Masculinity

Transgender studies is a discourse I have very little knowledge or depth in, and I took this class with the purpose of changing that fact. However, the understanding I had on this topic was even more limited than I had previously thought and thus my decision to enroll was somewhat myopic. When I look at a list of terms to define and relate to the readings and course discussions we have had, I find myself in awe of the axiomatic vastness of this topic. In the end, I chose a word that best relates to me personally in several different ways and I hope I can do it justice in terms of what we have discussed, what the authors have discussed; how this term makes me feel as person, as a human being, and as a man.

Masculinity is an incredibly ambiguous, subjective and evocative term used ubiquitously in almost every culture. Specifically this is a term discussed in Fajardo’s piece, “Transportation: Translating Filipino and Filipino Masculinities Through Global Migration and Seafaring.” As with a large number of our readings, Fajardo discusses the meaning of this term, along with “femininity”, in terms of western definitions. Or perhaps, more appropriately, she discusses the pervasive affects a western dominated definition has influenced global perception on what masculinity implies or means. Because of capitalism, colonialism, and of course imperialism, many Filipino men were misrepresented as feminine, which unfortunately is not a positive connotation. Specifically in Fajardo’s piece, the seamen she discusses are meant to represent, at least in western terms, the paradigmatic “masculine” men. This brings us perfectly into the discussion of “heteronormative gender essentialism,” and the belief that masculinity has a set of characteristics that make it, unequivocally, what it is which is usually dominated by western ideals. One of the strongest messages I got from Fajardo’s piece is the idea of fluidity between perceptions of masculinity. That masculinity is actually redefined by groups of “masculine” men, be they heteronormative men, or tomboys.

Masculinity is also studied in some depth by Clare Sears in her piece titled “All That Glitters: Trans-ing California’s Gold Rush Migrations.”  Because of the massive movement to California when gold was discovered on the western coast, there was a massive imbalance between the male and female population. As California is now the most populous state in the union, I think this pivotal time in its history and likely did a lot to legitimize gender definitions and masculinity perceptions. During a time period where the road to success was paved with a lot of typically “blue-collar” work; laborious, sweaty, dirty, this sort of helped to paint the picture of what being a “man” was. I specifically enjoyed the stories in Sears’ article regarding the dances. How men would sort of showcase, or make some kind of statement, regarding their public gender for that night. I liked this because it plays perfectly into the Americanized perception of masculinity. It would have been much more revolutionary if the men had just danced with men, instead of some of them pretending to be women. It also dabbles in the discussion regarding race and how these men would just rather have a room full of men than invite ethnic women to the dances as the Eurocentric public opinion then was to value white “American” women over the indigenous, ethnic population.

On a personal note, speaking as someone who is constantly at odds with how I view myself, how I want the world to view me, and how the world actually views me, masculinity is a constant struggle for me. I am not suggesting it has become this insidious presence in my life that is all consuming and mentally detrimental (as far as confidence and body image is concerned). But speaking as an individual who identifies as a homosexual, one would think that issues of perceived masculinity would be moot. But I think the gay culture, at times, reinforces this masculinity essentialism and that is unfortunate because it is ultimately pernicious and works against the long term goals of most social activists: to deconstruct these heteronormative values and gender definitions and lift the socially constructed filters on how we view the world and how we view other human beings.

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2 thoughts on “Masculinity

  1. The bit in your post about the gay culture possibly reinforcing “masculine” identities reminded me of similar situations in non-western communities. I feel there is very much an attachment to a “masculine” identity as a source of power in numerous situations. My thoughts go Bakla and Gay article, and how Nicanor Tiongson, a Filipino cultural historian called for the masculinization of the bakla as a form of empowerment, specifically to “stop feminizing his features or behavior” and refers to the bakla community as “laborers, soldiers”. It seems that in Filipino culture as well as our own, masculine identities are seen as respectable and more equal verses the feminine. In a Western perspective I think this stems from a fear of young boys being interpreted as “feminine”, being “easily dominated” and “weaker” (so many “quotes”). This may install subconsciously an idea that a more masculine identity will be more respected in society.

  2. Hi David, I chose to reply to your post because I was also interested in this key term. I really liked the connections you made in Fajardo’s piece about the western’s definition on masculinity and femininity and how this has influenced the global opinion of what entails to be masculine. I think you made a connection through Sear’s piece which I found to be a common theme in the work of both Cortez and Stryker; the idea that labor jobs which require male strength is a dominant factor in defining what is perceived to be male.
    In Stryker’s “Intro to Transgender” she defines gender role, which I think has a strong connection to the term masculinity. To conform to a gender role you must demonstrate the behaviors and actions of a specific gender to fulfill a particular cultures expectation of that gender. Stryker explains this is how stereotypes are formed, especially in the history of Western countries, our perceptions of what is masculine and what is feminine were very distinct, and arguably to this day remain the same. The example Stryker referred to was the father should be the worker, responsible for earning money and occupy jobs such as a pilot. Whereas the woman mirrors the role of a flight attendant, she’s subordinate and responsible for taking care of the children and family home.
    What I took from Stryker’s reading was that masculinity is still defined in a man’s power, status and characteristics of a leader in both their family home and workplace. For those who are homosexual, the connotations are that they’re feminine and lack masculinity. Whereas Stryker notifies that to be heterosexual shouldn’t define masculinity, along with their occupation.
    In Cortez’s “Sexile,” when Adella was identified as a male to others, her behavior didn’t match to a traditional “male” and therefore she got declared as illegible for service in the army, the reasoning was due to her being considered as “homosexual.” Although, Adella didn’t identify herself as homosexual. This is another example of ways masculinity is linked to homosexuality, because if an individual is homosexual they are seen as feminine to society, considering them as unable to be strong, and fight for their country.

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