Archive for May 2010

Reading: Gender Across Borders on Men, Masculinities, and Peacebuilding

May 31, 2010

The international gender blog Gender Across Borders posted this great post on how systems of oppression are harmful to men as well as women, in that they dehumanise and limite the range of masculine expression. The article also stresses the importance of engaging men to challenge their masculinity for their own empowerment, and not just within the context of being allies to women.

That’s something I really agree with. Read  the article and check out the organisations they link to.


The Internet Public Library and Mens Activism

May 31, 2010

One of the readers of this blog, Erica (thanks Erica), sent me an email the other day about ipl2, the Internet Public Library. It’s an online learning and teaching environment/resource – its tag line (motto?) is “Information you can Trust.”

As Erica found out, if you go; resources by subject/social sciences/gender and sexuality – one of the 68 resources listed is and organisation called Mens Activism. Now, the Mens Activism News Network  is in their own words..

a web site which tracks news and information about men’s issues from around the world. Our particular focus is on promoting activism in support of men’s rights and equality, and providing readers with the latest news stories is one way to inform and empower men’s rights activists in their goals to create a more just and fair society.One unique aspect of is that it is a community-based forum for activists. While there are a handful of site administrators who moderate and post news stories, the vast majority of articles posted to this site come directly from you, the reader.

It seems a little worrying to me that the ipl2, which bills itself as a place you can trust and is administered by professional librarian types, is linking to a user generated content male activist website. Their philosophy and outlook is reasonable and moderate (see here) it’s still a user generated site, and the site administrators promote the site’s philosophy as moderate etc, they are not taking responsibility for users of the site, and use a sneaky (and for me unconvincing) discursive device to get around the “MRA” label;

Why we’re not a men’s rights organization

Please note that The Men’s Activism News Network is not really an organization, but a service to pro-male activists and groups. We feel that there are plenty of excellent men’s rights organizations out there and we should avoid the creation of further divisions within the movement when possible. readers and contributors are members of a community, but we do not have official meetings, membership lists, or anything like that. Anyone with a sincere interest is men’s issues is welcome to become part of this community.

In my opinion linking to Mens Activism from the ipl2  is inappropriate given the audience and educational basis of ipl2 – I would certainly not trust information from Mens Activism. You can contact the ipl2 to ask them to reconsider their materials here.

(UPDATE: IPL is removing the link to the Mens Activism network.)

Australian footballer Jason Akermanis on why gay players should stay closeted.

May 20, 2010

One of my favorite factoids about Australian football (AFL) is that it is the only professional sport league with no openly homosexual players. I can’t verify this, and have no way of knowing if it’s true, but I’d believe it.  In my opinion Australian football, as an exemplar for ‘traditional” Australian masculine values is representative of a harmful, internalizing and regressive model of masculine expression. And it’s also one that is hugely influential in hegemonic terms.

Jason Akermanis, a footballer with a prominent media profile wrote an opinion piece in the Herald Sun today, (here it is) in which he extolls the importance of gay player remaining closeted for the integrity and general good of the game, and for the individual players.

It’s an interesting article. I’m going to post a few choice passages and unpack them a little bit.

I’ll start off positive, saying that I agree with Akermanis in that gay AFL players are under no obligation to come out, simply because they are high-profile. That’s a personal choice, and if the hypothetical homosexual football player chooses not to come out, that’s totally cool by me. However, Akermanis goes a little bit further;

But I believe the world of AFL footy is not ready for it. To come out is unnecessary for a lot of reasons.

Imagine the publicity associated with a current player admitting he’s gay. It would be international news and could break the fabric of a club.

Well, first of all  I’m not sure it would be international news, and I really doubt it would break the fabric of the club. And if it did, to be honest that’s probably a good thing. If a tightly knit bunch of elite male athletes can’t handle one of their own preferring men as partners to women, if this would cause a fundamental breakdown in the sporting esprit d’corps, then it’s a club probably not worth being part of.

But if Akermanis is anything to go by, I might be expecting a little too much out of AFL footballers, something Akermanis puts down to the totally unique work environment of a professional sports team

I believe it would cause discomfort in that environment should someone declare himself gay.

I have played with a gay player in the twos for Mayne in Queensland in the mid-1990s who was happy to admit his sexual persuasion. He was a great guy who played his heart out and was respected by everyone in the team.

The only time I noticed a difference was when I was showering with 10 other players after a good win and I turned around to see all 10 heading out in a second with their towels. Sure enough, our gay teammate had wandered in.

For some reason I felt uncomfortable, so I left. I am sure most players these days would do the same.

I know he wasn’t about to try to convert me to his way of thinking, but I was uncomfortable all the same

Wow. that’s all kinds of depressing and homophobic. And I can really see why gay footballers aren’t leaping out of their closets if this is the reaction they can expect from their peers. But I also think this is about heterosexual footballers (and lets conflate that to include a great many men) complex and troubled relationship with homosocial environments and ‘homoerotic’ behaviour. Akermanis touches on this;

 In an athletic environment the rules are different from the cultural rules for men.

Never in a mall will you see two straight men hugging, a— slapping and jumping around like kids after an important goal.

Locker room nudity and homoerotic activities are normal inside footy clubs.

Well. I’d argue that expressions of intimacy and emotion between men are not, by default, homoerotic. And to claim that is the case is a clear demonstration of the social and cultural regulation of masculinity at work. The above statement is exemplary of how a model of masculinity which prohibits display of homosocial affection or care is created and perpetuated. I would argue that the cultural rules of football, while different, inform, to a large degree, broader cultural norms of masculinity. And to have footballers act in an emotional way with other men in one context and condemn this masculine expression in the next breath, is hugely damaging and hypocritical.

There is NOTHING wrong with men hugging, crying, or what have you. To have prominent male role models act in this way is great, as gatekeepers of masculinity their actions have the potential to normalise a broader range of emotional expression in men. Instead of celebrating this, they isolate their actions to the context of the professional playing field, further internalizing harmful norms and homophobia. I think this hypocrisy is at the heart of the AFL’s issues with homosexual players. To accept openly homosexual players as their own would be to hold a mirror to their own masculine expression and ideology, and cast a perhaps uncomfortable light on their own double standards.

That Akermanis wrote this article is not a casual coincidence, he is taking an active, pre-emptive role at maintaining the cultural walls of a particular hegemonic masculine identity; clearly defining what it is to be a football playing man, and warning any men who may not totally conform to this cultural ideal not to rock the boat.

Masculinity of the Month: The Invincible Iron Man/Tony Stark

May 3, 2010

Well, this conversation could so easily be about any male superhero, but I choose to go with one who’s highly visible at the moment (And is coincidently, a personal favourite of mine). I love meta narratives and metaphors about super heroes, mainly because I think they are influenced so much by the society and culture in which they were written, and in turn have a big influence on (primarily) younger men.

There he is, in his red and gold iron manly glory.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the character and history of the guy in the metal suit – it’s a story that started in 1963, in the context of the Vietnam war. The stories of Iron Man are strongly linked to the world and time in which they are set , more so than many other heroes. Iron Man is perhaps the most overt of cold war super heroes, protecting the interests of America as the invincible Iron Man, and also through the capitalist ideology of the man inside the suit, Tony Stark. In this the classic superhero double act is given an extra layer of meaning. In terms of masculinity Iron Man is also notable for the relationship between suit and wearer. The suit also keeps the man, Tony Stark alive, the machine keeping his damaged heart functioning. In this way Stark is dependent on the suit; in classic superhero style, it is his strength and his weakness.

Another thing I like about the Stark/Iron Man combo above some other superheroes is that the billionaire playboy industrialist weapons manufacturer (naturally) Tony Stark demonstrates a little more reflexive moral light and shade. While his actions as Iron Man are everything the actions of a superhero should be, Tony Stark is a different kettle of fish. He is conflicted about the uses of the technology he creates, and his character arc involves alcoholism and rehab.

I find the gender representation in popular comics fascinating, and I think they can be very instructive on the societies and cultures that create them, why they create them and what they inform and represent to those who consume them. For example I think it is telling that a superhero like Iron Man, with his problematic relationship to technologies of destruction emerged at the height of the cold war, and at a time when the war in Vietnam was burgeoning.

Tony Stark and Iron Man are representations of superheroic masculinity, and this is far from problematic. But, as far as the Marvel/DC stable of manly heroes goes, the Invincible Iron Man and his secret identity show a type of vulnerability that is different from Batman or Superman, a little more ambiguous and a little more reflective.

Unusually for this blog I’m going to end this entry with a quote from Wikipedia, (one of my great joys in writing this non-formal, non-academic blog is using wikipedia willy nilly) It’s referencing a Robert Genter, a historian of comics and super heroes:

According to historian Robert Genter, Stark is emasculated by his loss of autonomy as an inventor — a blow to his manhood symbolized by his chest wound — and “Iron Man centers on Stark’s inability to reconcile with this wound to his masculinity.” Stan Lee used the playboy side of Stark to restore the character’s sense of masculinity. Stark conquers women — either romantically or physically, and with female supervillains frequently both — and, writes Genter, “follows the lead of other cultural and literary figures such as Ian Fleming, Mickey Spillane, and Norman Mailer who made unregulated sexuality a form of authenticity.”

Good stuff huh, here is the wikipedia article on Iron Man.