Monday, November 09, 2009

Crisis of Masculinity Blogging: Young Progressive Male Edition

Courtney Martin's piece on young progressive men and masculinity is really interesting. She looks at the so-called feminist masculinity movement on college campuses and sees in it great promise but also concern that it hasn't defined an optimal masculinity.

This is an interesting time in the history of masculinity. For the last 30 years, we've seen this sort of feminist masculinity play an active role in manhood discourses. I used to know a really misogynist guy who fucking hated Alan Alda because he was a founder of these movements. So it obviously threatens some men in quite profound ways. This alternative masculinity has taken on new life in recent years for a couple of reasons, not least of which is that I think a lot of young people were so turned off by Bush's war and all the jingoism that surrounded it that this is a plausible reaction. The increased acceptance of young gay people by society has also opened up space for a pro-gay masculinity as well. This new masculinity abhors rape, sexism, homophobia, and misogyny in all its forms.

And while I certainly think this is all great, I also find it kind of peculiar. To my mind, it's another chapter in this nation's two century long crisis of masculinity. Like antebellum frontier farmers, Theodore Roosevelt, or the man in the gray flannel suit, these young men are worrying a great deal about their own masculinity. That such a worry is so constantly and consistently verbalized in American history absolutely fascinates me; even more so because this debate shifts terrain seemingly every decade if not more often. Do the men of any nation talk so much about their own masculinity as Americans? Is there something about the insecurities of a democratic nation that leads to this constant fretting?

I really don't know the answers to those questions--gender is really my 3rd category of expertise, behind environment and labor; for the latter two I can more or less keep up with the most important literature internationally, but my knowledge of gender pretty much doesn't go beyond the U.S. and early twentieth century western Europe. Certainly men of all nations have ideas about masculinity and there are almost certainly competing discourses as well, but how many other people worry about it so much?

Ideally, this nation could reach a place where a sizable majority of men could be opposed to rape and misogyny, a place where we treat women as equals, because it's just the right thing to do. I'm not entirely sure that putting a bunch of additional weight on being a decent human being is helpful. Consciousness-raising among men needs to happen, but do we also need to consciously construct alternative structures of masculinity to do it? I don't know--maybe we do. Certainly if this nation's history is any guide, we are certainly going to do so.