Archive for December 2009

Reading: Clarisse Thorn (and her follow up to “Questions I’d Like To Ask Entitled Cis Het Men” )

December 23, 2009

The follow up post (Here) to the aforementioned trilogy of articles is great, it clarifies some points and addresses issues raised by the original posts. I particularly liked her expanded discussion around spaces to explore and discuss masculinity in a meaningful and productive way. I totally agree with that (obviously, it’s what I’m trying to do here).  You should probably read it.

The comments on that post are a little epic though.

(Oh, and a late addition, this – from Feministing on the trials and tribulations of creating pro-feminist spaces and discussions)

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What is Radical Masculinity?

December 20, 2009

I was asked this question the other day – and I thought I’d answer it here, as it is a term I like and use a bit, but it’s not necessarily clear what it means. A lot of it has to do with another question, I think a more useful question; “Why radical masculinity?”

But first things first, lets flesh out the concept of  radical masculinity, some examples thereof.

Radical masculinity as a concept and identity is kinda new, and far from homogenous. So I guess any answer I give to the above question has to be a little broad.  My take on what constitutes a masculinity that is radical would be one that pushes at the edges of masculinities accepted norms and definitions. Moreover I’d say that this transgression of accepted norms, (which are very socio-culturally specific and are transgressed quite a bit) are, in an expression of radical masculinity, intentional. Radical masculinity is a masculinity that is transformative – the performance of masculine identity that aims in some way, to change how masculinity/ies are conceptualised. Radical masculinities are often concerned with challenging and criticising gender binaries, and problematising traditional understandings of what is male. Spunk magazine, who I wrote about here are a good example of radical masculinities. Another example, and a favorite of mine at the moment is this column, entitled (funnily enough) Radical Masculinity, by Sinclair Sexsmith (and in particular I’d highly recommend this amazing piece). 

So that’s a little bit about what I think radical masculinity is, or rather can be. Like I said, any definitional stuff can’t be too rigid or constraining. The second half of this little exploration is the why part. I firmly believe that a lot needs to change in terms of how society and culture understands gender, and how gender operates. Various movements have done lots of great work in this regard,  notably (again speaking very broadly) feminism and the GLBTI communities. I think that criticism and exploration of how masculinity is expressed and operates, from within the construct of masculinity itself is important and vital to working towards meaningful change. The more people performing a visible masculinity that doesn’t tally with the norm, means that the norm has to change and expand over time, and that more people, and in particular more men, will become a little bit more accepting of difference and diversity of masculine and gender expression. 

Also I don’t think that a performance of a masculinity that is radical or challenges is required to be a 24/7 thing, a single act or statement, or temporary expression has the potential to be radical, if it is within a broader context of respect. A husband taking the name of his partner, refusing to dress a baby boy in blue, learning to dance, wearing a pink shirt, unashamedly having no aptitude for repairs or DIY, men getting teary, hugging (without thumping each other) – these are a few little examples of acts that have a radical potential, acts that can advocate for understandings of masculinity vastly different from the norm. Masculinities of openness, emotional expression and maturity, the ability to show vulnerability, and not be shamed.

For these reasons I hope all my masculine readers think a little about their masculinity, and the choices they make with it, and maybe sometimes do something with it that is a little out of their masculine comfort zone, the occasional expression of a more radical masculinity.

Some more images of masculinity

December 15, 2009

I don’t really understand tumblr – but I found this  tumblr blog on masculinity (a fair bit of it is NSFW). This is where I grabbed the above image (by Dan Winters), one of the penis free images that really spoke to me. A lot of the linked blog consists of various images of men, famous and non, clothed and non. 

The images themselves are fascinating, but the types of images, and the types of men portrayed is even more so I think – especially in terms of the ways in which men are sexualised, and the type of man sexualised.

Just a quick one.

December 14, 2009

This post is a little tangental, but also a totally relevant.

The website, and moreover online community, Scarleteen is a personal favourite of mine, their tagline is “sex ed for the real world.” And it’s so true, they provide amazing, comprehensive and holistic education. In terms of articles and other content, but also message boards where posters ask a range of questions ranging from the banal to the amazing complex and touching. All of which the Scarleteen volunteers handle amazingly and professionally.

A large focus of the Scarleteen site is on healthy, respectful gender relations and providing a holistic, sex positive understanding of identity. In this I think that Scarleteen is a really valuable resource for young men who are so often lacking in positive, respectful and healthy sexual role models and advice. If you know a young man, point him in the direction of Scarleteen. Seriously.

Aside from my personal bias in thinking that the focus of Scarleteen is vitally important and chronically under prioritised, I think that the Scarleteen boards are one of the best internet message boards I’ve read.

Oh, and they could really use some money. And I don’t just mean in the kinda abstract way that lot’s of people and worthy orgs could use money. They need money to help provide services to a group of people who often couldn’t otherwise afford or access the services Scarleteen provides.

Donate here by the way.

Objects of masculinity: Watches

December 12, 2009

As those who know me as more than Critical Masculinities could probably attest,  one of my other interests (aside from dissecting and poking at understandings of men and masculinity), is watches.

As I started this blog and started looking at everything through the lens of a masculinity blogger, I began taking a more serious look at the role gender played in the watch industry and among enthusiasts of watches. And I reckon it’s quite a rich and fertile area for analysis.

In a general social and cultural sense it’s not uncommon for masculinity to be invested in objects, and moreover in objects that inspire strong feelings in their owners; cars, sporting goods, computers, etc. All these things can be markers of perceived masculinity – mine’s bigger than yours, mines more expensive.  This isn’t a particularly new or novel observation. It’s also not particularly novel to suggest that one’s identity (not just one’s gender identity) is often heavily invested in the physical  objects we possess. I think that for men, watches are a particularly useful social marker of self; if a man wears a watch it is a material possession constantly present and visible as an indicator of self, as well as a whole host of other social or cultural meanings.

I’m just as susceptible to the lure of expensive, pretty objects as the next person, but as I don’t drive, understand computers to any great degree, participate in sports – I’m stuck with watches (which is probably a good thing) as an object that I can invest time and money into owning and fetishising.

Now, when I saw “watches” I don’t just mean the sort of watch most people wear; I generally mean mechanical watches, and the people who are really into mechanical watches, (in my experience) are overwhelmingly, men. And moreover I know many men who enjoy talking about and analyising the simultaneously highly technical yet archaic mechanics that they wear on their wrist. The people who make these very expensive luxury items also know this and market their product accordingly.

This print ad, for Zenith (specifically their tellingly named “Defy” line) ticks a lot of obvious macho image boxes – other ads in this range featured scantily clad women. This is all pretty obvious in terms of visual images of masculine identity and Zenith’s desired product association.

Now this is an image of Che Guevara wearing a Rolex,  an image Rolex used in an ad campaign. This image has several things going on in it masculinity wise: Che is a pretty great example of a tough guy (ergo Rolex is a tough guy watch), but also important for Rolex (the leaders of the watch industry in terms of sales and influence) is the strong association with Rolex and important history, adding to their prestige. That Che is puffing on a cigar only helps add to the manliness.

Now, this last ad is from another prestigious swiss company – Patek Philippe. This ad, in addition to giving a clear indication as to the lifestyle owners can expect, takes a slightly different approach. The tag line of this campaign is; “You never actually own a Patek Philippe – You merely look after it for the next generation.”  Now, looking at this ad it’s clear that by “the next generation” Patek don’t have the girl children in mind. Patek are selling, along with their very expensive watches, an image of paternalistic patriarchy, and implicitly a physical link to a less complicated, better time.

It isn’t just in the ad copy that watches are closely linked to masculinity. Many models and styles of watches themselves are derived from watches used for highly masculine purposes; watches worn by pilots, sailors, mountaineers, divers, race car drivers, astronauts, soldiers and even polo players have inspired an industry of watches. An industry heavily invested in the maintenance of myth and legend around their product, even if that product is very, very really used for the purposes it was originally designed for.

Another aspect of the relationship between masculinity and watches (and here I may be reading a little too much into things, but I honestly don’t think I am) is the size of watches. The last 10 – 15 years have seen, in the world of horology, the emergence of what has been called the “big watch trend.” I own a watch from the 1930’s – it’s a mans watch, and it’s about 24mm across and maybe 42mm high. It looks ridiculously tiny on my (maybe slightly larger than average wrist) mens wrists have not changed that much in the last 70 odd years, our taste in watches clearly has. even up until the 80’s a watch with a diameter of 36mm was a standard sized mans watch. Of late that size has crept up and up, with a 42 – 44mm diameter becoming increasingly normal and 36mm positively “petite” (code for effeminate, btw). I’m not saying that this size thing stems from a global, deepseated anxiety about masculine identity that needs to be assuaged through large wristwatches (that’d be just CRAZY) – but manufacturers are not creating these size watches out of a vacuum, they are responding to the desires of the market, and the market is overwhelmingly men.

POSTSCRIPT: The Guardian has this article on it’s website, dealing with similar stuff – the comments section is illuminating also, in terms of attitudes towards wearing expensive watches and the impact on perceptions of masculinity this may have.

A few thoughts about Australian Politics

December 8, 2009

For those of you who live outside of Australia (and for those here who don’t pay attention to the news) we have a new Federal opposition leader of parliament, Tony Abbott.

From my less than comprehensive or incisive understanding of the political geography of Australia Tony Abbott is a contentious choice, and his elevation was far from unified. He’s known for his conservatism, his aggressive public image, strong catholic ties and dogmatic pro-life stance. (his nickname in the media is the “Mad Monk”)

Much has been made in the media of images of the in shape politician doing various physical things in very small items of lycra clothing (which would you believe, i can’t find any good pics online – always the way, when you don’t want to see it, it’s in your face, when you’re looking – nowhere to be found). These images are reminiscent of Images of Putin in various states of undress, or hunting something.

Tony Abbott is being represented as an aggressively masculine politician,  and it has been broadly acknowledged that women are a demographic group he has problems appealing to (anti-abortion policies can have that effect I hear)

For those who missed this piece (and this glowing endorsement) by Miranda Devine that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age it’s a pretty right wing piece defending Our new Federal Liberal leaders relationship with women. If you read it, be warned; it’s very frustrating.

The masculinity of politicians is always interesting, and I think that representation of masculinity in contemporary Australian federal politics will be very interesting, with the well spoken PM Kevin Rudd (often represented as  schoolboy-ish) and the defiantly inflexible and unappealing Tony Abbott. I think this contrast can make for some interesting dynamics around masculine expression and identity, I just hope that the backlash appeal of a traditional and patriarchal idea of masculinity isn’t to appealing for to the people of Australia.