Posted tagged ‘Hypermasculinity’

Reading: Odds & ends

August 11, 2010

This Q & A with Grant Stoddard, a ‘sexpert’ who wrote a book and might be getting a tv show (the man project) has some interesting stuff to say about masculinity and sexuality and how the twain can be limiting for guys.

This blog post by the polymathic (?) Stephen Fry. of particular interest is the “part 2” where he talks about being the right kind of homosexual man. (Thanks Rob)

 This  nifty little video round up of the generally pathetic state of masculine expression in advertising is worth a watch too (thanks Nio)

And this nifty article on the demise of the American action star (and it’s possible revival?) – Hello Expendables. (thanks for the heads up Dane)

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?

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.

Reading: (About) The Hurt Locker

March 2, 2010

A little while ago I had the oppurtunity to see Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent Oscar contender The Hurt Locker, I considered writing a post about it, but I thought there would be quite a lot of cross over between it and this post on Generation Kill (as well as this). So I decided not to.

But today I came across this little gem of a piece by the generally awesome Shira Tarrant about The Hurt Locker, a growing sensitivity around gender in mainstream media, and a bit generally about the growing interest in feministy gender type circles around masculinity. I can only hope that this interest in masculinities continues to develop and evolve.

Images of Masculinity: An Oldie, and not a goodie.

February 17, 2010

I won’t say much about this ad, save that is canonical in terms of aspirational hegemonic white masculinity. Cultural references to it abound, and are deeply embedded.  Sadly, I don’t think much has changed at all……

(pic from the internet)

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’.