Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Reading "Masculinity as Homophobia" By Michael S. Kimmel

First reading!
Lets aim for starting a new one in two weeks (September 21st).  That should give everyone enough time to read the text and post some comments.
Masculinity as Homophobia


  1. hey y'all. sorry, i've not yet had time to read this article. i hope to read it this week and get started on the next one that we decide to look at. look forward to seeing folks' feedback. hope everyone's great!

  2. Hey folks. I was worried I'd missed the boat, but it looks like 3 days late is still pretty early in the scheme of things.

    For the first couple of pages of this article, I bored and confused. I don't think I identified with the experience of boyhood he described (I never got in a fight when I was a kid), and his train of thought was messy and hard to follow. It seemed like he was making an argument in support of the new-masculinity movement he later argues against.

    Later though, when he discussed what he calls the "mythopoetic men's movement", he starts to make a little more sense. He portrays them as self-pitying and sexism-affirming, which is what they are. They capitalize on male guilt and comfort it without dealing with its sources.

    I agree with what I see as his ultimate point, which is that oppressive privilege is perpetuated by the emotional insecurities it creates. In this sense I guess oppressive systems can only be seen as pathological. I'm not really sure what he's suggesting we do with this understanding, though...

    Looking forward to read everyone else's comments & hopefully having some more productive thoughts about this.

  3. This article was easy to get on board with for me, since these are a lot of issues that I have been dealing with on a daily basis in the work place.
    When he said "silences that keep other people believing that we actually approve of the things that are done to women, to minorities, to gays and lesbians in our culture....Our fears are the sources of our silences, and men's silence is what keeps the system running." it was an exact statement from my workday. Although it is risky to not be silent while on the job (especially when the one saying offensive statements is often your boss) it does seem to create a pacifity that can carry over to other social arenas if you let it.
    When I hear sexist jokes all day, and dont act against those statements it often times makes me less active to engage them outside of work. I deffinetly see this happen to me personally quite often.
    The issue though, as Kimmel puts together later, is not puting the emphasis directly onto me being afraid, the male fear of being seen as a sissy or whatever, but that I am hindered to act against the oppression of women. When he talks about the survery of mens and womens greatest fears and "women responeded that they were most afraid of being raped or murdered. Men responded that they were most afraid of being laughed at" it makes clear that the oppression of men against men, is often itself the oppression of women.
    So what are some solutions? Or atleast some steps we can take to combat.
    When I was young I can identify more with this fear of being viewed as feminine, and now that carries over and has created a new fear of hindering my ability to effectively combat sexism.

  4. I suggested we critically analyze the concept of "masculinity as homophobia" after I read a op-ed about a 17-month-old named Roy Jones who was beaten to death by his mother's live-in boyfriend because he [the toddler] was "acting like a girl." Pedro Jones, who referred to Roy as his own son, argued that his series of increasingly violent pageantry had only been to toughen the boy up. He was doing the young Roy a favor by abusing him. The sad truth, of course, is that if that Roy had grown up to be gay, someone else may have killed him anyway. We cannot imagine the depths of horror and confusion that Roy must have felt to be viciously attacked by someone who purported to love him. That magnitude of betrayal reveals the brutal severity with which traditional gender roles--especially masculinity--are policed. Although I know few probably read about Roy, it was hard not to keep him in mind as I read "Masculinity as Homophobia."

    Kimmel makes a point that many feminist writers (specifically Judith Butler) have made before: Masculinity is a performance. Whether one is a "man" or a "woman" is not decided by one's physiology--there is no genetic shepherd to dictate what the limits of our identities must be. Rather, we are all reading from scripts that were prepared long before we were born; we are locked in a destructive binary system that pits people against each other across the battlegrounds of sexuality and gender. To protect the abstract quality of masculinity, we are conscripted to enact violence against woman and against homosexuals simply because they are women and homosexuals. Men must prove themselves as men; they must live up to the victorious, brave, but ultimately belligerent personage that has been cultivated over the last six thousand years. Gay men cannot fully take part in this vision of masculinity, because it requires the physical and sexual submission of women, which is absent from male homosexuality. (That doesn't mean gay men cannot be sexist, but sexism within the gay community does not take the same shape as that of the straight male community, nor is it perpetuated for exactly the same reasons.) And clearly a woman cannot be masculine, for if a woman is masculine, then the very notion of masculinity's belonging to men is challenged. Those who transgress (or transcend) their gender and sexual roles pay a terrible price in the name of the system.

  5. Kimmel is correct that in the American mythos, shame and fear of inadequacy are defining characteristics in a man's performance of his identity. Shame necessarily causes us to act in ways we normally would not, as does fear. They compel us to reinscribe misogyny, homophobia, and bigotry of all stripes in our daily interactions with others. Sadly, the best solution is perhaps the most difficult. We must leave behind our notions or "man" and "woman", of "masculine" and "feminine." These are political realities, sure, and we cannot tell a woman who is being oppressed because she is a woman that she is not a woman (because that syllogism implies she is not being oppressed as well); but "woman" and "man" do not describe reality as it actually is. They prescribe an oversimplified, place-holding reality that has been, as we've seen, and as little ones like Roy have tragically experienced firsthand, truly ruinous to us all. The exact way we do this is complicated, but it can start in our language. English is one of many languages whose lexicon and grammar enshrine femininity and masculinity (Romantic languages are also heavily gendered). We have to alter the mechanisms we use to understand the world. We have to reread history, philosophy, literature, art, music, etc. from a new and radically different perspective. We must interrogate all statements of "truth" regarding a person's essential nature (which is unknowable). Finally, we must use these opportunities, like the one presented in Kimmel's article (however predictably flawed it may be), to examine ourselves and, hopefully, change our own sexist, homophobic, and bigoted behavior.

    To me, this article makes a lot of sense and it corresponds to my experience on the fault line I must walk as a man and as a homosexual. Gay men are almost always left out of the conversation about sexism, even though homophobia is a symptom of sexism. I hope this article can help correct that trend by showing how the two are intimately linked.

  6. I like how you said "Gay men are almost always left out of the connversation about sexism, even though homophobia is a symptom of sexism."
    I am just going to throw out some very braod questions to see what folks have to say.
    So if homophobia towards men is a symptom of sexism, how do lesbian women fit into this? In what ways are they oppressed by men? and how is there oppression by heterowomen different? connected?

  7. What I'm gathering from what you guys are saying, coupled with what I gathered from the article is that:

    Oppression, and the violence that it implies and results in, is the result of the insecurities of individuals, which in turn are the result of social identities determined by "a destructive binary system that pits people against each other across the battlegrounds of sexuality and gender".

    I'm not sure about the accuracy of my reading comprehension this morning though, so correct me if that's a flawed interpretation.

    Chris, I appreciate your interpretation of how we need to react to this, and I'm not disagreeing, but my question is this: How do we create an opportunity for a genuinely new and open understanding of identity, rather than just expanding a binary to a trinary? (is trinary a word at all?) What I mean is, what ideas do you have abount language/interpretation that reflects an open ended sprectrum, rather than just inventing new limiting ideas for us to fit into?

    Thanks, sorry if that doesn't make any sense.

  8. Tertiary.

    First, I think we must dispense with the notion of identity altogether. We, according to our various position of power, can no longer look at those held under the heel of our privileges as occupying a separate and diametrically opposed space. That is, as a white man, I have to deracinate those deeply rooted and often-unacknowledged beliefs—formed most likely in my preverbal stage of development and reinforced later in life—that women and people of color are qualitatively different from me (for example). I have to do the same thing as a citizen of the United States, an English speaker, an "abled" person, a person who does not face weight discrimination, a human being, and so on. I want to iterate that I am not advocating we pretend as though the political realities of identity are illegitimate—that would be harmful to many, if not nearly all, of us. Rather, I believe that if we remove the foundations of those political realities—namely, our capitulation to the linguistically fabricated binary systems that enable an "Us" versus "Them" lived model—they will necessarily wither away. "Black" and "gay," for instance, are not natural labels in and of themselves, they are social constructs; our continued belief in them—from our relative positions of power—essentialize them. That's the long way of saying that oppression is a symptom of something far greater and older than any of us.

    Your question about inventing an "open-ended spectrum" instead of "new limiting ideas for us to fit into" is a worthwhile one, but it is also the argument most used against changing the system. First, It rests on the presumption (and logical fallacy) that that any two systems similar in one way must be the same in all ways—in this case, any "limiting" system is also necessarily bad. That's simply not true. It may be the case that as verbal creatures, we cannot help but create systems that compartmentalize and simplify, so that we may understand the world (or at least think that we are). It may also be the case that any new heuristic modality we employ for engaging the world around us will also keep us from a truly transcendent relationship with one another. But it doesn't stand that such a system, no matter if it is limiting, would be as bad (or bad at all, even though I tend to believe it would still be problematic).

  9. Nevertheless, many, many, many theorists (of every stripe), feminists, activists, humanists, and so on long into the Parisian night have made suggestions for an open-ended linguistic system. First, we have de-gender, de-race, and de-sexualize our languages. As I mentioned in my last post, we need to reexamine the intellectual canons, reinterpret history so that it includes all people, not just the leaders, conquerors, and men. Most importantly, we have to do this together, outside of the universities and Ivory Towers: in neighborhoods, at block parties, in places of worship, on the street even. Decentralization of identity means we have to also decentralize the traditional loci of knowledge and learning.

    That is, of course, a tall order for any one person. So it has to start with what you can change. You can question the hegemony in your daily life. You can change the way you talk about others (and "Others"). If we all do this, I should think the effect would be rather seismic. Don't you?

  10. @Casey: I would like to hear how you think they are connected, if at all. I feel like I've written a book already!

  11. I really have nothing new or critical to say because I feel like a lot has already been said. My general thoughts are that there's very little to disagree with in the article. If the basic idea is that masculinity is performance (there's nothing biologically essential about it), and that it is a particularly deadly performance for everyone involved, especially women, LGBTQ people, black people, Latin@ people, and other people of color, who are often the targets of this performance, then, well, yes, that certainly seems to be an accurate description of the issue as I understand it. This lethal and terrible masculanist performance that everyone is taught should be combated a million and a half different ways, all day, every day, and, I agree with Chris, that one way is to write, read, and speak differently-in ways that tend as far away as possible from essentialist.

    I guess my only lingering thought is something that's not really part of the article. My thought is: is the type of masculinity that the author is describing Universal? Are there different "masculinities" that exist somewhere in the world? Are there different ways of "being a man"? If so, are they "better" in that they are more emancipatory?