Tag Archives: masculinity

Dude, You’re A Fag: Compulsory Heterosexuality in the Making of Masculinity

This was taken from a paper submitted in my Sociology of Gender class.  Hope it breeds some interesting discussions!  Check out this fantastic article by Michael Kimmel, sociologist and historian of masculinity, for his analysis of the recent gay suicides.

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Zach Harrington

On October 10, 2010, National Coming Out Day, another homosexual teenager, Zach Harrington, took his life after a night of repeated bullying.  Harrington’s tragic death is part of a larger trend of recently publicized homosexual teen suicides as the result of bullying.  Publicity surrounding their deaths has helped spread awareness about the issue of violence in schools and has given hope to thousands of homosexual teenagers through such aid organizations as the It Gets Better Project and The Trevor Project.

News articles and websites repeat their names and stories: Justin Aeberg, Billy Lucas, Cody Barker, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi…yet, despite the obvious pattern of predominantly male aggressors and victims, discussions have focused on homophobia as the root of the attacks.

By examining the homophobic harassment these young men endured at t

he hands of mostly white heterosexual men, it becomes apparent that heterosexuality, masculinity, and power are linked.  The use of homophobic epithets, physical violence, and sexist remarks by white heterosexual boys serve as a form of gender policing to reinforce masculine dominance.

While the main goal of these projects is to prevent suicidal teenagers from taking their lives, dialogue about their harassment has revealed how commonplace homophobic bullying actually is.  After spending a year at a California high school, C. J. Pascoe, in her book Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School argues that in using such homophobic epithets as “gay” and “fag” towards other heterosexual males, straight boys “repudiate the specter of failed masculinity” and reinforce their masculinity and power over other men, homosexuals, and women.

By interviewing male and female students, along with teachers and school officials, Pascoe shows how this process of masculinity is not only harmful to homosexuals, but all members of the social order, as it prevents the development of multiple masculinities, genders, and sexualities.

Although these hypermasculine actions have been identified as virulent homophobia or dismissed as “boys being boys,” Pascoe’s work reveals how institutions are integral in influencing young adults to embrace these traditional gender norms and heterosexism, as this praxis of masculinity is reinforced through school rituals, pedagogy, discipline, and the ignorance of the damaging effects of bullying.

Chapter 3: Adolescent Male Homophobia

In this chapter Pascoe shows how the fag trope is used as a temporary identity to police heterosexual masculinity.

Its fluidity is powerful enough that boys police their behaviors “out of fear of having the fag identity permanently adhere and definitive enough so that boys recognize a fag behavior and strive to avoid it” (Pascoe 54).  Students responses to the use of “fag” clearly demonstrate the performance and accomplishment of gender, as boys “performed” male effimancy for laughs but quickly reinforced their own “correct” masculinity (Pascoe 61).

When called a fag, a boy immediately thrust the fag “hot potato” onto another boy to reaffirm his own masculinity.  Pascoe states that “gay” is gender-neutral and regularly deployed by both girls and boys against both people and inanimate objects.  The use of “fag,” on the other hand, demonstrates a gendered homophobia which equates effeminacy with powerlessness.

Racialized Contexts of “Fagness”

Although male students were quick to define faggotry and label others as faggots, Pascoe reveals how its definition was racially-specific depending on its context.  According to white boys, “fags cared about the style of their clothes, wore tighter clothes, cared about cleanliness,” and danced (Pascoe 60-61).

Although African American boys privileged stylistic dress and were renowned for their excellent dance skills, the fag epithet did not apply to them.  Pascoe interestingly compares the treatment of the openly white, gay dancer Ricky to the African American dancer K. J.  While both were very talented and both carefully crafted their dancing outfits, K. J. was lauded by the crowd for his obvious connection to hip hop, while Ricky was ostracized for his “faggness” (Pascoe 76).

Pascoe insightfully notes, “Precisely because African American men are so hypersexualized in the United States, white men are, by default, feminized, so white was a stand-in for fag among many of the African American boys at River High” (Pascoe 71).  Despite blacks’ limited use of the term “fag,” Pascoe states that African American boys were punished more frequently for engaging in fag discourse (Pascoe 76).

Chapter 4: Compulsive Heterosexuality

Pascoe argues that when boys sexually objectify, sexualize, or simply flirt with girls, they are reinforcing their own heterosexuality and protecting themselves from the fag hot potato.

By discussing how they could manipulate girls’ bodies, to “break their walls,” make them fart, orgasm, or defecate, as well as their actual physical manipulation of girls bodies through teasing or flirting, boys demonstrated dominance over the world around them (Pascoe 86).  These stories bolstered gender stereotypes of women’s bodies as out of control and reinforced men’s objectification and master over women.

Conclusion

More than ever, Dude, You’re a Fag proves deeply relevant to our current dialogue of homophobic bullying and the resulting teen suicides.  Less than two weeks before Harrington committed suicide he had spoken at a public hearing to declare October his city’s gay history month.

Although Harrington imagined more acceptance from the hearing’s adult attendees after years of being bullied by young boys, the council meeting quickly became “a place where the same sentiments that quietly tormented him in high school were being shouted out and applauded by adults the same age as his own parents.”[4] Nikki, Zach’s older sister who also attended the meeting, stated:

“‘When we talk about our feelings in a hypothetical way and we send our toxic thoughts out in a public setting that way, they will affect people in a negative way…People need to think about the things they are saying and ask themselves, ‘Is this right?’”[5]

Harrington’s case reveals the ultimate consequences of allowing such heteronormative and sexist performances of masculinity to continue in high school—after receiving years of positive feedback from other males and having their sexism and homophobia ignored or reinforced by school officials, young continue this toxic cycle of masculinity on into adulthood.

**If you have an encouraging message you would like to share with teenagers via the It Gets Better Project, click here.**

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21st Century Masculinity: The New “Macho”

My current research on Rolling Stone magazine is on their coverage of the Men’s Liberation Movement!  Which makes this Newsweek article pretty exciting.  The photos included with this article are from Newsweek’s timeline of male ideals in American history.  Want to learn more about men’s history?  (Yes, they have a history, and no, men’s history isn’t American history in default)  Read Michael Kimmel’s Manhood in America: A Cultural History.  Hope you like it!

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by Jesse Ellison and Jessica Bennett, Newsweek, September 20, 2010

If the stereotype of the macho man is the whiskey-drinking, womanizing Don Draper, then the popular perception of “feminist” is an angry, militant, man-hater—decrying the patriarchy while she burns her bra. It’s a cliché that, for decades now, has pitted the Marlboro Man against Rosie the Riveter, labeling women who rally behind men as antifeminist, and men who support women as weak, or worse. But even Gloria Steinem knew—back before women were even allowed to write at NEWSWEEK—that it was going to take both sides of the gender coin to achieve true parity. Testifying before Congress on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970, Steinem proclaimed that one crucial aspect of women’s empowerment was “a return of fathers to their children.” “Women’s liberation,” Steinem declared, “is men’s liberation too.”

Family Man: 1910-1945, The nation's first fatherhood movement grew out of the factory-floor malaise, as thousands of men tried to "manufacture manhood" in their sons--to help them prepare for a heartless market, and avoid being feminized by nothing but mommy-time. Part of the solution: a new masculine space in the home, "the den," christened around 1905. Walmsley Brothers / Hulton Archive-Getty Images

Forty years later, women are further along than we were in Steinem’s day—we’re tipping the scale at 51 percent of workers; we make up the majority of college graduates, M.A.s (and now even Ph.D.s), and we are the primary or co-breadwinners in most American households. But we still have trouble penetrating the highest echelons of the corporate world, and no matter how many hours we spend trying to close that gap, we remain burdened by domestic life. In 2010, there are still precious few stay-at-home dads; housework and child care are primarily still “women’s work.” And while we may have superpowered washing machines and delivery from Fresh Direct, we still do double the chores of the men we choose to live with.

All of this is why, even in 2010, we must take the advice of a feminist of yore: women still need men to prosper. We’re not talking about Mr. Cleaver bringing home the bacon—we need men so that we can excel at work, to level the playing field at home. We need them as dads, partners, and cheerleaders—from the classroom to the boardroom. So let’s retire the tired old “battle of the sexes” war cry—equality should never have been a zero-sum equation.

Muscle Man: 1910-1945, With the frontier closed and women beginning their long push into the workplace, men obsessed over Tarzan, cowboy literature, and bodybuilding, even if they were sitting in offices all day. Eugen Sandow, a precursor to Charles Atlas, was the first fitness guru for men. Hulton Archive-Getty Images

There are practical reasons why we should rally behind each other’s causes. If men are concerned about American prosperity, there’s a solution: women! Countless studies prove there’s a correlation between the number of women on corporate boards and achieving a better bottom line; McKinsey estimates that the United States could increase GDP by 9 percent if we achieved true equity at work. (At a time when economists worry we’re losing our economic edge, who wouldn’t be swayed by these arguments?)

The same goes for parental leave. It’s no coincidence that Iceland has the most generous paternity-leave program in the modern world—three months!—and also, the smallest wage gap. These things go hand in hand. And no, it wasn’t a raging man-hating feminist who pushed the legislation through—it was a male prime minister, who recognized that Icelanders of both genders would benefit, and not just in the short term. The reasoning? As more men take time off to care for their children, the burden of parenthood no longer falls on women alone. Ultimately, employers will stop looking at young, fertile women and thinking, why bother investing? We’ll all be equally worthy of investment.

In today’s economy, the industries that have long been female-dominated—teaching, nursing, and so on—are the ones that, in the coming years, will grow the most. Encouraging men to “man up,” as our colleagues put it—and enter these fields should be something we all push for. Because just as corporate boards benefit from diversity of thought, so does every workplace. Recent research from the London Business School suggests that productivity levels go up when men and women work in tandem—in part because gender parity counters the idea of groupthink, and reduces the sprouting of likeminded groups that defend ideas that may be ill conceived.

Suburban Playboy: 1960-1980, The Self-Made Man returns in the image of Playboy magazine, "the bible of the beleaguered man." Joe Suburbs replaced his suit with a smoking jacket, restocked the den with Danish modern furniture, and dreamed of swinging. At the same time, gay men, black men, new immigrants, and the gender-blurring hippies expanded the mainstream notion of masculinity. Bettmann-Corbis

Welcoming men to traditionally underpaid professions could also serve to boost average salaries in those fields, making them more competitive and better able to attract top-tier talent. It could also be a crucial step in closing the wage gap, which, of course, won’t help just women. As more women become the main breadwinners—we’re in a “mancession,” remember?—equal pay means more for everyone.

So let’s embrace the new macho, throw our weight behind men who want to make a change, and get back to the forgotten principles of the original women’s movement, which put men’s progress hand in hand with women’s. “The only way that we can resolve these issues is for both men and women to join together,” says historian Barbara Berg. “You can’t liberate only one half.”

Forty years ago, Gloria Steinem said that women’s liberation would also be men’s. Today, maybe it’s the opposite: that men’s liberation will be good for women.

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AskMen.com’s Great Male Survey 2010 Edition

Full article here.

Who exactly is the modern man? You might be surprised, after hearing the results of AskMen’s 2010 Great Male Survey, held in collaboration with Cosmopolitan magazine’s Great Female Survey. It turns out that as we enter the second decade of the 21 st century, the modern man is actually more traditional than most of us would expect him to be, and surprisingly more old-fashioned in his values than his female counterpart.

See the results of the “Great Male Survey” at AskMen.com

Over 85% of men still believe in the institution of marriage, with 1 out of 3 males stating that they would not pursue a relationship if they felt their partner didn’t have wife potential. Men also ranked “having a family” as the No. 1 status symbol, above having a “high profile career.”  On the flip side, more than half of the women surveyed insisted that they do not feel pressured by family or society to tie the knot by a certain age, or even at all. Also of note, 85% of the women said they would be comfortable being in a relationship with a man who has a lower income than they do.

See the results of the “Great Female Survey” at Cosmopolitan.com

Despite all this, 4 out of 5 men still believe that they should pay for all dates, for the duration of the relationship or at least until it’s established. On the other hand, less than 25% of women said that their partner should always pick up the bill.

See AskMen.com’s take on the “New Masculinity”

While men and women are becoming more and more on par in terms of salary, we’re still negotiating what that means in terms of our personal relationships. Should a man pick up the bill more than a woman? Is the rent divided in half? Maybe it’s not about money after all and more about opening the door. Despite how far we’ve come in terms of equality, there’s always an argument to be made for chivalry.

Other Survey Highlights

  • Prenups are more important for younger guys. 20% of men under the age of 29 think they are either very or somewhat important, versus 10% of guys over 29.
  • Twice as many women, compared to men, have admitted to cheating on their partners. However, more than two times as many men than women would cheat on their partners if they could get away with it.
  • Only 1 out of 5 women would dump their partner if they became fat. Men, on the other hand, show no such restraint with nearly half admitting their disdain for up-sized girlfriends.
  • The majority of men are still uncomfortable about their partner friending exes on Facebook, with 34% absolutely against the idea and another 26% only ok with the idea if they have met the ex before.
  • 1 out of 3 guys have met a woman online.
  • Nearly 40% of women report that their boyfriends or husbands are “not very often” or “never” romantic, yet 75% of men claim that they are romantic consistently.

Endorsed by Ipsos, AskMen’s Great Male Survey was conducted over a two month period and  is the biggest online survey of what it means to be a modern man today – what’s changed, what’s new, and what remains the same.  With over 100,000 respondents, the third annual GMS gives insight into the male perspective on a range of topics including dating & sex, lifestyle, and timely world issues.  This year, AskMen has also partnered with Cosmopolitan.com, who have asked their female readers similar survey questions in an effort to understand where males and females differ in opinion.  Full results from the Great Male Survey 2010 can be seen at: http://www.askmen.com/specials/2010_great_male_survey/and findings from the Great Female Survey at http://www.cosmopolitan.com/great-female-survey.

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