The Collected Papers of the Class on Masculinity
Anthropology 194J: Cultural Constructions of the Masculine
These are the papers written for my "Cultural Constructions of the Masculine" class, which turned out in the end not to be very much about masculinity. Most of the papers and some of the readings were pretty fluffy, but there were a few that were worthwhile.
While I suggest you take this with a big grain of salt, I've marked those readings that I really liked with a , and if I just wasn't that moved I didn't put anything. I put a next to those that were particularly moving or thought-provoking... although be aware that in a class like this, on such emotionally touchy subjects, 'liking' an essay, or finding it 'thought-provoking' emphatically does not mean it was 'nice'!
If you're interested in either my thoughts concerning (or more information on) this sort of subject, check out my final paper for this course.
|Articles by Taussig, Young, Bhabha, Lott, Butler, & Baldwin (some excellent theoretical essays)||
The readings for this week have concentrated strongly on the theme of white male masculinity as it is defined oppositionally to the perceived masculinity of the "Other." This white masculinity seems to be dually constructed through anxieties expressed in sex and on fear. There is a thread through each reading which discusses (in more or less verbose manners) precisely what Taussig revealed in his article Culture of Terror, Space of Death, namely "that the victimizer needs the victim for the purpose of making truth, objectifying the victimizer's fantasies in the discourse of the other" (138).
Thus we have a mirror in which to see (with fascinated horror) that which we fear in ourselves. We project these fears onto our victim, and through that act we acquire the very traits, desires, or actions we fear. This is somewhat muddily explored in Young's Colonialism and the Desiring Machine, where he explores the construction of 'colonial discourse' as yet another western academic tactic, yet another form of created fantasy and desire. Bhabha's Of Mimicry and Man uses the term "ambivalence" to describe the oscillating love/hate relationship the colonizer seems to demonstrate towards the colonized. It is the fictions placed upon the colonized by the colonizer that truly defines the colonizer; their belief in the ultimate inability of their 'lessers' to ever truly be 'superior,' one with them, that maintains the fiction of colonizing superiority. Yet it is in the creations of these very fictions that the colonizer disrupts his own stabilizing beliefs. Bhabha notes the use of mimicry (through the "partial gaze of the Other") to rupture and transform the certainties of the colonial mindset into ambiguity and mockery. Thus mimicry must be transmuted to menace, or else the essential fragility of the colonizer's 'normative knowledges' is graphically illustrated, as in the misuse of the bible.
On a less rarifiedly theoretical level we have Lott's White Like Me, which straightforwardly posits the creation of American male whiteness through appropriation of white beliefs about black masculinity and sexuality, as expressed through blackface. Through his review of media, Lott expresses white culture's appropriation of and debt to the black subculture - yet also points out that much of this says more about white views of blacks than actual black culture. Like Orientalism as a discipline, the 'appropriated blackness' is more a white fiction; an alternative life style used to define what white 'truly' is. Butler uses a real life occurrence (the trial of Rodney King's attackers) in Endangered/ Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia to demonstrate how white fears cause a racially saturated reproduction of vision. Through this mindset, a completely helpless black man in the process of being brutally beaten becomes a potential brutal attacker of whites, who must be attacked before his incipient violence and unrestrained sexuality is released, and who thus has brought 'just reprisal' upon himself purely due to the color of his skin. It is telling that the female white juror saw King as being "totally in control" of the situation shown by the video, just as it is telling that the soundtrack, which was full of racial and sexual slurs, was deleted from the visual. Had the connections between white fears and sexual anxieties as projected onto blacks been quite so graphically demonstrated, it is possible the juror's convictions of the fundamentally dangerous nature of King might have been shaken.
Finally we have a fictional piece (Baldwin's Going to Meet the Man), which probably most graphically exemplifies the ties between sex, fear, and the oppositionally defined nature of both masculinity and whiteness. The man Jesse grabs at his crotch when he feels verbally threatened by the helpless black boy in the jail cell. The boy Jesse witnesses the graphic torture and castration of a helpless black man who is accused of pushing a white woman. Jesse is described as pulling upward to see, and as drooping once the black man is dead; this is rather phallic description. The white people at the scene are described as sated after the torture. Sex and fear permeate the story. The fear is of some undefined unknown as embodied by the black people - their motives, their physicality, their constant singing are all portrayed as mysterious and unknowable. The story itself is set within the framework of Jesse's inability to make love to his wife until he once again mentally castrates the black man of his memory, at which point he can finally 'do' her 'like a nigger.'
Thus a constant theme is demonstrated in the readings; through ideology, through exploration of both the media and a real-life incident, and through fiction. The construction of white masculinity is oppositionally dependent on its projection of its own fears and inadequacies onto the Other. Through a variety of justifications (self-protection, economics, bringing the torch of civilization to the savages, etc.) these same fears are later expressed as white masculinity. Thus the usually somewhat innocuous non-white is constructed and viewed as a menacing 'brutal savage,' and consequently treated with savage brutality.
Manliness & Civilization
by Gail Bederman
(good book, clearly written)
Since you encouraged me to feel free to express myself and to indulge in exploration expressed through the readings, I intend to do so in this paper. However, what I find myself curious about is not so much the readings, since they made a great deal of sense, but rather our reactions to them.
Our readings for Tuesday were chapters 1-3 of Bederman's Manliness & Civilization. The three chapters reviewed Jim Johnson as a black threat to white hegemonic claims of civilized superiority, discussed Ida B. Wells' discourse on lynching and G. Stanley Hall's theories on racial recapitulation as a counter to neurasthenia. All of these chapters were full of information and ideas on masculinity, race, gender, culture; all of the chapters had strong and thought-provoking ties to previous readings... and yet we spent most of the class wandering conversationally through economies of class, arguing about accents, or berating the absent writer for individual passages.
Why did we do this? What is it about us, as a classroom of privileged individuals, that prompts more attention to nit-picking and fault-finding than to close examination of such far-reaching and fascinating precepts as are being presented in the reading? Why is it that so often people seem to feel that if they can point to a single fault in an otherwise brilliantly presented argument, they can then feel themselves to be superior and true connoisseurs of the subject at hand - even when they're not addressing the actual subject? Examination of discourse on a topic is (as far as I know) the only way to learn it in a university environment. However, is it truly learning if discussion degenerates into simple whining which does not address the issue? Is a classroom really the place for exaggeratedly emotional or dramatic monologues about the inequities of class, or soapboxing about the evils of the male sex? We're supposed to be graduating soon - so shouldn't we be able to frame, articulate, and logically discuss coherent questions on the readings?
True, connections can be found between class, gender performance, the definition of civilization, and several other subjects, but the class - and the readings - are about masculinity! Why then do we not address it; why not tie it into what we're discussing? Are we that intent on seeing the world only through our own chosen lens of prejudice? If so, shouldn't we recognize that, and try to analyze, understand, and disarm it? Bigotry, however prettily couched in academic posturings, is after all only bigotry. Or is masculinity just too frightening to examine closely? The appeal of the 'savage' seems an important question to me, as I see it reflected darkly all around me in my society today. I cannot but wonder at the possible connection between it and some of the troubles I observe in the world. I would have loved to discuss that, to have struggled to come up with an answer for savagery's seductive allure, or a logical refutation of its appeal to men. Yet we never got to it - we foundered on... writing style. I also found it bleakly amusing that during attacks on the author's writing style the author (Gail Bederman) was consistently referred to as 'he.' Are we then doing what Taussig has postulated? Are we projecting our own fears upon the readings, viewing them as 'the enemy' and attacking them hysterically because they disturb us and do not say what we want them to?
History of Sexuality, vol. I
by Michel Foucault
(very good book, a little heavy for the layman perhaps)
In his first volume on the history of sexuality, Foucault discusses the apparent fascination in western societies with sex. He speculates on why this is so, initially presenting the current, 'fashionable' hypothesis of societal repression as the potential reason: we are only now, in the twentieth century, waking up and shaking off the effects of the late seventeenth century Victorian silencing and repression of all things sexual. He then asserts the hypothesis is not correct, citing as proofs his three main doubts. These are his doubts of sexual repression's historical factualness (his historical question); whether the workings of power in our society are truly prohibition, censorship, and denial, or even categorizable as repressive (his historico-theoretical question); and whether the critical discourse that addresses itself to repression was in fact part of the very same power mechanism that had operated unchallenged up to that point (his historico-political question) [1990:10]. Instead Foucault asserts that sexuality is part of a general economy of discourses on sex, is viewed and discussed endlessly as the secret path to a new and better world, and he seeks to discover instances of discursive production, of the production of power, and the propagation of knowledge concerning sexuality [1990:12, 35].
Foucault goes on to discuss what he refers to as the perverse implantation: the advancing and multiplying of a power specifically created to suppress the very 'vice' that is its main support and reason for existence - a vice chosen for both its inerradicable qualities, and its ability to expand, subdivide, and penetrate further throughout reality. Thus power is given impetus both by its very exercise, rewarding its overseeing control; and by the pleasure discovered fed back to the power than encircles it [1990:43-45]. The perverse implantation is an empirical data source he cites to disprove the repression hypothesis. He also explores the creation of the 'scientia sexualis': the result of a long history of titillating discourse on sex. Foucault traces its beginnings to the Christian confessional, with its careful and fascinated examination of the 'sins of the flesh.' The dissemination of the procedures of the confessional to the psychoanalyst bent on determination of scientific norms, coupled with a multiplication of the localizations of its constraint and a widening of its domain, contributed to the constitution of an ever-increasing discourse and archive on the pleasures of sex [1990: 63-65]. It was a creation of an analytics of sex; furthermore it was an analysis pursued with the same fanatical devotion to its subject as that of any proselytizing confessor, with the added benefit of having as subjects of their research a people who wished most earnestly the release of confession.
Foucault continues his examination of the power created and supported by the 'scientia sexualis,' noting that its features can also be uncovered in political analyses of power, and are deeply rooted in Western history. The pervasive and expanding nature of power is due to: the negative relation (power must always refuse, limit, and lack); the insistence of the rule (power creates binary categories, prescribes 'order,' and lays down the rule of law); the cycle of prohibition (power creates two alternative nonexistences, then constrains and condemns to nullity through taboo); the logic of censorship (through the paradoxical logic of law, power creates the inexistent, the illicit, and the inexpressible); and the uniformity of the apparatus (on one side there is the legislative power, and on the other an obedient subject) [1990:83-85]. Close examination of the appearances of these features of power in society, in relation to sexuality, demonstrates clearly the constant and mutual discursive production between power and sexuality. Sexual discourse both supports and creates power, which must in turn continue to create and support sexuality and the scientia sexualis; as sexuality grows, pervades, and expands subtly throughout society, so does the attendant discursive power [1990:95]. That the expanding production of discourses on sex increase the field of multiple and mobile power relations is the exercised power's aim and objective, if not its stated goal [1990: 98].
In the beginning of the 18th century we first note four specific mechanisms of knowledge and power centering on sex, namely a histerization of women's bodies, a pedagogization of children's sex, a socialization of procreative behavior and a psychiatrization of perverse pleasure [1990:104-105]. These mechanisms formed the beginnings of the juridico-medical discourse on and production of sexuality as formulated by and for the bourgeoisie. Originally the relations of sex were based on deployment of alliance: a system of rules defining the permitted and the forbidden, the licit and the illicit. However, as economic processes and political structures changed, a new apparatus of power was created and superimposed upon the old alliances: the deployment of sexuality. Its operation was based on mobile, polymorphous, and contingent techniques of power. As alliance reproduces the interplay of relations and maintains the law that governs them, so sexuality engenders a continual extension of areas and forms of control [1990:106]. This deployment of sexuality is a product of the need of the bourgeoisie to create its own sexuality and form a specific body based on it; a "class" body, in the guise of marking and maintaining its caste distinction, as did the nobility with its creation of the discourse concerning itself with "blood" [1990:124].
Foucault goes on to discuss the two poles around which the organization of power over life is deployed: the disciplines of the anatomo-politics of the human body and the regulatory controls demonstrated through a bio-politics of the population. "Bodies" are created through the discourse of the individual body as a machine, its discipline, optimization, docility, integration, et al; whereas "populations" focus on the species body, imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes. From the creation of this bipolar technology of power comes the myriad and diverse techniques designed to subjugate bodies and control populations; Foucault names this discourse of power 'bio-power' [1990:139-140]. Through the calculated administration of bodies and management of life within the parameters of this new bio-power we see an attention to the investment of life, as opposed to the sovereign power's mastery of death. The species is no longer constituted by living animals which are capable of political existence, but rather a species whose life is determined by its political strategies [1990:143].
Sex and sexuality are of vital importance in this political discourse on bio-power for the simple reason that sex is at the pivot of the two axes that compromise the poles on which bio-power is based. Sex is a normative discipline allowing access to the life of the body, and also a regulator of the species, through its manifestation and control in populations. The blood of the nobility was a symbolic reality; the sexuality of the bourgeoisie is a discourse to be constantly (re)analyzed. Power speaks both of and to it; it is delineated, aroused, and employed in the polymorphous and proliferating discourses of power [1990:145-148]. The one thing it is not is a splendid, hidden truth obscured by repression and censorship; it is, like the power that obsessively reforms, sustains and is created by it, a societally created discourse.
|Movie: The Women Outside||
In the movie The Women Outside a viewer can clearly see a clash of cultural assumptions. In America, the prevailing norm is that the government should assist the weak and disempowered, and also that a culture's values have validity. Between these two societal beliefs are the base women surrounding American bases in Korea. There it is believed normatively by Korean society that a 'camp follower' could never be a 'good woman.' Currently Americans there more strongly embody a hands-off, laissez faire attitude towards the predicament of the base women; the prevailing attitude is that it's always been there and everyone does it, so it must be all right. However, one might find oneself wondering if this attitude is truly an embodiment of validation of a foreign culture's values, or simply the path of least resistance.
Of course, there is also the possibility that assuming the predicament of such marginalized women is uniquely an American affair, as if Americans created the problem, and must therefore solve it. An astonishing arrogance could be discerned in such an attitude: it would assume there are no base women around Korean army camps, and that camps in America have no 'supportive' women surrounding them either. This is obviously not the case. Ultimately, such situations exist because they are tolerated by those in power, not because they are a unique by-product (and thus also the responsibility) of America.
Nevertheless the image of the big aggressor bullying the smaller, weaker victim is an appealing one to most people. It is always pleasant to jump on such an emotional bandwagon; the issues seem clear-cut and simple, and one can be sure of one's moral superiority. America is perfect as such a target due to its recurring and debilitating guilty conscience. Oddly enough, most Americans seem to feel they are to blame for the actions of their ancestors, or for the entirety of their 'race,' and thus must bear silently any vitriol slung at them, regardless of whether such hatefulness is justified or no. Unsurprisingly, hate begets hate, and so nothing is accomplished or changed, either by the conscience-salving martyrdom of the 'big aggressor,' or by the anger flung with complete lack of control or direction by those that feel oppressed and thus embody themselves as the 'smaller, weaker victim.' As Foucault's theory of perverse implantation points out, this embodiment as martyr or victim will not - must not! -- change the situations which have caused it to come about. To do so would endanger or eliminate the subtle appropriations of power each side claims, and threaten the simplistic and comforting oppositional roles of 'power achieved through assumption of the position of martyr' and 'power achieved through assumption of the position of victim.'
This is not to say that the position of the marginalized in any society is imaginary, or that their very real pain should be ignored. Rather, it is merely an observation: humans are complex creatures, and have a plethora of reasons, both conscious and unconscious, for their actions. It is satisfying in the short term to target a scapegoat; it assures one's moral superiority and absolves one of the need to shoulder blame or work towards long term solutions. Unfortunately, treating the symptom will not cure the disease. To assume that only America is to blame for the situation delineated in "The Women Outside," or to naively believe that the elimination of racism can be accomplished solely through legalistic prevention of the exploitation of the marginalized is to accept a simplistic and unfortunately incomplete view of the world. More effort, both physical and mental, will be needed to accurately and completely assess the problem and to come up with and implement a long-term solution that takes into account both the marginalized and the discourses of power that have created their marginalization.
Movie: Tongues Untied
(very good; very moving)
This paper discusses possible interpretations of the movie Tongues Untied. It is unfortunately not particularly theoretically inclined (from an anthropological point of view), but is more an exploration of personal beliefs. It is not intended as a criticism, but rather as an affirmation of common humanity. However, since we are in this class (in a fashion) exploring the politics of the creation of 'masculinity' as a societal construct, and since I believe the personal is political, I'm going to do this anyway. Apologies ahead of time. ;-)
My initial exposure to my own bigotry occurred when I overheard a conversation where a handicapped person in a wheelchair mentioned that she was invisible to most people. True, they tended not to step into her way. But the care with which they both avoided her chair and her eyes made her feel erased sometimes. I was embarrassed, and my first impression was to deny to myself (since I was not involved in the conversation) that I'd ever done anything so inconsiderate. Unfortunately that wasn't true... and I knew it. Honesty compelled me to admit it... and my training in constructive (as opposed to destructive) criticism made me try to discover how to change this unpleasant and undesired internal bigotry. I gave it some thought, gathered my courage, and went over to very carefully and politely ask the handicapped person what she would change, what would make her feel better, to prevent her feeling erased.
I'll never forget her response. I half expected to be snapped at as an inconsiderate non-handicapped person trying to assuage my guilt by a few unpleasant moments of forced speech with 'one of them.' Instead she gave me one of the loveliest smiles I'd ever seen, and told me that I was part-way there already. "Just look at us; just smile when you talk to us, like you're glad you're here, instead of like you're fulfilling some nasty duty, or talking to a child!" We ended up talking animatedly until our next classes - she was interesting and clever and thoughtful. She wasn't a wheelchair; she wasn't a label - she was a person. It was incredibly liberating in a way... it takes work to be uncomfortable and unhappy around people that you don't understand, people that you're afraid of.
Honesty grows on you. Once I'd started smiling at handicapped people, started speaking and treating them like individuals, I started noticing other 'groups' that I'd tended to avoid both physically and visually. I was initially quite trepidatious about smiling at (as the most obvious but not the only example) black men, but I decided one day that if I was going to be honest I'd have to admit to myself that all these groups consisted of people too... and I gathered my courage in both hands and started smiling at everyone I met on the street that would meet my eyes. I was not willing to be foolish - one does not walk down a dark alley in an inner city at night, alone, for example - but unless I was being actively snarled at I would smile and/or greet all the people I passed. It is amazing how well most people react to a sincere greeting and smile. I've received some of the loveliest (and sometimes startled and pleased ;-) smiles and replies in return... and while there have been those that have been neutral, no one to date has been hostile. It's a very small thing, of course... but it is a beginning, a precursor to bigger and better things.
To return to the movie, I found it very fulfilling. It was, to me, a smile from a man I can never meet - a chance to reach out and make a small connection in a society that sometimes actively discourages connections being made. It is always satisfying to see that others have also had troubled times; that you are not alone in the pains you have experienced in your life. It is even more affirming to see difficult decisions and conclusions made in your own life positively mirrored by others. True, your life cannot exactly match anyone else's. Indeed, it is probable that one of you ('you' as both the observer and the movie producer in this particular case) had more terrible pains, or emotional damage that scarred more deeply... but if you (the generalized 'you') make no attempt to comprehend another's pain, to find mutuality in and through life experiences, then how can anything constructive and/or communicative grow between you and any other; how can any understanding be reached when there is nothing in common? If there is no understanding, what is left but isolation, ignorance, or worse yet, fear? I am not speaking here of frivolous, thoughtless claims of understanding based solely on a wish to get someone else to open up emotionally or verbally; nor am I saying that one should loudly (and sometimes tediously) proclaim one's own story to be precisely the same, qualitatively, to another's. I am here speaking only of the unfortunately common human experience of anguish and suffering, and the inner redemption and strength that one can find within, and that one can cheer on in others, if one can only persist in struggling on, and growing despite one's pain.
So, with the above caveats, I believe I saw in the movie Tongues Untied griefs and epiphanies that had some loose correspondence to those I have experienced within my own life. It was deeply satisfying to hear the statement that anger is the easy, the safe emotion, that it arises from silence that swallows the hurt and accepts the pain of being viciously labeled, scapegoated, or pigeon-holed... but that ultimately one must move past the anger in order to grow. I found it greatly encouraging to hear the speaker on the screen (sorry, but I don't remember which individual was speaking) describe his slow discovery that he could not depend on others to create himself - that ultimately he was responsible for his own creation of self; that he had only to look to himself alone for approbation of his life choices. No one else's approval was necessary - he could be (and became) who he wanted to be. For me, one of the most moving parts of the film was the scene where during the Gay Pride parade, down a side street, a group of intolerant christians were shown - and the men marching in the parade pointed and in unison cried out repeatedly, "Shame! Shame!" as they passed. I find that kind of courage magnificent - to stand up to what is supposed to be a kind and unifying force in one's culture and to tell it to its face that it is wrong, that it has abrogated its responsibilities and abused its power, requires breath-taking self-confidence and self-knowledge of who one is. I applaud those men -- they spoke the truth.
About the only thing I found sad about the movie's conclusions is that the black men ultimately had to turn to other black men in order to find and create themselves. However, I do not consider this a failing on the part of the men that were the subject of the movie. Instead, I see it as a condemnation of both the cultural hegemony, and (more mildly) the 'mainstream' gay culture. It would be my hope that a time might come, someday, where creation and discovery of self-identity could healthily proceed wherever one was -- without having to turn away from people that have a different colored skin, or turn away from a culture that persists in illogically stating you are perverse, damaged, or sick. It is true I am an idealist, and this is not likely to occur in my lifetime. However, I am not willing to give in to anomie, even though I no longer believe in quick fixes to complex societal problems. Instead I believe the hegemony is changed by convincing one individual at a time, slowly and with reason, instead of with hate or anger. Until I find a better way, I shall continue to attempt to do so.
|Movie: Zoot Suit||
The week's 'reading' was the film Zoot Suit. As the film's narrator states, the story it told was as much a fantasy as truth. I found this interesting - in the fantastic retelling of the story of Hank Reina there was a chance to create a non-hegemonic view not only of the chicano as a cultural construction one could be proud of, but also to invigorate, in a sense, some of the other classifications of minorities as also worthy of respect. Yet this was not done - I'm curious as to whether it was an attempt to remain true to the spirit of the times, or whether it was a slight demonstration of minority xenophobia. In the dance scenes in the 'bars,' for example, the one black couple almost always danced only with each other, and the male is at one point told angrily by a pachuco that it's 'not your night to be here, cochon'; the dancing women are frequently tossed by their partners (apparently both willingly and helplessly) into the air such that one can clearly see their color-coded underwear; the one Asian woman is always dancing with the white sailor.
In fairness to the self-categorized pachuco Reina in the movie, it should also be pointed out that there is a real love/hate relationship between him and the narrator, his idealized carnal representation of his ethnic status. At different points in the movie he applauds it, calls it a liar, hates it, and refers to it as himself -- both his best friend and his worst enemy. It is clear the movie was directed primarily at the chicano audience; the frequent use of specific and untranslated dialect means a non-chicano will miss a great deal of the dialogue and meaning. There does seem to be an attempt to show, through use of body language, the overall emotional content of the words, but in doing this the complexities and subtleties of people's spoken reactions is unfortunately lost. As a single example, there are frequent humorous comments made with a 'deadpan' face. A non-Spanish speaker thus has no idea of the dry humor and rather cleverly pointed wit that seems, according to the movie, characteristic of the pachuco.
The movie was, unfortunately, a little confusing at its finish. Were all the related endings true, different aspects of the same story, or merely more glosses on what could have been? However, even in its apparent confusing nature it was probably true to the character of both life and the story it told - where does one point and say decisively, "There. The story ends there"? The racism had not ended, even though the protagonist's life had. In a sense it could be said that the story never ends until the racism stops; that, as the narrator put it, Henry Reina lives on.
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Last Updated: Tue, March 28, 2000