Friday, January 26, 2007

Reading Men (The Friday List)

So, that's that, I suppose. No Puppy, no Charmer, though I do have a few vague prospects I'll tell you more about if they become more specific.

In the meantime, this seems like a good moment to do a little research, no? Strengthen my theoretical foundation while waiting for my next experience in the field?

Which brings us to this week's Friday List: good books on men & masculinity. Jeff suggested bell hooks' The Will to Change last week, but I know there's lots more out there. Could be essays, theory, memoir, fiction, anthology, poetry - what books have helped you frame a productive and complicated understanding of what it means to be a "man"?

P.S. This may already be clear but I know it's going to come up, so I'll just say this up front: this blog opposes gender essentialism and supports the destruction of the gender binary. Please refrain from asserting that men and/or women "can't help" being a certain way, b/c it's in their "nature." Sorry. It's a blog, not a democracy.


Emily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily said...

i would suggest the book what makes a man by rebecca walker. i read it this past summer and was over whelmed by the compilation. i thought walker did well collecting varying views on masculinity and society's push for boys to perform their gender roles.

i also want to say that i love your blog.

Sarah said...

I just read a novel called "Every Visible Thing" by Lisa Carey. It's about a family coping with/trying to avoid the fact that the eldest son disappeared five years previously.

The interesting thing in regard to gender is how the middle child, a girl, and the youngest child, a boy, have to find their own ways in the world, when their parents are basically ignoring their maturation in terms of body and sex. I was really intrigued by that side of the story.

Roy said...

Honestly, I'm not sure that I've ever really read that much about masculinity. Obviously, I've read a lot of fiction that deals with male characters, and I think, to some degree, that may have shaped my understanding of men and masculinity, but I couldn't really say how much.

If you haven't read it, I actually suggest checking out Fight Club. It's a fairly quick read. It's quite interesting, even if you already know The Big Twist, and it deals, rather obviously, with masculinity and men. One thing that I've always found interesting about it is that Manly Men tend to read the book very differently than I do. I actually see it as being just as critical of hyper-masculinity as it is of blatant materialism. *shrug*

I'm going to have to give this some more thought, though. If you'd asked me for books that shaped, say, my intellectual or philosophical outlook, I think that'd actually be easier.

Maybe I should suggest Spider-Man? ;)

jeff said...

What a great idea. I'm just starting to separate the wheat from the chaff regarding men and masculinity--lots of what is written about masculinity is written by gender essentialists, really, and by "men's rights activists" who see feminism as the problem with masculinity, rather than patriarchy.

In her book, hooks uses a lot of outside sources on masculinity, but mostly she uses them to critique them. Also, for whatever reason, hooks doesn't include footnotes or a bibliography (now that she is well-known as a writer about 'love', I think she may be contextualizing some of her books differently than when she was writing more philosphical feminist stuff), so unless you just read the book it's not a good source of other options.

I'm really interested/excited to hear what your readers have to suggest!

ruby said...

one of the authors that hooks speaks highly of in "the will to change" is a psychologist named terrence real. and from her quotes, he does seem to have a genuinely feminist take on masculinity. i looked him up on amazon and the books seem very self-helpy ("i don't want to talk about it: overcoming the secret legacy of male depression" and "how can i get through to you? closing the intimacy gap between men and women"), and esp the latter one's title suggests a bit of an ick factor. *but* the hooks recommendation does make me think they probably have some good stuff to say.

i also remember a great article i read back in college that i have wanted to find again ever since i realized how important its argument was (i didn't really appreciate it at the time, but i've thought about it a lot over the years and wish i could read it again). maybe someone here has heard of it. it was about pornography and alientated (in the marxist sense) male sexuality. it was the first thing i ever read that talked about straight men being shaped/negatively affected by commercial forces (specifically porn) that they supposedly benefit from. this was 1992 or so, so it had to have been published before then. but of course i don't remember the author or the title.

most of the examinations of masculinity i have read have been by trans men. and though i had a lot of, let's just say *issues* with it, i think max wolf valerio's "the testosterone files" is useful and interesting in a lot of ways. you'll want to argue with it, but it's thought-provoking.

i've never read anything by michael kimmel, but he's kind of a go-to guy in this topic.

one book i have been meaning to read *forever* but, sigh, haven't yet is the anthology "male lust: pleasure, power, and transformation." since i haven't read it i can't say how good it is, but it's an anthology, so there are probably at least two or three essays that are great.

Steve said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Roy said...

Ruby, are you thinking of Harry Brod's "Pornography and the Alienation of Male Sexuality"? It was originally published in the late 80s, but I can't actually find a copy online right now.

I found some excerpts from him:
The female is primarily there as a sex object, not sexual subject. Or, if she is not completely objectified, since men do want to be desired themselves, hers is at least a subjugated subjectivity. But one needs another independent subject, not an object or a captured subjectivity, if one either wants one's own prowess validated, or if one simply desires human interaction. Men functioning in the pornographic mode of male sexuality, in which men dominate women, are denied satisfaction of these human desires

ladyred said...


I've deleted your post. Calling one gender or another "crazy" is not acceptable here, even as a "joke." And for the record, we know not all men are the same, which is why we're discussing where to find interesting, complicated books on the subject of masculinity that reject gender essentialism.

ruby said...

roy! you are my hero!! seriously!!! even though that excerpt doesn't really seem to be what i remember, that has to be it.

i have asked several women's studies profs if this rings a bell for them and no one has come up with the cite. until you, roy. if i could send you chocolates without having to ask a very invasive question about your address, i would.

ruby said...

in trying to find the article roy fantabulously gave me the author/title to, i found that harry brod has edited two books that might be good. they're kinda old, but..."theorizing masculinities" (1994) and "the making of masculnities: the new men's studies" (1987).

Miriam said...

K, I wrote what follows and then saw roy's comment where he mentions Fight Club and now I don't feel so stupid :)

I say this at the risk of sounding cheesy and under educated, but Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. While reading it there were a lot of eye opening moments for me about what men have grown up expecting to be. It's certainly not a treatise on men by any means, but it certainly helped me understand the environment that men are raised in.

flavia said...

Gee, I certainly hope that "PS" wasn't directed at me because the other day I suggested that biology *plays a role* in behavior. I certainly never meant to suggest that people "can't help" behaving a certain way because of it.

Whether or not I was the trigger for such a comment, did you really mean to draw a diametic opposition between "blogs" and "democracy," or were you just being playful, trying to avoid plainly ignorant comments? (damn, it is *so* hard to tell over this medium).

Anyhoo, I look forward to perusing the suggested reading. . .

flavia said...

roy, I would like to know more about your responses to "Fight Club." I saw it a few months ago, and I think I'm still processing it. The male friend from whom I borrowed it thinks of it as the male response to feeling increasingly irrelevant in our modern age. *shrugs* I dunno. He keeps trying to tell me (he is not a manly man either) that women have all the power and have no use for men. I'm still not buyin' it. . .

Roy said...

(Spoilers within)

No offense to your friend, but I think that's a shallow interpretation of it. If you just look at the surface... sure. You can take that away from it.

The problem I have with that interpretation is that it treats Tyler like the hero of the story- like he's the one who rescues all of the sad, ineffectual men from lives of boredom, etc.

But, Tyler isn't the hero. The book is a reaction to the shifting place that men have in society. There's definitely been a shift in the perception of "men's role" in society. The book is critical of men who feel like they don't have a place- people like Jack (or the narrator, if you prefer). He's a symptom of a larger problem- men who mistake possessions for purpose. Men like him lack purpose, and they feel discontented. Since they're no longer expected to be providers or conquerers, they move to using money and property to fill that void of purpose. But, that's ultimately unsatisfying, and they need something more.

Tyler is the extreme reaction against that- he represents a "return" to men's "natural" state- primal and violent.

For a while, that seems to be working well. Jack and the others see Tyler almost as a savior. He teaches them, and they love him.

But, by the end of the novel, we realize that Tyler isn't the hero- he's just as fucked up as Jack was at the begining- maybe moreso. Tyler's "solution" clearly won't work, and Jack's realization, I think, is supposed to be ours, as well. It's only when Jack begins to take responsibility for himself and his life that he realizes how dangerous and problematic Tyler is.

The only character who's even close to healthy in the whole damn story... is Marla. Sure, she's got problems, but at least she knows she has problems. She knows she has problems, and she deals with them. She does what she wants, and she makes her own purpose.

Tyler thinks that women have the power, and thinks that women are the problem. Tyler, however, is also crazy as fuck.

Ultimately, I see Fight Club as being fairly scathing towards men who refuse to create meaning in their lives, and men who try to blame their failures and their discontentment on women. I really don't think we're (men) supposed to want to be like Tyler. I feel like we're supposed to see how screwed up he is.
That's just my take on it (I'd get more specific, but I haven't read it in a while)

ladyred said...

All I meant was that this particular blog is not a democracy, in that everyone doesn't have an equal say -- my voice is privileged here and so are my opinions. And I hope it's obvious that I love debate and the exchange of ideas, but there are some conversations I don't feel like engaging here b/c I have to engage them in too many other parts of my life.

I can probably be convinced otherwise if folks feel strongly about it, and we can get into the whole nature/nurture sex/gender thang, but I'd rather not today, if it's all the same to you.

flavia said...

roy, the "shallowness"--I'll take "oversimplification" if'n you don't mind--is mine. I was typing quickly. I think my friend would agree with you. And while it's often hard to tell how serious he is when he quips that it's women who ultimately have the power (whatever that means), the one thing that he probably would cop to is that, whether or not it's true, it's probably a good idea. Heh.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I came across comments by people trying to track down an old article of mine (Harry Brod) on pornography amd male sexuality, and I'm quite flattered by the attention. If anyone's still interested, here's original publication and reprint information:
"Pornography and the Alienation of Male Sexuality", Social Theory and Practice 14:3, Fall 1988, 265-284. Reprints: Sex, Self and Society: The Social Context of Sexuality, ed. Tracey L. Steele, Wadsworth, 2005, 341-351; Sexual Lives: A Reader on the Theories and Realities of Human Sexualities, eds. Robert Heasley and Betsy Crane, McGraw-Hill, 2003, 477-485; Gender Violence: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, eds. Laura O'Toole and Jessica R. Schiffman, New York University Press, 1997, 454-466; Men's Lives, Third Edition, eds. Michael S. Kimmel and Michael A. Messner, Allyn and Bacon, 1995, 393-404; Moral Controversies: Race, Class, and Gender in Applied Ethics, ed. Steven Jay Gold, Wadsworth, 1993, 372-383; Rethinking Masculinity: Philosophical Explorations in Light of Feminism, eds. Larry May and Robert A. Strikwerda, Rowman & Littlefield, 1992, 149-165; Second Edition, 1996, 237-253; Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings, Second Edition, ed. Alan Soble, Rowman & Littlefield, 1991, 281-299; Men, Masculinities and Social Theory, eds. Jeff Hearn and David Morgan, Unwin Hyman, 1990, 124-139. There's even a Japanese translation in U.S.-Japan Women's Journal 12, 1992, 43-58.