28 March 2009, 15:59
We that are not one
I’d like to start with the notion that masculinity is not one single a-historical, fixed, stable, binding way of being, or set of behaviours, that can apply universally to all men across all geopolitical regions at any one time. As R.W. Connell argues, ‘masculinity is not a coherent object about which a generalizing science can be produced.’
I reject, then, ideas of any one universal, innate and essential manhood that every man can, or definitely will, experience. Instead, I move towards an understanding of masculinities [note the plural] as discursively constructed ‘configurations of practice structured by gender relations’. Practices that ‘are inherently historical’ and will ‘follow different historical trajectories’ which ‘like femininity, [are] always liable to internal contradiction and historical disruption.’
Hegemony and its Discontents
Hegemony is a cultural concept that has been used to describe and explain the dominance of one social group over another, in the sense that the ruling group or 'hegemon' acquires some degree of consent from the subordinate, as opposed to dominance purely by force.
Cultural theorists and social scientists have observed that, within any given culture, one particular form of masculinity will rise to prominence amongst the men of that culture.
These observations gave rise to the term 'Hegemonic Masculinity'. This form of masculinity needs to be understood in parallel to another cultural phenomena, that of 'reification'. To reify something is to literally imagine a fictional concept into a believed reality. Around any given culturally constructed concept - in this case 'real men' - a constant barrage of media images, television shows, 'hollywood' movies, and sporting heroes [to name but a few] cause us to reify a popularly imagined ideal of Western Manhood into a reality we believe in - and that some want to be part of.
Hegemonic masculinity, then, can be understood as a culturally dominant construction of masculinity, a popular format for being a ‘real man’; one which will reify itself, through the power of discourse, into a popularly imagined, and geopolitically specific, ideal of manhood.
But, because it is popularly imagined, and often subtended, (or implicitly supported), by market-driven advertising and a culturally constructed iconicity of 'ideal manhood', its reification ensures that it is, in actuality, experienced and embodied by very few men.
It is the type of masculinity performed by local heroes, fantasy figures and culturally specific role models. It is competitive by nature and thus constantly unresolved and subject to both eternal self-doubt and to questioning by other men.
Hegemonic masculinity is, in the main, a social structure, and is thus open to deconstruction.
It can be understood as a commonly imagined, centralised trope of monolithic masculinity, that of the solvent sporty heterosexual. Happy to assimilate into a white capitalist ideal, one which will always gravitate towards a position of privilege. This position once gained is rarely lost but is constantly and tenuously negotiated in an infinite spiral. Ubiquitously it subconsciously calls us, logo-centric to our understanding of how power (particularly economic and political power) works in the post-modern Irish climate.
It is the centre that needs decentralising, an aspirational trope of masculine procreativity, strength and aggression, a structure that needs deconstruction, the last meta-narrative.
Men and the Market
Hegemonic masculinity, our 'imagined ideal man', is the meeting point for several dominant market-driven regulatory fictions about how men should be and act in the current Irish climate.
There is a huge creation of masculinity in the marketplace. Think of the recent G.A.A. adverts in terms of selling an ideal of 'Irish Manhood.' This is shored up by various intertwining market forces, each of which is itself based on a received knowledge about what constitutes a culturally acceptable masculine. This knowledge usually draws on a populist held epistemology [or knowledge base] rooted in gender polarities, particularly when it comes to ‘selling the man.’
One cultural selling point is the homo/hetero divide. This particular market works on a philosophy of primarily assimilationary gay politics as opposed to any liberatory, or queer, thinking. In this schema gay men set the trends and fashions for heterosexual men to appropriate and assimilate. As a cultural ‘thank you’, or modern day ‘patriarchal potlatch’ hetero men give their social approval to gay men by wearing their clothes; which is, also in reality, making them more attractive to women as ‘gay friendly’ at least. But could that be a patriarchal ruse to get women where heterosexual men want them?
Another ‘cultural selling point’ is the smaller, but very media friendly, camp stereotype that sells so well. It is shoring up the heterosexual market by virtue of both participating in capitalist competition and centralizing the heterosexual in culture.
Fabulous Fairies and Butcher Queers
Many gay Irish men make moves towards living under this sign of ‘the alpha male’ – current queer discourses of what is an approved gay masculinity are almost all heavily invested, and inextricably bound up, [currently at least], in notions of the hyper-masculine. But this makes us question traditional understandings of hegemonic masculinity where one of its discourses, under the terms of many of the sociologists I read anyway, had to be homophobia.
Under the terms of social theories hegemonic masculinity and homophobia are mutually inclusive. But by that logic, gay men who marginalise and oppress non-conforming masculinities in other gay men - camp queens - are themselves homophobic. These ‘homophobic gays’, [what Connell calls the ‘very straight gays’] will argue in defence of their attitudes that it is just the behaviour in camp sexualities that they find abject, the performance jars their ideas of what constitutes men, the trajectory away from the norm causes anxiety. The camps compound a stereotype that 'real men' don’t subscribe to.
The hyper-masculine gay man sees himself as fixed, stable, and in total opposition to the camp gay. He thus serves to privilege the role of the active masculine penetrator over that of the passive camp receptor, who always promises as part of his attraction the ‘ecstasy of taking [his] sex like a woman.’ This divide between the two defines itself and shores up the power structure that created it illustrating how such sexual categorizations operate as instruments of regulatory regimes and become assimilated as the normalizing categories of oppressive structures.
What many of the macho queers fail to see is that they themselves are in fact subscribing to a oppressive gender ideology that fixes the essential, aggressive and sexually predatory he-man as a central point to which all others must aspire. They still wish to oppress bodies that display feminine traits - any taint of the feminine. It is a form of 'queer misogyny'
The camp queen is now no longer perceived as a man under masculine terms but as a feminised, and thus weakened, being. If camp men are indeed to be tarnished with the taint of the feminine then surely we should be asking of those who understand them under these terms: why they must understand the feminine as weaker? and also, why exactly do they see the feminine as tainted?
The Other in The Self
All of the above goes a long way towards highlighting two prominent issues regarding camp male sexualities; stigmatization and misogyny.
Some straight-acting queers’ disavowal of the camp is, I suggest, rooted in internalized shame and stigma which itself is buried deep in the subconscious. It is a twofold shame, one which hinges firstly on a patriarchal link between imagined sexual passivity and femininity where to be sexually passive is to be feminine.
This leads to the second part of the shame where straight-acting queers wish to create a ‘gay absence’. They feel a need to hide and negate their queerness and the stigmatisation they attach to it by emulating and assimilating into straight culture for, as Bersani writes, ‘I can’t be oppressed if I can’t be found.”
Goffman, quoted by Warner, theorizes this absence quite explicitly for us, blaming the negation of the camp man on a psychic “identity ambivalence” brought about in the straight-acting queer “when he obtains a close sight of his own kind behaving in a stereotyped way, flamboyantly or pitifully acting out the negative attributes imputed to them.” He sees macho queers as making moves towards “in-group purification … not only to ‘normify’ their own conduct but also to clean up the conduct of others in the group.” The “repulsion” he feels for his camp counterpart manifests as shame which “then transform[s] 'ashamedness' itself into something of which he is ashamed”.
Warner takes Goffman’s theory further by positing that in addition to “ordinary sexual shame” and the stigmatization of being queer, the camp queen’s flamboyancy, this queer who “flaunts his sex and faggotry”, reiterates and justifies the straight-acting queer’s shame making it “all the more justifiable in the eyes of straights.”
With a sense of sarcasm Warner asks “what’s a poor homosexual to do?” And to this he answers, quite succinctly, “pin it [his shame] on the fuckers who deserve it: sex addicts … circuit boys, flaming queens … anyone who magnetizes the stigma you can’t shake. The irony is that in the culture, such a response will always pass as sexual ethics.”
Warner, of course, makes a salient and cogent point, and one which concludes this section quite neatly. For among the hyper-masculine queers there will always be room for a misguided misogyny appropriated from straight culture where the heterosexual male’s oppression of women can be transposed onto queer lives and culture leaving the macho queer with a satisfying distinction between himself and the camp queen.
Patriarchy and its Dividends
A patriarch society is one ruled by men. Patriarchy has, at its core, the need to oppress and rule women.
Patriarchy as an identity category is one that uses a public disavowal or denial of membership as one of its prerequisites for representation. The criterion involved in eligibility for any patriarchal project is a publicly disavowed (and yet probably privately acknowledged) set of protocols built around men’s bodies and men’s movements throughout a gender system where they posture as centralising the female to their world, but are, in fact, merely shoring up the rigid boundaries of the hierarchy they would have us all subject to.
Yet, not every twenty-first century man would profess to belong to a group such as ‘the patriarchy’ as it is delineated in current discourses.
White and white-collared, heterosexual (usually paternal) middle-class men in particular, ones who look after their children and don’t hit their wives, if they have the terms of their privilege laid before them, would perhaps baulk at their unwitting complicity in patriarchy.
These men, strictly speaking, are not of the patriarchy.
Yet they live by the some of the rules of the patriarchy and, most importantly here, they reap the rewards that patriarchy can offer.
This is what Connell identifies as ‘the patriarchal dividend’.
Does all of this lead us to a rather quietest resignation that there may no escaping the centrality of the heterosexual male, that we can only but “trouble” him as a means of questioning his “subtle ruse of power” and challenge him by asking; if we must indeed make trouble around this “prevailing law” then the task in hand is “how best to make it, what best way to be in it?”
I call on the modern enlightened men of Gaire [gay or straight or bi] to seek to disrupt the alarming cultural trend towards an imagined and idealised ‘universal’ hyper-masculinity.
It is imperative to culturally avoid, where possible, a universal of masculinity that, because it is firstly presupposed and popularly imagined to have prerogative to a dominant position over power of agency, autonomy and economy it is, often complicity, permitted to operate under the very terms it seeks.
This discourse is inextricably bound up in notions of power where privilege is always firstly, and sometimes only, mutually exclusive to any biological configuration other than the normative healthy male.
29 March 2009 @ 09:46
I think we already talked about Dictionaries and how they only tell you one story.
Look up for the Marxist view on reification, and the point of view of existentialism on it.
Reification, literally “thingification”, is a figure of speech turning a concept into something real, that gives you the impression you can have physical leverage on it.
When applied to society, it gives you the ides of a mechanics with cogs and screws.
When applied to a subject, a consciousness at work, a working free desiring consciousness, it results in making it a thing.
Applied to your topic, it makes “the male” and “the female” objects, as opposed to subjects. Passive copies, as opposed to active reproductions.
But of course one can argue that Wili has put more though into this than Marx
St. Perry Cormo
29 March 2009 @ 13:41
Yes Frog, we all know that. Many words have several meanings.
And, yes I know the Marxist context too!
What you seem to forget is 'context'.... if a word has several meanings it can be fluid, any one of them can be applied once that use is consistent throughout the piece.
And, in my blog, I'm using it in one particular way. The way I illustrated.
So.. please read it as that and stop trying to nit pick.... its annoying.
What are you trying to do; collapse the whole argument?
29 March 2009 @ 21:35
I would be tempted to go further than that, but it is a possibility.
I just fear that the definition you quoted sees "reification" as "making real as an object", when "res" itself is the Latin for "thing".
It covers the thingation of a concept, like you mentioned.
But a subject can be lowered to the level of thing too, without being a concept.
Things are that level of being which reduces the concepts and the subjects to manageable entities. Somehow it is linked to a desire to control the world, thoughts and people.
In that sense, again, I feel it reinforces your argument rather than weakening it.
30 March 2009 @ 02:50
All I see is Draughts board with Blah/Perry.
God help chess board. @ Blah GOD.
But liked it Perry.
31 March 2009 @ 12:41
You can write, but it is what you write.
There is something all academics studying the life sciences will have to realise, and I am always surprised how they have not copped on to the tree in the forest yet. All of the life sciences will in the next 20 to 100 years if academic knowledge has a 100 years will be Darwinian and evolutionist based.
The absolute space( a math term) of any cultural theory is first the biological entity and it's stradgedy for survival and reproduction, once that is established well then a behavior can be explained. A behavior a culture, a masculinity a femininity all can be explained by evolution. Very little to do with culture.
My own masculinity is a space I occupy with in my own biological unit shaped by evolution.
22 June 2009 @ 00:24
A few very personalised points on campness and anti-campness:
1. I don’t see campness as being a form of expression that challenges anything, really. It’s deemed to be feminine behaviour but ask yourself this question: how many women do you know who behave in a camp way? The vast majority don’t.
2. In my humble opinion, the link between campness and femininity comes about from the link in the public mind between gayness and femininity. I wonder if campness is a very recent phenomenon embraced by some members of the gay community as a means of giving the two fingers to the tut-tutters. Were there camp gay guys in Ancient Greece?
3. So, if we question/gainsay the camp-feminine link, then those gays who don’t like camp behaviour are not being misogynistic, rejecting their own femininity, their gay side or whatever. Maybe they just don’t like camp behaviour.
4. Quite a number of the camp gay guys I know are extremely misogynistic. I think this point needs consideration too.
5. The camp=passive, non-camp=active thing has certainly not been my experience. Some camp guys are very much “tops”.
23 June 2009 @ 16:25
Just on Gadjo's point above. I said something similar in a thread on Gay Pride. I believe campness is an affectation, and in a lot of cases it's an affectation that I dislike. I don't know what its purpose is, but I certainly agree that, in a lot of cases, affectedly camp people are mysoginistic, and even anti-heterosexual, propounding some sort of pseudo philosophy that transcends gay equality for gay superiority.
It's always interesting to me to see how many gay men describe themselves as 'straight acting', which would seem to display a dislike for campness.
I find the same thing with the affected butch dyke, as opposed to a woman with masculine traits, where those who affect this kind of behaviour tend to have an anti-male agenda.
That's what I think anyway.
1 September 2009 @ 10:11
Some words ring some bells.
1:31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.