Godfather Series: the Personification of 'Hyper-Masculinity' in the Early 20th Century

by Blessard1995 on March 22, 2017 - 6:40pm

Throughout the movie series Godfather, Michael Corleone was the main protagonist after his brother’s and father’s death. Michael was portrayed as a cold blooded, ruthless, smart and determined killer. He always had the ability to think clearly under pressure and to command respect, while giving directives, these attributes helped the family enterprise grow and diversify into the international criminal enterprise it would become. Michael had complete confidence in his ideas, was in constant desire for vengeance and he did not take ‘no’ for an answer once he set his mind to accomplishing a task. The protagonist went from a military war hero to the head of the most successful criminal family of that time period, meaning the same intelligence he benefited from while being in the military helped in growing the family criminal enterprise. Although this may be true, Michael never intended to become involved in the mafia. After the military, Michael was going to attend college to grow away from the criminal family roots, but after an assassination attempt on his father, he volunteered to murder the men responsible, including a police captain. At that very moment, Michael was forced to change his entire life and get in alignment with his family, whether he liked it or not. From the very beginning it was easy to see the ways of the Corleone family and how the criminal life of Michael had been predestined before conception to follow into his families footsteps.

Michael may not have been born a killer, but his family were professional killers. His father was the ‘copo dei capi’ or boss of bosses of the Corleone crime family, which had no tolerance for dissent or treachery. The mafia has always been run by men of the family, it was a time where women were still inferior to men. The movies demonstrated that masculinity has been taken to the next level called ‘hyper-masculinity’. To be a member of the mafia, you had to be a man that was intelligent, fast, willing to kill, loyal to fellow members, follow strict rules, be strong and not letting anything get in the way, including the men’s wives. In this case, ‘hyper-masculinity’ can be described as males having bursts of severe aggression while using a lot of physical strength to show dominance, strength and power. There have been scenes of severe domestic violence, simply because the man wanted to do what he pleased and his wife had questioned his actions. The extent of this outburst put his wife in critical care, and it was to show dominance, power, strength and ownership of his wife. The Corleone family were Italian and at this time period the epicenter of organized crime was in Italy and Sicily. The late 19th and early 20th century, saw an influx of immigrants from Europe. In this case the family came from Sicily and settled in New York City, mainly in the two neighborhoods of Brooklyn and the Bronx, which in itself has a very large Italian and Sicilian immigrant population. At this point in history, immigrants were generally divided on national and ethnic lines which created the perfect breeding ground for organized crime within a certain demographic. Now crime can sustain a specific race and class of masculine identity, meaning crime is a path that men turn to in the face of few opportunities in developing, demonstrating, and communicating their manhood. They also commit crime when they are accountable to a strict set of expectations. In this case, Michael’s father and family expected him to be the man of the family because he was a good leader, but this meant that Michael would have to take on the responsibility of life and death to attain wealth, respect and security. To secure the interest of his family, the mafia had to use violence, dominance and survival skills, in which these are all masculine identity characteristics. As well, the violent acts that were committed by Michael and his family, broke the law, but upheld their moral standards, which demonstrates a strong bond to their class, gender, and ethnicity. It is important for the members of the mafia to demonstrate their manhood because otherwise they may be perceived as weak, therefore, killing is mandatory to keep the family growing. However, as much as Michael wanted to get away from the family mafia and to live a ‘normal’ life, it was impossible with the amount of enemies Michael had made, due to his enemies always bringing him back to the streets for unfinished business.

Under the circumstances, Michael’s masculinity was socially constructed through social interactions within his family community and the army. These multiple killings were based on the family’s economic success, power and control, which women did not play a part of at the time the movie series took place. However, as of today we can see women participating in violent crimes and groups for many reasons, but this is not to say that women are men or that men are weak for including women. It is to demonstrate that the social environment constructs individuals and depending on their social constructs, violent crimes can be seen as an easy way to attain their goals. Violent crimes are no longer just a ‘masculine’ crime, due to men introducing women to their way of living.


Britton, Dana. The Gender of Crime (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2011), 35-42.

Christopher O’Connor & Katharine Kelly. “Auto Theft and Youth Culture: A Nexus of Masculinities, Femininities and Car Culture.” Journal of Youth Studies 9:3 (2006): 247-267. Accessed March 17, 2017. DOI: 10.1080/13676260600805630

Rios, Victor M. "The Consequences of the Criminal Justice Pipeline on Black and Latino Masculinity." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 623 (2009): 150-162. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40375893.


In all forms of entertainment, men seems to be linked with violence as they should always be carrying this trait. I find it very interesting to address this problem using a movie that most of us know as example, and making others realize how bizarre it is. In fact, in this movie as well as a lot of other ones, there is only one kind of masculinity which is celebrated-- what you referred as “hyper-masculinity”, and I will refer to it with the term hegemonic masculinity, which promotes male dominance. Hegemonic masculinity from a patriarchal world view is the image that all men should try to embody; it is basically an individual respecting all criterion from the man box (which are terms such as strength, virility, stoicism, everything which patriarchal world view promotes and sets this unrealistic ad even racist ideal image of a man). Do you know what promoting this kind of masculinity can even be “toxic” and cause real harm to male gendered people? Have you noticed that “be a man!” is something often said to to (especially) a young boy? Even nowadays when society is “becoming very acceptable”, parents, coachs, teachers and even friends are still policing men to fit into an image of masculinity. This phenomenon is the reason behind the high rates of suicide of young compared to women, and a reason why most violence cases are committed by men. Unable to achieve this image, they turn to “violence”, which is also a term in the man box. This whole concept is called toxic masculinity, and here’s an article about the suicide rate for men if you are interested: http://www.bcmj.org/articles/silent-epidemic-male-suicide .

The Godfather films is a great example to explain and portray hyper masculinity. With that being mentioned, there is another concept that would add to your argumentation and that concept would be hegemonic masculinity. This term is defined as legitimizing men’s dominance as well as their central position and power in society. Hegemonic masculinity also involves following the very contradictory rules of the “man box” which include being though, being strong, be stoic and being highly sexual with women. In your essay, you mention how men are the central and most important characters in the films and how women occupy a subordinate and almost non-existent role when it comes to power and decision making compared to their husbands who make all of the decisions. The previous is an example of hegemonic masculinity because it ensures men’s central position and dominance in society. Another important element that is important to note is how all of these men are heterosexual. There is never mention of homosexual men because in order to follow the different criteria of the “man box”, one must be heterosexual. Therefore, hegemonic masculinity is greatly demonstrated in the Godfather series with Vito Corleone’s way of presenting himself as a dominant and authoritarian man as well as Michael Corleone’s way of demonstrating his power and dominance via his ruthless violent actions. Thus, the Godfather movies are perfect examples of what it is to be a man and what it is to be in control by following very carefully the different principles of hegemonic masculinity which are directly linked to the “man box” that must always be followed and respected in order to protect one’s masculinity. For more on hegemonic masculinity, the following article explains a little more on the “man box”: https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/megasahd-escape-the-act-like... .