The search for a more inclusive definition of masculinity is not new: Robert Bly attempted to redefine the term in his 1990 best-seller “Iron John.” But given the recent revelations of predatory behavior among entitled men — think Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose — the issue feels particularly urgent today.
Exploring and challenging our often-destructive notions of what it means to be a man is the focus of “Masculinity in America,” UC Santa Barbara’s 2019 Critical Issues in America series. Kicking off Oct. 7, it will continue through the spring with a mix of lectures and performances. Unless otherwise noted, events are free and open to the public.
“Everything feels connected with masculinity right now, from mass shootings to the #metoo movement to the resurgence of a white supremacist movement in the U.S.,” said Tristan Bridges, an assistant professor of sociology and organizer of the series. “So it’s an important moment to have conversations about this. Some of them are going to be uncomfortable. But these moments are productive.”
Bridges, whose research focuses on masculinity and gender, as well as sexual identity and inequality, noted that for all the discussion provoked by America’s recent spate of gun violence, one of the most obvious common denominators of the perpetrators goes largely unmentioned.
“Virtually all mass shootings are committed by men,” he said. “Other societies have high rates of gun ownership, but do not have mass shootings the way we do in the United States.
“So there are two questions: Why is it that men commit these crimes in disproportionate numbers compared to women, and why is this particularly true of American men? In part, it’s about gun culture — what guns mean in the U.S., and how those meanings are tied to masculinity.”
The connection between masculinity and violence is the subject of the series’ first event: A talk by journalist and author Thomas Page McBee entitled “Am I a Real Man?” The first transgender man to box in Madison Square Garden, McBee will provide a unique perspective on gender stereotypes, testosterone and physical aggression.
“Dominance-based, ‘typical’ masculine behaviors are generally seen by experts I’ve spoken to as (a) encouraged and controlled for via our cultural socialization of boys ... and (b) damaging to all involved including men themselves,” said McBee, who will speak at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 7 in the campus’s MultiCultural Center Theatre.
“We have educated children into a gender fundamentalism that’s primary purpose is to uphold a political system where not just men, but a certain kind of masculinity, reigns supreme, as that is how our entire culture is organized. In fact, embedded in how we all learn masculinity is the notion that questioning it somehow makes one a ‘failure’ or “not a ‘real’ man.’”
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