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.
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
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
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.
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.
“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.”
A new photo editorial from French magazine Black Attitude, titled Dandy Queens, features black women embracing their own sexiness and strength in sharp menswear, and shows masculinity can also be a state of mind.
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.
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.
A report by A Woman’s Nation, titled “The Shriver Report Snapshot: An Insight Into the 21st Century Man,” sought to answer the the question of modern masculinity through a survey of American men over the age of 18. Their findings largely revealed a lot of progress and change — while highlighting the unfortunate truth about how much men do at home.
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!
Little Deaths: Immortan Joe, Death, and the Phallus
is hopefully going to be the first of a series of short essays analyzing
personal adornment in the world of Mad Max: Fury Road. In a post-apocalyptic
wasteland, where one has little else than the clothes on ones back, personal
adornment becomes the primary mode of communication and identity-crafting. For
this reason, I want to devote some time to a specific analysis of
self-presentation in this world.]
Immortan Joe has arguably one of
the most fascinating and intricate character designs in recent movie villain
history. Furthermore, as a gender historian interested in masculinity, Joe, to
me, presents an incredibly well-rounded view of how patriarchal ideals can
affect a person’s personality, attitude, and even appearance. As the ruler of
the Citadel, Joe has literally transformed himself into a walking piece of
propaganda, and an analysis of this propaganda will (hopefully) give us further
insight into both Joe’s personality and the patriarchal culture he has founded.
The Head that Wears the Crown
is, of course, one of the most important parts of the body in identity
crafting. Few things are as expressive as the face, or what we put on or around
our faces. The most striking part of Joe’s face, of course, is his death’s head
mask. This mask has a very practical purpose: it acts as a sort of gas mask,
purifying the air the Immortan breathes. He’s not dependent upon this to live,
but instead uses it as one of the many luxuries available to a warlord,
straining out the pollutants and toxins that infect the air of the Wasteland.
To this effect, it works as a status symbol, “‘[separating] him from everyone
else who’s breathing that choking air and doesn’t have that luxury.’”
As far as
aesthetic purposes go, the mask transforms Joe into a god of death. His cult of
War Boys worship death, yearning for a glorious end on the Fury Road rather than a shameful one of
sickness. Joe opens that door for them, bringing the worthy into the afterlife,
where they shall live eternal. His skull mask, invoking the Grim Reaper, thus
makes him look like death come to life. It is also a reminder that he has
himself conquered death, that he has died and returned to life in order to
usher his War Boys down the same path he once trod. Borrowing Christian
symbolism, Joe has positioned himself as a Christ who returns from the
afterlife for the specific purpose of safely guiding his followers through
death’s gate and onto the heavenly highways beyond.
the same white powder and black eyeshadow as his War Boys, Joe completes the
death’s head look. Originally, he was meant to be bald, which would truly have
made his head look like a living skull.
However, this design was revised to have him keep his hair. In-world, this
carries a lot of significance: except for Furiosa and the drummers on the Doof
Wagon, Joe’s entire army is shaved bald, even down to the child soldiers. Joe
is the only one allowed to keep his hair, and he flaunts it, letting it hang
loose and billowing over his shoulders. This becomes yet another status symbol,
forming what looks like a combined lion’s mane and halo of gold as he drives
across the battlefield. Yet again, we see Christian imagery coming in: Joe is
haloed in gold at the same time as invoking a Lion of Judah, king over both
life and death.
On the Other Head
of Immortan Joe’s world is his penis, and he ornaments it accordingly. As a
king, he carries his own scepter, a phallic symbol of his royal and religious
power. He also wears two belts during the duration of the movie: one with the Fiery
Wheel and one with two guns. As I’ve written previously, these two belts each
have their own individual significance.
belt we see, when we’re first introduced to Joe, is the same symbol that is
branded onto everyone’s backs, down to the smallest War Pup and the youngest wife.
The process of branding is one of marking ownership, turning the one branded
into an object to be owned and used at will. Everyone branded has it in the
same place: right at the juncture where neck meets shoulders. The only way to
really get rid of it would be to get beheaded, once again tying Joe’s power
intimately to the reality of death. Since everyone is shaved and shirtless,
there’s no easy way to cover it up (unless you’re an Imperator – but more on
that later). When you’re branded, you’re branded for life, and everyone will
know exactly who you belong to with just one glance.
Joe, too, wears this symbol while
going about his kingly duties: giving announcements, overseeing milk
production, and so on. The significant differences? First, it’s removable. It’s
a piece of jewelry. It doesn’t even serve the practical function of holding his
belt closed; it’s just mounted on afterwards. Joe doesn’t need it in any way,
shape or form: he can put it on or take it off whenever he feels like it. It is
his symbol, it belongs to him, and he is the only one in the Citadel who has
complete and utter control over it.
The other difference is, of course,
location. The Fiery Wheel which marks everyone and everything as Joe’s is
mounted above his penis, crowning his genitals as the source and apex of
ownership. This is where his power-as-owner comes from, and this is the place
to which all he owns is tied. For the wives, of course, this takes on a very
grim reality, but what about for everyone else? Beyond the (perhaps tongue-in-cheek)
insinuations in the Furiosa comic, we
don’t know that Joe has sexually abused anyone outside of his wives. However,
Joe’s crowned penis takes on a symbolism beyond its literal uses. Joe, dubbing
himself the father of all his subjects, turns them further into his symbolic
children by tying his power over them to his penis. Though he is apparently
unable to have healthy children of his own, he is thus still able to propagate
himself and metaphorically spread his seed via spreading his brand. All the
young men and boys of the Citadel thus become the metaphorical children he is
unable to have in the literal sense, their very being springing from his loins.
Joe doesn’t wear his Fiery Wheel
for long. He very quickly changes into what I’ll from here refer to as his War
Belt. This belt has very clear practical uses: it is shaped far more like a
codpiece, offering ample protection for a very treasured body part under layers
of metal. It is also a holster for two pistols: a Ruger Vaquero (which is later
replaced by what looks like a Colt Single Action Army “Buntline Special”) and a
Colt Anaconda. All his guns are a silver color, raising them above the guns
handled by everyone else in the Wasteland and invoking the holy Chrome. The
belt is further covered by car imagery, tying Joe’s genitals to vehicular
Symbolically, this belt, instead of
crowning Joe’s penis, now weaponizes it. His own metaphorical ‘pistol’ is
flanked on either side by two other pistols. This, I believe, is a deliberate
reference to the three massive water pipes we see at the beginning of the film.
Like in his castle, this king has got his three pipelines in a row, this time
as weapons of destruction. Joe’s penis, therefore, symbolically becomes both
the source of life for a parched Wasteland and a source of death for his
While the phallic weapons in the
rest of his army – machine guns, thunder-sticks, flamethrowers – are for
causing as much widespread damage as possible, Joe’s weapons of choice are
geared towards making very specific kills. In this, they can be most likened to
the harpoons used by the Ploughboys; the same specifically-aimed phallus that
is, in the end, thrust into his mouth in order to kill him.
Armor, Illusion, and Status
Immortan’s armor is primarily geared towards rendering him visibly immortal. An
aging and decrepit man, Joe wears clear armor that molds his aging flesh into
the toned muscles of a body-builder. Even the molding of his arm coverings is
geared towards making him look like he has huge biceps. From a distance – which
is where most people see him – it would be quite hard to tell that the toned
muscles are fake. To the crowds of Wretched and War Boys below, Joe – with his
aged face covered and his armor giving him the muscle tone he no longer has –
thus still likely looks like a man in his prime, like a man who has conquered
death and himself become eternal.
is absolutely covered in medals that likely no longer have any value. Many of
these were likely scavenged, but as we know from the comics, Joe was a veteran
of two wars and was, in his time, honored as a war hero by the military.
Some of those are quite likely medals he earned in battles long forgotten by
all but him. His boots, too, are covered in various medals and car
What is most interesting, however,
is the piece of computer hardware fastened just above his left breast, in the
place where ones ribbons would normally go. This is an interesting little
detail, raising the possession of computer hardware – even if it doesn’t work –
to yet another status symbol. Computers, even broken ones, are likely quite
hard to come by in the Wasteland, and their rare parts, no longer usable for
their intended purpose, have been re-appropriated to mark importance and valor.
medals, the Immortan’s trousers – especially the skirting – are a mark of
status. The skirting appears to be of the same material that the wives and milk
mothers wear. Throughout the film, the only ones to wear white are Joe, his
wives, and his milk mothers. Anyone else wearing white would very quickly be
wearing orange or brown clothes in the dusty, dirty environment of the
wasteland. Joe, however, is able to wear white because he has the water; he’s
able to wash his clothes. Washing clothes and keeping them a pure white is an
incredible luxury in this world, where sand and grit are everywhere, and where
nobody has enough water to drink, much less wash with. The white skirting
additionally gives Joe’s unsteady movements a graceful flow, both masking the
effects of his age and making him look bigger.
then, a moving symbol of both sex and death, both conquered and made his own
personal weapons. His armor becomes a moving work of propaganda, creating an
illusion of eternal youth and strength on a very mortal man who is failing
fast. In a patriarchal world that praises the strength of virile men, Joe’s
entire body is devoted to preserving that strength and virility, making him at
once a life-giver and a death-bringer. Death itself has come to life and seeks
to propagate itself through the generation of sons, both literal and
figurative. Joe’s body is thus the battleground of a man who is both deeply
afraid of aging and death, and who believes himself to be death incarnate.