1 Girl 5 Gays and “Masculine”

I was watching an episode of the MTV show 1 Girl 5 Gays the other night and it included something I thought was fitting for this blog. For those of you who do not know what this show is, it’s a show where the MTV host Aliya-Jasmine asks a panel of gay men questions about love, sex, and everyday issues in their lives. One of the questions that was raised to the guys during this particular episode was “Does this show need more masculine guys?”.

Here is the link:  1 Girl 5 Gays Episode 23. This portion of the segment starts at about 5:12 of the third clip.

It is interesting how the guys responded to this question. I think they’re making a valid point when questioning what exactly “masculine” means. As we know, taking one masculinity and labeling it as the sole definition for what being “masculine” entails can be problematic because there are so many different masculinities, rather than a uniform masculinity. If some viewers think there needs to be more masculine guys, as it seems they may mean guys who are displaying stereotypical masculine traits, on the show, then I think they are not recognizing that all of the guys on this show have some masculine traits, from appearance to character. If being masculine means being competitive, strong emotionally and physically, dominant, aggressive, etc. then I think every guy in this show has some “masculine” in them. As we know, just because someone exhibits feminine characteristics does not mean they lack masculine characteristics and vice versa.

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Masculinities in American Beauty and Fight Club

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There are a number of parallels to be found around masculinity in the films American Beauty and Fight Club.  The male protagonists in each movie abandon the sensitive, obeying, and materialistic identity of the ‘New Man.’ They attempt to reclaim the New Man with a more traditional, take-no-shit kind of masculine identity.  Their rebellion has economic, physical and romantic layers.

 Both men reject a capitalist authority they see as feminizing. In American Beauty, Lester quits his middle-class office job and starts working at a fast-food joint.  He refuses to strive for the expensive, cookie-cutter household image his wife is so invested in.  In Fight Club, Jack leaves his job at an auto company to fight men in dreary buildings, and to help destroy the flashy buildings that house credit card companies and the like.  Both men leave their jobs with grand mouth-offs to their bosses, showcasing their “you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do” attitudes.  Lester and Jack abandon their yuppie lifestyles out of frustration with the myth of the American Dream – a myth which has them sacrificing their senses of self for a corporate machine that ultimately chews them up and spits them out. 

 Lester and Jack use their physical bodies as sites of rebellion against the New Man.  While Lester takes up an interest in body-building in his garage so he can “look good naked,” Jack joins Fight Club and becomes more physically fit from his fights.  In these films, men take off their suits, show off their growing muscles, and effectively display their reclamation of a tough, fierce masculinity. 

 Lester’s investment in physical fitness is related to his heterosexual desire.  He seeks the attraction of an underage girl.  In pursuing the girl, he seeks to replace his quiet, family-man identity with a more macho-bad-boy-Neanderthal image.  He rejects his superficial wife and any attempt of hers to control him, in favour of this image of himself as man-gone-wild.  However, in the end he comes to realize that this, too, is just another problematic image.  When he does have the opportunity to have sex with the young girl, he realizes that her seductive behaviour springs from her own entrapment in an image-obsessed culture.  He realizes that his pursuance of her was part of that same trap, and he decides that, while he doesn’t want to be emasculated by social authority, he does not want to be sucked into an oppressive misogynist identity either.

 The same kind of epiphany happens in Fight Club.  Jack starts out as a socially inept guy who treats Marla like a boy on the playground would treat a girl he likes – he bickers with her and chooses to hate her.  Then, as Tyler, he uses her for sex and treats her like shit in the morning, embodying macho-misogynist masculinity.  As his different identities collapse in the end, Jack takes on a more helpful identity – a masculinity that allows him to pursue Marla, but to be honest with her about his positive feelings for her. 

 Anyone have a different take on how these films represent masculinity and negotiate the notion of “men-in-crisis”? There’s a lot to be said about heterosexuality and homosexuality in these films that I didn’t get into – anyone have any thoughts on those themes?

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The Millionaire Matchmaker and the “Masculine Energy Female”

On a recent episode of the show The Millionaire Matchmaker called “Opposites Don’t Attract”, the famous matchmaker to the millionaires, Patty Stanger, finds herself tackling what she sees as a challenging female client exuding masculine energy. That female client, Leah, a successful founder and CEO of a female clothing line Married to the MOB, visually looks to be quite stereotypically feminine. Her looks show that she takes care of her appearance. She has styled long hair and wears associatively feminine clothing that show off her womanly figure, as seen throughout the episode. However, she is seen as displaying female masculinity through her dominant personality and behavior. She is a woman who isn’t afraid to take the lead and is very aggressive when it comes to what she wants. She openly likes to talk about sex, something that is perceived as a very unlady-like thing to do. Patty, who seems appalled by Leah’s sex talk and “abrupt” aggressiveness makes it very clear that this masculine side of hers is not beneficial in a heterosexual relationship and needs to be abolished if she ever wants to find a man. Patty tells Leah to decrease, what she calls, her “masculine energy” and let her “feminine energy” prevail, something that Patty thinks will help her inevitably land that “Mr. Right.” Patty advises Leah to “find the vagina and put the penis away” and sit back and let the man do all the work. She attempts to diminish Leah’s “take-charge” mentality when she does not allow for her to plan her date, something she fundamentally believes is the man’s job to do. Patty suggests that if Leah fails in toning down her masculine behavior then she will not get a masculine man. She claims, “a masculine energy female will get a feminine energy male.” What do you think? Can it be possible for a masculine man to desire a masculine woman without compromising his masculinity?

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Hey Brother! Arrested Developments in Masculinity

The new Arrested Development film has been officially announced! In celebration of that, I wanted to explore one of the show’s more implicit themes.

     I’ve recently got to thinking about how masculinity is represented – or misrepresented – on my favourite TV show.  For those of you who aren’t in the loop, it’s the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. We all have our favourite characters (mine is Buster), but it’s likely that Michael, the begrudging lynchpin of the family (played by Jason Bateman), doesn’t even crack your top five. Why not? He’s a rational, self-sufficient, confident single father who drives an awesome stair car without worrying what people will think. In many ways, Michael represents the new man – not a sexist macho jerk, but still pretty admirable for other guys to look up to. This is the case on the show, as Michael is often set up as the prototype for proper male behaviour, giving advice to everyone, especially his son and brothers. But it’s these other guys we gravitate to when we watch Arrested Development, and I want to unpack why that is, by first unpacking who they are as men.

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Shane’s Female Masculinity on The L Word

Shane, a character from The L Word, is famous for her female masculinity.  She’s known for being the mysterious, lanky, androgynously-dressed womanizer on the show. I wonder where we can find (female) masculinity in Shane, other than in her looks and in her promiscuity?  It seems unfair that masculinity has dibbs on promiscuity, and that we we would interpret Shane as masculine just for loving casual sex.  So, as an adoring Shane fan myself, I hope there’s more to it than that.  And if her masculinity can be reduced to her boyish haircut, jeans-and-T-shirt style, and smallish breasts, then, well, I’m not too sure how I feel about that.  Should I be disappointed that gender identity can be so dependent on fashion? Or should I be relieved that such a dependency exposes gender as a sham? Hopefully other L Word-watchers out there can tell me something about your interpretations of Shane’s masculinity.  Is there more to it than sex and haircuts?

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Eminem Showcasing His Bromance in His Latest Single “I Need a Doctor”

When listening to the track “I Need a Doctor” by the popular rapper Eminem, it’s hard not to think about the strong bonds men can have between one another. Here is a song strictly and emotionally having to do with Eminem’s feelings towards his male friend and mentor, Dr. Dre, another famed rapper. Eminem is expressing his emotions towards this man who helped him begin his rap career. He has lyrics such as “I don’t think you realize what you mean to me, not the slightest clue”, “It hurts when I see you struggle” and “Dre, I’m crying in this booth”. The lyrics show a more emotional side of Eminem, one we may not be used to hearing from him or other rap artists. Yet, it seems to be accepted as simply close male friendship and is an extremely popular song, landing number 1 on the iTunes chart and in the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 during its debut in February.

Typically, rap is not really known to have rappers wholly devote songs to other men. There are rap songs that contain bits and parts carrying these same messages Eminem is representing in his song, in which the male rap artists share their love for other men. However, when doing so, most of the songs add sexual comments about females, revealing the rapper’s heterosexuality or homophobic remarks to not cross that male friendship barrier. For instance, Lil Wayne is famously known for using the statement “no homo” in his songs after he expresses any love for other men. For example, in his song “I Like Dat” he raps “I love my n****s no homo” letting the listeners know he did not mean the comment in a way that can be considered homosexual. Although not used in the same way, Dr. Dre, during his featured rap in Eminem’s “I Need a Doctor”, uses a homophobic remark when insulting other individuals. In doing so, it can perhaps be perceived as promoting the same difference Lil Wayne and others try to create between male friendship and homosexuality. It becomes apparent that perhaps their homophobia is meant to be presenting their heterosexuality. Not only are they trying to not compromise their heterosexual identity, but they are also trying to hold on to a “masculine” persona when expressing their emotions—something that is stereotypically associated with femininity.

Eminem, however, does not seem to be exhibiting any homophobia during his emotional lyrical verse to his friend. Is Eminem then using another device to express his sensitivity but still maintain his masculinity? Or, is Eminem revealing a new type of masculinity emerging within the rap genre?

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Maternal Masculinity?: The Masculinity of Dr. Alex Karev on Grey’s Anatomy

Grey’s Anatomy’s bad-ass doctor, Alex Karev, makes for an interesting case study of masculinity.  Alex represents a stereotypical man-as-rebel model of masculinity, but with some “feminine” touches, especially in the more recent seasons of the show.  He’s tough in many ways.  He’s athletic and physically well-built.  He’s known to be rough around the edges, and this comes up in his often-misogynist treatment of women, and also in his notoriously poor bedside manner with his patients.  Alex is constantly getting into trouble at work for talking back to his bosses, and is often assumed to have a poor attitude. He is also known to get into fist fights.   In these ways, he brings to mind the fierce, uncontrollable, “man-gone-wild.”

It comes as a surprise when Alex develops a passion for pediatrics.  At the start of the series, Alex is interested in going into plastics (following in the footsteps of the womanizing “Dr. McSteamy”).  His interest in specializing in plastic surgery is meant to make us think of him as shallow – such surgeries have fewer connotations of nurturing associated with them than pediatric surgeries, as plastics are more about mastery of appearances than about, say, saving the innocent.  In the earlier seasons he belittles other specialties he sees as girly, such as neonatal surgery.  At least once he complains about being put on “babysitting” duty when he is put in charge of taking care of a young patient for the day.  When he is first placed on a pediatric surgeon’s service, he fulfills his duty only reluctantly.  However, he ends up falling in love with pediatrics, to the point where his co-resident, Meredith Grey, goes to him for advice on a child patient of hers in Episode 7-9 “Slow Night, So Long.”

Alex doesn’t go from Mr. Plastics to Mr. Peds without losing his existing rugged masculine traits though.  Instead, his masculinity informs his nurturing side, and vice versa.  Take Episode 6-8: “Invest in Love.”  In this episode, a premature baby with a declining heart rate is estimated to have about an hour to live.  The infant’s heart rate goes up when Alex holds her to his chest, and her odds of recovery shoot up even more when he takes off his shirt to provide more body heat. The television audience is meant to be moved by the sight of Alex cradling the baby to his muscular bare chest.  His pose looks feminine – breastfeeding comes to mind as we see him hold the baby to him.  His dedication to the child is feminine by social standards.   It’s obviously meant to be a defining moment for Karev’s character, as we see his “soft” side.  His humanity shines alongside his tough exterior though, and not through it.  His bare chest of muscle and his fierce determination to save the patient retain our notion of him as the sexy “bad boy,” even as he adopts the feminized role of nurturer.  This “femininity” in turn informs his masculinity, as it only serves to increase his masculine sex appeal, as we are meant to be endeared and attracted by his actions.

In Episode 7-9: “Slow Night, So Long,” Karev’s rebellious side co-exists with his nurturing side.  He operates on a child in pain without permission from his superior, Dr. Stark, who has dismissed the child’s extreme stomach pains as a non-surgical issue.  By performing the surgery, he shows his masculine defiance of authority, while also showing compassion for the suffering child.  His rebellion against Dr. Stark progresses in Episode 7-11: “Disarm.”  In “Disarm” Alex and Dr. Stark have conflicting opinions on the best way to proceed on a fifteen year-old patient with a blood clot in their leg – Dr. Stark wants to amputate the leg, while Alex knows the leg can be saved. Alex ends up literally body-blocking Stark until pediatric surgeon Arizona Robbins can scrub in to save the leg.  So Alex uses a very “masculine” aggressive technique to accomplish a very compassionate goal.

The character of Alex Karev, then, is an example of how gender dichotomies like “rebel v.s. nurturer” and “masculine v.s. feminine” can be played with in ways that are not so black and white.

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Real Men

Most of you will know this song as a Tori Amos cover from Strange Little Girls.  And honestly, they’re pretty similar.

Now, clearly Tori’s cover has a feminist message in it, and is critical of the ‘masculinity-in-crisis’ mentality.  And while the cover is softer and slower than the original, they both have a similar sense of tragedy.  The original was done in 1983.  The cover was done in 2001.  Joe Jackson has some pretty right-wing political views.  Any thoughts on if these two interpretations are reconcilable, or even if their at all dissimilar?

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How to Be a Man

Any movie that has something to do with being a man usually has some sort of scene about how to do it right. Of particular interest in the examples I’ve chosen to show as an illustration of this point is the role race plays in the performance of masculinity. I didn’t even do it on purpose, but the three scenes I right away thought of as good example of “how to be a man” cinema all involve racial minorities. What does it mean? Do racialized men (particularly Asian men, as you’ll notice) have to learn manliness more than white men? Are white men the natural authority on all things male? It would seem so, at least in the following scene from Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino:

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Welcome to MANalysis: Unmasking Masculinities in Media.

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