Thursday, February 4, 2016

Masculine Studies

  “The ways of a superior man are threefold: virtuous, he is free from anxieties; wise, he is free from perplexities; bold, he is free from fear.”  Confucius

My review of Molly Geidel’s “Peace Corps Fantasies: How Development Shaped the Global Sixties” appeared in the February 2016 issue of Choice.  I wrote:
            This provocative, well-researched, theory-driven cultural history is on solid ground in asserting that Peace Corps volunteers were agents of a Cold War strategy designed to keep underdeveloped countries within the global capitalistic orbit but on shakier footing in attributing a motivation of US policy makers to gender anxieties and fantasies of masculine heroes achieving “homosocial intimacy” with indigenous protégés.  Exposing the impossibility of true brotherhood among unequals, Geidel quotes from Moritz Thomsen’s memoir “Living Poor” (1969).  When an Ecuadorian chicken farmer told Thomsen he should have more respect for local practices, the Peace Corps volunteer replied, “But that’s why I’m here.  To destroy your crazy customs.”  Disillusioned by the folly of the US imperialist venture in Vietnam, Peace Corps veterans belonging to the Committee of Returned Volunteers advocated abolishing the agency they once served.  In Bolivia, population control methods of sterilizing men and inserting IUDs in women led to the expulsion in 1971 of Peace Corps workers.  Though, in the eyes of many, exemplars of selfless US altruism, Peace Corps volunteers were mobilized, the author claims, under the rubric of a modernization agenda whose side effect was cultural eradication.  Recommended: for students of foreign policy, modernization theory, and masculine studies.

Geidel’s monograph is part of a growing genre of historic inquiry called Masculine Studies.  As Helena Gurfinkel has written:
            Masculinity Studies (or, as it is also often called, Men’s Studies) is many things, but one thing it is not: a rejoinder to, or repudiation of feminism. It owes to feminism an enormous intellectual and political debt. In fact, it would not have existed without feminism and its courage to question patriarchal power and privilege. Men’s Studies scholars do not say, as many expect them to, “Enough of those feminists; let’s say only good things about men from now on!” Instead, they collaborate with feminists and scholars of race, class, and sexuality in asking complex questions about the ways in which society constructs and controls us as sexed and gendered individuals.
On the Internet are numerous syllabi for courses on Masculinity.  Books frequently appearing on reading lists include R.W. Connell’s “Masculinities” (1995), C.J. Pascoe’s “Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School” (2007), and Sociologist Michael Kimmel’s “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men” (2008).  Kimmel has also co-edited with Michael A. Messner a reader entitled “Men’s Lives” (Eighth edition, 2010).  In his classes Kimmel often asks students to describe a “good man” and then a “real man.”  The contrasting responses are telling.  One wonders whether IUN’s Women’s Studies program evolves into Women and Men’s Studies like Black Studies became Minority Studies.  I hope not.

 Many universities offer classes dealing with masculinity in literature, film, television, and other aspects of popular culture as well as theoretical courses in the social sciences covering, among other things, changing perceptions of masculinity over time in various societies.  I’ve even come across one on "Gay Masculinities."  One of my favorite authors, bell hooks, has written “We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity’ (2003), “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” (2004), and many other provocative volumes on race and gender.
Gwendolyn Brooks
The original “We Real Cool” was a 1959 Gwendolyn Brooks poem reminiscent of Langston Hughes in its simplicity and rhyming couplets, about seven dropouts at a pool hall rather than in school:

We real cool. We   
            Left school. We

            Lurk late. We
            Strike straight. We

            Sing sin. We   
            Thin gin. We

            Jazz June. We   
            Die soon.
Dave Lane and Tamiya Towns
Toni, Dave and fellow East Chicago Central grad Denzel Smith flew to Lawton, Oklahoma, for Tamiya Towns’ graduation from Basic Training at Fort Sill.  Years ago, her presence might have been threatening to male cohorts, but, hopefully, no more.  A Fort Sill “Graduation Dress Code and Etiquette” website warned family and friends not to come with noise-makers, confetti, firearms, fireworks, alcohol or cigarettes and recommended bringing binoculars, sunscreen, a hat and, finally, “respect, support, and love for your soldier and his or her big accomplishment.”

The first episode of FX network’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson” opens with footage of L.A. cops beating Rodney King in 1991 and rioting a year later after an all-white jury acquitted the officers who assaulted him.  It is director Ryan Murphy’s way of demonstrating how Americans, for the most part, viewed the “Trial of the Century” through the prism of race.  I still vividly recall watching the O.J. verdict announced on a TV in IUN’s student union, where black people cheered while most whites seemed visibly shaken.  Not me – I suspected a cocaine dealer.  Actors John Travolta and David Schwimmer assuming the roles of attorneys Robert Shapiro and Robert Kardashian reminded me of the “Bizarro Jerry” Seinfeld episode where Elaine starts hanging out with guys with an eerie resemblance to Jerry, George, Kramer, and Newman.  The two most interesting characters so far are defense attorney Johnnie Cochran (Courtney R. Vance) and prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson).
Slimy Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz finished first in the Iowa caucus by employing several dirty tricks, including spreading the rumor that Ben Carson was about to pull out of the race and sending out a mailer with the headline “VOTING VIOLATION,” claiming that people’s voting history is public record.  When Donald Trump cried Fraud, Cruz retorted: “We’re liable to wake up one morning and Donald, if he were President, would have nuked Denmark.”  Meanwhile Trump continues on a self-destructive path, employing the F word and the phrase “Don’t give a shit” in his latest rant and ridiculing Jeb Bush for dragging his 90 year-old mom out in the snow.

Mike Olszanski passed along this Indianapolis Star editorial:

   The General Assembly and Gov. Mike Pence’s refusal to extend the state’s civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity continues to tarnish Indiana’s image and jeopardize long-term economic prosperity.
Last spring, after a firestorm from passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act blew up in their faces, lawmakers pledged to address legal protections for LGBT citizens in the next legislative session.
    But after meeting privately Tuesday, Senate Republican leaders decided to kill legislation that would have protected gay Hoosiers from discrimination. In doing so, they not only failed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers but also their families, friends, coworkers and anyone else in our state who values equality.
    Polls show that Indiana’s elected leaders don’t accurately represent the will of 70 percent of Hoosiers, who support adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the civil rights law. Lawmakers’ stubborn refusal to listen to the will of the people could come at a high cost in an election year.
    Indiana must be seen as a state that spurns intolerance and bigotry. Yet the failure of legislation this session means LGBT citizens can still be legally discriminated against in most of the state. Sexual orientation or gender identity can be the basis for a landlord to block housing, an employer to deny a job, or a business owner to refuse service. All of that is permissible under current law.

From California Paul Kern reported: “After a couple of mornings staring at our iPad and laptop at breakfast, we, old fossils that we are, decided we couldn’t get along without a newspaper and so we have taken out a two-month subscription to the Sacramento Bee.”
Learning that Assistant Director of Physical Plant Kevin Elmore (above) was leaving, Hollis Donald got several dozen IUN staff members to sign a card that wished him well and included this advice:
Life is a multitude of travels,
Arrows that point in many directions,
Starts and stops taking in many lessons.
The Engineers took all seven points from a team named We’re Here, and I had a 668 series despite fading to 134 in the final game.  Bob Robinson, back from a ten-day Caribbean cruise, barely broke 100 in game one but finished with a 178.  Opponent Jaime Rodriguez wore a t-shirt with “Amistad” on the front – the name of his former team as well as a two-masted schooner on which slaves led by Joseph Cinqué in 1839 successfully revolted against a Spanish crew.
La Amistad

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