Masculinity and how we talk about it.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about masculinity on the internet over the last week. Specifically in relation to issues with and how to improve it. (Which is super, by the way)

I think it’s great that people are talking explicitly about men and masculinity, but I’ve noticed a bit of a trend in these writings (which have usually been from a feminist or allied perspective), which I find a little worrying.

This being that when masculinity is spoken about, it is often framed (usually implicitly but explicitly also) as some sort of  monolithic, overarching concept. This is kind of ok, because in a lot of ways, the dominant idea of masculinity IS a monolithic, overarching concept, and a concept that moreover operates as a really effective system and ideology for regulating society, perpetuating many ideas and attitudes that are oppressive or at best, problematic.

And when writing about problems or issues with men or masculinity it makes a lot of sense to use this clearly defined idea of masculinity. But masculinity is not a singular thing, and my masculinity is not the same as other peoples. Sure there is a great deal of commonality, but also a great deal of diversity, even amongst ‘hegemonic’ masculine identities. I think it would be helpful to the broader conversations and criticisms  about masculine identity and men to recognise this variety and diversity.

I’m not trying to come across as someone who thinks that people should stop criticising the poor old menfolk, but rather that those criticisms and discussions around them can be made stronger and more nuanced by a recognition of a diversity, in the same way that discourses of feminism have benefited from a recognition of and engagement with diversity. 

I think this post might lead onto a larger post about hegemonic masculinities, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while, and which is one of my favourite things in the world (the concept, not the “thing”).  I guess I just think that while it is often convenient and pragmatic to have discussions about ‘masculinity’ which is really shorthand for a whole bundle of dominant masculine ideologies and representations that are so problematic and need challenging; the act of referencing other, equally valid, expressions and identities is important in terms of broadening the discourse of what “masculinity” is.

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7 Comments on “Masculinity and how we talk about it.”

  1. Christina Says:

    Very Interesting! I think you make a good point that masculinity, like femininity, is not one single thing. Sure, there’s the stereotypic American man, but within that idea there are contradictory stereotypes for different groups of men. Like white men and black men, latinos, and gay men, and so on. I agree, I think we need a more nuanced discussion on what “masculinity” is.

  2. owlren Says:

    Excellent point. As a feminist, I think it is extremely important to look at both masculinity and femininity (not to mention androgyny) as containing whole ranges of identities, and I tend to make a point of being very careful about making generalizations.

  3. Wes Says:

    You’re completely right. Even taking mainstream media from the one era, there are people who think of Charles Bronson as the pinnacle of American masculinity, and there are those who think of Gregory Peck playing Atticus Finch, and these can even be the same people holding two very different ideas simultaneously.

    I also get annoyed when people roll their eyes and blame things on testosterone. It helps stop osteoporosis, people!


  4. Well said! masculinity and feminity are not simple cut and dry concepts but fluid entities, that demand a more nuanced perspective and analysis of such.

  5. Clarisse Says:

    Wow, the commenters above me really love you, so I feel a little awkward about saying this, but I actually find this post to be so vague! It’s not that I don’t believe that you’re making a good point, it’s just that I can’t nail down what you’re talking about. Could you be more specific about the different approaches to masculinity that you feel are being conflated? Or about what you’ve been reading that led you to write this post?


    • Clarisse,

      Please don’t feel awkward about commenting here, you’ve always been a value adding commenter.

      I can see where you’re coming from in finding this post vague, and I guess it’s somewhat intentional, in that I’m writing about a very broad topic and I don’t want to be guilty of what I’m complaining about in the post.

      I wrote this after reading Courtney Martin’s piece, as well as the comments around it. But this post isn’t a direct response to anything in particular, just me noticing commonalities in how masculinity is written about.

      I guess what concerns me about these type of readings is that it sounds a lot to me like people who write about things about feminism like, “feminism is XXX,” or “feminists believe XXX.” It’s usually reductive and an oversimplification.

      I understand that in pragmatic and activist senses using a single and cohesive idea of oppressive masculinity is often convenient – but I think that this sort of simplification, (without recognition of dif. or diversity) especially by people hoping to challenge dominant masculinity is shooting yourself in the foot a little.

      Hope that makes my post a little clearer, and thanks for commenting.

  6. spokewench Says:

    Hi, I just stumbled into this blog. I’m definitely adding it to my list!

    I have been thinking a lot about masculinity lately, as a female-bodied person who has been putting serious consideration into transitioning to male. I have always considered myself to be very masculine, but since I’ve been talking to my friends about this recently, they don’t know what I mean when I say that. (I was very surprised!) I think it has to do with the simple ideas of what “masculinity” means superficially, when considered as a concept, it tends to evoke certain brands of butch maleness. However I think this is only when people sit and think about it, in a practical sense masculinity is a much bigger world and day-to-day we all work with that.

    Anyway the other day I was thinking of the important question, “What kind of man would I like to be?” and I remembered one of my favourite male archetypes, the folksinger. I wrote about it here ( http://spokewench.wordpress.com/2009/12/08/the-folksinger/ ) although it’s kind of wanky.

    Will continue to read this blog with interest. 🙂

    Spoke


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