Archive for the ‘Masculinity of the Month’ category

Masculinity of the Month: Mel Gibson

July 26, 2010

The last few ‘Masculinity of the Month’ posts I’ve done, have been somewhat or mostly approving of the type of masculinity represented. This month, less so.

Or Not.

Mel Gibson as an actor (and it seems increasingly, it seems, in real life) embodies a spectacularly retrogressive type of masculinity. His films are almost to a fault, of the single-minded bloody vengeance type – and his personal life, as has been extensively covered in public, appears to have large doses or racism, misogyny, and general hate and anger.

I’ve got to say I’m not hugely surprised by any of this, and I think that the example of Mr Gibson is not particularly out of the norm, except in that he is famous and his comments are on record, meaning it gets press coverage. But what’s kinda nice is that this is getting coverage, and the coverage (except for the usual suspects, like Australia’s finest far right columnist) is pretty condemning of Mr Gibson’s actions, and more importantly, attitudes.

So, what do you think, does the criticism of men like Mel, and to a lesser extent, Tom Cruise, mean anything significant in terms of broader shifts of what is acceptable masculine identity, or is it oppressive hegemonic business as usual in man land? Does the tarnishing of once great masculine icons represent genuine change, or just the cycle of fashion?

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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.

Masculinity of the Month: Yukio Mishima

April 28, 2010

(This is actually a very late edition of my monthly masculinity post for March, hopefully I get one for April out in the next few days)

Yukio Mishima is how Japanese author and general creative type Kimitake Hiraoka  (1925 -1970) is better known to the world. One of the most prominent Japanese literary figures of the twentieth century, he is primarily known for his writings and plays. He is also remembered for the manner in which he died. There are a lot of interesting elements to Mishima’s life, especially in regard to his masculine expression. Mishima’s early life is an interesting and perhaps telling blend of isolation and bullying.  I am not going to write about Mishima’s extensive literary output which is rich in terms of expression of gender and masculinity & identity, but rather point out a few other things that I think demonstrate his masculinity and the complexity of it.

Mishima’s sexuality is somewhat ambiguous, he was married and had children, but he also had homosexual relationships.  He became interested in bodybuilding and martial arts and he articulated his relationship with his body in Sun and Steel. The above image is, I think, interesting in terms of embodied masculinity and particular post war Japanese masculine identity. As can perhaps be guessed from the above, Mishima was strongly nationalistic, to the extent that in 1968, a few years before his death he founded a nationalist militia, the Shield Society. This right-wing group was a short-lived one, disbanding after a failed coup, when a small group of members, led by Mishima, briefly seized control of the defence force headquarters and tried to rally the troops and restore imperial rule. After the failure of this, Mishima and one other member of the group, Masakatsu Morita, committed ritual suicide.

These actions, the dedication and belief demonstrated by them, along with the extensive output of Mishima as an artist are fascinating to me. Rich in terms of a masculinity that seems amazingly passionate, disciplined and destructive. I don’t think it’s a good model of masculinity, but it sure is interesting from a historical and cultural perspective.

Masculinity of the Month (Winter Olympics Edition): Johnny Weir

March 1, 2010

And the (oh so slightly late) masculinity of the month for February goes to USA Olympic Figure Skater Johnny Weir.

What makes Johnny Weir such a great example of masculinity in my books is how he dealt with his own masculinity being very publicly criticised.  Being in Australia I first noticed this example, from two of our nations un-fineset personalities. Another example of nasty homophobia, courtesy of a Canadian Sports channel can be found –  here.

While I personally don’t find these attitudes or comments surprising in the slightest, I was very impressed by how Weir handled it, calmly and with maturity and humour.  For example, in relation to the Canadian commentators;

“It wasn’t these two men criticizing my skating, it was them criticizing me as a person, and that was something that really, frankly, pissed me off,” Weir told reporters. “Nobody knows me. … I think masculinity is what you believe it to be.”

(Which was sourced from here)

I’d also highly recommend you watch this press conference Mr Weir held, where he speaks really well and intelligently about opportunity, inclusion and acceptance. The clear articulation of self the Weir has demonstrated in response to the lowest common denominator homophobia of some commentators to me clearly demonstrates that his masculine identity is beyond question, and I hope that I would react in a similar way if I was ever criticised in such a way.

(Late addition: this Feministing article is well worth a read too)

Masculinity of the Month: Rob Halford

January 28, 2010

I’m going to try to start a new thing here, a somewhat regular (monthly I reckon), post on a particular persons masculinity I really like. It might be an in-depth look, or just a snapshot. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.

…So, to kick us off, I’m going to go with Rob Halford, the veteran lead singer of veteran heavy metal band Judas Priest (‘cos I’m a sucker for a leatherman)

Here he is, In all his leathery goodness.

A quick bit of back story, Judas Priest, the band for which Halford is most well-known for his involvement with, has been around since the 70’s and is a well-known and respected elder statesman of heavy metal music. They are still working and touring (I had the great pleasure of seeing them last year). In the late 90’s Halford stepped out of the heavy metal closet to Advocate magazine.

I find this intersection of metal and sexuality interesting, as someone with what I would say a casual relationship and appreciation of metal  music, as a genre it’s stereotypically aggressively heterosexual, if not explicitly homophobic. Certainly I would say the genre as a whole was overtly masculine and often misogynist. Now I’m not going to go so far as to say that the prominence Halford in the mainstream heavy metal scene for so long is representative of some broader acceptance of homosexuality,  by all accounts (by which I mean – The Internet) Halford’s sexuality was something of an open secret. But I really don’t know enough about Mr Halford, his sexuality, or the world heavy metal to make those sort of grand sweeping statements.

But I do see some interesting similarities in performance and representation; the theatricality and the ‘campness’ of a lot of metal, and certainly Judas Priest. I like that (to me & I imagine others) the association of heavy metal and homosexuality is one not oft or easily made, and I really like that Mr Halford somewhat problematises both those neat little identity categories.

So Rob Halford’s masculinity, as I’ve seen it represented through music, presentation and performance: With its mix of aggression, flamboyance and macho posturing, and especially the way in he adds challenges traditional representations of heavy metal culture mean he’s my pick for the first ‘Masculinity of the Month’.