Masculinity refers to the social roles, behaviors, and meanings prescribed for men in any given society at any one time. As such, it emphasizes gender, not biological sex, and the diversity of identities among different groups of men. Although we experience gender to be an internal facet of identity, the concept of masculinity is produced within the institutions of society and through our daily interactions (Kimmel 2000).
Much popular discourse assumes that biological sex determines one’s gender identity, the experience and expression of masculinity and femininity. Instead of focusing on biological universals, social and behavioral scientists are concerned with the different ways in which biological sex comes to mean different things in different contexts. Sex refers to the biological apparatus, the male and the female—our chromosomal, chemical, anatomical, organization. Gender refers to the meanings that are attached to those differences within a culture. Sex is male and female; gender is masculinity and femininity—what it means to be a man or a woman. Whereas biological sex varies very little, gender varies enormously. Sex is biological; gender is socially constructed. Gender takes shape only within specific social and cultural contexts.
The use of the plural—masculinities —recognizes the dramatic variation in how different groups define masculinity, even in the same society at the same time, as well as individual differences. Although social forces operate to create systematic differences between men and women, on average, these differences between women and men are not as great as the differences among men or among women.
The meanings of masculinity vary over four different dimensions; thus four different disciplines are involved in understanding gender—anthropology, history, psychology, and sociology.
First, masculinities vary across cultures. Anthropologists have documented the ways that gender varies cross-culturally. Some cultures encourage men to be stoic and to prove masculinity, especially by sexual conquest. Other cultures prescribe a more relaxed definition of masculinity based on civic participation, emotional responsiveness, and collective provision for the community’s needs. What it means to be a man in France or among Aboriginal peoples in the Australian outback are so far apart that it belies any notion that gender identity is determined mostly by biological sex differences. The differences between two cultures’ version of masculinity is often greater than the differences between the two genders.
Second, definitions of masculinity vary considerably in any one country over time. Historians have explored how these definitions have shifted in response to changes in levels of industrialization and urbanization, in a nation’s position in the larger world’s geopolitical and economic context, and with the development of new technologies. What it meant to be a man in seventeenth-century France or in Hellenic Greece is certainly different from what it might mean to be a French or Greek man today.
Third, definitions of masculinity change over the course of a person’s life. Developmental psychologists have examined how a set of developmental milestones leads to differences in our experiences and our expressions of gender identity. Both chronological age and life stage require different enactments of gender. In the West, the issues confronting a man about proving himself and feeling successful change as he ages, as do the social institutions in which he attempts to enact those experiences. A young single man defines masculinity differently than do a middle-aged father and an elderly grandfather.
Finally, the meanings of masculinity vary considerably within any given society at any one time. At any given moment, several meanings of masculinity coexist. Simply put, not all American or Brazilian or Senegalese men are the same. Sociologists have explored the ways in which class, race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, and region all shape gender identity. Each of these axes modifies the others. For example, an older, black, gay man in Chicago and a young, white, heterosexual farm boy in Iowa would likely have different definitions of masculinity and different ideas about what it means to be a woman. Yet each of these people is deeply affected by the gender norms and power arrangements of their society.
Because gender varies so significantly—across cultures, over historical time, among men and women within any one culture, and over the life course—we cannot speak of masculinity as though it is a constant, universal essence, common to all men. Gender must be seen as an ever-changing, fluid assemblage of meanings and behaviors; we must speak of masculinities. By pluralizing the term we acknowledge that masculinity means different things to different groups of people at different times.
Recognizing diversity ought not to obscure the ways in which gender definitions are constructed in a field of power. Simply put, all masculinities are not created equal. In every culture, men contend with a definition that is held up as the model against which all are expected to measure themselves. This “hegemonic” definition of masculinity is “constructed in relation to various subordinated masculinities as well as in relation to women,” writes sociologist R. W. Connell (1987, p. 183). As Erving Goffman once described it,
In an important sense there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant, father, of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height, and a recent record in sports.… Any male who fails to qualify in any one of these ways is likely to view himself—during moments at least—as unworthy, incomplete, and inferior. (1967, p. 128)
Definitions of masculinity are not simply constructed in relation to the hegemonic ideals of that gender, but also in constant reference to each other. Gender is not only plural, it is also relational. Surveys in Western countries indicate that men construct their ideas of what it means to be men in constant reference to definitions of femininity. What it means to be a man is to be unlike a woman; indeed, social psychologists have emphasized that although different groups of men may disagree about other traits and their significance in gender definitions, the “antifemininity” component of masculinity is perhaps the single dominant and universal characteristic.
Gender difference and gender inequality are both produced through our relationships. Nancy Chodorow argued that the structural arrangements by which women are primarily responsible for raising children creates unconscious, internalized desires in both boys and girls that reproduce male dominance and female mothering (1978). For boys, gender identity requires emotional detachment from mother, a process of individuation through separation. The boy comes to define himself as a boy by rejecting whatever he sees as female, by devaluing the feminine in himself (separation) and in others (male superiority). This cycle of men defining themselves through their distance from and devaluation of femininity can end, Chodorow argues, only when parents participate equally in child rearing.
Although we recognize gender diversity, we still may conceive masculinities as attributes of identity only. We think of gendered individuals who bring with them all the attributes and behavioral characteristics of their gendered identity into gender-neutral institutional arenas. But because gender is plural and relational, it is also situational: What it means to be a man varies in different institutional contexts, and those different institutional contexts demand and produce different forms of masculinity. “Boys may be boys,” writes feminist legal theorist Deborah Rhode, “but they express that identity differently in fraternity parties than in job interviews with a female manager” (Rhode 1997, p. 142). Gender is thus not only a property of individuals, some “thing” one has, but a specific set of behaviors that are produced in specific social situations. Thus gender changes as the situation changes.
Institutions are themselves gendered. Institutions create gendered normative standards and express a gendered institutional logic, and are major factors in the reproduction of gender inequality. The gendered identity of individuals shapes those gendered institutions, and the gendered institutions express and reproduce the inequalities that compose gender identity. Institutions themselves express a logic—a dynamic—that reproduces gender relations between women and men and the gender order of hierarchy and power.
Not only do gendered individuals negotiate their identities within gendered institutions, but also those institutions produce the very differences we assume are the properties of individuals. Thus, “the extent to which women and men do different tasks, play widely disparate concrete social roles, strongly influences the extent to which the two sexes develop and/or are expected to manifest widely disparate personal behaviors and characteristics” (Chafetz 1980, p. 112). Different structured experiences produce the gender differences that we often attribute to people (Chafetz 1980).
For example, take the workplace. In her now classic work Men and Women of the Corporation (1977), Rosebeth Moss Kanter argued that the differences in men’s and women’s behaviors in organizations had far less to do with their characteristics as individuals than with the structure of the organization itself and the different jobs men and women held. Organizational positions “carry characteristic images of the kinds of people that should occupy them,” she argued, and those who do occupy them, whether women or men, exhibited those necessary behaviors (Kanter 1977, p. 21). Though the criteria for evaluation of job performance, promotion, and effectiveness seem to be gender neutral, they are, in fact, deeply gendered. “While organizations were being defined as sexneutral machines,” she writes, “masculine principles were dominating their authority structures” (p. 241). Once again, masculinity—the norm—was invisible (Kanter 1975, 1977). For example, secretaries seemed to stress personal loyalty to their bosses more than did other workers, which led some observers to attribute this to women’s greater level of personalism. But Kanter pointed out that the best way for a secretary—of either gender—to get promoted was for the boss to decide to take the secretary with him to the higher job. Thus the structure of the women’s jobs, not the gender of the job holder, dictated their responses.
Sociologist Joan Acker has expanded on Kanter’s early insights and has specified the interplay of structure and gender. It is through our experiences in the workplace, Acker maintains, that the differences between women and men are reproduced, and in this way the inequality between women and men is legitimated. Institutions are like factories, and one of the things that they produce is gender difference. The overall effect of this is the reproduction of the gender order as a whole (see Acker 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990).
Institutions accomplish the creation of gender difference and the reproduction of the gender order through several gendered processes. Thus, “advantage and disadvantage, exploitation and control, action and emotion, meaning and identity, are patterned through and in terms of a distinction between male and female, masculine and feminine” (Acker 1990, p. 146). We would err to assume that gendered individuals enter gender-neutral sites, thus maintaining the invisibility of gender-as-hierarchy, and specifically the invisible masculine organizational logic. At the same time, we would be just as incorrect to assume that genderless “people” occupy those gender-neutral sites. The problem is that such genderless people are assumed to be able to devote themselves single-mindedly to their jobs, to have no children or family responsibilities, and perhaps even to have familial supports for such single-minded workplace devotion. Thus, the “genderless” job holder turns out to be gendered as a man.
Take, for example, the field of medicine. Many doctors complete college by age twenty-one or twenty-two, and medical school by age twenty-five to twenty-seven, and then face three more years of internship and residency, during which time they are occasionally on call for long stretches of time, sometimes for even two or three days straight. They thus complete their residencies by their late twenties or early thirties. Such a program is designed for a male doctor—one who is not pressured by the ticking of a biological clock, for whom the birth of children will not disrupt these time demands, and who may even have someone at home taking care of his children while he sleeps at the hospital. No wonder women in medical school—who number nearly one half of all medical students today—began to complain that they were not able to balance pregnancy and motherhood with their medical training.
In another example, in a typical academic career a scholar completes a PhD about six to seven years after the BA, roughly by age thirty, and then begins a career as an assistant professor with six more years to earn tenure and promotion. This is usually the most intense academic work period of a scholar’s life and also the most likely childbearing years for professional women. The tenure clock is thus set to a man’s rhythms—not just any man, but one with a wife to relieve him of family obligations as he establishes his credentials. To academics struggling to make tenure, it often feels that publishing requires that family life perish.
Embedded in organizational structures that are gendered, subject to gendered organizational processes, and evaluated by gendered criteria, then, the differences between women and men appear to be the differences solely between gendered individuals. When gender boundaries seem permeable, other dynamics and processes can reproduce the gender order. When women do not meet these criteria (or, perhaps more accurately, when the criteria do not meet women’s specific needs), we see a gender-segregated workforce and wage, hiring, and promotional disparities as the “natural” outcomes of already present differences between women and men. It is in this way that those differences are generated and the inequalities between women and men are legitimated and reproduced.
There remains one more element in the sociological explanation of masculinities. Some psychologists and sociologists believe that early childhood gender socialization leads to gender identities that become fixed, permanent, and inherent in our personalities. However, many sociologists disagree with this notion today. As they see it, gender is less a component of identity—fixed, static—that we take with us into our interactions and more the product of those interactions. In an important article, “Doing Gender,” Candace West and Don Zimmerman argued that “a person’s gender is not simply an aspect of what one is, but, more fundamentally, it is something that one does, and does recurrently, in interaction with others” (1987, p. 140). We are constantly “doing” gender, performing the activities and exhibiting the traits that are prescribed for us.
Doing gender is a lifelong process of performances. As we interact with others we are held accountable to display behavior that is consistent with gender norms, at least for that situation. Thus consistent gender behavior is less a response to deeply internalized norms or personality characteristics and more a negotiated response to the consistency with which others demand that we act in a recognizable masculine or feminine way. Gender is not an emanation of identity that bubbles up from below in concrete expression; rather, it is an emergent property of interactions, coerced from us by others.
Understanding how we do masculinities, then, requires that we make visible the performative elements of identity, and also the audience for those performances. It also opens up unimaginable possibilities for social change, as Suzanne Kessler points out in her study of “intersexed” people (hermaphrodites, those born with anatomical characteristics of both sexes or with ambiguous genitalia):
If authenticity for gender rests not in a discoverable nature but in someone else’s proclamation, then the power to proclaim something else is available. If physicians recognized that implicit in their management of gender is the notion that finally, and always, people construct gender as well as the social systems that are grounded in gender-based concepts, the possibilities for real societal transformations would be unlimited. (Kessler 1990, p. 25)
Kessler’s gender utopianism raises an important issue. In saying that we “do” gender we are saying that gender is not only something that is done to us. We create and recreate our own gendered identities within the contexts of our interactions with others and within the institutions we inhabit.
Acker, Joan. 1987. Sex Bias in Job Evaluation: A Comparable Worth Issue. In Ingredients for Women’s Employment Policy, eds. Christine Bose and Glenna Spitze, 183–196. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Acker, Joan. 1988. Class, Gender, and the Relations of Distribution. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 13: 473–497.
Acker, Joan. 1989. Doing Comparable Worth: Gender, Class, and Pay Equity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Acker, Joan. 1990. Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations. Gender and Society 4 (2): 149–158.
Acker, Joan, and Donald R. Van Houten. 1974. Differential Recruitment and Control: The Sex Structuring of Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly 19 (2): 152–163.
Chafetz, Janet. 1980. Toward a Macro-Level Theory of Sexual Stratification. Current Perspectives in Social Theory 1: 103–126.
Chodorow, Nancy. 1978. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Connell, R. W. 1987. Gender and Power. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Goffman, Erving. 1963. Stigma. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. 1975. Women and the Structure of Organizations: Explorations in Theory and Behavior. In Another Voice: Feminist Perspectives on Social Life and Social Science, eds. Marcia Millman and Rosabeth Moss Kanter, 34–74. New York: Anchor Books.
Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. 1977. Men and Women of the Corporation. New York: Basic Books.
Kessler, Suzanne J. 1990. The Medical Construction of Gender: Case Management of Intersexed Infants. Signs 16 (1): 3–26.
Kimmel, Michael. 2000. The Gendered Society. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rhode, Deborah. 1997. Speaking of Sex. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
West, Candace, and Don H. Zimmerman. 1987. Doing Gender. Gender and Society 1 (2): 125–151.
This entry contains the following:
II. ATTRIBUTES AND FUNCTIONS
III. CONTEMPORARY THEORIES
IV. IN MEDIA AND CULTURE
Many contemporary researchers of masculinity have suggested that a unitary conception of masculinity provides an illusionary heterogeneous perception of the masculine gender. In the place of a single masculinity, a plethora of masculinities emerge. Understanding that the idea of masculinity always contains various masculinities allows for fluid definitions of masculinity based on the culture and the historical period in which a man lives. In each culture there may be multiple conceptions of masculinity, which depend on the position the man fills within the culture. To some extent the difference between a unitary masculinity and a variety of masculinities can be understood as the distinction between sex and gender. A single masculinity suggests a vision of masculinity based on a biologically determined sexual binary, whereas masculinities also involve an understanding of gender as culturally, socially, and historically derived.
BIOLOGICALLY DETERMINED MASCULINITY
The debate surrounding attempts to define masculinity has never completely left behind the effort to conceptualize masculinity as a product of biology. From Lionel Tiger's hypothesis in Men in Groups (1969), that aggressive masculine behavioral traits are a biological evolutionary inheritance deriving from the emergence of hunting societies, to more scientifically based arguments founded on levels of testosterone and DNA structures, biological definitions of masculinity have always played an important role in understanding the masculine.
Yet it has been argued that a biologically based definition of masculinity does not add to an understanding of gender. Instead, definitions relying on biology serve an essentializing function. Biological definitions use further understanding of the body to differentiate the masculine and the feminine from each other and thereby reinforce a two-gender dichotomy that was presumed from the beginning. In this way a biological definition of masculinity can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy in which bodily difference is used to transform a known difference into an all-important difference. Through such a definition biology is used to confirm what is already known, and the fluid factors that are part of the formation of the masculine, such as culture and history, are minimized if not completely ignored.
Once the impact of history and culture are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the biological determinist view of a unitary conception of masculinity is out of the question, replaced by a plurality of masculinities, each culturally specific, demonstrating not only masculinity in a given society at a certain historical time, but a man who occupies a certain hierarchical position in a given society at a certain historical time. The progression of European and North American masculinity demonstrates the increasing importance individualism plays in masculinity until the very individualism that is so fundamental to masculinity becomes a threat to the masculine ideal.
EARLY MODERN MASCULINITY
Despite the plurality of masculinities, the dominance and influence of North American and European masculinity cannot be overstated. Through the hegemony of its representation within the world's economic, cultural, and media institutions, such masculinity is perched atop the hierarchy of masculinities. In Masculinities, R. W. Connell notes that "[m]asculinity is not just an idea in the head, or a personal identity. It is also extended in the world, merged in organized social relations" (1995, p. 29).
Connell suggests that the emergence of the modern conception of dominant European and North American masculinity emerged along with the political, social, religious, and economic transformations of the Early Modern period (1501–1800). Protestantism was destabilizing the dominance of Catholicism, and with this destabilization a new masculine ideal was emerging. Part of this ideal was the privileging of heterosexual marriage, as a masculine sexual ideal emerged that rivaled the purity of denial of sexual desire.
Even more significantly the Protestant religious model offered an individualized vision of masculinity as a substitute for a unitary conception of masculinity more comprehensively integrated with the community. While Catholicism offered religion as a community activity in that religion was based upon interaction with a priest and a congregation, Protestantism placed religion in the hands of the individual, as each individual is in control of their own interaction with God. This created an idea of masculinity that set the stage for Enlightenment (1650–1790) thinking wherein masculinity becomes connected with individual subjectivity. The masculine becomes idealized as an individual in complete control of their destiny.
During the Enlightenment the masculine would remain firmly connected with the idea of individual subjectivity, but the intellect would replace religion as the model demonstrating this masculine independence. More than the representative example that illuminates subjectivity as an integral component of masculinity, the intellect itself becomes part of the essence of masculinity. In part, to be masculine is to exhibit reason.
Set up in opposition to this masculine ideal of reason is the natural. In Unreasonable Men, Victor J. Seidler suggests that "[t]here was a crucial sense in which masculinity occupied a central space within modernity and in which reason and progress were to be tied with the control and domination of nature" (1994, p. viii). The dialectic between masculine reason and a feminine natural was troubling in part because the natural does not have an oppositional status to reason. In order to make the opposition work, the cultural in general and the cities in particular become conceptualized as the sites where masculine reason is enacted. In this way the city and culture in general become bastions of the reasonable masculine opposing the madness of the natural.
Within this conception it is clear how European and North American empire building becomes a project founded on a vision of reason-based masculinity. From the British project of colonizing India to American Vice-President Teddy Roosevelt's justification of the United States's early twentieth-century involvement in the Philippines as an effort to bring light to the world's dark places, colonization can be seen as the Enlightenment program of bringing masculinity and (by implication) reason and civilization where it apparently does not exist. Colonization is an effort to make the world more masculine.
As the flip side of colonization, slavery offers a vision of multiple masculinities. Slaves can be objectified because they are more natural and less associated with reason. In essence slaves are conceptualized as less masculine. Yet in the process of bringing a reasoning vision of masculinity to the world, those individuals doing the colonizing seem to exhibit a vision of masculinity quite distant from reasoning masculinity. In their extreme and violent acts the colonizers demonstrate a masculine type based on physicality over reason.
NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICAN MASCULINITY
America was able to offer a microcosmic ideal of imperialist masculinity in that the country itself provided a space for the individual man to exert physical masculinity and demonstrate virility through colonizing the natural. In The History of Men (2005), Michael S. Kimmel describes two types of masculinity apparent in nineteenth-century America: the Genteel Patriarch and the Heroic Artisan. The Genteel Patriarch version of masculinity derived the ideal of masculinity through the ownership of property. He was "refined, elegant, and given to casual sensuousness, he was a devoted father who spent his time on his estate and his family" (p. 38). In contrast, the Heroic Artisan developed his ideal vision of masculinity upon his own body and ability to control his surroundings. This idea of masculinity was focused on bodily strength and workplace independence.
Due to the industrial boom in the middle of the nineteenth century, a crisis developed in American masculinity and a third idea of masculinity developed in America. Kimmel characterizes this new vision of masculinity as Marketplace Manhood. Marketplace Manhood embraces a conception of masculinity entirely dependent on economic success, and in contradistinction to both the Genteel Patriarch and the Heroic Artisan, Marketplace Manhood develops its masculine ideal as separate from the home and the family. Marketplace Manhood quickly moved from being an idea of masculinity to becoming the dominant conception of masculinity. Whereas this form of masculinity became dominant as a cultural ideal, it was relatively unstable on the individual level. As masculinity is founded on something as unstable as a fluid economic market, masculinity becomes something that constantly needs to be proved and is seemingly in constant danger of being lost. This idea develops in close chronological proximity to the closing of the American frontier. Fantasies of the frontier become important to understanding the nineteenth-century masculine ideal. Wilderness novels became very popular and depicted the American wilderness as a masculine realm where men can go and rediscover an untroubling idea of the masculine without the corrupting influence of the city and the feminine. Over the course of a century the city had been transformed from a bastion of masculine reason into an indicator of masculinity in crisis.
Connell, R. W. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Danahay, Martin A. 2005. Gender at Work in Victorian Culture: Literature, Art and Masculinity. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Tiger, Lionel. 1969. Men in Groups. New York, Random House.
Seidler, Victor J. 1994. Unreasonable Men: Masculinity and Social Theory. London: Routledge.
Many critics attempt to explain the various functions of masculinity through a vision of gender that can only be defined in opposition. In this view masculinity may transform its meaning across cultures and across history but is always understood in relation to femininity. In Masculinities (1995), sociologist Robert Connell suggests that "[m]asculinity as an object of knowledge is always masculinity-in-relation" (p. 44). Men's studies theorists believe these differences are an inherent part of the study of gender. In The History of Men (2005) sociologist Michael S. Kimmel argues that white heterosexual men as the superordinate masculine category in Europe and North America suffer from an invisibility that is the inverse of that encountered by minorities and women. Women and minorities tend to experience visibility as members of a group but invisibility as individuals, whereas dominant men experience hypervisibility as individuals but invisibility as a part of a group. Thus defining masculinity, which exists in a shifting context, requires understanding a dominant group whose position as a group is consistently overshadowed by the visibility of its individual members.
Even attempts to make the dominant masculine visible without conceptualizing the opposite must to some extent deal with masculinity as masculinity-in-relation. An example is analyzed in Castration scholar and author Gary Taylor (2000). Taylor's project of examining the historical significance of the eunuch over the course of European history examines the fluid concept of masculinity by placing critical focus on what masculinity is not. According to Taylor, "[b]y helping us identify what a man is not, the eunuch clarifies what a man is" (p. 13). Masculinity cannot be defined in itself. It must be defined in relation to its antithesis. Significantly Taylor shares with Connell and Kimmel a desire to understand what the masculine is. Yet this proves a difficult project when its antithesis cannot be agreed upon.
THE EUROPEAN MODEL
Despite the conflict surrounding just what the other of masculinity is, masculinity is typically equated with dominance. Indeed anthropologists often argue about whether, due to the prevalence of patriarchy, it is possible to conceptualize masculinity without a vision of the uneven power dynamic between men and women and a consideration of masculine privilege. Some theories suggest that the way the dominant masculine controls the culture of European and North American society is the result of a confluence among the emergence of capitalism, the European idea of masculinity, and modernity. In this analysis capitalism and masculinity both offer a new understanding of the power relations that arose amid a newly developing social order in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The respective hierarchies of masculinity and capitalism may be different facets of the same system of domination. Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss analyzed the manner in which the masculine/capitalist system came to be equated with cultural dominance. Although he described marriage in neutral terms in The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1969), Lévi-Strauss demonstrates that marriage is a clear manifestation of the masculine/capitalist system because it is a key institution for the perpetuation of community. Marriage allows one group of men to forge a bond with another group of men by using women as an object of exchange.
The masculine/capitalist system seeks to impose a normative European model of masculinity on other cultures. Widespread acceptance of the European model has resulted in the elimination of variations of the masculine developed in non-European societies, and indeed these other models are often considered to be nonnormative and inappropriate. As Connell notes, "[F]or the first time in history, there is a prospect of all indigenous gender regimes foundering under this institutional and cultural pressure. Some gender configurations have already gone. One example is the Confucian tradition of male homosexuality in China" (1995, p. 199).
EVOLVING CONCEPTS OF THE DOMINANT MASCULINE
The intimate connection of masculinity with power and control both within a culture and among cultures helps demonstrate a contradictory element of masculinity. Even though much of European and North American culture is based on the dominating institutions and systems of masculinity, many individual men must confront feelings of powerlessness. To a certain degree this can be explained because some men experience subordinate versions of masculinity due to race and sexuality. In Recreating Men (2000), social sciences lecturer and author Bob Pease describes this as "a recognition that their social or institutionalized power may not always correlate with their experience as individual men" (p. 9). Men can experience powerlessness on an individual level juxtaposed to the dominant hierarchical vision of masculinity. Some theorists suggest that individual powerlessness is an offshoot of European and North American industrialization. Industrialization emerges as a cultural factor that destabilizes individual masculinity.
Because masculinity must be proved and reproved at the individual level, aggression among men is a fundamental component of masculinity. Aggression provides another means, in addition to race and sexuality, to demonstrate hierarchy. It takes different forms in different masculine subcultures but at root always functions as a means of establishing dominance. In a working-class subculture, actual violence and physical strength are often used to establish roles in the hierarchy, whereas in an office environment the hierarchy might be established in economic terms. Paradoxically while masculinity based on strength is far from the norm in early-twenty-first-century European and North American cultures, it is still the dominant ideal. Media depictions of masculinity often glorify physical strength and the classical masculine physique.
In an effort to demonstrate biological roots for masculinity, some researchers have attempted to find analogous tendencies toward violence in male primates. This research has proven fruitful, particularly in the study of chimpanzees. Male chimpanzees engage in behavior that approximates that exhibited by humans in forming war parties. Males leave the group with the express purpose of attacking and killing members of a different group.
While such research has been championed as the biological link between masculinity and aggression, it is important to note that other anthropological studies suggest that aggression is cultural and not biological. Although some researchers have expressed skepticism as to the rigor of her research methodology, in Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1963) anthropologist Margaret Mead posited aggression as a cultural rather than masculine trait. Mead examined three cultures in New Guinea. In the Arapesh, she found a lack of aggression in both women and men; in the Mundugamor, men and women were both aggressive; and in the Tchambuli, the gender norm was reversed because women possessed the social power in the culture.
Kimmel, Michael S. 2005. The History of Men: Essays on the History of American and British Masculinities. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1969. The Elementary Structures of Kinship. Boston: Beacon Press.
Mead, Margaret. 1935. Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. New York: William Morrow.
Pease, Bob. 2000. Recreating Men: Postmodern Masculinity Politics. London: Sage Publications.
Taylor, Gary. 2000. Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood. New York: Routledge.
Wrangham, Richard W., and Dale Peterson. 1997. Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. London, Bloomsbury.
One of the most significant twentieth-century insights on the subject of masculinity was the differentiation between the masculine as a gender category and maleness as a biological category. In defining masculinity as the fluid and complex interactions of the cultural, psychological, and social and maleness, alternatively, as the biological, researchers demonstrated that masculinity has variations and a hierarchy instead of being merely a simple and unrealistic unitary category.
PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORIES OF IDENTITY FORMATION
Sigmund Freud separated masculinity from biology with his psychological model of identity formation. Freud suggested that gender formation was not fixed. Instead numerous psychological conflicts that, at times, can contradict each other contribute to the concept of masculinity. Fundamental to the development of masculinity is the Oedipal complex. In the Oedipal complex biologically male children are attracted to the mother. This attraction is seen as a threat to the position of the father. In comparing the mother to the father a male child recognizes the mother as a castrated form of the father. Unconsciously fearing his own castration the boy shifts allegiance from the mother and tries to identify with the father and become like him. Freud's Oedipal and castration theories provide a normative, though individual, model for identity formation. Male children evolve through the individual and unconscious Oedipal and castration complexes, thereby forging a normative masculinity. Instead of a unified concept of the masculine, Freud offers the possibility for nearly endless variations that can develop as a result of each individual attempt to reach a normative ideal.
Heavily influenced by the work of French psychiatrist Jacques Lacan, some post-World War II theories argue the fear of castration by the father as a component of masculine identity formation in more overtly symbolic and communal terms. Castration is the act that inaugurates the individual into culture. In this view masculinity becomes synonymous with society, and castration becomes the act of entry into patriarchy. Some theorists have criticized these symbolic characterizations of castration as regards African-American masculinity. Recognizing the reality of lynching and castration in the African-American experience, Marlon B. Ross compares symbolic castration to actual castration. Ross says that "From the viewpoint of race theory and African American history, this [comparison] reduces castration to an illusory anxiety afflicting transcendent male subjectivity by obscuring the historical fact of castration as a systematic instrument of torture and discipline practiced by white men against African Americans from the time of enslavement through the era of Jim Crow" (2002, p. 312).
GENDER AND BIOLOGY: EVOLVING FREUD'S THEORIES
Freud concluded that each individual was psychologically bisexual: Masculine and feminine traits existed in everyone. In addition to resisting a unitary construction of masculinity, Freud's position on bisexuality firmly divides biology from gender. The feminine man and the masculine woman become combinations of biology and gender that are not only possible but are likely.
The idea that gender and biology are separate was adopted and politicized by self-proclaimed radical feminists such as John Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg disavows "the identity structure that is manhood, or male sexual identity as I call it here: the official man stuff; the belief that between oneself and female humans there is a definitional divide, a moral and morphological discontinuity, a separation in the species" (2000, p. xxv). Although Stolten-berg uses the term manhood and not masculinity, his conception of manhood is analogous to that of masculinity discussed previously in this entry. Manhood is a social construction that must be renounced to alleviate the oppression of women. All men who silently accept masculine privilege by conforming to the system help to maintain the inferior position of women in society. Consistent with attempts to abolish racial disparities, Stolten-berg argues that institutionalized oppression in matters of sex and gender can be overcome by rejecting the ideal of masculinity. Significantly Stoltenberg's utopian view proffers the possibility that masculinity is a choice. As a socially determined category it can be accepted or rejected as an individual sees fit.
Although he does not address Stoltenberg directly, sociologist Robert Connell in Masculinities (1995) argues against such a strict social construction of masculinity. Connell says that a definition of masculinity based on the social replicates some of the same deficiencies as a model based entirely on biology. Similar to the way biological models reduce gender to a binary, models of masculinity based entirely on the social fail to take proper account of the physical body. In essence the body is transformed into a blank slate for the social to code its vision of masculinity, uninfluenced by physical characteristics. Connell suggests that "it is not enough to assert the significance of bodily difference, important as this has been in recent feminist theory. We need to assert the activity, literally the agency, of bodies in social processes" (p. 60). Connell's theory of masculinity suggests that the body is neither a physical indicator of masculinity nor irrelevant to the production of masculinity. The activities the body engages in, the practice and limitations of the body, become fundamental to the social construction of masculinity.
Sociologist Joseph Pleck's critique of sex role theory helped add fluidity to the conception of masculinity. Pleck is skeptical about the relationship between normative socially constructed sex roles and psychic health. Freud emphasized the separation of masculinity from biology and the theory of multiple variations on masculinity, whereas many of his successors focus on the idea of a socially constructed masculinity that individuals should model. Pleck's critique of sex role theory helped add more fluidity to the conception of masculinity. Pleck is skeptical about the relationship between normative socially constructed sex roles and psychic health. Socially constructed sex roles can be oppressive and create anxiety and societal pressure on those individuals who do not or cannot live up to the constructed norm. A socially normative sex role may not be necessary, or even desirable, for the individual who is being influenced to conform.
Connell, Robert W. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Freud, Sigmund. 1953. The Interpretation of Dreams. Complete Psychological Works. Standard edition, vols. 4-5. London: Hogarth.
Pleck, Joseph H. 1981. The Myth of Masculinity. Cambridge, MA MIT Press.
Ross, Marlon B. 2002. "Race, Rape, Castration: Feminist Theories of Sexual Violence and Masculine Strategies of Black Protest." In Masculine Studies and Feminist Theory, ed. Judith Kegan Gardiner. New York: Columbia University Press.
Stoltenberg, John. 2000. Refusing to be a Man: Essays on Sex and Gender. London: UCL Press.
Critics who examine media representations and cultural ideals of masculinity often focus on a normative model. In looking at celebrations and critiques in a particular society, one is able to determine what an individual culture values as masculine. The media provides ideal images of appropriate masculinity that men everywhere are expected to emulate. By adopting the idealized model of masculinity, a man can demonstrate both to himself and to those he interacts with that he has learned the gendered stratification of society. In addition, media depictions of masculinity show where individual men have fallen short in their efforts. Through establishing and maintaining a masculine norm, the media implicitly imposes a value judgment. The nonnormative is categorized as a failure of masculinity.
Depictions of masculinity through media and culture are often interdependent. Cultural norms define how the media represents masculinity, yet the media can reinforce ideals, or destabilize them and point the way toward a newer and more appropriate standard.
AMERICAN TRADITIONS AND MASCULINITY
Legendary star of movie westerns John Wayne is a good example of the well-established media representation of American masculinity. In In a Man's World (1985), Perry Garfinkel lists some of the aspects of masculinity Wayne evokes. According to Garfinkel, this archetype demonstrates an essential connection between masculinity and success. A real man always achieves his goals. Aggressive or outright violent action is frequently necessary in order to succeed and is a clear indicator of masculinity and manliness. Aggression is merely a tool that the masculine hero uses to achieve his goal. The John Wayne model of masculinity also suggests that a man is always in control of his emotions. Whereas feelings such as revenge may serve as part of a man's moral compass, such emotions should never be displayed. Finally this is a solitary model, each man standing alone. The ideal man needs help from no one. He is capable of achieving his goals by himself, with nothing to guide him but his inner determination and morality.
Whereas the overt manifestation of the John Wayne archetype appears in the mid-twentieth century, the model first appeared in early-twentieth-century novels by writers such as Zane Gray and the wilderness novels of the nineteenth century. In The History of Men (2005), Michael S. Kimmel offers the emergence of the American wilderness novel as a reaction against industrialization. According to Kimmel works such as The Last of the Mohicans (1826) by James Fennimore Cooper and Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Melville were attempts to work out a crisis of masculinity.
Industrialization presents a vision of a feminized society. In an effort to become masculine again, men must escape the female-dominated cities and rediscover the primitive essence of manliness. In the wilderness men do not have to deal with women or with their own heterosexuality in any substantive sense. Male bonding replaces heterosexuality; the white man escapes from the city and meets a nonwhite man who knows the way of the wilderness. The homoerotic nature of such male bonding is usually explicit, and the bond is characterized as "a love between males, more enduring and purer than any heterosexual passion" (Fiedler 1960, p. 212). The John Wayne archetype owes an explicit debt to the wilderness novel. Both ideas evoke a nobler vision of masculinity in which the rigid laws of the city are replaced by the primitive but fair laws of men.
The major difference between the John Wayne archetype and the wilderness novel archetype is that the former has tried, unsuccessfully, to exorcise the male bonding component that is so fundamental to the wilderness narrative. As the white hero who prefers the wilderness to the city and who is capable of executing his aggressive creed of success by himself, John Wayne offers a much more restrictive vision of normative masculine modeling. Whereas the wilderness narrative may have empowered the white over the nonwhite, in the John Wayne archetype, the nonwhite tends to be banned from the heroic frame of reference. In so doing the homoerotic element is diminished. The question then is whether the John Wayne archetype frees the masculine image from other racialized visions of masculinity and homoerotic desire or whether it subsumes various models under the exterior of a homogenous, white, heterosexual ideal. Though the John Wayne white heterosexual loner archetype is replicated within the spaghetti westerns of Italian film director Sergio Leone, such films as a genre by no means exclude male bonding: The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Wild Bunch (1969), and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) bring male bonding back to the forefront. However with some notable exceptions, such as Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992), male bonding in westerns is among white men. Men of other races are excluded from the dynamic. So although there are mixed signals regarding the homoerotic component of normative masculine modeling in westerns, the genre provides a clearer image regarding race: The idealized masculine type is always white.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE MASCULINE MODEL IN AN URBAN SOCIETY
When the ideals of the western are transposed to industrial settings, the traditional wilderness narrative of a white man bonding with a nonwhite man reappears, as in the Mel Gibson-Danny Glover Lethal Weapon films (1987–1998) and the Bill Cosby-Robert Culp television series I Spy (1965–1968). The John Wayne archetype reasserts itself in Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry movies and the revenge scenarios of some 1980s action films such as those popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger (e.g., The Terminator ). These examples show how difficult it is to develop a unified model of masculinity in an urban environment. Multiple models of masculinity are most apparent in these settings; relational boundaries among men and among men of different races are blurry. In this context some critics have focused on the version of masculinity presented in the Chris Tucker-Jackie Chan's Rush Hour films. These films present an opportunity to explore the way the media portrays male bonding and masculinity involving two men who are not white.
No single masculine norm is available either from the media or through other cultural manifestations. Whereas the John Wayne archetype provides the ideal of a unified model, the archetype does not exist in a vacuum. Film portrayals of men of different races, disparate economic status, and diverse sexual preferences indicate a crisis in society's ability to define masculinity. People no longer have one widely accepted normative role to embrace and emulate, causing a reevaluation of the validity of prior unitary models.
Clover, Carol J. 1992. Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Fiedler, Leslie A. 1960. Love and Death in the American Novel. New York: Criterion Books.
Garfinkel, Perry. 1985. In a Man's World: Father, Son, Brother, Friend, and Other Roles Men Play. New York: New American Library.
Greiner, Donald J. 1991. Women Enter the Wilderness: Male Bonding and the American Novel of the 1980s. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.
Kimmel, Michael S. 2005. The History of Men: Essays in the History of American and British Masculinities. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Krutnik, Frank. 1991. In A Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. London, New York: Routledge.
Wiegman, Robyn. 1995. American Anatomies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Any discussion of African-descended men as a group must first acknowledge their multifarious differences rooted in particular histories, nationalities, religions, languages, cultures, sexualities, and socioeconomic classes. Nonetheless, due to a larger shared history entangled in European imperial conquest, chattel enslavement, and colonialism, diasporan men can instructively be understood as possessing, if not an identical, at least a similar relation to maleness.
Slavery, Insurgency, and the Origins of Black Male Subjectivity
The origins of the notion that some men are naturally superior to others remain obscure, but it probably can be traced to the earliest hunter-gatherer societies. Even though many ancient practices of masculine aggression and domination arose from and contributed to tribal, clan, and ethnic rivalries, they were not structured on modern notions of racial difference. In Europe during the Middle Ages, the devil, demons, and saints' executioners were sometimes imaged as dark-faced men. Highly allegorical and fantastic in nature, these emblems conflated the color black—symbolizing melancholy, death, sin, and the unknown—with a general notion of ethnic difference, as the executioners of Christ were sometimes represented as monstrous dark men or black Jews. At the same time, the other most prominent artistic image of black maleness in the medieval era was a redemptive figure, the black Magi, one of the three Wise Men who brought gifts to the Christ child. Clearly, the concept of black maleness was a malleable abstraction based in religious allegory, limited geographic knowledge (terra incognita), and ethnocentric fears and fantasies. By the twelfth century, Europeans had already begun to establish rudimentary notions of ethnicized manhood in terms of what Felipe Fernández-Armesto calls "Europe's 'internal' primitives: the peripheral, pastoral, bog or mountain folk, like the Basques, Welsh, Irish, Slavs and pagan Scandinavians" (1987, p. 225).
Although the interaction and intermixing between Europeans and Africans is a long, complicated affair dating to prehistory, the racial construct of masculinity emerges most markedly in response to European exploration, the succeeding colonization of native peoples, and particularly the rise of the transatlantic African slave trade. European literature of this era of exploration and colonization provides evidence of how the discourse on darkerskinned men as a "race" apart was still unsettled, if formative. The most celebrated representation of such a figure, William Shakespeare's tragic eponymous hero of Othello (1604), images the Moor not only as a great military leader but also as a gentleman of the highest character. While Othello seems to belong to the noble "race" of aristocrats born to rule, some characters use color epithets to attack him, and the play flirts with references to his African features marking him as racially alien, ignoble, inferior, and bestial. Eighty years later, in Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave, a True History (1688), Aphra Behn absorbed, and helped to disseminate, a racial ideology that gendered black male identity as a Noble Savage. Behn constructed Oroonoko from a combination of long-established Oriental myth
and newly emerging racial consensus about Africandescended men, whose increasing association with the debased condition of chattel signals their deficit as both less than human and also less than manly. Othello and Oroonoko embody the binaristic representation of black manliness that dominated the discourse for centuries: on the one hand, the black man represents a naturally virile, seductively commanding, savage presence eliciting desire and fear; on the other, he is projected as a servile, childlike, desexualized presence eliciting pity and contempt.
From the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, visual representations of dark-skinned men in European art turned repeatedly to the image of a boyish page standing at service to Europeans. As we can see in William Hogarth's satire on English gluttony and excess, the dark skin of this figure betokens his servile nature, which in turn confirms the white patriarch's civilized refinement, mercantile accumulation, and natural right to rule—all lampooned by Hogarth. The most prolific image of black maleness in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century also used a servile pose ironically to proselytize on behalf of slave abolition. Entitled "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?" this medallion figures the black male slave manacled and kneeling in a pleading position. Despite the beneficent abolitionist intention, the emblems of this medallion partake in a global visual grammar of black male dependence, implying that only Europeans, particularly white men, can answer the question of the Negro's relation to the brotherhood of man, for only they have the power to bring an end to slavery.
During the Enlightenment, the racial concept of masculinity intensified with the development of scientific classification systems in natural history. Paradoxically, the same men who articulated the Enlightenment principles of natural rights, individual worth, universal reason, and manhood equality simultaneously erected a rationale for racial difference based in gender disparity. Enlightenment thinkers like Charles de Secondat-Baron de Montesquieu, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel theorized the natural right to property, progeny, and shared political power as the foundation of white male freedom and subjectivity. In his 1830s lectures on history, Hegel makes this logic absolute by suggesting that Africans exist totally outside of world history, and thus outside of the natural progress toward self-conscious human (i.e., masculine) mastery, subjectivity, and freedom brought about by world-historical great (white) men.
Against the dominant image of natural slavishness, black men—captive and free—were storming the world stage performing virile feats from which these Enlightenment thinkers wanted to exclude them—perhaps out of a subliminal reaction to the rising tide of African men boldly displaying their mettle in Europe and America. They manned the ships that bridged the Atlantic, fought alongside European men in international wars, led slave insurrections that rattled the white masters with constant fright, and governed free Maroon societies in open defiance of armed militias across the Americas. They also infiltrated European societies through public enactments of critical self-reflection, literary and artistic accomplishment, political protest, and sometimes interracial marriage.
As black men began to tell their stories in slave narratives, they sometimes pleaded for mercy, but they also more assertively demanded their right to ownership of their own persons, manhood emancipation, and political equality. Some, like the autobiographer Olaudah Equiano (1750–1797), used the tactic of adopting—almost mimetically—the clothes, manners, poses, habits, and values of European gentlemen as a way of exposing the arbitrary logic of racial classification and the hypocrisy of Christian morals, universal reason, and equal rights. Through his famous Interesting Narrative, and the portrait that fronts it, he presents the image of a regular gentleman, educated, worldly, Christianized, disciplined, and enterprising. Other Negro men followed his example, using literacy, free African heritage, or a public display of their own manly bodies and alert minds to carve out spaces of manly subjectivity in an environment hostile to their humanity and, particularly, their assertion of being free men. Among the most notable of these men were Francis Williams of Jamaica, Frederick Douglass of the United States, Juan Francisco Manzano of Cuba, and Ottobah Cugoano of Grenada.
Rebellious slaves and freed men constantly troubled the profit-making engines of slave ships, plantations, and great houses. Kidnapped Africans sometimes fought back under alien conditions that cut them off from the resources of their native lands, as in the celebrated case of Sengbe (or Cinque), who in 1839 led a rebellion aboard a slave ship. When Nathaniel Jocelyn painted his portrait for posterity, the artist imagined him in the Oroonoko tradition of the Noble Savage. At other times, New World Africans were motivated to insurgency by a combination of factors related to masculine enactments of belligerent self-defense, religious prophecy, and revolutionary consciousness, partly inspired by the American and French Revolutions.
After the success of the Haitian Revolution, led by Toussaint-Louverture, revolutionary violence was buttressed by a vision of black republican nationalism. As Toussaint was lauded by European intellectuals and artists as a sort of black George Washington, black revolutionaries took him as a model of violently sacrificial determination, an image enhanced by his martyrdom in a French prison. In the United States, organizers of slave rebellions and conspiracies, such as Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser, and Nat Turner, rallied their troops using the Haitian example. Abolitionist propagandists like David Walker and Martin Robison Delany forged a Pan-African-American consciousness in which colored men, aided by women, would rise to arms in a systematic revolution across the Americas. As men of African descent revised, subverted, and rejected the dominant discourse of black male savagery, servility, and commodification in multiple ways, they staked their claim to manhood emancipation, as well as to the "free" subjectivity endowed by this masculine claim.
Race Men, New Negroes, and Emancipated Citizenry
From England in 1772 to Brazil in 1888, nations gradually outlawed slavery. If, on the one hand, emancipation meant freedom from forced labor for males and females, for men of color it also possessed a double connotation, suggesting the ongoing struggle for those rights and privileges granted to white men upon reaching the age of adult emancipation. Although frequently working with women of color to extend political, property, and civil rights to all humans, many black men also concentrated on forging a culture of emancipated manliness. They formed fraternal lodges, secret
societies, and other organizations devoted to tutoring men for civic responsibility. They forged political organizations and movements to agitate for full citizenship or national independence. They formed labor unions, self-help enterprises, business cooperatives, and other agencies devoted to industrial and economic uplift. And with interested whites and black women, they formed religious, cultural, and educational institutions, most frequently headed by males. Out of this maelstrom of masculine tutelage, they shaped notions of the "manhood of the race"—the idea that black men had an obligation to head the racial family, to defend women and children, to modernize themselves in industry and commerce, and to lead the struggle for full inclusion in the patrimony of their respective nations (Carby, 1998; Wallace, 2002; Ross, 2004).
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the question arose of how to fit colored men, whether former slave or colonial subject, for a useful position in the industrial economy—that is, how to train them for industry while forestalling their demands for political equality, economic parity, and national independence. Booker T. Washington promulgated the notion of the "accommodating" Negro leader. Honing his public image with careful detail, as in the photograph of him surveying the Tuskegee
grounds on his horse, Washington fostered a political and media machine that, on the one hand, calmed fears of black unrest, migration, and insurgency, while, on the other, popularized the notion that a black man could legitimately lead the Negro race by emulating the self-made myth of white male mentors. Washington's model of industrial education and accommodating black male leadership spread to the West Indies, Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
The reaction to Washington was intensely ambivalent, frequently colored by the idea that he was unmanning the race and stalling its progress. Conflicting strategies for racial modernization and renewal were brought to the fore through a figure often labeled the "New Negro." One of Washington's most influential foes, W. E. B. Du Bois, for instance, charged in his early writings that Negroes would remain a "bastard" race until exceptional, confident, uncompromising black men trained themselves to join with the best men of the white race to lift up the masses. Inspired by Washington's notion of economic self-help, the Jamaican Marcus Garvey developed an international male-headed organization focused on the display of militant blackness, military order, and pride in African heritage. The gallant uniformed black horsemen of the cavalry unit of Garvey's Universal African Legions powerfully communicated the heroic nature of their nationalizing endeavor.
Other New Negro agendas encouraged the cultivation of "race men" in diverse ways. Leading race men often concentrated their efforts on molding an urbane, cosmopolitan race consciousness, one that wavered between political agitation and avant-garde aestheticism, between European mastery and Pan-African separatism, and between elite literariness and black folk identity. This versatile program of race renewal, called the New Negro Renaissance, or Négritude among Francophone-African and Caribbean advocates, positioned men like James Weldon Johnson and Alain Locke of the United States, Arturo Schomburg and Jesús Colón of Puerto Rico, Eric Williams and George Padmore of Trinidad, Claude McKay of Jamaica, Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal, Aimé Césaire of Martinique, and Léon Damas of Guiana in highly visible positions of cultural influence in metropolitan capitals like New York City, Paris, and London.
The demand for political rights and cultural renewal was intimately connected to black men's struggle for economic autonomy in labor systems that prevented the traditional role of family provider and head of house. Due to the legacy of chattel enslavement, a general perception of black male workers tended to view them as lagging in agrarian and personal service sectors. In his pivotal portrayal of black manhood cast from Freudian, sociological, and Marxist theory, Richard Wright constructs the mentality of Native Son 's Bigger Thomas by playing on this perception of black men's working-class unconsciousness. In other works, Wright and other black male writers spotlighted the revolutionary potential of the emerging black working class. Similarly, the psychiatrist and cultural theorist Frantz Fanon used his own experience of anticolonial struggle in Martinique, France, and Algeria to develop complex psychoanalytic theories of racialized gender dynamics, suggesting the need to overcome a black male mentality deformed and paralyzed by racial-colonial oppression through the process of psychologically transformative revolutionary action. As blacks became increasingly attracted to political radicalism and the labor movement, particularly in the 1930s, the radical black laborer and union man became an explosive figure of social change. Black men flocked to new unions, many organized by a new generation of working-class-identified black male leaders, such as Tubal Uriah Butler in Trinidad, Norman
Manley and William Alexander Bustamante in Jamaica, and A. Phillip Randolph and Angelo Herndon in the United States. Labor organizing set the stage for mass anticolonial and other forms of political protest in unprecedented numbers.
In the middle years of the twentieth century, black men argued the benefits of a militantly violent masculine upheaval versus a more pacific tactic of manhood reform through peaceful mass resistance. After Mahatma Gandhi used nonviolent resistance to wrest India from the British Empire, black men were attracted to the image of the singular colored man of great moral courage leading (literally or symbolically) a disciplined phalanx of followers against the mighty armed empire. Revising this strategy to combat white supremacy in the United States, the mass movements identified with Martin Luther King Jr. constructed a black male leadership with arms linked in the front line of progress but taking the high moral ground through disciplined nonviolence. As famous photographs from the Memphis sanitation workers' strike indicate, this stance was intended to communicate not only the arrival of full citizenship but also the claim of uncompromising manhood identity. Answering across the ages the abolitionist "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?" medallion, each of the demonstrators carried a sign with the simple slogan, "I Am a Man"—as if the assertion of manhood itself could alter the oppressive reality of economic deprivation and social marginality.
All across Africa, the West Indies, and North America, a more belligerent face was also being placed on the anticolonial movements for national independence. Black nationalist ideology appealed directly to the fierce black man as guerilla warrior, committed to the blood brotherhood of violent self-defense. Eschewing Gandhi and King, many black male youths adopted as their heroes such national liberation fighters as the Mau Mau (the secret brotherhood of armed resistance initiated by the Gikuyu in Kenya), Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, and Fidel Castro of Cuba. Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other black nationalists and liberationists in the United States figured the imperialist West as a white man mired in the decadence of an overly affluent consumer civilization. This was an effeminate figure, and thus vulnerable to a robust vanguard of black male liberators.
Black Manhood in Crisis?
In the late twentieth and the early twenty-first centuries, the faces and bodies of black men proliferated in a mass media driven by the consumption of the new, the shocking, and the taboo. On the one hand, the media offered up myriad model black men, a revision of Washington's good clean Negro. At first, this concentrated on men who broke color barriers in sports, the military, politics, literature, popular music, and entertainment. As long as the black men breaking these barriers were represented as Good Negroes who dutifully demonstrated their competence in an alliance with white society, the threat of new interracial interactions could be minimized. Along with King, Sidney Poitier best embodied this impulse, as he rose to global celebrity through movies that repeatedly plotted the theme of an incorruptible black manhood eager to aid and save whiteness from itself. From Joe Louis to Lenox Lewis in boxing, from Goose Tatum to Michael Jordan in basketball, from Garry Sobers to Brian Lara in cricket, and countless others in various sports, the black male athlete became so visible as to cause some white men to rehash the mythology of black biological difference, this time as natural physical superiority, a notion already embedded in the slave owners' argument that only Africans could withstand hard labor in the tropics.
The black superstar's hypervisibility in mass media seemed to contradict a growing sense of alarm over the future of ordinary black men. A common worry at the turn of the twenty-first century focused on the concept of black male crisis in various guises. In the United States, persistently low educational levels, high unemployment, high incarceration rates, female-headed families, drug addiction, gang crime and homicide, suicide, AIDS, and other social problems caused some to declare black men an "endangered species." Similarly, in the Caribbean and Africa, where the AIDS epidemic was devastating populations, black men were often scapegoated as promiscuous carriers whose traditional sexual customs threatened to depopulate whole nations—a literalization of the backward African. The media focused attention on corrupt, murderous African and Caribbean heads of state—constantly raising the specter of a black manhood incapable of managing its national household after winning emancipation.
If the quotidian experience of black male identity remained largely inaudible and off-screen, scandalous controversies over black men's integrity, sexuality, and criminality were spotlighted in a variety of venues, giving rise to a whole subfield of sociological discourse trained on understanding black male deviance. The public image of black men, however, was not only proliferating, it was also splintering in response to larger social and sexual movements. As black gay men took a page from black feminists, they began to demand a visible place in black communities—challenging black homophobia and coaxing an enlarged sense of brotherly bonding across sexual orientation (Beam, 1986; Hemphill, 1991).
Ironically, the postmodern culture of hip-hop often turned these anxieties over black male identity into profitable commodities. Hyping the world's fascination with black male danger and trouble, many hip-hop artists exorcised these demons by performing them on stage and screen, and they sometimes converted the performance of menacing danger into an actual living out of it. Intensifying the phenomenon of hypervisibility, hip-hoppers like Tupac Shakur bared their hardened bodies to a seduced public, who in turn consumed those bodies as an authentic embodiment of black male jeopardy—a belated historical
repetition of those former slaves who bared their striped backs as proof of the horrors of slavery. Covered with hip-hop hieroglyphics and haunted by the specter of a predictable early death by homicide, Tupac, inverting the formula of the Good Negro, marked his own price into his flesh: the deadly cost of becoming a black man.
Awkward, Michael. Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Positionality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Beam, Joseph, ed. In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology. Boston: Alyson, 1986.
Carby, Hazel V. Race Men. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself (1789). Reprint, New York: Penguin Books, 1995.
Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. Before Columbus: Exploration and Colonization from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, 1229–1492. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.
Harper, Phillip Brian. Are We Not Men? Masculine Anxiety and the Problem of African-American Identity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Hemphill, Essex, ed. Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men. Boston: Alyson, 1991.
Lemelle, Anthony J. Black Male Deviance. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1995.
Mercer, Kobena. Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Ross, Marlon B. Manning the Race: Reforming Black Men in the Jim Crow Era. New York: New York University Press, 2004.
Staples, Robert. Black Masculinity: The Black Male's Role in American Society. San Francisco: Black Scholar Press. 1982.
Wallace, Maurice O. Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men's Literature and Culture, 1775–1995. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002.
marlon b. ross (2005)
MASCULINITYmasculinity and economic independence
masculinity and imperialism
Scholarship on masculinity has moved away from the concerns that were central to second-wave feminist analysis of the history of patriarchy and the oppression of women. In the older perspective, scholars focused on the competition between males and females as the dynamic source of men's historic efforts to keep women confined to the domestic sphere as child-bearers and out of the public sphere monopolized by men. Economic and political analysis and the evolution of institutions and law have been the chief means scholars have used to study male gender dominance. Early-twenty-first-century work pays tribute to the older scholarship but emphasizes the power imbalances between men and considers the masculine oppression of women to be a by-product of those imbalances. In this perspective, masculinity is a protean quality that is constantly incrisis, requiring reconfiguration and stabilization. Hegemonic forms of masculinity invite assimilation or challenge from competing masculine "others," and these essentially cultural struggles are as much about the performance of gender as they are about political or economic status. The great irony of the history of masculinity is the fact that masculine ideals have not been constructed against women, but against features in other men that are thought to be feminine. That is why masculinity is an exceedingly precarious condition. One does not simply achieve manhood as a function of age; one must struggle to remain not feminine throughout the life course or forfeit the "patriarchal dividend" that comes with being a man.
Some historians such as Thomas Laqueur have argued that a "two-sex" model of gender developed in the medicine and science of the mid-eighteenth century in part to permit rational, courageous males to lay claim to the emergent civil and political rights envisioned by Enlightenment philosophers and to exclude women, who were judged to be uniquely suited for childbearing and domestic duties. But though women were legally excluded on "natural" grounds from political life in the French Revolution, so were men without the "capacity" to fulfill roles as full citizens: criminals, the insane, and men without residence or who paid no taxes. Likewise, in the Napoleonic Code all men had particular rights vis-à-vis their wives and children, with respect to marriage, divorce, and property, but statutory law and custom gave men of independent means decided advantages in citizenship rights and access to political power over illiterate, impoverished, or dependent men. Similar distinctions, particularly in electoral law, flourished everywhere in Europe until the twentieth century. These were not simple economic distinctions, but judgments about a man's ability to participate in public life as an independent actor who was free of obligations to other men, which was not true of many men in the semifeudal societies of central and eastern Europe in the nineteenth century, or men serving as apprentices in traditional crafts. Citizenship was decidedly connected to men in all those places where Napoleonic conquest carried French institutions and laws, and the emerging political public sphere was thoroughly male in character, but for much of the century public life was dominated by a masculine elite of economically and legally independent men.
The clear demarcation in industrializing Europe between public and domestic spheres had important implications for the masculinization of work. Beginning in the British Isles, the domestic system of textile production was gradually replaced by factory assembly lines. This development definitively separated home from work; however, following an era when women and children initially worked in the new factories alongside men, male labor unions and reforming politicians agitated for laws restricting the duration and time of their work and eventually the kind of work they could do. As factory organization was extended to heavy industry in Britain and elsewhere on the Continent, workspaces became masculine spaces and women's work could be found only in gender-segregated sweatshops. As industrial wages rose, it became a point of masculine pride for a man to support his wife and children alone and keep his wife at home like a gentleman was expected to do. The independence of a man selling his labor on the market was thus the working-class equivalent of the bourgeois property-owner, businessman, or professional who controlled his own economic destiny. Throughout the nineteenth century, most labor unions were all-male organizations, and however radical or socialist their politics, they were resolutely patriarchal in their views of the place of women in the workplace and on the priority of male authority at home. Women continued to work in significant numbers, but in low-paying jobs spurned by men or in domestic service.
In the middle class and in the better off working-class families, women were effectively confined to the responsibilities of domestic management and the care of children. But even here they were obliged to undergo some degree of masculine management. Men often kept the account books, made executive decisions about the hiring and firing of domestic staff, and made key decisions on schooling and activities for children. The rhythms of the household were often masculine ones that followed the man's routines in work and leisure; male children were exposed early to their future duties in the father's line of work. The moral framework that governed life in the nuclear family of the industrial age owed much to a masculine ideology of sexual purity, not so much the chastity of the patriarch, though that was also assumed, but of his wife and future heirs. A genuine fear of venereal disease, complicated by widespread uncertainty about how such things were transmitted, a belief in the degenerative effects of masturbation, and a hard-headed concern about the financial hazards of illegitimate children and otherwise-marriageable daughters compromised by scandal led many men to engage in the active sexual surveillance of their households. They were aided in this by the proliferation of middle-class and skilled working-class purity crusaders of various kinds that were intent on stamping out pornography, lewd entertainments, prostitution, and strong drink in the name of keeping the family pure.
Another all-masculine domain in nineteenth-century life was the private club. Beginning with Freemasonry in the eighteenth century, a variety of clubs modeled on the secret society grew rapidly throughout Europe. There were clubs affiliated with professional groups, with commercial specialties, and with academic or artistic interests. Many clubs did charitable works or engaged in civic activities, but many were simply private
leisure organizations for men with particular class and occupational affiliations or recreational interests. Men's clubs typically organized themselves according to rules of admission and expulsion and self-governance that were ordinarily explicit about admitting only gentlemen. Political or religious discussions were sometimes forbidden, but in any case men were expected to govern themselves by a prevailing code of honorable comportment that discouraged talk about families, moral or business failings, or any discourse that might give rise to personal offense. When such instances did occur, clubs attempted to mediate them, and, failing that, to assure that the subsequent duel took place in private circumstances.
Duels were remarkably frequent in all-male organizations and meetings in the nineteenth-century, particularly in France, Italy, Spain, and the German lands. Hundreds of duels each year were reported to the public in the press, and many more took place in private venues. The old aristocratic honor code that required a man to demonstrate his courage in personal combat to efface an insult struck deep roots in the soil of middle-class society. Middle-class men learned the rules of the point of honor, and, if they had the time and energy, took fencing lessons in the event they were offered a challenge they could not refuse. The masculine style of men who were eligible to duel was a friendly but discreet manner that respected the private lives of others but that radiated the confidence of one willing to defend his personal honor or that of his family or corporation. An unwillingness to give or accept challenges, or a display of treachery or cowardice on the field of honor, could effectively eliminate a man's ability to participate in public life. Honorable men, or those who aspired to honor, simply shunned him. Not many men died in these encounters, but an atmosphere of tense readiness and of caution in word and gesture permeated all-male societies in the nineteenth century, making these environments unwelcoming to men who did not know or care to learn the rules of the point of honor, and positively poisonous to women. The adoption by middle-class men of a code of behavior borrowed from the ancient nobility was not as surprising as it appears. It was a survival of old ways that flattered the social remnants of the Old Regime and a token of upward mobility for the ambitious.
The end of the period of warfare that marked Italian and German unification did not end national rivalries but pushed them into the arena of imperial competition. The process of exploring, subduing, and ostensibly civilizing native peoples was characterized by the newspapers and pitched to the general public as a task for courageous and resourceful men. The exploits of Henry Morton Stanley, David Livingstone, and Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand placed an unusual emphasis on their courage and masculine qualities and framed the imperial quest as a contest of national virilities. A new generation of young men, apparently eager to avoid the domestic cocoons of their fathers, graduated from elite schools in the 1870s and 1880s in the mood for adventure and fame. In the colonial service of their respective nations, many found opportunities to dominate native peoples and enjoy a freebooting sexual liberty with exotic colonial women while doing good work in the national cause. In the course of this manly enterprise, colonial peoples came to be gendered feminine, and their domination justified by the "natural" gender order that prevailed in European political and domestic spheres. Thanks to the popularity of Darwinian explanations of social arrangements, the masculine superiority of European civilization and the rational precedence of European males in their own households and polities could all be explained in irrefutable evolutionary logic.
The apogee of this imperial style also marked the first signs of an unraveling that exposed many of its contradictions. First, psychiatrists and medical doctors identified a number of illnesses that appeared to be characteristic of late industrial civilization. Hysteria was a debilitating nervous condition shared by men and women alike; neurasthenia, characterized by emotional instability and morbid sensitivity, particularly afflicted upper-class urbanites; and there emerged a growing concern with male impotence, which was as much as anything a partial explanation for the rapidly falling European birth rate, and the fear, in France particularly, of national depopulation. As Sigmund Freud pointed out in his essay, "The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Erotic Life" (1912), a man's potency with his wife was in inverse relation to his (and society's) idealization of her. All these afflictions, whether real or imagined, were believed to be symptoms of degeneration, a kind of reverse evolution that seemed to account for the growth of any number of pathologies in European life: crime, alcoholism, venereal diseases, and the falling birth rates. The concept of a European man weakened, impotent, and emasculated by the anxieties of modern life seriously undermined the image of aggressive manhood of the previous generation of imperial heroism.
Second, what historians have begun calling the "crisis of masculinity" of the fin de siècle was exacerbated by the rise of feminist movements in all the major European countries. These movements produced a "new woman" who wanted education, a career of her own, and reforms in the legal and political disadvantages that women still experienced everywhere in Europe. As politicians dug in their heels to resist, dramatists, artists, and writers began to characterize women as willful, castrating vampires intent on bringing men down by a combination of seductive power and guile. The cultural "sex wars" of this era were unprecedented and were inflamed by the incessant battles in every educational and professional field to bar or limit women's access to domains previously monopolized by men. The enormous scandal that greeted the first performances of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879) is testimony to the fact that the European public, and male critics in particular, found it inconceivable that a woman could leave her husband and children for what seemed to be trivial marital peccadillos.
Finally, European military elites were dismayed by some of the stumbling blocks imperial armies had experienced on the road to empire. Chief among these was the Boer War (1899–1902), but the rapid defeat of the Russian Navy by Japan in 1905 also added to concerns that the European expansion was beginning a slow retreat. For many contemporaries, scouting movements, sport, and a reconnection with nature offered the best hopes for a renewal of masculine vigor in modern societies. The reinvention of the modern Olympic Games under the aegis of Pierre de Coubertin in 1896 put the focus squarely on the bodies and skills of men and emphasized the national aspect of the competition. Every European nation underwent a nationalist revival in the alliance-building years prior to 1914. Military establishments received virtually everything they demanded in terms of new technologies, armaments, and increased manpower. A distinctly military style of masculinity became the hegemonic masculinity for this entire generation, despite the extraordinary growth in commerce, the arts, and science, where less aggressive masculine styles prevailed. The clearest testimony to the success of this essentially compensatory masculinity was the enthusiastic, if delusional, response in 1914 to the call to war. The socialist Second International, which had promised resistance to a European war, adapted easily to war chauvinism, and pacifists were unable to convince any of their contemporaries that restraint and negotiation were masculine virtues.
By 1914 biologists and medical men had established that masculinity was a natural feature of a man's body. The courage, aggressiveness, and stoic calm required of the fighting man had become a universal trait of males; the man who lacked any of these qualities fell short, not only of the gender ideal, but also of full physical and psychic health. It is not surprising that the shell-shock victims who appeared in the early stages of the war were described by most medical men as functionally unmanned, impotent, and ruined. In the course of the century, ideals of masculinity that reflected the varying standards of class and culture had been subsumed into a definition that was believed to apply to all men, but that was virtually impossible to fulfill.
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Robert A. Nye
) were in effect the study of boys and men, but did not see gender itself as a concern. The issue of masculinity was largely ignored and gender served as a taken-for-granted variable.
There were some notable exceptions. Margaret Mead's comparative work suggested the cultural basis for, and relativity of, masculinity and femininity (a finding subsequently challenged by Mead's critics). Likewise, from the perspective of functionalism and role theory, Talcott Parsons described the sex roles of men and women as instrumental and expressive respectively. Parsons and his colleagues argued that such roles were internalized by young children and led to a neat division of labour in adult life, with men and women becoming well integrated into the social system, hence enabling it to function smoothly. In psychology, too, the idea of the male role was present, often coupled with the view that much of masculinity was a defence against an identity crisis, serving to mask men's essential vulnerability (see, for example, J. Pleck 's The Myth of Masculinity, 1981
Nevertheless, it was not until the 1970s that the topic of masculinity as such started to be more extensively researched, largely as an offshoot of the women's movement, proponents of which suggested that the problem of patriarchy was in fact ‘the problem of men’. Pioneering studies of gender roles and masculinity were conducted by Mirra Komarovsky, examining the functional significance and cultural contradictions of sex roles (see her Blue Collar Marriage, 1964, and Dilemmas of Masculinity, 1976
). Subsequently, with the development of the so-called Men's Movement, studies of masculinity began to appear in greater numbers. Andrew Tolson (The Limits of Masculinity, 1976) attempted to demonstrate that masculinity had to be located within a wider social framework of class, education, work, and age. Masculinity, like femininity, was far from a uniform cultural product, but itself assumed many dimensions. The centrality of seeing masculinity not as an essence but as a product of cultural and historical forces became paramount. By the 1980s, Men's Studies had become established as a specialist area of inquiry replete with its own internal schisms, theoretical debates, differing emphases, and divergent politics (see, for example, T. Carrigan et al. , ‘Towards a New Theory of Masculinity’, Theory and Society, 1985, or A. Brittan , Masculinity and Power, 1989
Whilst some sociologists have continued to use and develop traditional role theory, others have drawn from the work of feminist scholars and gay and lesbian studies, and have highlighted the prominence of patriarchy, heterosexism, and power for the analysis of masculinity. In Robert Connell's work, for example, there has been an increasing emphasis not on masculinity per se but on gender relations organized largely through power (see his Gender and Power, 1987
In 1990 Kenneth Clatterbaugh (Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity) reviewed the whole field, and suggested there were several distinct theoretical stances with respect to the sociological issue of masculinity. The first continued a conservative line of thought, seeing masculinity as universal, unchangeable, and rooted largely in biology. Pro-feminist positions, by contrast, generally followed the analyses laid down by feminist theory, both in its liberal and radical versions. Third, there were the advocates of Men's Rights, who argued that men also were the victims of patriarchy and sexism. Fourth, a newly emerging position suggested the need for men to regain their spiritual roots, an argument exemplified in Robert Bly's Iron John (1991). Finally there were a range of arguments which linked the study of men with class, race, and gay issues. See also CULTURE AND PERSONALITY SCHOOL.
mas·cu·line / ˈmaskyələn/ • adj. 1. having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, esp. strength and aggressiveness: he is outstandingly handsome and robust, very masculine. ∎ of or relating to men; male: a masculine voice. 2. Gram. of or denoting a gender of nouns and adjectives, conventionally regarded as male. 3. Mus. (of a cadence) occurring on a metrically strong beat. • n. (the masculine) the male sex or gender: the masculine as the norm. ∎ Gram. a masculine word or form. DERIVATIVES: mas·cu·line·ly adv. mas·cu·lin·i·ty / ˌmaskyəˈlinitē/ n.