Document Type



18 Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 671 (2009)


A common way of bragging about an achievement is to ask, “Who’s the man?” This article utilizes the interdisciplinary field of masculinities studies to reveal what that statement exemplifies: Men are anxious to have their masculine esteem validated by other men. The hegemonic, or dominant, way of being a man in this culture is to be aggressive in general and denigrate lower status men in particular. This article argues there is also a hegemonic form of police masculinity wherein officers feel the need to dominate civilians and punish any signs of disrespect. The article argues the hegemonic police masculinity creates a risk that officers will use their authority to create masculinity contests—face offs where one man validates his masculine esteem at the expense of another man.

The article demonstrates that risk by analyzing Terry v. Ohio doctrine, which allows officers to stop and frisk civilians whenever they have reasonable suspicion a crime may be afoot and weapons may be present. It shows that masculinities studies helps us better understand the doctrine. For instance, the Terry Court’s allowance for officers to “maintain the power image of the beat officer . . . by humiliating anyone who attempts to undermine police control of the streets . . .” is consistent with hegemonic masculinity. Further, 1960s social phenomena such as prevailing views about the police and an emerging law and order discourse help explain why the doctrine is masculinist. Finally, some contemporary uses of Terry discretion to racial profile may be re-read as also involving masculinity contests.

The article concludes by arguing that revamped training regimes are the best way to address the problem of police use of Terry authority to initiate masculinity contests.

Date of Authorship for this Version



criminal justice, fourth amendment, critical race theory, civil rights, and feminism