Feminism: The Ascendance of Masculinities

Why do men need the ascendance of masculinities (Rambo, Muhammad Ali, Arnold Schwarzenegger) that highlight the failures of living up to these hegemonic figures and expectations?

 

I’d argue men do not need it and quite often are very tired of this “creation of models of masculinity,” (61). For many men the whole “ritual of induction into trade and masculinity,” (62) as highlighted by the example of London printers is very much a drudgery and the relief of acceptance is more a relief that it’s over and that the ritual doesn’t have to be repeated (at least at such a base level), not so much that men actually enjoy it. The feeling of being “brothers,” (62) is more akin to a sort of Stockholm syndrome than one of having participated in a system they were proud to be a part of as they went through it. Ask a man who’s been in the military and then been in combat and while he’ll talk of the brotherhood of his unit, he’s not going to have much (if anything) good to say about the war itself. A band of brothers is created out of necessity rather than as a goal to cope with the horrors of the indoctrination.

There is also the level of insecurity men feel specifically because there is no attaining the ideal of someone like Mohammed Ali. And the inherent violence in many male “fantasy,” (61) figures is not an extension of men’s (assumed) seething violence that is ready to boil over at the drop of a feather, but rather a feeling of aggression towards that which makes men feel inadequate. Men are at war with insecurity itself because men are unable to attain the “model of masculinity,” (61).

The real takeaway, however, is for men to be aware of what this system is actually perpetuating. By being complicit in this system (61) it has the effect of forcibly subordinating (specifically) women by maintaining “the maintenance of practices that institutionalize men’s dominance over women,” (61). Through awareness of the consequences of participating in hyper-masculinity then perhaps change towards equality can occur while at the same time relieving men of the insecurity of not being able to live up to a concocted ideal.  

 

Adam Wagner’s response:

I am inclined to agree with Dan to a certain degree. I think society as a whole is seeing a stray from the hyper-masculine physical type of portrayal we’ve seen in the past. The most classic example of Superhero movies is (slowly but nonetheless) moving towards a more diverse cast. Heroes are becoming more complex rather than just a Superman-esque beat ‘em up type.

That being said, I do think there is still a hegemonic masculinity in regards to being ‘center stage.’ We may not see the Arnold Schwarzenegger types nearly as often, but there is still a strive for “a social ascendancy achieved in a play into the organization of private life and cultural processes” (Connell). This is seen specifically in blue-collar type media. Take, for instance, Wolf of Wall Street. While this film was based on a true story, it is interesting regardless to view it as placing men center stage. The main character does despicable things to reach his place of wealth. Despite this, does the audience despise him? No, rather he is almost cheered on. Why? Because there is always an inclination towards wishing victory for one – specifically, victory for one we’ve considered as historically ‘victorious’ for so long. The audience is accustomed to supported the strong, leader male in the aforementioned physical strength way and this transfers to the ‘new’ wealthy protagonist; money is taking priority over physical ability.

This can also be seen in the general mindset of college-aged Millenials. If one were to approach a white, twenty-something college male student and ask “what do you want to do after college?” the response would most certainly involve trips and expenses that would, at their current wage level be impossible. There is a general assumption of success in the future. This is the idea of Wolf of Wall Street – any man with intelligence can achieve fantastic success. Of course, in an actual society, the level of wealth most individuals strive for is unattainable, leading to general unhappiness. Despite these examples, most white males cannot help but imagine themselves this way as that is what the modern day role model (Robert Downey Jr, Leonardo DiCaprio, so on) portrays.

As well, in a similar setting, if you talk to females about the future a frequent joke is “oh, I’ll just marry rich!” This isn’t the overall mindset, but it is heard often nonetheless. While female-empowering movies are, thankfully, appearing more frequently, these movies are focusing on the physical aspect of before. While this is still important, there are not nearly as many economic and intellectually empowering movies coming to light. While, admittedly, not a big movie-goer, the last big-hit success of this nature I can recall was Legally Blonde in 2001. Women in power are becoming more vocal about this issue; however, it is still not nearly as prevalent in big-hit media.

With regards to the physical attributes, I think Dan is certainly right. We are seeing a decline in the physically masculine ascension. Yet, I do think in commercials and other media the blue-collar, white businessman is becoming even more prevalent. Being rich is the new masculine.

My response:

Excellent point about Wolf of Wall Street being a more modern ideal of masculinity. I do think it’s interesting that this ideal is played for comedy, however. A lot of the film is very funny and the filmmakers do not pull any punches on judging these characters harshly – they are greedy, vain, and egocentric. The ideals of masculinity are being made fun of for how buying into these ideals can be seen as negative and have a negative effect on the people around them.

Other films which also question these roles would be There Will Be Blood that is quite critical of the drive for greed at all costs, even though Daniel Plainview (the main character) is hyper-masculine. No Country For Old men shows how old fashioned the John Wayne type is and how the old ideals of masculinity can’t exist in the modern world. The Social Network goes even further and makes the main, male character who is wildly successful into a lonely, maladjusted figure deserving of ridicule. And a film like Goodfellas that seems to glamorize that lifestyle is really a harsh critique of it and exposes the male ideal of being a powerful male who can do anything he wants (including murder) as being a false ideal that can only destroy us.

Adam Wagner’s response:

I find your back-and-forth interesting, but I would also like to point out that every example you give (Wolf of Wall Street, There Will Be Blood, The Social Network, etc.) the men are *still* rich, white, and successful.  Yes, the films/filmmakers judge them harshly for their behavior, but they are also still portraying these traits as something that will ultimately lead to wealth/success. To be sure, there is a lot to be said for the negative connotations being portrayed here, but in my opinion it is also saying that the metaphorical “Deal With The Devil” will always pay handsomely if you are willing to sacrifice your soul.

I know this kind-of leads back to your original point, but I am also still troubled by the current ideology that equates being rich with being morally corrupt.  If, as you say, Rich is the new Masculine, then we are *also* tying Masculine with morally bankrupt. If it has become impossible (In popular culture) to obtain financial success without also sacrificing your soul (metaphorically speaking), what will the next generation be left to conclude from this line of reasoning?  I, myself, do actually see this change as a positive one because it will ultimately discourage the narrative of “Masculinity” as something Noble or Admirable. In my mind, anything that makes it harder for the world to produce more power-hungry people is a positive change, but I am also left asking what this will cost humanity as a species.

I know I’ve derailed your conversation a bit from where you started, but I find all of this super interesting in a meta-societal way.