Masculinity Contest Cultures in Policing Organizations and Recommendations for Training Interventions

Shannon L. Rawski, Angela L. Workman-Stark

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


In the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements, police conduct has been increasingly scrutinized by the public, especially the use of excessive force, fatal shootings of unarmed civilians, and sexual harassment scandals within policing organizations. Through a review of the policing literature and data collected in a Canadian policing organization, we highlight how masculinity contest culture is related to police misconduct. All four masculinity contest culture dimensions can be observed in policing including: (1) “show no weakness,” (2) “strength and stamina,” (3) “put work first,” and (4) “dog-eat-dog.” Masculinity contest cultures lead to negative outcomes for both individual officers (e.g., harassment, discrimination, stress), policing organizations (e.g., lawsuits, turnover), and communities (e.g., officers’ use of excessive force). Training interventions are often suggested to prevent or remedy the negative effects of masculinity contest cultures in policing organizations. However, a review of the training literature suggests that training interventions are unlikely to be effective in contexts where organizational norms are at odds with the training content. Our analysis of police data, along with the literature review, conclude with a paradox—the very organizations that need training interventions the most (e.g., policing organizations that often promote and tolerate sexual harassment) are the least likely to benefit from those interventions. To address this paradox, we invoke the theory of social interactionism and reconceptualize training as an organizational sensegiving mechanism. This theoretical foundation offers new directions for future research on training in masculinity contest cultures and insights for practicing police administrators and public policy officials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-627
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Social Issues
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep. 2018


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