Masculinities, pluralities and protest

I believe the construct of U.S. masculinity is unsustainable and violent. It demands capitalist consumption and ownership for validation, holds with it entitlement to its own existence and ultimately asserts its own necessity with increased violence when threatened. Capitalism necessitates the overvaluing of one over the other. It creates a class from which capital is created and stolen and a class where this stolen capital is accumulated. In this way US masculinity is a gendered mirror of capitalist dominance.

So says Davi Zielinski Koszka in a post titled Masculinities? An essential question for freedom (reproductive and otherwise).

This is a curious post because the title suggests that the author understands that there are lots of different forms of masculinity but the quote above suggests that the US has one form masculinity alone. I may be mistaking the meaning of masculinity though, perhaps Davi means that US masculinities have a similar hierarchy that exists in capitalist economies.

In any case capitalist and masculine ideals quite often diverge. In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith points out that:

What a common soldier may lose is obvious enough. Without regarding the danger, however, young volunteers never enlist so readily as at the beginning of a new war; and though they have scarce any chance of preferment, they figure to themselves, in their youthful fancies, a thousand occasions of acquiring honour and distinction that never occur. These romantic hopes make the whole price of their blood. Their pay is less than that of common labourers and in actual service their fatigues are much greater.

So within a classic treatise on capitalism there’s the idea that youths have romantic ideals that go against rational, capitalist motivation. I think it’s reasonable to say that Smith’s “honour and distinction” are the ideals of a certain kind of masculinity. So what are the different kinds of masculinity?

One of the problems with masculinity, especially with feminism, is that it has a dominant role in society and that it gets equated with the domination of society by men. I think this is where Davi is coming from when comparing masculinity to capitalism, as capitalists have a dominant role in a capitalist society, masculine people have a dominant role in a masculine society. However the kind of masculinity that Davi is talking about is I guess hegemonic masculinity. Talking within that theoretical framework we can talk about other kinds of masculinity that aren’t built around maintaining hierarchies. This has the complication of protest masculinities, that perform a kind of hypermasculinity, which you can expect to maintain a hierarchy of masculinity, while coming from a position social weakness. This is contrasted with the observation that many men who sit atop the social pyramid being far less recognisably masculine.

When it comes to masculinity and society, particularly the hierarchy of society that many feminists try to fight against, it’s important to recognise that masculine ideals are often in protest to this hierarchy. At the same time this protest masculinity is manipulated to serve the aims of the powerful. This confusion between a masculinity serving both a domineering and subservient role in society trips up many people when talking about the role of men when it comes to social change. Moreover it is difficult for men to approach a movement for social change without exhibiting these traits. So the take home message is that the performance of some kinds of masculinity can reinforce gender roles and social positions while opposing the overarching social hierarchy.

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4 responses to “Masculinities, pluralities and protest

  1. Moji October 20, 2010 at 12:48 am

    I agree…

    I think masculinity has some sense of egotism in it. Some feeling of being superior to any who could be higher or lower in rank.

  2. Pingback: Disregard females; acquire currency « machina carnis

  3. Xena November 21, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Nice post, machina. Lemme make sure I’m clear on what you’re saying. The males at the top of the western breadwinning heirarchy achieve their status at the expense of other more physical masculine attributes. Their eyesight goes, their bellies turn to mush, their fight-or-flight responses become erratic due to mental stress and caffeine consumption. Then (some) feminists attack the warped product that this type of masculine ideal has created. Both genders are stuck in a catch 22 of mind is good/body is bad, men hate women, therefore we hate you back/women hate men therefore we hate you too.

    Is that what you mean? Do you also mean that this is an unfortunate pattern that we could work together to correct?

  4. machina November 22, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    I’m still figuring things out myself.

    The main thing I’m saying here is that there’s a contrast between the maintenance of hierarchies of capitalism with those of gender. Capitalism replicates hierarchies fairly simply, as those with more capital are able to use that capital to gain further capital through investment, leading to ever-growing inequalities of capital ownership. It’s a hierarchy maintained by those at the top of social power. With gender, those at top of social power are often not in the business of maintaining a hierarchy of masculinities. Those at the bottom often are.

    My thoughts now are that a hierarchy of masculinities could serve a function in maintaining social cohesion in a collectivist situation while being dysfunctional in individualist societies. There’s no society that is entirely individualist or collectivist though, so it is both functional and dysfunctional.

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