Masculinities: Liberation through Photography

For the exhibition Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography, the Gropius Bau has developed a glossary. This list of special terms on the subject of masculinity explains their meaning and use briefly. Ela Jade Unal has translated this glossary into Turkish.

To the Turkish glossary

Peter Hujar, David Britzenhofe Applying Makeup (II), 1982

Peter Hujar, David Britzenhofe Applying Makeup (II), 1982

© 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC

African diaspora

refers to all people of African descent who are living outside the continent of Africa such as the African American, Afro-Colombian, Afro-Canadian, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-German populations, Afro-Diasporic people in the rest of the world and the migrant population of African origin and their descendants.


stands for bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism. It describes a series of mostly sexual practices that involve various positions of power associated with dominance and submission, playful punishment, bondage, lust and pain, among other things. In BDSM, the participants voluntarily move from an equal position into one defined by a power dynamic – the submissive partner giving up part of his or her own autonomy to the dominant partner in a consensual manner. Both partners gain pleasure from this.


is a political term and neither describes a biological characteristic nor a skin colour, but a social position of groups of people affected by racism. The capitalisation of Black underlines Black people and People of Colour’s united front against the racism they all experience and their potential for resistance.


is a self-description of people who – according to heterosexual standards and stereotypes – appear “masculine” or fit societal definitions of masculinity. Some consider “butch” to be a gender identity of its own.


refers to people who wear clothes that – according to traditional and stereotypical gender roles – do not fit their own gender. Cross-dressing is seen as a performance and cross-dressers can have different gender identities.

drag performers

are people who wear and display clothing, make-up and behaviour that society perceives as “feminine” or “masculine” as an exaggerated act of performance, playing with and deconstructing gender roles and expectations.


is a term that has been formerly used as a slur radicalism and a refusal to conform to the middle-class norms of respectability.


is a term used as a means of describing “feminine” or gay men. It was formerly used as a slur, but has since been reclaimed by many gay men as empowering.

fragile masculinity

describes subjective experiences of powerlessness and fear felt by men who believe that they do not meet the standards of masculinity associated with power and assertiveness. Men have to continuously prove themselves as men, and in their compulsive pursuit to live up to their masculine role, they may become more violent towards themselves. Masculinity is thus not permanent and fixed, but always fragile.


used as a modern term to mean “homosexual” appears to have emerged from the 19th-century use of the word to describe a sex worker or an absence of sexual inhibition (“the gay life”, “a gay girl”, “a gay boy”). By the first half of the 20th Century, “gay” was emerging as a synonym for “queer”. The mid- to late-20th-century gay rights movements used the word as a positive and often inclusive alternative to “homosexual”; this coincided with its emergent usage as an insult, peaking with its slang use as a pejorative stand-in for “bad” in the early 2000s.

gay cruising spots

describes public places where mostly gay men meet to actively search for physical contact or potential sex partners.


should be understood in distinction to the assigned sex at birth, with gender referring to the socially-constructed idea of what it means to be a man or woman in society. These ideas are imposed through social behaviours, roles and expectations and obligate people to conform to one of two gender roles matching their apparent sex; for example, male equals man or masculine and female equals woman or feminine.

gender ambiguity

describes the circumstance in which a person is perceived as both stereotypically male and female in his or her appearance, and therefore cannot be clearly assigned to a gender based on external characteristics.

gender fluidity

is defined as having a changing sense of one’s gender.

gender hierarchy

refers to a gender order that divides people into two opposite sexes that are mutually exclusive but “complementary”: the female and male sex. The relation between these two sexes is one of domination, with men considered superior to women. Non-binary sexual orientations and gender identities are also characterised as being subordinate to the male sex.

Harlem Renaissance

(ca. 1918–37) was an influential social and artistic movement of African American artists and writers, which originated in the New York district of Harlem. The movement defined itself explicitly in demarcation from existing racist stereotypes of the African American population in the US.

hegemonic masculinity

was coined by the scholar Raewyn Connell and describes forms of masculinity that are culturally and socially superior to other images and roles of masculinity. These dominant images of masculinity do not only refer to the oppression of women; hegemonic masculinity is always defined in relation to masculinities perceived as inferior, including marginalised, oppressed and complicit masculinity.


is a term that was coined by the queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Instead of using the concept merely as a tool to analyse social bonds and power relations between men, Sedgwick examined the relationship between different types of desire and intimacy between men and the normative impact they have on society.


describes an excessive extravagant behaviour mainly cultivated in gay communities. It is marked by sharp wit, theatricality, attention to artifice and self-irony. The term was once used as a pejorative to describe effeminate gay men, but has been positively reclaimed.


describes an extreme form of hegemonic masculinity and is comprised of four essential components: toughness, violence, danger and a degrading attitude towards women.


is a colonial term used by European colonial masters to describe the indigenous peoples they encountered in the course of colonising North America. This term is offensive and pejorative. More appropriate self-descriptions and means to describe indigenous peoples from North America include Native Americans and First Nations.


is a traditional head scarf mostly worn by men in the Arab world. The term is derived from the city Kufa in Iraq. The garment is also known as a symbol of Palestinian struggle in the Middle East.


is a self-description of people of Latin American origin in the US and has been used since the mid-2000s by activists and increasingly, since 2014, at US universities. People who self-identify as Latinx want to establish the term as an inclusive, neutral and non-discriminatory alternative to the gendered Spanish word Latino/Latina.


describes a homosexual women or person. “Lesbian” covers an enormous variety of different cultures, subcultures, histories and beliefs, such as the second-wave “political lesbians” (who believed that sexuality was a conscious political choice and that women could, and should, choose to become lesbians as part of the struggle against patriarchy) and the contemporary importance of trans lesbianism in trans feminism in broader trans subcultures.

male gaze

describes the way of looking at the world through a masculine lens that objectifies and sexualises women. In art, the male gaze can be a projection of the artist’s fantasy onto a female figure. The gaze can also be a lesbian or gay projection onto someone so that she or he becomes an object of desire.


see “fragile masculinity”, “hegemonic masculinity” and “toxic masculinity”

#MeToo movement

was founded by the African American activist Tarana Burke in 2006. It aimed to raise awareness about the sexual abuse that Black women and women from other ethnic minorities face by way of strengthening solidarity and empathy among people who have experienced sexualised violence. It proclaims: “it happened to me, it happened to you and together we stand in solidarity”. In October 2017 this hashtag went viral as millions of women used #MeToo to describe their experiences of sexual abuse.

Mizrahi Jewish

comes from Hebrew and means “Oriental” or “oriental”. It is a term used to describe Jewish ethnic groups in Israel that originate from Africa, Asia and especially the Middle East. These groups self-identify as “Mizrahim” (plural). The term is also used to differentiate Mizrahim from Jewish Israelis originating from Europe, although it is not possible to define the group of Mizrahim precisely.


refers to a critical, non-adjusted attitude towards socially accepted standards. It is also a term used to describe people who do not follow gender stereotypes based on the sex they were assigned at birth.

Orientalist gaze

is a prejudiced point of view that asserts dominance by objectifying and exoticising people from the East who are not white, thereby transforming them into “others”. Coined by scholar Edward Said in his book Orientalism (1978), he discussed the Western essentialism that reduces societies in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa as being seemingly static and undeveloped in contrast to Western societies being developed and, therefore, superior, thereby justifying both the judgement and consumption of these cultures.


describes a social system and form of domination that divides people into two sexes as part of a hierarchical order: men are deemed to be dominant, whilst women and other genders are subordinate. In patriarchal societies male dominance is part of social institutions and practices in which women and other gender identities are in principle disadvantaged or not considered equal nor treated as such, which then becomes reinforced through structural bias.

People of Colour (PoC)

is a political term and is used as a self-description by people with experiences of racism. PoC marks a social position for non-white people in racist societies who are collectively identified as “other” by the dominant society and thus constructed as not having agency or actively belonging to that society.

performativity (of gender)

draws on the concept of performativity in John Langshaw Austin’s speech act theory, from which the American philosopher and queer theorist Judith Butler put forth her theory of gender performativity relating to sex and gender. She demonstrates that hegemonic discourses create our perception of the “woman/man” binary – a distinction that is constructed through language. Performative acts (words, gestures, actions) produce and continuously reinforce gender identity through repetition as part of a social context in which the subject is being constituted through discursive processes: the child is made into a “girl” at birth and later repeatedly regarded and treated as such by institutions.

Progressive Era

refers to the period between 1880 and 1920 in the US, which was characterised by massive social and political reforms. These aimed to make progress toward a better society by harnessing the power of the state to counteract the negative effects of modern industrial societies, such as poverty, crime, corruption and cartels.


is a self-description used by people who do not fit into the narrowly defined, rigid social norms and expectations regarding gender identity, sexuality or desire. Moreover, “queer” also refers to a critical theory in academia in which pigeonhole thinking is deconstructed and various intersecting forms of oppression are jointly examined.


refers to a socially constructed hierarchical concept in which people are divided into a limited number of groups (originally geographically defined) according to supposedly inherent biological differences based on physical characteristics – skin colour, for example – which are passed on from generation to generation.


is a white supremacist system in which racialised groups are mostly assigned negative characteristics and prejudices by the power elite in order to enable and normalise their discrimination, oppression and exploitation, and limit their access to vital societal resources.

racist gaze

see “white gaze”


refers to an African American and/or Latinx masculine presenting lesbian. It is sometimes used as a synonym for a butch or masculine woman.

toxic masculinity

describes a notion of masculinity prevalent in our society that is based on a traditional, stereotypical and patriarchal image of men. Such perceptions suggest that men should not show any weakness or feelings, at most anger; they should be hard, aggressive and not tender or loving, especially not with each other. This one-dimensional image of masculinity can have negative effects on society as a whole and may cause men to harm themselves and others through violence against women, men and people of other genders, race, class and ableism.


refers to a powerful dance art form and subculture that emerged in the Black and Latinx queer communities in New York in the 1970s and 1980s and consists of striking poses with a fluid progression of precise and often quick movements.

Western gaze

see “white gaze”


neither describes a skin colour nor is it a self-description, but designates a privileged position of power within a racist system.

white gaze

is a point of view that asserts dominance by staring at, objectifying and judging those considered inferior to the white subject and transforming them into “others” – white people photographing and subjecting Black people from a position of superiority and power, for example. The most spectacular staging of the Western gaze was the so-called “Völkerschauen” (which translates as “human zoo”) and colonial exhibitions at the turn of the 19th Century, which were staged and arranged to construct and display the “other”.