Male affection in vintage photos.

By Gwen Sharp, PhD

Today in the U.S., one of the major rules of masculinity is that men must avoid physical intimacy with each other unless they want to have their sexuality called into question. The guy horrified by the potential implications of a casual physical touch is a common trope in our pop culture.

But this wasn’t always the case. For physical closeness and even casual expressions of intimacy to become threats to masculinity, homosexuality had to enter the public consciousness as a stigmatized identity. That is, a man being gay had to be a possibility in observers’ minds when interpreting their behavior, and men had to be eager to avoid any such assumptions.

Over at the Art of Manliness, Brett and Kate McKay have posted a fantastic collection of old photos showing men posing in ways that show a high level of comfort with physical contact between men. Many of them show men posed in ways that would be unacceptable among straight men today. Here are just a few; I highly recommend looking at their entire post:

The McKays point out that sitting for a portrait required men to go to public businesses and openly pose for a photographer. These poses were quite common for men at the time and wouldn’t have been read through the lens of potential gayness that viewers today would likely apply.

Once personal cameras became popular, formal studio photos waned, but early snapshots showed similar poses:

Though snapshots eliminated the need to go to a public place of business and pose, film still had to be developed by a professional, who would look at each image (and, even when I was a kid, developers would occasionally refuse to develop photos due to content, and occasionally you heard of a developer calling the police about photos they believed revealed illegal activities). The fact that physical touching is so common among men in early snapshots indicates that there was nothing scandalous or threatening bout such poses. Only as the performance of masculinity became increasingly focused on an obsessive avoidance of any perception of gayness or femininity did such touching become taboo.

Seriously, though — -check out their entire post. It’s awesome!

Both ideas are poisonous and potentially destructive, but statistically speaking, the number of addicted and afflicted men and their comparatively shorter lifespans proves masculinity is actually the more effective killer, getting the job done faster and in greater numbers. Masculinity’s death tolls are attributed to its more specific manifestations: alcoholism, workaholism and violence. Even when it does not literally kill, it causes a sort of spiritual death, leaving many men traumatized, dissociated and often unknowingly depressed. (These issues are heightened by race, class, sexuality and other marginalizing factors, but here let’s focus on early childhood and adolescent socialization overall.) To quote poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “tis not in death that men die most.” And for many men, the process begins long before manhood.
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Toxic masculinity is killing men: The roots of male trauma

Masculinity is constructed as a fragile thing which must be constantly proven and earned, often at the expense of everyone involved.

[…] I do not exist to do his feeling for him. 

Men who are afraid to feel must keep women around to do their feeling for them while dismissing us for the same supposedly “inferior” capacity to feel deeply. But in this way also, men deny themselves their own essential humanity, becoming trapped in dependency and fear.

racefiles.com
When Asian Emasculation Meets Misogyny: On Eddie Huang’s Black Feminist Problem | Race Files

I was an awkward and impressionable pre-pubescent Asian American boy when America’s imagination was captured by a certain William Hung and his off-key 2004 rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” on American Idol. That the most visible Asian male mainstream representation of the moment (other than, perhaps, the cartoonified Jackie Chan of the beloved Jackie Chan Adventures) was the butt of a crude national joke, and heir to a long history of Asian male pop culture buffoonery, is indicative of the messages that I and other Asian American young men received, and continue to receive, about our own sexuality and desirability. In the context of romance and sex, we exist for comic relief alone.

The racial emasculation of Asian men in the American imagination is real, it is pervasive, and it is historically-rooted (dating back at least to the 19th century when Chinese migrant men took on “feminized” labor roles in the laundry industry). From pop culture to playground taunts, I doubt that any Asian American man can fully escape the psychological implications of this socialization in undesirability. For me, it remains a personal trope that requires constant unlearning, lest creeping doubts begin to resurface to cloud the way I see myself and my role in romantic and sexual relationships. I speak from personal experience when I say that it has real material and psychological impacts. 

Cut to: the rise of celebrity chef and memoirist Eddie Huang, whose swagger, wit, and taste for controversy has made him one of Asian America’s most visible figures. The unofficial leader and visionary of the “movement of big dick Asians,” Huang’s persona has resonated with Asian Americans tired of being an “invisible” minority, and especially with Asian American men seeking to reclaim and reassert their own masculinity. But when reclaimed masculinity comes in such normative, ultra-hetero packaging, are we doing more harm than help?

Last year, Jenn Fang of Reappropriate.co coined the term “misogynlinity” (masculinity plus misogyny) to explain how, in working to counter their racial emasculation, some Asian American men may seek to reaffirm their own masculinity in problematic ways – namely, by conflating masculinity with misogyny, and practicing “manhood” through the objectification, violation, and conquest of women. Fang points to the popularity of pickup artist/dating coaches amongst Asian American men and the unfortunate tendency for some Asian American men to shame Asian American women who choose to date non-Asian partners as examples of how attempts to counter Asian emasculation can become oppressive forces themselves.

Thus, the trouble with Huang’s “big dick Asian movement,” or with any concerted attempt to address the widespread emasculation of Asian men in American pop culture, is in the framing. Are we critically redefining masculinity? Or are we simply seeking to claim a patriarchal and heterosexist version of American manhood for ourselves?

I have long feared that Eddie Huang falls into the latter camp. His Big Dick Asian Movement is legitimately grounded in the frustration of Asian men in America who have been emasculated, ridiculed, and mocked on movie screens, in classrooms, and on dating sites. But its framing and points of action are centered on a fundamentally misogynist notion of sexual entitlement, encapsulated in Huang’s oft-repeated statement of purpose that “Jet Li gets no pussy” in Romeo Must Die. That Huang grounds his project of Asian American manhood in the attempted subversion of stereotypes of Black male hyper-masculinity and the adoption of hip hop culture cements his project as one that reinscribes, rather than challenges, systems of racial and gendered oppression.

Which is why Huang’s recent and bizarre Twitter tirade against queer Black feminist blogger Mia McKenzie (creator of the blog Black Girl Dangerous) was upsetting, but not particularly surprising. McKenzie asked Huang to clarify a recent statement he had made on Bill Maher’s Real Time that “Asian men have been emasculated so much in America that we’re basically treated like Black women,” with Huang going on to reference OkCupid ratings, in which Asian men and Black women consistently score the lowest.

See @NakedArtichokes’ Storify to see the exchange in full. 

Though the statistics are well-documented, Huang’s phrasing was poor, and he could easily have been interpreted as using Black women as some sort of inanimate barometer for social oppression. Yet when McKenzie and other Twitter users (primarily women of color) asked Huang to admit that his comments could have been damagingly misinterpreted by his audience, Huang reacted aggressively, calling McKenzie an “idiot,” “wildin,” and, in a telling display of male privilege, attempted to silence McKenzie by calling her “boo” and mockingly asking her out on a date.

Like McKenzie, I would have liked to give Huang the benefit of the doubt and assumed that the Maher segment was simply a matter of poor phrasing and the pressure of appearing on live television (rather than another instance of using Black oppression to render the experiences of non-black communities of color more visible). But Huang’s response is indicative of the fact that his philosophy of manhood is grounded in sexism, and leverages anti-blackness as a tool for subverting anti-Asian stereotypes. The fact that the success of ABC’s family sitcom Fresh Off The Boat, based on Huang’s memoir of the same name, has rendered Huang one of Asian America’s most visible figures, only compounds my disgust at this recent Twitter exchange.

I understand the pain and frustration that stems from America’s racist emasculation of Asian men. But if, as in Huang’s practice, reclaiming Asian American masculinity means claiming all the ills of white American manhood – it’s patriarchy, entitlement, heterosexism, and racism – I want nothing to do with it. 

To my fellow Asian American men: can we re-envision Asian American masculinity to be anti-racist, womanist, queer, and liberational beyond our own identities? Can we make space for the criticisms of our women of color peers, and confront the certain privileges and powers that come with being Asian men in America, rather than attempting to use those same privileges to silence and shame those who raise critical questions? Huang’s violent exchange with McKenzie is a reminder that if a movement towards reclaiming Asian masculinity has any place in radical – rather than reactionary – political spaces, we can and must do better.

Why don’t men kick each other in the balls?

By Lisa Wade, PhD

In Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, and mixed martial arts, there is a rule that you never hit “below the belt.” The area of biggest concern is the testicles. As the Ultimate Fighting Championship rules specify, “groin attacks of any kind” are a foul. This is probably because groin attacks might make for short fights or ones where everyone just goes around protecting their balls. In any case, the skills being tested are of a different kind. But, even aside from that, this seems like a good idea and very civilized. I do not advocate for testicle kicking, not groin attacks of any kind, for what it’s worth.

I do think it’s somewhat odd, though, that men who fight each other outside of controlled conditions—men in street fights, bar brawls, and parking lot scuffles—also usually avoid hitting below the belt. These fights aren’t about training or skill, like those between professional athletes, they’re real attempts to do some damage out of anger or defensiveness. So, why no hits to the balls?

The question was posed by a woman on Yahoo! Answers: “If you dislike each other enough to want them to get hurt,” she asked, “why not do the worst?”

The answers, admittedly unscientific, were interesting. One of the common responses involved the idea that not hitting below the belt was “an unspoken rule.” Maybe it’s the Golden Rule—do onto others as you would have them do unto you—and some men mentioned that, but others suggested that it was a rule specific to manhood. It’s a “cheap shot,” said one. A “low blow,” said another.

But why? Why do men agree not to kick each other in the balls? Why is that part of the code?

I think it’s because it serves to protect men’s egos as well as men’s balls.

What would street fights between guys look like—or professional fights for that matter—if onecould go below the belt? For one, there’d be a lot more collapsing. Two, a lot more writhing in pain. Three, a lot less getting up. All in all, it would add up to less time looking powerful and more time looking pitiful. And it would send a clear message that men’s bodies are vulnerable.

Chris Tuchscherer not having been just hit in the balls:

Chris Tuchscherer having been just hit in the balls:

Not hitting below the belt, then, protects the idea that men’s bodies are fighting machines. It protects masculinity, the very idea that men are big and strong, pain- and impact-resistant, impenetrable like an edifice. So not hitting below the belt doesn’t just protect individual men from pain, it protects our ideas about masculinity.

When a man hits below the belt, he is revealing to everyone present that masculinity is a fiction. That’s why one guy said: “For ‘alpha male’ fights, nut shots are just wrong.” Alpha male fights are about figuring out which male is alpha, while preserving the idea that the alpha male is a thing that matters.

This is why men are quick to criticize other men who break the code. One of the best ways to control men is to threaten to kick them out of the man club. “If a guy kicks another guy in the balls on purpose during a fight,” one replied to the question on Yahoo, “he will forever be banished from manhood.” Another said: “Winning like this means that you cannot beat up the other guy by ‘real’ fighting.” It’s a matter of one’s own reputation: “A man who kicks another man in the balls,” said a third, “immediately loses all manliness and respect.”

So, men generally agree to pretend that the balls just aren’t there. The effect is that we tend to forget just how vulnerable men are to the right attack and continue to think of women as naturally more fragile.

I still don’t want anyone to get kicked in the balls, though, just to be clear.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Societal norms dictate that men should be masculine are powerful. And new University of Washington research finds that men who believe they fall short of those ideals might be prompted to reassert their masculinity in small but significant ways.

The study found that male college students who were given falsely low results on a handgrip strength test exaggerated their height by three-quarters of an inch on average, reported having more romantic relationships, claimed to be more aggressive and athletic, and showed less interest in stereotypically feminine consumer products.

By contrast, men who received average score results, and whose masculinity was therefore not threatened, did not exaggerate those characteristics. The findings, researchers say, underscore the pressure men feel to live up to gender stereotypes and the ways in which they might reinstate a threatened masculinity.
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Achieving gender equality means liberating everyone from the confines of a patriarchal society. Even with ever-present privilege, men face their own set of destructive barriers that restrict what it means to be a man and how a man can express himself. This is especially true for men who are also members of marginalized groups — like men of color, queer men and men with disabilities.

And it starts with 3 destructive words during childhood.

I will never understand why this website treats masculinity like it’s some kind of inherently bad/toxic thing.

There is nothing wrong with being masculine. If you want to be masculine, then you do that. You be the manliest man on the planet. 

Be so manly that you grow a beard on your foot.

dailydot.com
Dude Stick is chapstick FOR MEN.
The packaging is matte black. It has a 'tactical' grip. Nothing is more manly than this.

Much like how chapstick provides a protective barrier between your lips and the elements, Dude Stick provides a protective barrier between you and any hint of femininity.

Just swipe that Dude Stick across your mouth, allowing its sticky white substance to collect on your lips.

[READ MORE]

The manly origins of cheerleading.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

You might be surprised to learn that at its inception in the mid-1800s cheerleading was an all-male sport.  Characterized by gymnastics, stunts, and crowd leadership, cheerleading was considered equivalent in prestige to an American flagship of masculinity, football.  As the editors of Nation saw it in 1911:

…the reputation of having been a valiant “cheer-leader” is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college.  As a title to promotion in professional or public life, it ranks hardly second to that of having been a quarterback.*

Indeed, cheerleading helped launch the political careers of three U.S. Presidents.  Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan were cheerleaders. Actor Jimmy Stewart was head cheerleader at Princeton. Republican leader Tom DeLay was a noted cheerleader at the University of Mississippi.

Women were mostly excluded from cheerleading until the 1930s. An early opportunity to join squads appeared when large numbers of men were deployed to fight World War I, leaving open spots that women were happy to fill.

When the men returned from war there was an effort to push women back out of cheerleading (some schools even banned female cheerleaders).  The battle over whether women should be cheerleaders would go on for several decades.  Argued one opponent in 1938:

[Women cheerleaders] frequently became too masculine for their own good… we find the development of loud, raucous voices… and the consequent development of slang and profanity by their necessary association with [male] squad members…**

Cheerleading was too masculine for women!  Ultimately the effort to preserve cheer as an man-only activity was unsuccessful.  With a second mass deployment of men during World War II, women cheerleaders were here to stay.

The presence of women changed how people thought about cheering.  Because women were stereotyped as cute instead of “valiant,” the reputation of cheerleaders changed.  Instead of a pursuit that “ranks hardly second” to quarterbacking, cheerleading’s association with women led to its trivialization.  By the 1950s, the ideal cheerleader was no longer a strong athlete with leadership skills, it was someone with “manners, cheerfulness, and good disposition.”  In response, boys pretty much bowed out of cheerleading altogether. By the 1960s, men and megaphones had been mostly replaced by perky co-eds and pom-poms:

Cheerleading in the sixties consisted of cutesy chants, big smiles and revealing uniforms.  There were no gymnastic tumbling runs.  No complicated stunting.  Never any injuries.  About the most athletic thing sixties cheerleaders did was a cartwheel followed by the splits.***

Cheerleading was transformed.

Of course, it’s not this way anymore.  Cultural changes in gender norms continued to affect cheerleading. Now cheerleaders, still mostly women, pride themselves in being both athletic and spirited, a blending of masculine and feminine traits that is now considered ideal for women.


* Adams, Natalie & Pamela Bettis.  2003.  Commanding the Room in Short Skirts: Cheering as the Embodiment of Ideal Girlhood.  Gender and Society 17, 1: 73-91.

** Davis, Laurel. 1994. A Postmodern Paradox? Cheerleaders at Women’s Sporting Events.  InWomen, Sport, and Culture, edited by Susan Birrell and Cheryl Cole.  Human Kinetics.

*** McElroy, James. 1999. We’ve Got Spirit: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Cheerleading Team. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Photos borrowed from How to be a Retronaut.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The other day, I was watching my brother play video games. I noticed that every time he would put in a new game though, the main character that you control was a male. I then decided to look at all of the video games that my family and I own and came to realize that about 98% of them are some type of violent game with a male as the main character. I found this particularly interesting and wondered why many of the games that we own-as well as most video games of today are this way. I then thought about the chapter “Masculinity as a Homophobia” by Kimmel. In this section of our book, Kimmel talks about how if a male isn’t “masculine” enough, he can be deemed “gay” by society. I thought that this tied in with why these games are violent. Violence in our society is considered “masculine,” so maybe this is a reason why all of these games are so violent and predominately have a male lead. Another reason a male may be the lead in all of these games is because of another reason Kimmel mentions. “We come to know what it means to be a man in our culture by opposing a set of "others”-above all, women" (p.329). The only game we own that has a female lead is the top one in the photo. This makes me think that even the video games people play today have to be masculine so that boys won’t be deemed “gay” by what they play.

Posted by Caitlyn

*EDITOR’S NOTE: Please be aware that this account is the project of a university class that addresses issues related to race, class, sexuality, gender, and religion within the context of education. Students are required to apply theories and concepts from the course to things they observe in the world. Your differing perspectives and opinions are appreciated, as they help us to develop a nuanced view of these topics, but please use civility and respect when commenting upon posts such as these. Thank you!