presence and participation in the scene. Furthermore, the acceptance of the men's "feminine" attributes can be partially explained through the concept of romanticism, which identifies the artists' non-normative behaviors as creative and expressive and part of the genius associated with art. Unfortunately, this same praise is not directed toward female artists, and creates exclusionary perceptions of what and who is artistic, which might account for the mostly male participation in the music scene.

The homosociality reported within the scene allowed the men to freely construct their alternative masculinities through socially shared meanings that did not uphold the hegemonic norm. The men indicated interacting with one another in ways that reinforced non-hegemonic gender norms. These interactions included showing affection/friendship through intimacy, undermining the rules of masculinity, and challenging hegemonic power relations through erotic gestures to construct an intimate atmosphere among male friends, band mates, and fans. My subjects were able to "play with" their sexuality through homoerotic behaviors (e.g. kissing other men), without putting their heterosexual identities in jeopardy. However, it must be pointed out that since all of the men identified as heterosexual, their ability to challenge hegemonic norms concerning sexuality without putting their own at risk suggests that the indie rockers maintained some form power within the scene. Because I did not investigate, through ethnographic observation, whether the men backed up their claims with action, I have to assume that there might be some disconnect between what they say and do. Thus, while the men stated challenging certain norms, some of their behavior may have upheld hegemonic masculinity.

My findings provide further support for the assertions that men can construct alternative masculinities. Furthermore, the men's reported homosocial interactions provide a challenge to previous research that has solely associated homosociality with the maintenance of hegemonic masculinity. My findings suggest that homosocial relations can be places for rejecting certain hegemonic masculine norms. Furthermore, the paradoxical characteristics of the men's construction of masculinity provide an example of how gender is fluid and susceptible to being redefined. While we can be critical of whether the men's accounts of their behaviors match up with their actual actions, and indeed, further research should be conducted to ascertain this, we cannot ignore how these men understand their behavior in relation to the dominant masculine culture. With this in mind, I believe my participants' alternative masculinities and homosocial interactions allowed them to reject masculine norms in certain locations, contexts, and times rather than engage in behaviors that would reinforce them.

Several questions need to be answered that could not be resolved in my study. Because these performers are "in the spotlight" on stage, and are potential role models for other male indie rock fans, how influential are they on other men in the scene? What are women's reactions, beliefs, feelings, and experiences with these men and their alternative masculinities? Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) recognize the valuable role women play in the construction of masculinity. As central figures in the lives of men, women are integral to the production of masculinities and gender hierarchies, and so to learn about their experiences with men in the scene is important to furthering our understanding of how gender operates within it. Further research also should be conducted on how men in other contexts and social locations construct alternative masculinities and homosocial relationships.

A glimpse of redefining hegemonic masculinity and homosocial relations in a more positive light can be found in the indie rock scene. This study emphasizes the idea that masculinity is complex and fluid, rather than dualistic, and that new forms of masculinity and homosocial interactions are constructed and deconstructed by men in certain social locations that resist normative gender differences. Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) write, "masculinity is not a fixed entity embedded in the body or personality traits of individuals. Masculinities are configurations of practice that are accomplished in social action and, therefore, can differ according to the gender relations in a particular setting" (p. 836). They also point out that these differing masculinities influence one another, causing new masculine behaviors to be adopted as part of the current hegemonic masculine definition. In light of this, some of the alternative behaviors reportedly performed in the indie rock scene could be embraced in the construction of a positive hegemonic masculinity that supports more nurturing and equal male-male relationships and more psychologically and physically healthy lifestyles. Hegemonic masculinity and its reinforcement through homosociality is far from absolute, and alternative homosocial subcultures can provide spaces for men to challenge the normative assumptions of masculinity and construct more positive gender norms.


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TAYLOR MARTIN HOUSTON, Department of Sociology, University of Georgia.

(1) Respondents have been given pseudonyms to protect their identity.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Taylor Martin Houston, Department of Sociology, University of Georgia, 113 Baldwin Hall, Athens, GA 30602. Email:

DOI: 10.3149/jms.2002.158
Oh yeah man, I mean, I'm really influenced by people who are
   pushing buttons, well like more of an expressive almost freestyle
   motion ... but people that are real flamboyant, really over
   expression, dramatic, pouring out emotion, I really am influenced
   by them, and I love when men can push buttons. I don't like it when
   it's overboard, I like it when its right on the line, subtly, its
   almost hanging over the edge, just pushing it, knowing how to work
   it. So I love the people that can walk the line very well.

Some of the most awesome individuals that have been, are these
   flamboyantly gay men, which is a completely challenging thing if
   you are a heterosexual man. It's like, "Wow! I really look up to
   this extremely flamboyant homosexual person" ... and that has
   always been challenging for me ... but I was always drawn to it.

You know, I mean I'm a monkey stomping in the middle of the
   freakin' woods. Beatin' around, screaming, yelling, flexing, making
   these sounds, making these beat like sounds, you know. It's the
   beating of the chest, it's the tiger screams (laughing), it's there
   ... I very much use that in my performance, to get attention.
   Fucking grab somebody that ain't lookin,' I want them to look.
   Cause I'm going to friggin' do something to make them look.

A lot people aren't ready to swallow that (his alternative
   masculinity), a lot of people are like 'aww what the fuck is he
   singing like, that's not cool, that sounds fucking gay, you know?
   We get a whole lot of that ... But, it's obvious to me the people
   who aren't ready for it, they're just gonna make me wanna go even
   further. And it's gonna drive them fucking insane. But someone's
   gotta do it because this world's about equality of everything.

I think especially when I shave and with my long hair, my body type
   not being hugely muscled, [not] being like a jock and toned, I'd
   have many guys think that I was a women when I was turned around.
   You know, so I wear really tight jeans, it shows off my legs, so
   I'm not this big bulky guy; I'm a more feminine type body style.

A lot of where I get my style from is looking at women ... I'll
   look at magazines that my girlfriend gets in, and be like "aww that
   looks good on her, that'll look good on me." I'll be like "those
   jeans are nice, those jeans will look good on me." I don't ever
   look at men's clothes, or the way men are dressed.

My friends like getting homoerotic. A couple of them. I've always,
   I don't know, I've always been weird about that stuff ... [but]
   I'll sometimes just get gay with my brothers, you know? I don't
   know ... [Interviewer: do you see it as wrong?] No, it's not wrong
   at all. It's cool, it's cool on some levels you know?... Like, the
   other day, hanging out with just the guys in the band. We just all
   were talking, and we're like "I think we're all gay" like
   legitimately. And it's so weird cause it probably gets pretty deep
   psychologically, but we can all laugh about it [their close
   relationship], joke about it, and then also express it.

In my experience, people who are into indie rock and all the things
   that go along with it that ... are generally intelligent, creative
   people that are drawn to things that are little bit outside the
   norm or whatever. And so I think it [the scene] does forge a lot of
   close relationships.... Most of the people who are kind of in that
   scene would prefer to be as like as far away from that kind of
   macho crap thing as possible ... [and] especially with a lot of my
   good friends ... [because] there was a time when we were all doing
   a lot more drugs and just kind like wanted to do things to be
   provocative or to be shocking or whatever. Like ... guys making out
   and nudity and [those] things always tended to do the trick, as far
   as being provocative and shocking ... just kind of trying to push
   the limit.

Table 1
Summary of Main Findings

1 Indie rock men use both masculine and feminine characteristics
when constructing their alternative masculinities.

2 Indie rock men reported constructing contradictory masculinities,
both supporting and rejecting hegemonic masculinity, within and
outside of the scene.

3 The indie rock men's rejection of hegemonic masculinity within
the indie rock scene supports the notion that certain social spaces
and contexts less rigidly enforce hegemonic masculine behaviors and
identities onto men.

4 The homosociality within the indie rock scene allowed the men to
construct alternative masculinities that did not always support
hegemonic masculinity.

5 Depending on the social location and context, homosocial
relationships can be places for rejecting certain hegemonic
masculine norms.
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