I Know You Are But What Am I? | Carceral Masculinities

To list the number of restrictions inhibiting a man from obtaining “true male status” as defined by the United States’ social expectation would require a thesis’ length list. An easier endeavor is to state what does qualify as acceptable components for acquiring the coveted status of almighty manhood. To be unmanly is to be anything but, a white, middle class, heterosexual male, void of an emotional range outside of a competitive drive displayed through sexual accomplishments, anger, rage, and violence. To say the confines of this standard are narrow would be putting it lightly.

Michael Kimmel, an American sociologist specializing in gender studies explains, “this idea that manhood is socially constructed and historically shifting should not be understood as a loss, that something is being taken away from men.” (p.23) This shift for arguably the first time allows men agency, the capacity to act. Kimmel uses David Leverenz as support in his claim that masculinity is a direct opposition of femininity. Men act seeking the approval of other men. The male guise does not just police the “other” but also sets strict standards for the male gender to adhere to. In masculinity’s message, encouraging the rejection of the feminine while simultaneously encouraging heterosexual conquest, women become tools used at will for displaying/proving masculinity among other men. Psychologist Sam Osherson explained how easy it is by the time a male has reached adult status “to think you’re always in competition with men, for the attention of women, in sports, at work.” (p.24)

Men’s need to repeatedly reinforce their masculinity to one another unveils a potential underlining fear within this set standard. Fear, for a male seeking to fulfill this stereotypical macho man identity is allowing for a perceived lack of power and control over a situation or dynamic. The threats by other men exclaiming words such as “faggot” or “gay” reflect the deep-rooted dedication to upholding the ideals that define what it is to be a sissy, untough, or uncool. In this way the “other” is grouped in with the feminine. The term faggot is not a representation of believing one is gay or the hatred of that sexual orientation rather the term used with the intention of imasculating the individual. It is the reaction of rejecting those qualities in oneself as well.

During the second wave of feminism (1970s -1980s) women cried out for equal treatment. Women exclaimed they were no less competent then their male counterparts that dominated the professional working sphere. Immigration also brought new complications in the sense of defining acceptable masculinity with new variations of behavior to combat as cultural diversity expanded. During the Regan era while the feminist movement was demanding attention, females where encouraged back into the home and to avoid birth contraception for the benefit of the family dynamic. Many women did not see this as apart of their goal in the fight for equality. Feminism works to explain through the perspective of the “other” that traits are not biologically linked to the sexes. Kimmel makes a critical point that “thus with the same symmetry, feminism has tended to assume that individually men must feel powerful.” (p.29) This assumption disallows a true understanding that it is far more likely men feel powerless. Male sterotype’s that view traits seen as “soft” as not being apart of their biological makeup. When faced with the claims that gendered behavior is much more overlapping then previously decided disallows men to hold power in the way they were taught was inherently theirs from birth. An identity crisis of what makes a male a male begins to surface.

The recent outcome of the presidential election many would argue is a direct reaction from men who expressed their feelings of a percieved powerless position. Donald Trumps persona is that of the traditional American male holding power by owning immense capital, and adhering to the traditional gender binary. While the feminist movement aims to redefine what it is to be female, the same expectations of the stereotypical macho male continues to be reinforced to young males. These two perceptions of the sexes will never cohesively exist together. Masculinity must also shift in its expectations of what a male’s behavior can encompass. Second wave feminism failed to understand the issues with their movement being uncomprehenable to the male sex. Third wave feminism although making strives needs more men to step out of their silence out of fear of reprisal. Feminism must be able to communicate how the gender binary confines both sexes to untrue black and white behaviors. Until social thought shifts men will continue to reinforce the gender binary.


Chapter 2 Masculinity as Homophobia (Not the exact copy I have access to)


[WS301 – 2]

2 thoughts on “I Know You Are But What Am I? | Carceral Masculinities

  1. I’m having a bachelor party in august and I’m thinking about excluding toxic masculinity from the party with my groomsmen. Should be fun.

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