On male culture: Some thoughts

At one point in my feminist theology class last year, we wound up talking about “hook-up culture.” It was a risky topic — and indeed one that I only brought up because I wasn’t sure it actually existed, or at least assumed it was more a factor in frat-dominated big universities rather than in a relatively monastic liberal arts college like I (thought I) was teaching at. The discussion went better than you’d think, and as some of the students started asking essentially why guys act like assholes, I started to realize that a big role that pro-feminist men need to play is as internal critics of male culture — not just policing their own individual behavior, but looking for broader patterns of behavior that reinforce sexism.

Later, reading Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” I was struck by the fact that she finds Derrida so promising because he is simply an internal critic of the philosophical tradition and doesn’t presume to be explicitly political in a way that usually winds up making it impossible for the subaltern to speak for themselves. When combined with a remarkable essay on Eyes Wide Shut, Spivak’s insight convinced me that my gut feeling from the class discussion was on the right track.

There’s only one problem: I’ve never identified with male culture, and in fact I’ve always looked down my nose at it. In this, I’m following the example of my father, who has always been deeply suspicious of “male bonding” and generally seems to feel more comfortable around women on social occasions. I’ve always been very impatient with the way that male-dominated groups have been built on a toxic combination of homoeroticism and homophobia, and in college, I think that my male friends could detect that and therefore didn’t try to involve me in the often fully nude homoerotic horseplay that took place in our gender-segregated dorms. A related factor is the way that it’s built on a desperation for women’s esteem combined with misogyny — and the misogyny is the controlling factor here, as the value of women’s esteem is determined by the “male gaze” (i.e., you want a “hot” girlfriend, but you don’t want to seem too deeply in love with or dependent on your girlfriend).

In both cases, this inherent contradiction serves to keep young men in a constant state of fear — they can never be sure that they’re performing their gender correctly (and here I reveal that I think Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity applies most intuitively to the straight male experience), and they’re terrified of the mockery of their peers (mockery which is normally itself motivated by each peer’s own fear of mockery). This is how male culture can manipulate weak-willed men into doing things they’re not comfortable with. In the case of hook-up culture, one of the male students in the room revealed that he wasn’t comfortable with casual sex at all and also had a broader idea of attractiveness than most men he knew, but in both cases he was conforming out of fear of being made fun of. (And note how often one is accused of being either a “pussy” or a “faggot” in these contexts, often interchangeably.)

When I look at this structure among jocks and frat boys, it’s 100% obvious to me and not at all seductive. But then I have to ask myself: why are almost all the colleagues I am in serious dialogue with men? How is male culture duplicating itself in my academic life? I think that in part, male academics do imitate, in their self-deprecating way, the economy of using women as “trophies” — as I said in comments to Melissa’s recent post, one of the commenters here once publicly accused me of essentially blowing my chance with a woman I was arguing with, and of course there is always the hope of using one’s academic capital to “score” in the supposedly vibrant hook-up culture of national conferences.

On another note, while I think that the critique of the tone here is a bit superficial, I wonder if part of the desire not to be subject to the “niceness police” is a reflection of the desire not to be a “pussy/faggot” — hence, perhaps, the attraction of someone like Milbank, who performs a peculiar kind of academic masculinity. (Since this has come up before: any speculation or rumors about Milbank’s personal life in comments will be deleted.) And perhaps the general abstractness of the discourse, the “Men Discussing Important Things” tone that queenemily pointed out, is itself a desire not to get bogged down in “wimpy” personal narrative or, in a more abstract kind of language, a resentment of the perceived ability of women or minorities to “get by” on their personal history rather than having to really Work Through the Great Texts — here we men are proving our mettle by working through Hegel and Aristotle and Augustine and mastering classical languages, etc., etc., and now we’re supposed to engage seriously with someone who’s talking about their own life experience? That’d be like getting a pedicure instead of going to football practice: serious pussy/faggot behavior.

Surely that analogy seems strained, but you’ll never guess how I conceive of my superiority to male culture more generally: they’re the real pussies (who are totally controlled by their fear of being made fun of), they’re the real faggots (with their homoerotic horseplay and inability to interact meaningfully with women). Whether I’m ready to be a critic or not, one thing’s for certain: I’m internal.

49 thoughts on “On male culture: Some thoughts

  1. Interesting post. One of the more notable aspects that I noticed around Lit/Cultural Studies departments with the embrace of Zizek and Badiou in some quarters was the palpable sense of relief you could see on the faces of young straight white men – “ahhhh now we don’t need to talk about gender, race or class!”

    Which I think is an incomplete reading of those writers to say the least, but as you point out that reception may have as much to do with resentment and anxiety around masculinity. I think there’s also a less vocalised fear about the coming obsolescence of the White Guy as a cultural force, both in terms of fading US hegemony and internally (how long before white people are a minority in the US?)…

  2. Also worthwhile noting how that fear of being *the* pussy/faggot plays out amongst gay men, with the whole “straight-looking, straight-acting” disavowal thing. Perhaps the pussy/faggot is *always* displaced?

  3. This is probably something where we’d need to have gay men involved in the conversation to go much further. Cautiously, though, I venture a couple counterexamples: the phenomenon of certain men coming out and acting “extra-gay” at first (i.e., exaggeratedly conforming to gay stereotypes) and also the tendency to reclaim derogatory terms (most famously “queer”). As the broader culture has become more welcoming toward gays, there has been some retrenching/conformity of the kind you discuss (seemingly based on the paradigm of “a gay man can still be a man!“), but I think that gay male culture’s relationship with straight male culture is still more complex than you’re making it in your comment — that there can be a desire to identify as the pussy/faggot, for whatever reason.

  4. I do think you’re exactly right about the appeal of Zizek and Badiou, though. That was definitely part of the initial appeal for me, though I now think that at least Zizek can be taken in a different direction (though he obviously doesn’t go there himself).

  5. I simply found myself affirming several comments in your post including the problem, which I express myself: I’ve never identified with female culture. Moreover, growing up predominately with males I have given thought to, and never concluded problematic the reality that the bulk of my “academic” conversation partners are also males. The reasons for that, I believe, are largely preferential.

    Also, one of the problems with mainstream feminist theory and culture is that it elicits a similar fear/mockery complex as you mentioned. For example, if I choose to be a “stay at home mom” I am by default “giving in” to male dominance. In other words, it becomes femininely “wrong” of me to want to and to choose to care for my children. Female gender performance under mainstream female culture pushes its particularly agenda (that is conceived as formerly “male”) and jettisons the previously conceived “settlement” performance of females. (Which appears as a fairly violent move internal to the feminist debate with no less external repercussions).

  6. I’m not sure that Zizek/Badiou has to do with anything–I don’t really read either and, as an instructor, I find myself feeling uncomfortable teaching works on race and gender to undergraduates. I think a lot of my young-ish male colleagues feel the same way. For me, at least, it feels like I am co-opting feminism/anti-racism and presenting it from the perspective of a white male from a the upper part of the middle class–the exact sort of person who is engaged in the practices being denounced in these works. In effect, I feel like what Sarah Palin should feel like when she calls herself a feminist. The ultimate result is that rather than having anti-racist or feminist sociology (my own discipline), we end up with fragmented liberal identities: race week, lady week, poor week, gay week, etc bookended by Marx and Bourdieu.

    But, what is surprising is that undergraduates, especially the males, despite not actually receiving much feminist or anti-racist work in the courses nonetheless believe that it is all they hear about!

  7. Yes, that’s true.

    Do you think there’s much of a similar movement amongst straight men to identify with that abject feminine position? That when confronted by the accusation (you pussy!) responds with “yeah, so what if I am?” which’d lead to something like a dandy I suppose. Or is there not enough gain in it? The only popcult example I can think of is Russell Brand, who also manages to be famously phallic as well as femme. I don’t really mix with many men outside of work, so I have no idea as to the breadth of these things..

  8. OK, I’m going to ask a question that will sound like an unpopular and often stupid opinion (reclaiming male identity), but I’m hoping it is received in a way where it can still be interesting. Is there a place for masculinity?

  9. @Adam (sorry bout the twittering, but so many comments, y’all move fast)

    Yes. I guess the problem is that the critique of liberalism – which was far from unique, certainly – wasn’t matched with any political commitments to feminism or anti-racism. So it was sort of, well that’s dispatched as neo-liberal apologia (all those Zizek jokes about postcolonial theory, though Badiou’s snark at the start of St Paul was certainly key), Let’s Get Serious Again ;) But I do agree that there’s certainly scope with Zizek for feminist work, much as the Irigaray et al took up Lacan..


    Ha I’m not sure anything could cause Sarah Palin guilt! In terms of feeling like a fraud, I guess signaling your own complicity (though not in some gauche penitent way that makes things All About You) is one way to teach those subjects – given how resistant so many students are in acknowledging that their privileges may be built on more than their sheer individual awesomeness. And finding ways to foreground the voices of women, people of colour, GLBT people, whatever the case may be – a guest lecturer always helps to give another perspective in the class (though that too carries the same dangers of tokenism as the curriculum design you mentioned)…

  10. Comments for Adam’s post:

    First of all, to echo Hill, thanks for this post, definitely right on, and much appreciated.

    @ APS- how are you defining masculinity?

    I think Adam astutely points out how even a disavowal of a prototypical masculinity tends to still manifest itself as a masculinity–i.e. “I’m more of a man by not buying into this male culture bullshit.”

    Which I think is telling. I also think that those of us who are women in academia tend to do this as well– we try to prove that we too can be as masculine as the men are.

    Which is where things get incredibly muddled, because there is where there are serious splits in feminism–i.e Carol Gilligan, most second wavers, Luce Irigiray, etc.. vs. Judith Butler, Monique Wittig, etc…. I could go on and on with this, but I’m guessing you all can track what I am trying to say here.

    I think this is what came up in some of your comments on Melissa’s blog–there seemed to be a bit of a confusion between a “this is an issue of the medium/its a language thing” vs. a “its not my fault that women aren’t interested in what I write about” tone. I’m not saying you were saying that, and even if you were, thats totally cool! In light of this, your question makes perfect sense–but what might this masculinity look like? Is it a question of medium or of message or something else? Are you looking for something that Kampen suggests, a masculinity that exists apparent from maleness (whatever the hell that is)?

    If so, sure. But is there also room for “femininity, ” even perhaps in the academy? It seems like masculinity, whether or not it is attached to men as the signifier, sort of holds a hegemony in the academy–which may not be a bad thing, but just is something I would be interesting in interrogating.

    I hope that makes sense. I was trying to type something fast before a meeting, as queenemily is right, y’all do move very fast, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to participate!

  11. Irigaray is horrible about the biological basis of sexual difference though, no? Not that it makes all her work uninteresting, but that leads to some really horrible stances towards transgendered folks.


    OK, but how does it play itself out then? A weak masculinity? One that doesn’t have privilege. I am with you though on the difference here between male and masculine (again thinking of Butler).

  12. ps- sorry for that first “title line”. I was writing this on a “sticky note” on my computer and was trying to distinguish it from other long notes I had written. Copy/pasting it on to here was an accident.

  13. @Kampen: Actually, what’s probably more significant than my dad’s example is the fact that I was raised surrounded by women all the time (my mom, aunt, and grandma were pretty much inseparable). Yet I’ve wound up, like you, with a mostly male academic circle. Obviously different factors are at work in both cases, but I thought the kind of parallel was interesting.

    @queenemily: That’s a tough question, because I think so many feminine traits would be taken as gay rather than female (the dandy seems like a gay-esque figure to me, and there is of course the “art fag” or “drama fag” who is in touch with his emotions). I wonder if there’s room for the figure of the “nerd” here — he could be taken as identifying with the female insofar as femininity is defined (in male culture) by physical weakness and cowardice. And thinking about the nerd could show us the way certain compensations arise within straight male culture, since nerds exaggeratedly show a lack of regard for their appearance (so that they’re clearly not gay).

    @Craig: That kind of fits with the persecution-complex theme — many white males feel put-upon by any need to discuss gender or race.

  14. @Kamben

    It can be violent, yeah. I think that disaffection is part of what the Sarah Palin thing is tapping into, the feeling that “feminism” has basically been for a certain type of (implicitly white and heterosexual), middle-class, childfree woman, and there’s all these women left behind..

  15. Brandy,

    Well, I’m asking as someone who isn’t particular very masculine, or I’ve never identified as such. At the gym I tend to just leave when the really douchey dudes come in. I do have some very masculine friends, some of my closest friends actually, and I don’t think they are particularly patriarchal. I am having trouble describing what it is though, even with them in mind, so I’ve now done the annoying thing of asking the question without thinking it through.

    As for the conversation at Melissa’s place, I think the confusion you point to is inherent in this discussion itself. Is the language that, perhaps, is off putting to women inherent to the kind of abstract projects I’m interested in? If so, is that just something coded within women, or is that notion itself part of coding women? It’s very murky. I am having trouble thinking it through with any clarity.

  16. @Anthony

    Oh she is, absolutely, though as you say not uninteresting for all that. Of course Lacan himself is far from kind to trans people in Ecrits, and indeed Zizek had a swipe at the start of Violence quite recently..

    I think a weak masculinity would be an interesting idea actually – a masculinity to come? Certainly as Adam’s post suggests it’s *already* fragile and needs to be ushered in past the forces of anxiety and normative gender policing amongst men…

  17. As a gay male I thought I would add some input into this discussion.

    As for the “toxic combination of homoeroticism and homophobia” this is, in my experience, something like the Zizekian “fantasy realized is the greatest horror”. Perhaps for a straight male these situations may only be annoyances.

    At the gym I do leave when the “douchey guys” show up as well. Would a straight male leave if a group of “douchey” girls (I think culturally, I may be referring to “Mean Girls”) showed up at the gym?

  18. James,

    Actually, speaking for me, I would leave. I tend to try to go to the gym when I know it’s all old people and people referred by their GP. I also hate the sporty people they hire to run the place.

  19. Is the fact that Kampen has been spelled at least three different ways in this thread related to some kind of inbreaking of nonhierarchical multiplicity?

  20. Honestly, I have no idea. If you believe Butler in The Psychic Life of Power then heterosexual gender identity is very often produced through melancholic repudiation of a foreclosed same-sex love object (I become the man that I never loved).

    The few men I know who seem pretty secure in their masculinity don’t seem to have the fear of attraction to other men. I don’t know why that is precisely. Sometimes I think the only way for some straight blokes to get past that blocked homoerotic/homophobic homosociality is to actually have sex with another man. That way, either it didn’t really work for you and you’re now quite secure about your heterosexuality, or it did and you’re no longer in denial about homo or bi sexuality. But this is a pipedream I know ;)

  21. Is that true, Adam K? Need masculinity be founded on defensiveness? If so, does that maybe bring us back to the discussion of identities? Could we even say that *all* identities rest on defensiveness of some sort? Certainly most of what passes for feminism does.

    Although I am a woman and talk about myself incessantly, I relate to your feelings about the seeming wimpy-ness of personal narratives in the context of academic discussion. Seriously? That’s supposed to stand up to reading Augustine? At its best, however, more personal writing can function as an important form of observation. I understand, for example, why feminists are so interested in Nietzsche despite his troubling commentary on women. Nietzsche philosophizes in a profoundly personal way, through close attention to himself and those around him, and it’s not even remotely wimpy.

    The dominance of a particular abstract (masculine?) rhetoric in the field is a problem if it stems from self-protectionism. Maybe men are being defensive and want to prove themselves to other men. However, recourse to a more feminine approach is equally bad if it simply repeats this self-protectionism by being politically correct or nice or “only” personal, and thus denying the possibility of critique.

  22. Queenemily, does that “melancholic repudiation of a foreclosed same-sex love object” also establish female heterosexuality? I think not.

    I often wonder about the female academic’s relationship to men, and I mean here the Augustine/Hegel/Zizek-reading female. Is she perhaps becoming the man she never loved? Or the man she did love? (Wow, that’s borderline overly confessional. Keeping with the tone of the post, I guess.)

  23. Julia, I’m trying to describe how things actually are, not give prescriptions — if there’s a non-defensive form of masculinity out there to be found, I’m all for finding it.

    I also acknowledge that personal narrative can be done both well and badly — that was a case where I was trying to channel the feelings of “male academics in general” instead of speaking strictly for myself, but I guess this is an area where trying to differentiate “my own opinions” from “masculinity in general” would be missing the point.

    (It just occurred to me that setting up a contrast between Augustine and personal narrative was pretty ironic.)

  24. Ironic indeed. Whoops.

    Didn’t really think you meant it prescriptively. I see many instances of non-defensive masculinity. Non-reactive strength (physical, intellectual, emotional) is what I find most attractive in men. It’s out there.

  25. I wonder if we can think about masculinity (as Julia put it, “non-defensive/non-reactive strength”) in the same sort of way Christianity thinks about pacifism (which is not passive). One could begin by examining how a defensive-masculinity is violent and what kinds of forms of masculinity (strength?) exist that do not function in the same way. If masculinity is about strength then it is about power, and as Julia has observed, masculinity is located in a variety of facets of life, or it is expressed in many modes. Following this train of thought, Foucault holds that power (synonymous to strength in this case?) is immanent. Power (masculinity?), of course, also takes many forms; sometimes in clearly identifiable agents (the sovereign in Foucault, frats in terms of masculinity) and sometimes not. For the Christian, the power of the Kingdom of God is immanent; already here but not yet fully. So…if anyone followed any of that…I’d like to re-frame APS’s original question: Is there such thing as a non-violent or pacifist-masculinity?
    (This question casts the notion of strength into the “realm” of the masculine, which is not necessarily male, as we’ve established, but I’m not sure what I think about that. It’s up for debate too).

    @APS: You are forgiven for your typo. I will abstain from interpreting it as carelessness due to your male-ness.

  26. Can one drink, smoke, fuck, enjoy cars, sport, beer, gambling, wearing ties on one’s head on a heavy session, sing badly, loudly, and vulgarly at appalling hours, so on and so forth, without being a misogynist asshole?

    I have an inkling that this is possible.

  27. late to the party

    re: nerds
    i take your point, adam, but i think there’s still very much a defensive masculinity amongst certain nerds i know/have encountered — in particular, i associate it with a certain brand of internet humour (think 4chan) & a certain type of gamer.

    re: weak/alternative forms of masculinity
    i don’t know much about this, but someone brought up the concept of testicular masculinity in my feminist reading group, which perhaps is something worth considering. a quick google search throws up this (p14 of the PDF), para beginning ‘In his essay “The Male Body and Literary Metaphors for Masculinity” …’ which has a nice brief summary.

  28. Adam,

    The situations I was describing are the same ones that you mentioned and that Zizek repetitively brings up in the context of the military.

    When straight males are confronted with these situations (frat initiation rituals, etc) they can either not participate in them (indifference, annoyance, or simple disgust) or they can be the kind of masculine personalities that plan them.

    Whereas homosexuals react with a particular kind of horror to these kind of situations. A vulgar example would be Andrew Sullivan’s consistent outrage over the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay controversies. Perhaps a better example would be Foucault’s activism with Groupe d’information sur les prisons.

    Which isn’t to say that these particular manifestations of masculinity are regulated to the male sex. Was Lynndie England being masculine?

  29. Ever since Socrates, male philosophers have been appropriating female reproductive imagery to describe their activity. Midwifery and pregnancy metaphors, I mean. Adam’s original post about male academic culture connects directly to this reproduction envy. In the tradition of the Jewish form of philosophy, kabbalah, this same thing takes place. The rabbis try to get god’s phallus to inseminate them. (See Elliot Wolfson passim). Claude Levi-Strauss thought that this was the essence of culture simpliciter: “the dream of a world without women.” No exchange relations, just self-replicating autochthons. Is this stuff really about the group of humans with a penis, or is it about being human? That is, a certain refusal of mortality and a yearning to clone oneself without difference? Are we humans who happen to have a penis just more vulnerable to the dream of a world of autochthonous cloning because we don’t have wombs where new and different life grows in us? Can we really only have an internal critique of this dream if it is inherent to the human condition?

  30. I certainly think it is the case that in certain theological circles (I’ll
    leave as an exercise for the reader to work out which) the appearance of Zizek and Badiou is greeted with what can only be described as glee that ‘we’ a) no longer have to discuss ethicity/sexuality/class/colonialism even human rights all of which are liberal (despite the fact identity politics is a critique of the generic subjects of Rawlsian and related liberalisms) b) we can now use the critique made of these things to advise a return to traditional positions, while mocking the need to consider the importance of ( in the words of Phillip Blond in one memorable meeting) ‘black one-legged Buddhist transexual lesbians’ and worrying about the fate of the Anglican communion, a church of ‘women and gays’.

    Among my friendship group at home, despite us being ‘inbetweener’, neither jock nor nerd, there is a homoerotic culture, which is mainly out of fun, much horseplay (though not normally nude) and rarely contains homophobia. Indeed, some of the members of the group probably get involved because they are actually quite homophilic, while not actually being gay. It’s weird but I think that playful homoeroticism isn’t neccesarily homophobic. Im not sure what it is mind…

  31. I’d agree with Julia’s sense that it is possible to have a non-defensive, or non-reactive, masculinity. No doubt much masculinity, maybe especially a certain American masculinity, is founded on fear — but of what? Of women, definitely, but perhaps of other men — this, in fact, was something I think Adam brought out quite well. In other words, could patriarchy stem not from masculinity as such, but rather from the fear of women/fear of other men.

    Confessionally speaking (I’m not comfortable with this, but it seems relevant), a non-defensive masculinity has become a “self-conscious” aim of mine precisely as I’ve entered into academic life, the gender possibilities of which have left me rather alienated.

  32. @Julia I’m not sure why it would be self-evident that it’s not (though you may be right). As I recall Butler spends a fair amount of time talk about Dora and Freud on that score.

    Certainly there’s less anxiety among women about physical contact, but I think that sociality is still founded upon fairly definite heteronormative boundaries – ie it’s still a fairly common experience among queer women that outing yourself can lead to a formerly warm and physical friendship suddenly getting very, very cool. So repudiation isn’t entirely foreign to female heterosexuality. As a theory it makes a certain kind of sense to me, but YMMV.

  33. Why do we almost always seem to be discussing these things with males colleagues? I have a suspicion why I think this is the case, and it involves making sweeping generalisations, but here goes: I remember during my undergrad days wondering to myself – where are the female academics that don’t write explicitly on feminism but write on (ostensibly) neutral topics? I looked for them, but they were few. It just seems that most women in religion/philosophy studies circles write on feminist issues. All well and good. But there’s also the methodological starting point for feminist writing which is that it begins from women’s experience – and since I am not a woman, I can read feminist literature and learn from it, but it’s never an activity that I can engage in constructively (internal criticising aside). So the movement for equality is something that in practice I’m invested in, but the generating of feminist theory and literature is something outside the possibilities for me, and so I wite on other things – religion, politics, what have you. Of course, women write on religion and politics too, but to (some? all?) feminisits, the male account of things will be incomplete since it’s not taking into consideration the feminist view point… I’m just thinking that there’s the combination of a practical division of labour, and perhaps also a theoretical impasse that creates the tendency for these male-dominated dialogues to remain isolated.

  34. Queenemily, it’s certainly not self-evident either way. Butler’s claim just didn’t ring true for me.

    I really am curious to hear how women relate to the academic versions of this male culture. Why do we choose to be near it? Why are we interested, in many cases, in making ourselves more masculine? Of what are we jealous?

    Bruce, the matter of “womb-envy” is really interesting. Nietzsche’s overman is famously mother, child *and* birth-pangs! I recently read Giles Fraser’s *Redeeming Nietzsche*, in which he suggests that this isolationist overcoming excludes the possibility of reciprocal relationship with an actual other, and thus also excludes understanding of the deepest suffering. I was actually sort of put off by the conclusion (which seemed to imply that Nietzsche’s project fails because he never married), but perhaps we can’t escape this question: is there something about the feminine relationship to an other that makes women less susceptible to brute egoism?

    On the other hand, the products of the labours of thought are not actually self-replication. Some philosophers may have wanted to reproduce themselves, but a work is something decidedly other. To produce anything is a risky business.

  35. @James: Thanks for the clarification. I think that is a really interesting point — and incidentally, it makes me understand why including openly gay soldiers would be threatening to so many in the military. The idea that units could never be cohesive or whatever with gays was always argued dishonestly — it wasn’t that there wasn’t some conceivable way to include them, it was that the standard way of achieving group cohesion was based on the homoerotic/homophobic tension. The possible role of women in the homoerotic/homophobic culture of the military is an interesting one that I think Butler has addressed: the role of someone like England would be to do the stuff that would make the male soldiers “too gay” (along with providing fodder for various shaming activities).

  36. Yes. I think enjoying Top Gear, football, scratch-off lotto tickets, sex, alchohol, weed, loud obnoxious music etc. can be seperated as activities from peforming the male gender.

  37. The thing with attributing features to masculinity is, maybe, not at all about men or masculinity but about what women, gays (and other innocent bystanders) or femininity lack. It’s just a value judgment from the environment we grew up in, a parasite we carry around. The less attention we pay to it, the better. With some luck the whole concept disappears.

    It is with this as with all identity. People sell it as a place to belong but it really is a place where others are excluded.

    (and no, Adam is not coming over as masculine, not at all, a real man would never dwell on this – only women go on and on about such wissy-woossy stuff)

  38. As a queer (and yes, I prefer that term to gay), I understand some of what you’re talking about re: the “straight acting” thing. It’s strange, because you’d assume that thoughtful queer people would be reading things like Butler and Bersani and taking a more playful approach to gender, but I suppose reading books isn’t going to cure you of all your psychological issues. I for one feel caught in a double bind quite often, and am shocked at my own ability to modify my gender performance at the drop of the hat. For example, I was recently at a conference where one of my colleagues was just a bit too twinky for my taste, so I noticed myself deliberately “butching it up”. I ran into a pastor I used to work with in the hotel bar and did a complete 180 and immediately started vamping it up. Perhaps this all relates back to the masculinity’s oppositional stance – it’s always what you’re not (not a pussy, a faggot, weak, “passive”, whatever) that makes you male. This can carry over into queer life – whatever you think I’m supposed to be as a faggot, I’m going to do the opposite. I find that the further along I get, though, the less I care, and I’m increasingly willing to own those pieces of my life that are just really, really gay.

    I honestly feel bad for thoughtful straight men like yourself. I come from an evangelical “embrace your manhood” kind of background, and both my brothers are in the military, and never found any of this stuff attractive. (Naked Bible study? Seriously? Just suck each other off already.)

  39. @ Rob L: I understand the feeling you’re talking about, but I view it as something we men need to overcome. The feminist literature is in constant dialogue with “malestream” scholarship (to use ESF’s somewhat gross neologism), and in fact every other identity-inspired form of scholarship is in dialogue with “malestream” stuff and other forms of identity-inspired scholarship — as is so often the case, it’s the “neutral” stuff that’s really the ghetto, not the “identity-based” stuff.

    So we need to get over the fact that we can’t “do” feminist scholarship and do our own scholarship in responsible dialogue with feminist stuff. I tried to do that in my dissertation, devoting a chapter to a wide range of contemporary perspectives and saying essentially, “I understand your critique of all this stuff, and now I’m going to reread it in a way that I hope can be useful to you.” We’ll have to see how actual feminists react — and I’ll have to be vigilant about the natural instinct toward defensiveness if I don’t get as good a reaction as I’m hoping for.

  40. Being “gay” is often associated with the deconstruction of patriarchy, which in my view is totally false. Because you’re gay does not mean you lack that sense of male entitlement, does not mean the “male gaze” disappears, does not make you less “masculine” as if that were the goal of ending patriarchy.

    Gay men still have the same problems as do heterosexual patriarchies do. And in my experience, racism and classism and sexism is intensified by the experience of being gay in a rich, white, male setting. A gay man simply has a different sexual preference than a heterosexual man. There is nothing else you can say about them. Other than, in this culture, male discourse is patriarchal – gay men included.

    I think the fraternities and sororities are by far the worst engines of patriarchy.

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