Masculinity Studies

Halberstam’s Female Masculinity (1998) works as a starting point for the discussion of masculinity studies since this text considers the fundamentals of what constitutes masculinity and how the paradigm of female masculinity fits in. Halberstam begins with the assertion of why studying masculinity through female experience is a worthwhile endeavor:

I claim in this book that far from being an imitation of maleness, female masculinity actually affords us a glimpse of how masculinity is constructed as masculinity. In other words, female masculinities are framed as the rejected scraps of dominant masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing. (Halberstam 1998: 1)

In this passage, Halberstam disentangles masculinity from the male body, arguing that “alternative masculinities,” female masculinity included, are actively disavowed to protect a more stable sense of masculinity and its boundaries. Throughout the book, Halberstam surveys a wide range of female masculinities, focusing mainly on queer examples, from tomboys to drag kings. In defining the scope of this project and its relationship to other scholarship, Halberstam asserts that “masculinity … becomes legible as masculinity where and when it leaves the white male middle‐class body,” reflecting further on the intersectional entanglements of masculinity in regards to race (Halberstam 1998: 1). And yet in his view, “all too many studies that currently attempt to account for the power of white masculinity recenter this white male body” (1998: 2–3). Halberstam does not call out any particular scholars, but gestures towards the growing field, critiquing its neglect of female masculinity and also its handling of race.

As already suggested, the emergence of masculinity studies through a gender theory paradigm had ties necessarily to feminism and women’s studies. Some of the emerging scholarship is even published within series that explicitly names these roots, as when the University of Chicago Press released Gail Bedermar’s Manliness and Civilization (1995) within their Women in Culture and Society series. Michael Kimmel, a pre‐eminent scholar in the field, recognizes these in his work, including Manhood in America: A Cultural History (1996). Now in its third edition, Kimmel builds from the field of women’s studies and the different methods it has employed to study femininity, primarily, noting that “the women’s movement made gender visible—at least to women” (Kimmel 2011: 2). In introducing the rationale for his book, despite the fact that men fill the history books, he argues that “American men have no history of themselves as men” (2011: 1), and his approach would chart changing masculinities over time and how that intersects with their roles in society. In this book and across his oeuvre, Kimmel positions masculinity studies in relation to women’s studies, which can be seen particularly in his text, The Gendered Society (2000) and its accompanying anthology, The Gendered Society Reader (2000), which place the growing field of masculinity studies on an equal footing with theories of femininities developed earlier. Both text and anthology are now in their sixth edition. Aside from his own scholarship, Kimmel also plays a prominent role in field formation as the editor of Men & Masculinities (begun in 1998), one of the two dominant journals in the field.1 He also founded in 2013 and continues to direct the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University.

Both Kimmel and Halberstam are recognized for their contributions in shaping this field in The Masculinity Studies Reader (2002; edited by Rachel Adams and David Savran), a collection bringing together already influential and newly emerging voices from across the humanities and social sciences. Adams and Savran note in their introduction that

unlike other relatively new fields such as postcolonial criticism, gender, lesbian/gay/queer studies, or critical race theory, there are no departments, programs, or jobs created exclusively for scholars of masculinity. At the same time, the sheer quantity of recent scholarship, course offerings, and conferences devoted to this topic suggests that its impact is too great to be ignored. (Adams and Savran 2002: 1)

From this acknowledgment of present circumstances, they trace a trajectory of this interdisciplinary area through texts that predate the notion of masculinity studies or hail from adjacent fields, including essays from Sigmund Freud, Clifford Geertz, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Frantz Fanon. Of the thinkers from within masculinity studies itself included in the reader, Raewyn Connell’s scholarship deserves mention. Her book, Masculinities (1995; republished in a second edition in 2005, synthesizes existing ethnographic and empirical research to theorize masculinity not as a single discrete concept, but as necessarily multiple. She tackles how social justice movements like feminism and gay liberation have shaped masculinities, as well as contending with masculinity on a global scale. In the reader, Connell follows Fanon, widely known for Black Skin, White Masks (1952), and its influential discussion of how the black psyche survives in a white world marked by colonialism. Fanon and Connell are placed in a section entitled “Empire and Modernity,” but essays that consider the racial dimensions of masculinity from global and national perspectives are included across different sections of the reader.

In response to both Halberstam and to Adams and Savran, there has been exponential growth of research in the area of masculinity and race, including studies considering sexuality alongside race and gender. Literary and scholarly anthologies include Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men (1991), edited by gay activists and artists Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill (reissued in 2007); and E. Patrick Johnson’s edited collections, No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies (2016). A number of monographs also track these concerns: Philip Brian Harper’s Are We Not Men? (1998), Hazel Carby’s Race Men (2000), Marlon B. Ross’s Manning the Race (2004), Darieck Scott’s Extravagant Abjection (2010), and Erica Edwards’ Charisma (2012). Among this constellation, Carby and Scott theorize black masculinity through black thinkers and public figures. Notably, both focus on science fiction writer and queer memoirist Samuel R. Delany, but they cover a range of other cultural, literary, and political figures. Carby explores how the force of black masculinity in America has traditionally excluded women, while Scott delves into American conceptions of black power and black masculinity to examine the abjection that exists at the core of such ideas. These intersectional approaches to masculinity further nuance this field of study and broadly complicate our notions of gender and gender relations.

Source: A Companion to Literary Theory Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture Edited by David H. Richter 2018
Adams, Rachel and David Savran. 2002. The Masculinity Studies Reader. Malden, MA: Wiley‐Blackwell.
Baumgardner, Jennifer and Amy Richards. 2000. Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Beauvoir, Simone de. 1949. Le Deuxieme sexe. Translated as The Second Sex by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany‐Chevallier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Bedermar, Gail. 1995. Manliness and Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bornstein, Kate. 1994. Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. New York: Routledge.
Bornstein, Kate and S. Bear Bergman. 2010. Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation. Berkeley: Seal Press.
Butler, Judith. 2006. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, 2nd edition. New York: Routledge.
Carby, Hazel. 1998. Race Men. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Davis, Angela. 1983. Women, Race and Class. New York: Vintage Books.
Halberstam, Jack. 1998. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press. Hemphill, Essex (ed.). 1991. Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men. Boston: Alyson.
Jesella, Kara, and Marisa Meltzer. 2007. How Sassy Changed My Life. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Journal of Gender Studies. 1991. “Editorial.” Journal of Gender Studies 1 (1): 1–3.
Kimmel, Michael. 2000. The Gendered Society. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kimmel, Michael and Amy Aronson (eds.). 2000. The Gendered Society Reader. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kimmel, Michael. 2011. Manhood in America: A Cultural History, 3rd edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
O’Reilly, Andrea (ed.) 2007. Maternal Theory: Essential Readings. Bradford, CA: Demeter Press.
Piepmeier, Alison. 2009. Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. New York: New York University Press.
Prosser, Jay. 1998. Second Skins. New York: Columbia University Press.
Scott, Darieck. 2010. Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination. New York: New York University Press.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. 1990. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Wallace, Michele. 1979. Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman. New York: Dial Press.


Categories: Gender Studies, Literary Criticism, Literary Theory, Sociology

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