Skip to main content
Keeping Men Men and Women Down: Sex Segregation, Anti-Essentialism, and Masculinity
Harvard Journal of Law and Gender (forthcoming 2010) (2010)
  • David S Cohen

Current-day sex segregation is one of the central ways that law and society define and construct who is a man and what it means to be a man. When law or society tells people that a place or activity is reserved for men alone, or in the converse, that men are excluded from a particular place or activity, two important messages are sent: one, that there are distinct categories of people based on reproductive anatomy and that these anatomical distinctions are a legitimate way of organizing and sorting people; and two, that people with the reproductive anatomy labeled “male” are supposed to behave in a certain way. As I have argued in the past, these messages produce distinct harms for women, who are often subordinated to men based on these differences and characteristics, as well as men, both men who conform and do not conform to the expected notions of masculine behavior.

In looking at sex segregation and masculinity, I focus in this article on two separate theoretical concepts – hegemonic masculinity and the hegemony of men. Ultimately, I argue here that the various forms of sex segregation still existing in the United States help create and perpetuate a particular form of dominant masculinity, what theorists call hegemonic masculinity. They also substantially contribute to the dominance of men over women and non-hegemonically masculine men, what other theorists call the hegemony of men. In both ways, sex segregation contributes to an essentialized view of what it means to be a man – both in the attributes associated with an idealized manhood and the power ascribed and available to men.

This article is the second in a project examining still-existing forms of sex segregation. The first part of the project, which introduces the empirical and theoretical basis for understanding sex segregation, is available at

  • gender,
  • anti-essentialism,
  • sex segregation,
  • masculinities,
  • hegemonic masculinity,
  • hegemony of men
Publication Date
Summer 2010
Citation Information
David S Cohen. "Keeping Men Men and Women Down: Sex Segregation, Anti-Essentialism, and Masculinity" Harvard Journal of Law and Gender (forthcoming 2010) Vol. 33 (2010)
Available at: