Posts Tagged ‘masculinity’

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Manning up with Casting Crowns

28 March 2014

Casting Crowns arrived on the music scene in 1999. By a long but steady ascent, they have become one of the few Evangelical bands to move between Christian and secular radio, touting positive messages for general audiences. As such, their lyrics hold special insight into values popular among conservative American believers. Among the consolidation of virtues Casting Crowns is responsible for is a set of gender expectations for men. In particular, their code turns on concepts of moral integrity, inner piety, protection of women and children, and evangelism.

In 2011 Casting Crowns released the single “Courageous,” which accompanied the film by the same name. With a story about a police officer in the background, the song laments the loss of traditional manliness, when men “were warriors on the front lines, standing unafraid.” Now, men are “watchers on the sidelines while our families slip away.” The golden days of patriarchy have waned into the dark days of men without backbone and purpose. The refrain that Christian men are “taking back the fight” does not refer to a program to subject women. Rather, the fight is directed at the heart, turning to a life of prayer. This battle to regain the authoritative self starts with the regaining of the authentic self, “on our knees with lifted hands.” Those who “reignite the passion,” the song goes on to say, “become warriors.” Accordingly, the battle for one’s place in the family has been internalized to take place on the war-field of the heart, in which lethargy and cowardice are put to death via prayer. The song ends with the promise, “In the war of the mind I will make my stand.”

Casting Crown’s inner masculinity continues to the be the basis for external masculine honor in 2014’s “Heroes.” The woman of the song expresses her valor in financial ways, supporting her two children (notably after her breadwinning husband abandons her). The high school boy in the second verse “walks against the flow” in fairly nebulous moral ways, not following “the hopeless road” but “willing to stand alone.” His manhood comes through principally in a moralistic separation from the world (though this is somehow equated with seeing the school as “his mission field”). Again, the battle is fought in internal terms, battling for moral integrity through self-discipline and prayer.

Through both songs one hears the moralistic theme of Promise Keepers set in the militaristic language of John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Thus lead vocalist Mark Hall confesses his penchant for uber-manly movies like Braveheart, saying, “I think that’s my spirit in me longing to be the warrior that God created me to be.” Yet his battle-loving language is simply the key through which he sings of a longing to return to traditional values beginning with the conquest of self. Notably, this sort of Evangelicalism is still psychological and inward-facing while much of the rest of Christianity is turning toward the social sciences and political action.

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Men Who Stop Rape

7 November 2013

Women have made considerable gains worldwide in calling attention to rape, whether it be the victims of American party-culture to Indian gang-rape atrocities to the pre-teen molestation culture in Papua New Guinea. In 2011-12 the United Nations conducted the largest worldwide study of rape, covering six nations. When taking into account non-consensual sex in marriage, or an inability of a partner to refuse sex, about one in four men surveyed reported committing some kind of rape. The issue is on the table.

But are the solutions being set forth clearly? One that must be put forward in any discussion, in my opinion, is the importance of raising up male anti-rape advocates. Because sexual force stems so much from a sense of entitlement to gratification, and because entitlement derives from cultural norms, men must be vocal in stating that rape is not normative or acceptable. More specifically, important men, “normative” men, must step up to the microphone and air this message.

A friend here in Sioux Falls was commissioned with the leadership of a domestic violence rehab group. He was surprised to find how resistant men were to admitting that they were in control of a situation involving physical or sexual violence. “I couldn’t help myself” or “She was asking for it” became common mantras to avoid personal responsibility. The leader had to walk the men through the decisions they had actually made: “Did you attack her?” “Did you choose to hit her with your fist or kick her?” “Which clothing did you try to take off her?” And so forth. Ultimately, these men hoped that male sympathy for “natural” passions would override personal responsibility. A group like this undid the hope. And it started with a strong male leader. Once multiple men took responsibility for their crime, others followed.

The same sort of thing has been happening in Nairobi, Kenya. After some rapists were released after receiving a sentence of mowing the lawn, the Men to Men program of FEMNET showed up to protest. Kennedy Otina was one of those in attendance, publicly demonstrating. “When there is a case in court,” Otina said, rapists “tend to think or assume that we [men] will be the ones to defend them, to support them in court, but you know when they get to us, we help them understand that violence against women is not acceptable.”

The crimes occurring in bedrooms start with the attitudes born in public forums. Fortunately, key men around the world are taking a stand.

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Manly Candy Flavors

4 October 2013

Candy companies have for a long time marketed to boys. Aside from rockets and bombs and superhero packaging, confectioners know that boys can’t resist gross-out foods from the innocuous gummy worm to candy boogers to the all-important barf-flavored jelly bean. More recently, products have been rolled out that cater to grown men – well, men who straddle the line between hobbyist gourmand and playground kiddo. Here are a handful of the more creative candy efforts:

1. Gummy Bacon
A bac candy

The 6.75″ strips are savory, smokey – and to be served raw.

2. Tequila Worm Lollipops

A teq worm

Tequila flavored (naturally) with actual worms imprisoned in the sugar shell.

3. Ugly Raz-Stout Fudge Balls

Chocolate chips, almond bark, and frozen raspberries congealed in Alaskan Brewing Company oatmeal stout. Find the recipe here.

4. Breast Milk Lollipops

A breastmilk lolli

While the company Lolliphile does not use the actual product, they swear their own flavor went through rigorous testing to make it taste as authentic as possible. Designed for children? Not at $2.50 a pop. Surely they are targeting those men willing to regress to Freudian simplicity for the sake of culinary science.

5. Mustache.org’s Manly Jelly Beans

Alright, so they never went through with it, but Mustache.org came up with a whole line of hypertrophied flavors: leather, chili dog, rattlesnake, war medal, gravel, hot wings, and (my favorite) headbutt. See them all right here.

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Book Review: R. Todd Romero, Making War and Minting Christians

20 May 2013

R. Todd Romero, Making War and Minting Christians: Masculinity, Religion, and Colonialism in Early New England (Amherst: MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011). 255pp.+xiii. $26.95.

The interaction of native tribes with early English settlers meant each culture had to change. That change included masculinity, argues R. Todd Romero in his attentive history of 17th century New England. Both natives and Puritan immigrants were concerned with manly ideals, ideals which would undergo significant changes through the Pequot War (1636-37) and King Philip’s War (1675-76). Sensitive to the underlying gender scripts, Romero’s book unspools a nuanced double-narrative.

In Part I of Making War and Minting Indians, Romero chronicles the cultural “counterpoint” between native and Anglo-American groups. A surprising similarity exists between the two. Each culture valued assertive, strong men with military skills. Each culture connected manhood to religious zeal. Nevertheless, Puritans and other Englishmen chose to highlight the differences. Manhood for them meant a carefully defined patriarchy, strenuous labor, educated western civility, and biblical, evangelistic zeal. The greatest commonality between the two worlds, it seemed, was martial culture. But the brewing of actual war between the parties made for a deep bifurcation.

In Part II Romero takes a deeper look at the colonizing efforts of Puritans with the Indian “praying towns.” Imposing western notions of manhood upon natives was a priority, even to the point of insisting (in the case of Thomas Shepard) that one must “make men” of Indians before “making Christians” of them. Puritans, especially at Massachusetts Bay Colony, struggled to get Indian men to abandon polygyny, as well as their lax posture of discipline that made children “sawcie, bold, and undutifull” (125). Assimilation efforts foundered after King Philip’s War destroyed remaining goodwill between Puritans, Christian natives, and traditional natives.

Part III of the book plays out the re-scripting of masculinities in and after the throes of war. Presented with annihilation through war or (especially) disease, some tribes sought to bargain with the Christian God. Other tribes felt a strong pull back to their traditional earth religion practices. Puritans, for their part, strenuously preached God’s providence in warfare – even as missionary efforts quickly devolved. While rhetoric between the groups transpired criticizing their inferior senses of manhood, Romero picks up on some unwitting crossovers. For instance, “The evolution of Anglo-American martial culture after the 1670s was especially ironic, given that successful colonial warriors often adapted the very Indian tactics they had formerly dismissed as dishonorable and unmanly” (191).

By necessity, Romero works from Anglo-American records. His deconstruction of their rhetoric smacks of ungraciousness at times, but he uses a hermeneutic of suspicion to render a better picture of actual native culture. Readers may find themselves frustrated that Romero does not choose to distill many conclusions from his study. A “cross-cultural” study through “gender counterpoint” does not yield larger anthropological or historical insights so much as make the reader feel the dialectical mutation between American societies. One might look to Ann M. Little’s Abraham in Arms to clarify a picture of the geopolitical legacy of New England.

Romero’s careful soundings of 17th century America amount to a genuine contribution to colonial studies. Researchers and local historians will benefit most from this sensitive narration of Anglo and Indian masculinities forged in a tumultuous era.

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Getting Men (Back) in High Heels

25 January 2013

Louis XIV sports 'em

Louis XIV sports ’em

We men were there first, you know. Long before women sported high heels to accentuate their legs and curves, men looked to raised shoes to show off their social privilege. Whether as riding attire or as fashion to express nobility or just to add a few inches, the unwieldy design was employed. Heels languished for men during the democratic revolutions of the modern period. Only in the mid-19th century did women – usually for pornographic purposes – begin to make them fashionable for the fairer sex. BBC News offers an encylopedic review.

Will men look to heels again? Truthfully, they already are. “Raised heel” shoes add several inches to a man’s height, though companies assure their customers that the heel is “hidden.” I suspect it will take several decades for men to flaunt heels again, pending the cool-down of the current fitness craze and the arrival of an ostentatious “leisure class,” that is, an identifiable group of men who want to relay to the world that they can exist in a world of play, having evaded the typical demands of blue collar labor and white collar uniformity.

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Ashton Kutcher’s Comical Masculinity and the Meaning of Whiteness

5 May 2012
As for white males after 1800, masculinity has had do in part with the power to assume others’ identities.  One might try to stand apart in one’s whiteness (donning a Klan cap perhaps), but more commonly the better strategy is to show one’s range of mastery of identities.  How much knowledge does a guy have of “non-white” culture, like hip-hop and sushi?  How many languages does he know?  Is his spirituality able to draw off of many world religions?  A white man’s pursuit of plurality and cultural flexibility can count as a masculine pursuit insofar as it establishes him as one who stands in and above multiple personas. In recent years a comical variety of this has come forward, in which a man’s “sense of humor” is the arena in which to demonstrate his intelligence and power to navigate other cultures.  Debate as to whether this kind of thing is colonialism in disguise (see the work of Vine Deloria, Jr., for example) or genuine multiculturalism is up for grabs, and often evaluated by Americans on a case-by-case basis.
 
In this instance, Ashton Kutcher, already known for exploring new comical masculine avenues (the brilliantly funny stoner in Dude, Where’s My Car?; marrying Demi Moore, fifteen years his senior), tried pushing the envelope with his new Popchips advertisement.  In it he plays a biker, a hippie, a diva – and a Bollywood producer named Raj.  This Indian persona has created a small storm of outrage from critics, claiming that Kutcher is doing “brownface” to get a laugh.  By playing into the stereotype the ad is racist, goes the argument.  The Popchips ad has been pulled.
 
The “brownface” terminology alludes to a common practice a century ago (though also more recent in parts of the south) in which white men would don paint on their face, preferably black (and thus “blackface”)  in order to sing songs, act sillily, and relive the sentiment of childhood through a race deemed naive and childish.  The meaning of whiteness thus became the ability of whites to utilize other racial identities for their own gain.  Kutcher crossed over too far into this tradition and got called on the carpet.
 
What isn’t being discussed by critics is why Kutcher cannot play an Indian movie producer, but why he can play a biker, a hippie, and, most notably, a woman.  The freedom of role-playing for funny white men still boasts quite a range.  But is there any firm principle behind any of society’s latitude and restrictions toward white man’s “faces”?  For the time, it appears that the ethical scoresheet is as white and unmarked as the comedians daring to color themselves.
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Men Less Likely to Be Cremated

9 December 2011

An interesting shift seems to be afoot in funeral culture.  Men led the numbers of cremations as the practice gained popularity in the twentieth century.  Stephen R. Prothero notes that men made up the majority of cremations then, even 76% in one area.  Not that men were the only ones interested in the practice.  Lisa Kazmier found that The Cremation Society of Great Britain’s membership consisted of 60% women (“Her Final Performance,” Mortality 6:2 [2001]).  Prothero also writes about women’s role in cremation activism, though he notes that these vocal exponents tended to be college-educated women, and thus very much in the minority.   Anecdotal evidence from the time suggests that women were more likely to protest cremation.  Primarily, men’s bodies were put to the pyre.

That statistic has changed.   Women’s bodies made up 52% of all cremated in 1996-97, according to the Cremation Association of North America.   A demographic study in Great Britain found that women showed the greater preference for cremation over decomposition in the ground (Davies and Shaw, 1995).   Does this general trend have more to do with women’s changing conceptions about the body?  Or does it have to do more with finances, with women’s higher levels of poverty?