Re/Framing Manhood.

Posted: May 22, 2015 in Manhood, Masculinity, Privilege, Violence

man-box

How hegemonic manhood is currently defined and constructed in North America? What other identifications are used and de/valued in the process? How do individuals learn to perform such expectations? How does it affect us as individuals (irrespective of gender affiliation) and society? And are there potential avenues for challenging the ways in which hegemonic manhood is socially constructed and enacted?

We will dedicate a series of reading group meetings to discuss contemporary hegemonic manhood in North America.

For our third meeting, we looked at a duet of readings exploring how hegemonic manhood  is socially framed, communicated and manifested, as well as some of its implication on us as individuals and on our society.

The first reading, Guys’ Club: No Faggots, Bitches, or Pussies Allowed is a book chapter by poet, actor, and writer Carlos Andrés Gómez. Gomez weaves together personal anecdotes with larger cultural and social circumstances through which he introduces us to his experience of becoming a man in North America. The second reading, “Bros Before Hos”: The Guy Code, is a book chapter by Michael Kimmel, a leading scholar on men and masculinity. Based on a large scale research in North American universities, Kimmel looks at how young men in our society understand manhood, at society’s role in maintaining this notion of manhood, and at its harmful potential.

Gomez, Carlos A. (2012) Guys’ Club: No Faggots, Bitches, or Pussies Allowed. In Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood. Pp:71-92. New York: Gotham Books.

Kimmel, Michael. (2008) Bros Before Hos”: The Guy Code. In Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. Pp: 44-69. New York: Harper.

In our fourth meeting (July 10) we looked at college initiation rites as a model for life through three readings. The first is another chapter From Kimmel’s Guyland, titled The Rites of Almost-Men: Binge Drinking, Fraternity Hazing, and the Elephant Walk. The other two are consecutive book chapters, The Initiation Ritual and The Law of the Brothers from Peggy Reeves Sanday‘s groundbreaking bestseller Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus.

Kimmel, Michael (2008) The Rites of Almost-Men: Binge Drinking, Fraternity Hazing, and the Elephant Walk. In Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. Pp: 95-122. New York: Harper.

Sanday, Peggy R. (2007) The Initiation Ritual: A Model for Life and The Law of the Brothers. In Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus.  Pp:148-179. New York: New York University Press.

In our fifth meeting (July 17, 2:30) we will look at the ways in which hegemonic North American manhood intersects with sexuality. We will focus on the fag discourse that we have already discussed on our third meeting, this time considering an adolescent context. We will also look at Bear Culture and how “Bears” construct their manhood in relation to women and “Fags.”

Hennen, Peter (2005) Bear Bodies, Bear Masculinity: Recuperation, Resistance, or Retreat? Gender & Society 19(1): 25-43.

Pascoe, C.J. (2005) ‘Dude, You’re a Fag’: Adolescent Masculinity and the Fag Discourse. Sexualities 8(3):329-346.

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Comments
  1. Taltal says:

    In our discussion we talked about key expectations for performing contemporary hegemonic North American manhood, the ways in which it depends on expressing certain masculine traits while avoiding and devaluing what is seen as feminine traits, as well as its ongoing contested status. While the readings presented us with plentiful examples and insights, three were of specific interest to me.
    First, the centrality of violence—against individuals of all gender identities—in the process of achieving and securing/ maintaining a “man status.” There is much to learn from this abundance; for me it indicates the extent to which this construction is socially harmful and unnatural (as it is forced and policed, not a “human nature”).
    Second, the acknowledgment of homophobia as an anti-women ideology (Gomez 2012:89). While we often discuss the construction of manhood in relation to homosexuality and femininity, recognizing the connection between the two (also known as “effemiphobia”) is helpful in identifying the larger issue.
    Third, the paradoxical constraining nature of this notion of manhood.
    While this sense of manhood is closely related to strength, wealth, politics, scientific and world explorations, the reality of performing such social position seems rather constraining and predetermined. This reality seems even more contradictory given the dynamic and multiverse nature of other gender identities, a notion clearly identified by the women students interviewed by Kimmel (2008:44).
    How can we make sense of such paradox? Carol suggested that since higher social value is attributed to masculine traits, it makes sense for non-men to incorporate dynamic performances that include some masculine traits, while it is less (socially) beneficial for men to practice non-masculine traits. Another way to look at it relates to the nature of hegemonic manhood – as it is performed for and policed by other men, the various ways in which non-men explore and expand their human potential is unacknowledged and irrelevant.

    In our discussion we identified the male-specific nature of this discourse as a central barrier for inclusive human growth and social change. Expending the discourse by introducing additional modes to perform manhood as suggested by Gomez and recognizing the need for support in challenging gender policing as stated by young men interviewed by Kimmel, are two paths we aim to explore through this webpage.

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    • Taltal says:

      Our upcoming meeting will touch the same questions we looked at in our previous meeting:

      How hegemonic manhood is currently defined and constructed in North America? What other identifications are used and de/valued in the process? How do individuals learn to perform such expectations? How does it affect us as individuals (irrespective of gender affiliation) and society? And are there potential avenues for challenging the ways in which hegemonic manhood is socially constructed and enacted?

      This set of readings, though, directly discuss the social construction of hegemonic North American manhood, making some of the points discussed earlier painfully evident. I hope we can focus our discussion around the need to secure and maintain a “man status” and the various forms of violence (including effemiphobia) practiced and displayed in the process. Please feel free to post your initial thoughts :).

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  2. 3d67jonathan says:

    On our 4th Meeting:

    What really struck me during our meeting was the raising of the concept of entitlement and how it is formulated. That the belonging to a Fraternity (in this case) gives you certain entitlements, how this traces back to the Kimmel’s Culture of Entitlement, and the way in which this is considered, in these formative years, and in fact sold by the Fraternities, as a Model for Life. That the subjugation, humiliation, and abuse of others is to be considered a Model for Life is terrifying.

    The sad thing is, as we concluded, that this is only evident in the case of these readings because it is so obviously bizarre. Just for Tal and Geoff, here’s my comment:

    It takes a something truly bizarre compared to the normal to highlight how bizarre the normal actually is.

    By that I meant that while the structures, behaviors and procedures within the Fraternity system are simply amplified versions of our own cultures norms. You can see initiation rituals in many places in our society, from the military, sports teams, businesses, and so forth.

    I have also been struck, repeatedly, by how perfectly this is a microcosm for capitalism, at least in the North American, and particular American, sense: humiliate the lowest level entrants, so that they can gain access to an exclusive club (or company) where they gain certain benefits, while continuing then to abuse those outside for the good of that club (or company).

    The final point in this, of course, is the violent anti-woman behavior, the belittling of all things feminine, and the “cleansing” of the male body of those “impurities”. Again, interesting, but we see this in the business world, constantly. Women in positions of power in corporations have long been noted as stripping themselves of femininity, wearing suits, short haircuts, and so forth, in order to exude a more masculine (and therefore “more powerful”) aura. Again, microcosm.

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  3. Jonathan brings up great points, especially with the connection to other parts of our society that also require initiations, a stripping of the self and a new identity that must be constantly recreated.

    Another point of interest for me was the strong presence of dichotomies whether between the insiders and outsiders or men and women, masculine and feminine, etc. The very rigid teachings of fraternities troubles me as it precludes considerations of other values or ‘models for life’. Like we discussed yesterday, there seems to be a central narrative for success in North America that everyone is encouraged to follow. This narrative often leaves little room for questioning or considering other options, opportunities, or areas of interest. Also, it easily leaves people feeling confused, frustrated, or even lonely. Fraternities play well into this as they do offer a sense of belonging and purpose in this narrative while stripping away the will or ability to think individually. Their method of framing issues is very conducive to the perpetuation of our capitalist success story; however, it is very restrictive and, as we have seen, often harmful.

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    • Taltal says:

      In this this meeting we temporarily narrowed our on-going discussion on contemporary hegemonic manhood by looking at a particular social situation: University initiation rituals. As reflected in Jonathan and Becca’s comments, we used this particular example as a magnifying glass to observe: 1) Manhood as socially constructed, mostly by peers, 2) the various modes of violence involved, and 3) how it is portrayed as a Model for Life.

      We first looked into the particular transition from parents’ home to a University campuses that takes place in North America and the various personal challenges, such as insecurity and loneliness, it provokes. We then talked about the gendered aspects of ritual initiations and potential reasons for why manhood seems to call for such rituals.
      Following Peggy Sanday (1990/2007) and Michael Kimmel (2008), we discussed one particular aspect of North American Campus initiations: the fact that they are administrated by individuals which themselves did not achieve manhood status. (Adult, authoritative male figures, who are the ones in charge of such initiations in different cultures, often choose to “not know,” as mentioned by Geoff). As non-man cannot initiate into manhood, this peculiar setting results in a non-final transition, that leads to an ongoing need to prove oneself as a man. Interestingly, such process takes place through initiating others: first, as the initiators are in a position of power and control that enables them to dominate others, and second, as it is a position that others desire and are willing to make great sacrifices in order to achieve. It seems, thus, that one is willing to experience the rituals as a plague, mostly in order to experience them again as an initiator. This lesson, harming others to secure entitlement and success, claims Sanday, becomes a Model for Life and the basic structure for The American Dream (as mentioned above by Jonathan and Becca). Another key point mentioned by Kimmel, is that these ceremonies actually aim to distance oneself from the status of man and the social anxiety it generates among young men.

      A quick comment about violence – while these accounts display terribly violent practices, what I find most painful are the ideas these violent practices openly represent. First, they aim to “kill the self,” to erase individuals’ particular traits and interests and have them conform to a specific pre-existing group ideology. Celebrating the symbolic killing of the individual, especially in an individualistic society, is horrifying. Second, reading about these rituals as a woman has its additional toll – how can it be that one gender category is that demeaned by society?
      These two points bring me back to Sanday’s view of these rituals as a Model for Life (as mentioned by Becca and Jonathan), and the disturbing fact that this model did not change much in the past 20 years (as evident through the similar practices described by Kimmel).

      However, we also witness a few challenges to these practices as a Model for Life. First, according to Kimmel, as some of these guys gain alternative (or should I say normative) modes to prove their manhood, such as parenthood and stable job/ relationship, they no longer feel the need to follow the previous model. Second, fraternity brothers talked to Sanday and broke their vows to maintain the secretive nature of these rituals. They chose to do so, she reports, as they realize that they are socially harmful and need to be changed. Breaking the silence, as we have discussed before, is essential for any social change.

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      • Taltal says:

        In our next meeting we will touch the same questions we looked at in our previous meetings:

        How hegemonic manhood is currently defined and constructed in North America? What other identifications are used and de/valued in the process? How do individuals learn to perform such expectations? How does it affect us as individuals (irrespective of gender affiliation) and society? And are there potential avenues for challenging the ways in which hegemonic manhood is socially constructed and enacted?

        This set of readings brings forward the experiences of two groups of males and their labors to construct themselves as part of what we saw so far as hegemonic manhood. The first group is high school students who police each other’s gender performance. The second is a social group of adult gay men that establishes its sense of manhood vis-à-vis other categories. Please feel free to post your initial thoughts :).

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  4. 3d67jonathan says:

    This meeting was interesting to me because I had read both of these pieces before, in a Human Sexualities class, but the discussion in class had used them in an entirely different framing, and it was really interesting to read them for a different purpose, and with a different perspective.

    It is really striking that, regardless of how much we read, the same narrative emerges in masculinity, and what it is: not feminized. Tal’s distinction between feminine, which is typically associated with women in our minds, and feminized, which is the projection of a femininity onto a body, is very interesting, and food for thought. The idea that the male body must, under no circumstances be feminized, feels quite accurate, at least in my experience as a male, particularly in my primary education. My secondary is a bit muddled, as I am much older than the majority of my classmates, and have a bit more grounding in myself.

    It remains, however, that masculinity seems to be continually framed as the “not-feminized”. Whatever is associated with feminine, then, must be avoided. To me the major problem with this arises with emotional development, and the healthy ability to express and discuss emotionality without fear of ridicule or retribution; a subject quite close to my heart. Typically, hegemonic masculinity frames emotionality as a feminine attribute, and something which must therefore be avoided, yet this is unhealthy in so many different ways.

    I enjoyed this meeting quite a lot, and thankyou to everyone who came!

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  5. Stephen says:

    In the Gómez reading (May 28), the author made a show of being masculine before commenting on masculinity. This week’s readings appear to describe similar actions by other groups of people. The Hennen article describes how the “man box” can include very masculine gay men, while the Pascoe article described how adolescents play a game of “hot potato” by taking turns pushing others out of the “man box” with insults. Our discussion of these points included how successfully performing the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity is a feature of the success of the MVP (Mentors in Violence Prevention) program where athletes promote violence prevention. Applying these themes to University students, the socio-economic position of many students (not to mention their physical condition as young, fit people) are characteristics of hegemonic masculinity that means, despite how everyone is pushed out of the man-box sometimes, many students can draw from their masculine “credentials” when discussing hegemonic masculinity.

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  6. David says:

    Re: Reading Discussion on July 17 — I had already read both of these articles, but it was nice to discuss them from a new and different perspective. In order to thoroughly engage with these topics, it is necessary to keep in mind the idea of “intersectionality”. That is, we can’t forget the ways in which various systems of oppression (e.g., race, religious, gender, etc.) intersect and combine to influence our personal experiences. Importantly, we need to consider the combined influence of these systems of oppression — because they function differently in isolation than they do in unison.

    For instance, in ‘Dude, You’re a Fag’, Pascoe notes that certain behaviors (e.g., boys dancing with other boys) are considered acceptable when performed by black boys, but considered feminine and unacceptable when performed by white boys. In ‘Bear Bodies, Bear Masculinity’, Hennen also considers the way in which race intersects with other factors, by noting that “Bear” organizations are overwhelmingly white. Essentially, no social phenomenon can be fully understood without taking an intersectional approach towards analysis. Characteristics like gender and race, for example, have distinct influences on our social experiences. But we must also consider the ways in which these factors intersect and interact with each other.

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  7. gpippus says:

    Just a few short additions/reiterations that I think are worth mentioning again here.

    I think the parallel between the social position of pledges in last weeks reading, and the position of the “twink” relative to the Bear community is striking, and indicative of a facet of masculinity that has appeared repeatedly. By allowing access to a social circle that is inclusive, but not quite equal, the privileged hierarchical position of the Bears and the members of the fraternities is reasserted. Furthermore, pledges and “twinks” are framed as “feminized” relative to their more masculine counterparts. This association exemplifies the point that Jonathan made, wherein these traits are framed hierarchically and oppositionally.

    What is particularly startling is that this framework exists among numerous, diverse social circles. Whether in environments like fraternities, where stereotypical iterations of traditional hegemonic masculinity are expected, or in gay subcultures like that of the Bears, the framing of masculinity as non-feminized and more highly valued in a hierarchical binary remains consistent.

    These readings illuminate just how pervasive these social constructions are, which is somewhat daunting. At the same time, social change is evident as the Bears, while failing to deconstruct the gender hierarchy in some ways, have reframed how masculinity exists by rethinking sexuality and intimacy and entering the public consciousness.

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