and originally published on Narratively on December 21, 2016
I once took a drive on the back roads from Brooklyn, New York to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Cruising 55mph from small town to small town, I couldn’t help but notice all the billboards advertising treatments for illnesses and ailments: back pain, fibromyalgia, asbestos exposure, cancer. This wasn’t the America I was used to. Bombed-out Main Streets, sad sack bars, Wal-Mart, and lots of pain pills. It was depressing.
I grew up privileged: private grade school, high school and college. I got a master’s degree from Columbia University. I have a trust fund. But I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with this other America. Somewhere deep inside, coal runs through my blood. When I think about where I come from, I don’t think of the suburbs of Washington, D.C. I think about my grandfather Angelo Rotondaro, an immigrant coalminer from Scranton, Pennsylvania.
The people of the United States have a very complicated relationship with the two most recent wars – Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. On the one hand, there is a desire to keep a political opinion about the social concept of war, and whether one supports the idea of a strong defense or not. The spectrum of beliefs and disagreements on the topic of a large standing army versus the extreme of no army at all are vast, and cause more discord than anything. However, there is also a consideration of the military personnel, and how they are perceived. Urban legends of soldiers being spit on upon their return from Vietnam has allowed us to form a cultural consciousness where we see those in the military in more sympathetic terms, either as working class individuals simply trying to find a way to become upwardly mobile, or the purist uninitiated who stand to patriotically defend a system many see for what it is. To be honest, we tend to make the soldier more of a cause célèbre than anything else; gone are the days of general perceptions of soldiers as butchers or remorseless killers. In other words, individuals in the military aren’t monsters or storm troopers as much as they are victims of Marx’s false consciousness. This widespread acceptance allows for military masculinity to be perceived as less stigmatized, and as a practice more deserving of outward respect (rather than quiet fear) (1).
Shock, surprise, handwringing, sadness, recrimination, and analysis by social commentators, academics, activists, and politicians themselves followed the 2016 presidential election. Certainly there have been no shortage of explanations as to how a rich white man with no political experience, multiple failed businesses and marriages, who is on trial for sexual assault, whose recent claim to fame involves starring on a reality television series, and whose supporters feature bumper stickers reading things like “Trump that Bitch” will become the 45th president of the United States. As many of these commentaries have pointed out, this election is the perfect storm of intersecting inequalities: inequalities of class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nation among others. Indeed, the anger that fueled this election reflects the conservative and populist movements across the globe in recent years.
Sociological research and theory on masculinity and gender inequality explain, in part, the success of a man who uses “locker room talk,” regularly objectifies women, calls them “nasty,” and looms over them in a way that is recognized as dangerous by survivors of violent relationships or sexual harassment. The easy answer is that men are voting for the continuation of an unequal gender system that privileges them.
The widespread purge of modern artistic expression that occurred upon Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933 was motivated by fear. The Nazi regime was determined to use culture to control the people and they chose to promote a conservative, unadulterated classical Greek and Roman aesthetic within the Reich. Avant garde artistic movements such as impressionism, surrealism and cubism were rejected, and art inspired by these movements was deemed degenerate and was to be purged by the Reich Culture Chamber. For example, Otto Dix was labeled a degenerate artist and had his position at the Kunstakademie in Dresden terminated because of his anti-war advocacy. Perhaps his most famous painting, War Cripples, depicting German World War One veteran amputees, was displayed by the regime at the Degenerate Art Museum in Dresden and was later destroyed by the Nazis. The irony is that Dix actually volunteered for and fought for Germany in the war, and was himself almost fatally wounded in combat. Dix drew deep inspiration from war and the trauma inflicted by war on men’s bodies and minds.
By Kevin Guyan, PhD Candidate University College London
I study housing in the middle decades of twentieth century Britain with an interest in the effects of masculinities on men’s domestic practices. My research focuses on two major influences: the effects of planners’ masculine identities on the housing designs produced; and the types of masculinities encouraged through these designs.
After the environmental devastation of German bombing campaigns, a wave of technical, paternalist and omniscient planners took control of Britain’s postwar urban reconstruction. At the same time, as the war ended, planners worried that men would struggle to readjust to domestic life and face relationship difficulties with wives and children. As a result, the interior activities of the nation’s homes became symptomatic of the country’s recovery, and model housing estates, most notably Lansbury in East London, understood as templates for the country’s future. Using easy-to-read publications and housing exhibitions as platforms to disseminate their ideas, planners encouraged new expressions of family-orientated masculinities for both working and middle class men.
By Dr. Anna Tarrant
My academic thinking is often prompted by very simple questions, from friends, family or colleagues. Last week, when I was talking about the fieldwork I have just started, involving going to men’s homes to interview them about their care responsibilities, my sister asked me; is it safe for you to go to men’s houses on your own?
In asking this question my sister expresses a simple concern for my safety but also highlights my potential vulnerability as a young woman. It is a sensible question and it is also an ethical question that has followed me from the very beginning of my career researching men and masculinities. It is something I have also discussed with other female academics that I have worked with, who have also raised their concerns about the same issue. For me, the dilemma is also intensified, not least because the philosophy underpinning my research is feminist and my approach is framed by a desire to challenge negative stereotypes about people based purely on their gender, or indeed, other social identities such as their age and class.
Menstruation is one of the biggest taboos of our time. As a cis-gender woman, periods are still an awkward conversation. To even ask someone for a tampon or pad in public is more like an illegal drug deal than a basic human necessity. Everyone hides the fact that they experience this basic human function. For me, it’s something that I have to deal with once a month. But for some people it is a way of reinforcing dysphoria, and even a way of putting an individual in harms way. Women aren’t the only ones who get periods.
Ever since I started talking to women about street harassment, I’ve tried to be more conscious of my presence as a man in settings where women are often made to feel unsafe. I have become especially conscious of this dynamic when I’m walking around or behind women late at night. A friend of mine once suggested that he crosses the street in these types of situations to avoid making the woman feel uncomfortable (he was Latino). I’ve done this a handful of times since then and will continue to do so, provided I’m not thrown too far off my original route.
But I still have some mixed feelings about this suggestion. For a while now, moments like these have exposed a rift in my mind. On one side of this rift is my militant/anti-racist/black nationalist self. This is the side of me committed to racial justice for all people of color, and especially for black men. It’s the side of me that’s been cultivated since I sat and watched Spike Lee’s Malcolm X with my family when I was 6 or 7 years old. On the other side of the rift is an intersectional feminist attempting to use their position of (male) privilege as a megaphone to help spread the voices of women who are harmed by sexism and misogyny on a daily basis. These overlapping but distinct parts of my consciousness crash into one another whenever a woman reacts fearfully to my presence.
Porn is normal. Porn is crazy. Porn is something every boy has on his personal cell phone. Everyone except me of course. Because I’m not sick. Though it’s not entirely perverted. Only sort of.
These were some of the contradictions boys were trying to negotiate in the previous post from ‘Porn and Hookup Culture in a Primary School in Ireland’. Today we move on to exploring the competing discourses that pushed and pulled boys in all sorts of contradictory directions.