Cowboys on Wheels. "Sons of Anarchy" and the Depiction of (Hyper)Masculinity

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2013

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of contents

1. Introduction
1. Gender roles in Sons of Anarchy
1.1 The depiction(s) of (hyper)masculinity
1.1.1 The Credits
1.1.2 The Club
1.1.3 Audiovisual representations of (hyper)masculinity
1.1.4 Representations of hypermasculine behaviour
1.2 The depiction of femininity

2. The cultural work of SOA - between post- and post-post 9/11 masculinity?

3. Conclusion

Works Cited

1 Introduction

Sons of Anarchy has been the most successful TV programme of the cable network channel FX since its premiere in September 2008. Having attracted a lot of viewers, the drama series about an imaginary motorcycle club can certainly be regarded as another example of what Nussbaum calls "television's most esteemed category: the sophisticated cable drama about a patriarchal subculture"[1]. Due to its success, it can be assumed that the series also has a certain amount of cultural impact. One of the most remarkable and characterising features in Sons of Anarchy [2] is certainly its representation of gender roles, especially of hypermasculinity, which undoubtedly has become rather unusual in contemporary TV series.

Since masculinity and its depictions can never be looked at in isolation, but only by comparing or contrasting it to depictions of femininity, there will be an analysis of both gender roles in this paper. However, since the series is about a motorcycle club whose members are male, the main focus will be on the representation of masculinity in SOA.

This paper argues that SOA portrays hypermasculinity in a way which, although on the one hand being very old-fashioned, if not outdated, on the other hand still is very likeable and even attractive for its audience. The main question that will addressed is thus the following: How are gender roles represented in SOA and by which means is that achieved? In order to answer that, there will be an analysis of formal and narratological elements that contribute to a certain depiction of masculinity and femininity. After that, there will be a broader focus on the cultural work which is done by SOA. It will be shown that the series fits well Connell's concept of hegemonic masculinity and generally contributes to what has often been called 'post-9/11 masculinity', which is closely connected to hypermasculine behaviour - however, with some exceptions, as chapter 3 will show.

2 Gender roles in Sons of Anarchy

As Thornham points out, different genres are usually directed either to male or female viewers, which influences the underlying ideology fo the narrative.[3] When talking about SOA, we must always be aware of the fact that the series is about a motorcycle club, whose members are all male. As a consequence, it can be assumed that the series is aimed towards a masculine audience.

In the following section, it will be examined how formal and narratological elements contribute to the depictions of gender roles in SOA.

2.1 The depiction(s) of (hyper)masculinity

The following part will examine on which different levels masculinity is represented in SOA, and of course, which kind of masculinity is predominantly represented. The assumption mentioned in the introduction that SOA propagates post-9/11 hypermasculinity will be tested by observing different elements of the series in terms of their contribution to "the cowboyesque macho posturing and hyper-masculine discourse (...) that had characterized the public realm after the attacks of September 11"[4].

2.11 The credits

Usually, the credits at the beginning of a TV narrative already indicate a clear

direction in which the whole series goes, they "indicate the genre (comedy,

mystery, and so on) and introduce the general theme(s) of the series"[5].

Having a look at the lyrics, the credits song - of course a typical southern

rock song sung by a rough-voiced man - explicitely refers to the dominating

mentality and ideology that is being continued in the actual series:

"Ridin' through this world all alone

God takes your soul, you're on your own

The crow flies straight, a perfect line

On the devil's path until you die

Gotta look this world in the eye” [6]

These lyrics are accompanied by rapidly changing close-up pictures of muscular male body parts - such as an arm or a tattooed back -, of weapons, of a smoking cigar, of a motorcycle, and of a waving US-American flag. Interestingly enough, the only female body part that the audience gets to see in the credits is a cleavage. Thus, a certain marginalisation of feminine characters, respectively a reduction to certain obvious aspects is already hinted at right from the start (this topic will be further discussed later on in section 2.2).

2.1.2 The Club

When it comes to the general constellation of male and female characters in SOA, the Club itself plays of course a central role. Its members have to be male, it can therefore be seen as an enclosed microcosm of masculinity. The latter can be lived here without any challenges or restrictions from the ”other” side (that is, the female side). In the first episode, several of the "table scenes" are depicted: The members usually sit around the table and discuss their business strategies and similar things. Everyone is smoking and drinking beer; crude and sexist jokes are made; two members even start to do some kind of 'verbal muscle flexing' by making jokes of each other, comparable to teenage boys who fight about being the coolest group member - in this case, instead of 'who is cooler?', the question would rather be 'who is more manly?'.[7]

The importance and status of the Club to each of its members can be seen on different levels. To begin with, there are obvious religious elements in the terminology of certain Club locations: The Club house itself is called church, the meeting room in which the important Club decisions are being made is called chapel. Moreover, connections to the military can be made out of two reasons: All SOA members wear the same kind of leather vest and are thus uniformed, and there is a strict hierarchical structure within the Club. The president is the unquestioned leader, followed by the vice president, a sergeant-at-arms, normal members and the prospects, which are - and this is obviously similar to 'real' military habits - humiliated and treated as subordinates as long as they have not climbed in the Club hierarchy and thereby gained an equal status. These practices are a perfect example of Connell's concept of hegemonic masculinity, which describes certain power relations and hierarchical structures not only between the male and female gender groups, but also within the realm of masculinity.[8] Within the Club, there are certain values and principles that are regarded as very important, solidarity probably being the most important one. The members call each other either "brothers" or "sons" (depending on the respective age difference), the Club itself is often called "brotherhood"[9]. It is emphasised repeatedly that every member who has any kinds of problems will be supported by his fellow members, no matter what it costs.

In summary, it can be said that the Club serves several purposes for its members: it is not only a family substitute, but also a community of shared values and beliefs, which gives it even a religious touch. Most importantly, however, it can be seen as the fundament of hypermasculine behaviour with all its implications.

2.1.3 Audiovisual representations of (hyper)masculinity Right from the beginning, SOA tries to create a relationship between the audience and the main focaliser of the series, Jackson Teller, which can be compared to what Carroll called "sympathy for the devil"[10]. With this term, he describes the phenomenon that we as an audience are fascinated by a fictional character which in reality we would not find likeable at all. This 'manipulation' of the audience is created by certain means, which shall be discussed in the following section.


[1] Nussbaum (2012): 68.

[2] Sons of Anarchy will be abbreviated with SOA in this paper.

[3] See Thornham (2007): 68.

[4] Olson (2013): 97.

[5] Allrath/Gymnich/Surkamp (2005): 12.

[6] Curtis Stigers & The Forest Rangers - This Life.

[7] SOA season 01, episode 01, from minute 20:45. In the following course, references of that kind will be abbreviated in the following way: SOA, 01/01,20:45.

[8] Cf. Connell (2005).

[9] SOA 01/01,30:15.

[10] Cf. Carroll (2004).

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Cowboys on Wheels. "Sons of Anarchy" and the Depiction of (Hyper)Masculinity
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
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Sons of Anarchy, TV Series, Masculinity, Gender, Hypermasculinity, femininity
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Felix Kästner (Author), 2013, Cowboys on Wheels. "Sons of Anarchy" and the Depiction of (Hyper)Masculinity, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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