Orna Raz 11/5/03
Masculinity As Homophobia – Response
Michael Kimmel offers a cultural/ sociological approach to masculinity: “Manhood is neither static nor timeless; it is historical” (224). In his search to explore “hegemonic masculinity and alternate masculinities” of American manhood, Kimmel finds two historical types of manhood in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: the first type is the rural landowner whom he calls the “Genteel Patriarch”; the second is the urban republican “Heroic Artisan” (224, 226-27). While the first two types were able to coexist harmoniously, the emergence of the capitalist “Marketplace Man” has disrupted the old world order (227).
The “Marketplace Man” is the source of all the problems of American manhood, according to Kimmel. In the old order, both the wealthy “Genteel Patriarch” and the proud craftsman “Heroic Artisan” were well aware of their station in life, and secure about their expectations; the new type of manhood, by contrast, “was a manhood that required proof, and that required the acquisition of tangible goods as evidence of success” (227). This uncertainty led to “the exclusion of ‘others’-women, nonwhite men, nonnative born men, homosexual men” and eventually became a close-knit community of white, middle class, early middle-aged, heterosexual men (227- 28).
The insecurity of the “Marketplace Man” is symptomatic of the fear and shame that cause men to reject “others” and to become homophobic: “Homophobia is the fear that other men will unmask us, emasculate us, reveal to us and the world that we do not measure up, that we are not real men” (233). This lack of confidence may even develop into violence that is mistakenly perceived as “the single most evident marker of manhood” (234).
Today the same insecurity of the American man is manifested in a personal feeling of powerless which is the result of “discontinuity between the social and the psychological, between the aggregate analysis that reveals how men are in power as a group and the psychological fact that they do not feel powerful as individuals” (238). Men today are reaching into their inner self to retrieve the powerful cave man that will restore their lost manhood. Yet, Kimmel argues that American men feel powerless since they have constructed for themselves unrealistic and megalomaniac ideals of manhood, that are unattainable, all the while rejecting and discriminating against “the others” “on the basis of race, class, ethnicity, age, or sexual preference” (239).
Kimmel’s use of typecasts in order to place masculinity in American history is intriguing; yet in my opinion, the types are overly stereotypical and his analysis superficial. Although the essay is eloquent and the tone passionate yet not belligerent, Kimmel’s attempt to trace all of society’s ills to the insecurity of the American male in his own masculinity ultimately leads him to the same trap of over- simplification he was trying hard to avoid.
Kimmel, Michael S. “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.” Toward a New Psychology of Gender. Ed. Mary M. Gergen and Sara N. Davis. New York and London: Routledge, 1997. 223-42.