Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Limitations of Maleness

It is almost impossible to write about masculinity. It isn't done. Many would say that masculinity has been written about since the beginning of human existence. That all stories have largely been written by men, about men and their exploits. This perception seems erroneous, or, at the very least, lazy. Certainly, men have been the dominant force throughout history, but it might be wrong to assume that dominance is without its drawbacks.  Dominance, in itself,  might be limiting.  Consider the "paradox of masculinity-- that it is often perceived to be free, unlike femininity and its imagined constraints. [However, this] is an illusion of freedom, the illusion that masculinity itself can be defined as freedom, whereas in fact it is this very imagined freedom that insures subjugation and hides its own arbitrary functioning."

Really, there are only a few ways to be a man, or there are only a few ways to represent masculinity in the proper way. If anything, the action and crime film reveals this very limited spectrum of acceptable maleness. The violence inherent in them could be representative of a pushing against this construct (since there isn't anything else for men to do, why not take it as far as possible?) or it might simply be that scenes of explosions and car chases and fist fights are entertaining and make good movies. (And they do.) However, it's interesting that women always complain about how their gender are portrayed in movies as weak and one-dimensional, but men are often shown as strong and one-dimensional. The 70s film allowed men a little more depth, but by the 80s most men were flexing their muscles suggestively for the camera. When gender theorist Todd Reeser writes about masculinity, he insists that,"masculinity might be in crisis when many men in a given context feel tension with larger ideologies that dominate or begin to dominate that context." He suggests that "feminism in the 70s and 80s precipitated a crisis of masculinity."

He might be on to something. It could explain the way 80s film became so much about a pumped up masculinity. Certainly, by this time women were really invading the working world in numbers never before seen. A way to respond to this invasion would be by emphasizing physical difference via becoming an enormous, muscle bound man. Yet the action star of the 80s, in some ways, seems less masculine because of this behavior.  He's certainly far less complicated than the 70s star. He parades around in his form fitting clothes so that the world can see his physique. Sure, he's got guns, and knives and rocket launchers, but everything is about his body.  And everything is about the body with men. Men's brains are important, of course, but emphasis has always been placed on being big and strong. More importantly, male roles are concerned with providing and protecting-either their women, or their family or their country. Indeed, there is little that men can call their own if one eliminates all the responsibilities attendant in manhood.

Many of the films of these eras attempted to examine these responsibilities. In the next few posts, I will review some of the war films of 70s and 80s and see how masculinity is portrayed in them.

Reeser, Todd W. Masculinities in Theory

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