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Historiography of Masculinity

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Introduction

Masculine refers to the appearance or qualities that are attributed to men. This is for instance strength among other things that define men. The quality of being masculine is referred to as masculinity. Unlike the values of women, men values differ significantly from one country to another. Assertive and competition define the values of men from different places. This can be very diverse. However for women, it is all about modesty and care. The culture of masculinity differs from one society to another. It is largely dependent on the people themselves. This is so because; people come from different backgrounds with different perspectives, which easily define them in the world arena. This is why masculinity is significantly different among men from different places compared to femininity. For women the values are more or less the same, because their values are within the modesty and caring circle almost all over. Masculinity has a long history not just in the United States but also in all other nations in the world. The nature of masculinity among nations and societies may not be the same, with the culture coming with it being no exception, but one thing is without doubt certain masculinity has come of age in all aspects.

Masculinity

There is arguably no topic more contentious than masculinity not just in the United States but also in many different parts of the world. This is more often than not fuelled by the fact that, almost everybody has his or her own perspective when it comes to masculinity. The views of different people differ significantly based on the overall outlook of masculinity and values that define masculinity. Many cultures attribute and define masculinity in relation to testerone levels present in a person. The levels of testerone in one’s body define the gender of the person. This is not something new in the public domain. Castor Semenya, the south African 800m sprinter was barred from taking part in athletics on suspicion of being male solely on the testeone levels in her body that make her more of a man than a woman in terms of ability and behavior. In many cultures, masculinity is linked to the levels of testosterone found in a person: Higher levels of testosterone tend to encourage behaviors that are traditionally attributed to men. Many scholars to have their own different views on masculinity, but in the end it all goes down to the social culture and society in total to define masculinity (Boon, 2005).

The diversity with regard to elements essential for the determination of masculinity in the United States is not in doubt. The United States is arguably one of the nations that have the most diverse populations in relation to origin and culture on earth. Different and diverse communities have the effect of changing the definition and perspectives of different things including masculinity. More than 250 years ago the United States was invaded by European nations; top on the list was Britain and Netherlands. In order for the colonial masters to achieve their objectives after taking over in some parts of America, they brought in slaves from other nations such as Asia and Africa to do the hard work. Most of the people who came to the United States including some of the colonial masters ended up settling in the United States.

All these people from different backgrounds came with different cultures, and hence diverse perspectives on what defined masculinity. The Europeans thought of modesty and authority as the measure of masculinity. The Africans on the other hand emphasized on bravery and aggression as the ultimate measure of a man. According to evolutionary psychologists and biosocial theorists, there was substantial evolutionary pressure for men to develop aggression and dominance as well as expressions of Power and strength as humans lived as hunter-gatherers on the plains of Africa (Palmer & Palmer, 2002; Wood & Eagly, 2002). For the Asians bravery and loyalty was and still is the measure of masculinity. All this highlights the fact that the in the United States, masculinity is diverse and can be looked at from many different points of view (United States history time line).

Masculinity has been on a downward trend not just in the United States but in other parts of the world as well. Most people even the proponents of masculinity are reportedly having soft stands towards femininity. Experts agree that masculinity in the United States is in a sad state of decline. In a world filled with murses, girl jeans, and fauxhawks, experts are working frantically to remedy the slow drain of manliness from society (Spurgeon, N.  2009). This is attributed to the developments in the past decade, which advocate for the change of men values to mostly liken them to the women values. For instance expecting of men to be more caring and modest. These are values that were attributed to women. Now they are in men too. This has the effect of partially or even completely eroding the culture of masculinity as it was known by our ancestors. In 1609 to 1779, masculinity in the United States in comparison with masculinity in this century, a lot has without doubt changed significantly. Coupled with the fact that girls are more confident to stand and acknowledge themselves as women. This however is not the case among the boys who tend to shy away. This is due to the urge among boys, who would not like to be regarded as men unless they have shown and proved to be worth the title to be called a man (Noel Spurgeon, 2009).

History of masculinity

The social differentiation between male and female (typified through the use of “Masculinity” and “femininity”) is a relational concept: masculinity exists and has meaning only as it contrasts with femininity, and vice versa (Connell, 1995). The western nations have almost certainly fused feminism into modern society. However this has had the effect of almost eroding the masculinity in this modern society. This is the bone of contention as the proponents from both sides try to bring their motion, one thing is certain the balance of power has been completely altered. World over and even in the United States, there are many different cultures. These cultures define the societies that we hail from. The rite of passage for instance is practiced by many cultures and in many different ways. The manner in which it is conducted symbolizes something with regard to the society in general. The development of masculinity was an agonistic process, a process concerned with contest (Connors, 1996). The many cultures with their own ways of tackling the rite of passage, however one thing is common in all the cultures, it is likened to confrontations and a sense of struggle. This is what defines masculinity in many societies. All this was and still is based on psychology, to assert the memory and position of the man in the society.

The United States unlike other societies has no evidence of any rite of passage neither for the men or the women. Hence the masculinity has been based on academic setting for a long time. The academic stage was mainly dominated by the men, while the women were just spectators or had other roles in the society. This is what defined masculinity in the united states more than a century ago. Inform of debates the rites of passage were integrated to the education platform. The current practice of oral defense at the conclusion of a doctoral program mimics the original practice of debate and defense, in which students defended their theses against the verbal attacks of their Professors (and, of course, both the students and the professors during those times were Male), (Connors, 1996). This was however set to change completely as more and more women were admitted to the institutions of higher learning. In the mid-nineteenth century, however, this practice changed for one unique reason: as schools and universities were becoming co-educational, the practice of rhetorical attack and defense seemed absurd in the presence of women and contemptible to enforce upon women.

This agonistic practice that had worked well in all-male schools declined in proportion to the admittance of females to higher education (Connors, 1996, p. 141). However hard the realities were the agonistic nature of the men was not all lost. The men instead decided to divert it to other places. This led to the emergence of secret societies, fraternities and even organizations for the welfare of men. This was all in an effort to rediscover them. Whether it has worked, it is a contentious matter with no clear concession as to its effect. In the United States, some universities have fraternities for boys and sororities for the women. However the overall ability and effectiveness of these avenues is in doubt as they have little or no influence in the society at all. The men would still want to have a role in the society but they lack the means, as a result they are left to build on their masculinity by themselves with disregard to the subsequent consequences that might arise (Connors, 1996).

Historiography of Masculinity in United States

There are those traits that defined men in the 17th and even in the modern day society. Men at the time had no choice but to succumb to pressure and hold on to the traits. The traits that men are expected to have in modern day society are different yes, but not very much. The attributes expected of men at the time are more or less the same with what men are expected of in this society. At the time attributes of aggression power and dominance were a must. At the time especially the United States under colonial rule, in addition to oppressive rule from the colonial masters, there was the element of survival for the fittest. It was that society that endorsed competition among men; it was a man eats man society. In such a set up, winning was paramount, regardless of the techniques used, the end justified the means. In the 17th century, thus aggression and strength was a key trait among the men. On top of everything else, food was the other factor, which brought masculinity to the fore front. At the time most people were hunters and relied heavily on gathering food to survive. Hunting was dangerous at the time given that there were no adequate weapons. Bravery was the ultimate measure of a man, and thus an essential attribute of masculinity. This highlights the fact that there was more to masculinity apart from taking part in the revolutionary and liberation battles in the 17th century (The complete book of United States history).

The biggest change especially for the African Americans and all other minority groups in the United States as well with regard to masculinity came after the revolution and he civil wars. The black people fresh from slavery embarked on a series of ways that would later redefine them and their general view on masculinity in general. Initially the African Americans and the other slaves as well could parade their masculinity in the public domain for fear of violence or even eventual death in some instances. As discussed in Thompson Craig’s book, southern masculinity. For enslaved men, of course, any attempts to demonstrate public masculinity had been met with physical and psychic violence meant to emasculate them; still, they had been aware, as had white southerners, of need to publicly demonstrate manliness (Thompson. C. F, 2009).

The African Americans stood up to assert their manhood just like their white counter parts. Through civil disobedience the black community demonstrated their right to assert their manhood publicly without any interference. This was so given the fact that, black masculinity from the view of the African Americans was entirely different from masculinity as seen by the white people. However each race and society including the indigenous Americans in the United States has had to struggle in order to freely assert their masculinity in the public domain. Hard work and strive was essential to attain the freedom to publicly demonstrate and celebrate one’s masculinity in public, and nobody or group in the United States was an exception (Our living manhood, Rolland Murray, 2006).

United States was a colony of Britain and attained its independence in 1776 through struggle under George Washington. Ever since independence United States has engaged in a series of wars. First war was civil with the states from the south wanting to secede from the United States. This was just a tip of the ice berg. Years later the United States was involved in both the world war one and world war two. This is so even today, where United States, the former British colony is still involved in many wars fighting terrorism. In all these confrontations, the United States relied heavily on the men to win. First to drive away the British and other subsequent wars the united states has taken part in. even today the wars the united states is involved in, it relies more on the men to achieve their objectives, that is to win. War as we know it is not for the faint hearted. It requires perseverance and courage. That was the burden bestowed upon the sons of the nation to free and secure the nation from British tyranny and also protect the countries interests. This continues even in the present day. Though there are women in the military, the number is significantly low compared to the male counter parts. Besides heavy combat is reserved for the men. There is no other to show masculinity in the United States without showing the bravery of the men in the wars. A man’s masculinity contributes to his exploits in the fields of military, science, literature, etc. (Kimmel, 2006).

Between 1609 and 1776 when United States become independent a lot of things happened that will later define the nation and the people as well. There is no time anywhere when masculinity could have been demonstrated more. During this period, Britain invaded a number of nations the United States being one of them. At the time, Britain heavily employed slave trade and labor. Many people were shipped from as far as Africa to work in the England subject that would later become the United States of America. At the time the slaves were forced to do hard labor, sometimes without resting or even food. The people who were mainly involved in these hard tasks were the men who were and still are perceived stronger than the women. At the time the women were not exposed to any element of hard labor. This was an exploit of the men. It is during this period that the men stood up to the tyranny employed by their colonizers and said enough was enough. This followed a fight of a life time, that later saw the United States become independent. The men were involved in this war and other wars to protect the nation because that is the attribute of the men in the society. Men should protect the women and not the other way around. It is more of common sense than a matter of law. That is how it was and it will always be. The women had their own distinct roles. The masculinity we are looking at here is in relation to the events and actions that defined the men at the time.

The land on which New York sits was first surveyed by Giovanni in 1524. However the land was taken over for subsequent settlement by the Dutch in 1613. It was later to become a Dutch colony. It was named the New Netherlands. In a span of ten years the Dutch acquired more colonies like the Albany. However the picnic of the Dutch was short lived, because the British came knocking in 1630. After a struggle, the Dutch sensing defeat surrendered and the British took over. Later the British divided New Netherlands into colonies of New York and New Amsterdam. After the triumph the British gained complete control of the place which would later prove not to be a bed of roses. This is because years later the British would be driven out by the people who were fighting for their freedom. With the emergence of colonial rule came the segregation of people into two classes these were the elite who comprised of the ruling class and the others were the lower class citizens. Each of these classes had the values that defined masculinity. For the elite it was all about power and governing the colonies, coupled with respect from other people. This was masculinity from their own perspective. On the other hand, the lower class citizens, the men would look after their families by providing food and protection. As a result the poor citizens had to posses’ weapons at the time. This is what defined a man. Whoever who did not fulfill the above conditions was not worth being called a man (United States history time line).

The ruling elite of the superior class were oppressive and did not want to acknowledge the masculinity of the low class citizens who were mainly poor. This later led to a confrontation in 1676. This conflict was named the Bacon’s rebellion. This was mostly about ego, where each wanted recognition and acceptance of their masculinity. This eventually was resolved but worked out largely in favor of the low class. The result was a compromise among the two warring classes. They all agreed to the validity of their different views on masculinity. This meant that the low class citizens could go about their daily lives doing whatever they considered necessary to be counted as a man. They were allowed to own weapons as this was the key definition of manhood at the time. However regarding the values that defined white masculinity, legislation was passed ensuring that slaves and the black people who were free could not have the privileges.

These privileges involved the right to have arms, interaction with white women and even property ownership. These sorts of privileges defined masculinity among the white and the ruling elite, but were not to be accorded to the slaves and people of black community. This served to elevated race as a way of defining masculinity. During the British colonial rule, the Americans were enslaved and denied basic freedom. This was later to be practiced by the Americans on the slaves especially from Africa. Denial of freedom on another man is same as denying the man masculinity (United States history time line & Exploring masculinity in the United States and Japan by Susan Sims, 2009).

After the revolution that pitted class against class, the values that defined masculinity became universal among the white community. The values that defined masculinity among the ruling elite and the poor that is the low class citizens were same across the board. Top on the values was freedom to all individuals. Freedom was the most fundamental of all. This is because it allowed the people to go about their daily lives without having to answer to anybody. It goes without saying, freedom is paramount for any particular individual to consider himself emancipated and hence declare masculinity. The other values were the right to own property, posses’ arms, protect and provide for the family. The possession of arms was to ensure ones family was safe. Even in today’s society, if you cannot protect your family from harm you are not worth of the title head of family or man of the home.

Security to the family is without question the responsibility of the man and thus it defines masculinity not just in the United States in the 17th century but also all over the world, even in the modern day society. Food for the family is another role that defines the man in the society. Food is in the same platform as security. A man in the society in the 17th century and even now in the 21st century must ensure the family is well nourished otherwise the title man is not deserved. These simple values defined masculinity then and they still define masculinity now and they will always act as a reference for the definition and determination of masculinity in the society and whole world at large (History of manhood in America, 1750 - 1940).

Now that race as a basis for defining masculinity was out of the picture, another way came up. This is violence. For a long time violence was used to show and assert masculinity in the society in the 1635 and subsequent years. The use of violence to define masculinity is evident even the modern day society. For most boys growing up, fighting is the ultimate measure of a man, so they believe. It is not uncommon to hear of grownups squaring it out is public places such as bars. Some of these actions have led to dire consequence. But what do they say as an excuse, simple boys will be boys. This is an apparent endorsement of actions men undertake to assert masculinity. In Virginia, the men had to posses’ weapons, with guns as a must for security. This was because of the increasing nature of violence from Indians and other colonials.

For some reason, they came to believe that violence was the only way to assert masculinity. However violence was not just used by the poor low class citizens. The colonial masters, which are the British, also employed violence to bring law and order. This also added to their values which they considered defined masculinity. The violence later took a different turn in the subsequent years. With violence increasingly becoming popular as a way of asserting masculinity, the people too adopted it as a way to free themselves from tyranny. This later paid off in the years to come as the colonial masters had no other choice other than to back down. Ever since, violence in some places is the key value and definition of masculinity (Black masculinity and the U.S south, Riche. R).

While the colonial masters, the white dominant people and the ruling elite used violence as the essential eleement of masculinity at the time, the African Americans and even some other slaves employed intimidation and limitation of public space. The north and the south was also a major issue, as the people from the north and south could not see eye to eye. This led to numerous confrontations. Demonstrations and standing up to the white people was in itself a show of masculinity as it required guts to even think of challenging what the white person said. This mostly affected the black people as most of them were slaves. Besides discrimination based on skin color was at its pick. Black people were not seen as human beings and hence could not enjoy any basic rights enjoyed by the white people. So at that point in time, standing up and challenging the white person could mean dire consequences, death being the most probable. This meant for any black man to even dare to purport to as much as disobey a white person, it was no doubt a demonstration of courage and that was the element of masculinity (Black masculinity and the U.S south, Richie. R).

Apart from violence which did not work well for the colonial masters. A new way of showing masculinity was lurking in the dark. This was authority. The men asserted authority on their wives. This was not a new thing; it had been there, only that nobody paid attention to. The authority in the house hold was exercised by the men, and was hence value that contributed to the masculinity of the man in the house hold and society. In spite of whether the, man provided for the family or not, he still was the head of the house hold and hence the all authority was bestowed upon him. Authority was not channeled to the households, but also the slaves as well. During the 17th century, the rich could go and buy slaves who would work for them. On the slaves the owner had the complete authority over them. The other key area where authority was dominant was the labor sector, notably in the plantations, where majority of the slaves were put to work day in day out. The place was assigned one person from among the ruling elite to govern all the operations of the slaves as they did hard labor. This is the point where the colonial masters asserted their authority. At the plantations assertion of authority was more dominant than violence as an expression of masculinity. At the time Christianity was spreading in earnest, however even with the evangelism in place the white power still exercised their power on the slaves and the black people. This was an essential attribute of masculinity among the white people (The making of men: Masculinities, sexualities, and schooling, Mac an Ghail. M).

Sporting was the other battle ground for the show of masculinity at the time. Though sports was not the most popular way of parading masculinity at the time, it did bring the tussle if masculinity to the scrutiny to the public domain. The fact that sports was and still is dominated mostly by men is the other fact that raised the stakes even higher. Sports proved to be one of the only elements that defined masculinity regardless of which society an individual hailed from. Also sports as a measure of masculinity put the competitors in the same platform. This resulted to fierce competition among the men which will later define masculinity for many years to come. In the 17th century sporting activities were reserved to the elite in the society, these comprised of a small population, which were mostly the colonial masters and the white people. However as the competition intensified, the players and competitors felt the urge to diversify in terms of recruiting more and better players in order to outdo each other in the sporting sector. This opened the door to other people including the African Americans, who were not allowed to take part initially. This elevated the public show of masculinity and took it to a whole new level.

With the introduction of Christianity the elements that defined masculinity slowly started changing. Most of the people started abandoning violence and oppression as a way of asserting masculinity. Modesty came along, coupled with respect for one another. However this was more of an attribute of femininity rather than masculinity. This approach brought the sense of treating women gently. This had the effect of partially eroding the attribute of authority especially in the households. Rather than assert their authority the men slowly, started to acknowledge and appreciate their wives instead of mistreating them, just to assert their masculinity in the households. The values of masculinity started being influenced and shaped by society in general. All the people wanted to be the figure heads in the communities from which they hailed from. This was also regarded as an attribute of masculinity. In light of this, most people who owned slaves decided to abandon the act as it was not acceptable in the Christian community. This is because most of the people who employed slave labor were enlightened by the emergence of evangelism. Coming to terms with the plight of the slaves, the people who plied on the trade realized that it was not an attribute of masculinity as they so thought.

In the year 1776, the United States declared independence. After a long struggle with the European nations, the new America was to be discovered under self rule. This was due to the resilience of the people of the United States, notably the men of the nation who stood up to defend the honor of the nation and also to protect the sovereignty of the nation as well. The factors that enabled the Americans to triumph over the British were not just strength and bravery. It all had to do with the shrewd and clever nature of the leaders involved in the struggle, one is George Washington. Looking at the situation at the time of the confrontation, mere strength and bravery had no chance against the British who were extremely well equipped. The people then employed all the tricks in the book in order to triumph and subsequent expulsion of the British from their territory the British. This brings to the surface the other key element that defined masculinity especially the few days before independence.

These traits are shrewdness, coupled with the clever nature of the leaders of the struggling citizens at the time. At that point in time assertion of masculinity was all about winning battles. If you could not win the title man was not in order. There is no doubt what so ever that winning battles in the 17th century and even now requires more than weapons and bravery. Top on the list is brain work in making the well calculated moves essential in order to win over the enemy. It goes without question, an army that comprises of dumb people cannot win a war regardless of how sophisticated their weapons are or the number of soldiers they have at their disposal. During the war, shrewdness, a clever and skimming mind were the ultimate measures of masculinity (United States history time line).

Conclusion

World over, masculinity evolution is no doubt phenomenon. Masculinity as it was in the 17th century is not exactly the same as we see it today. However there is no denying the fact that some of the elements that defined masculinity in the 17th century still have a strong influence on the perceptions of masculinity. Just like it was in the 17th and 18th century, masculinity differs from one person to another. Even class plays a significant role in the definition of masculinity. The views of a given class of people on masculinity are different in many aspects. The elements essential to determination of masculinity depend on which side of the divide an individual belongs to. But one thing is acceptable to all regardless of the point of view held by people.

That is the man is the leader. Being a leader brings with it many issues to the table. As the leader people both in the house hold and society look up to you to show the way and many other traits that are expected from a leader. This attribute was essential in the 17th century, it is vital now in our society, and it will always be paramount to the assertion of masculinity in the household and society as well.

As demonstrated above, the definition of masculinity was largely dependent on the position the individual was in. This is the main reason why the different people from different backgrounds and cultures, each had their own versions of what entailed and determined masculinity in the society. There are many things that have changed significantly since the 17th century as regards the issue of masculinity. The change we are looking at is no doubt the positive change that all the people at the time could not anticipate. This is no shelving aside the fact that, some elements of the 17th century exist today. But it is worth noting that even these elements are few and especially cases of isolated nature. The measure of masculinity is more universal than it was in the 17th century. This is so because what constitutes masculinity today is almost the same across the board for all most of the people regardless of the region the people come from. This serves the purpose of uniting the world more often than not. It also gives the people a chance to know and acknowledge each other’s right to assert masculinity in the society.

Masculinity in the society was there for as long as our history goes back in time, masculinity is very much rife in our society today and forever it will be in the years to come. However in the modern day society masculinity is facing stiff competition from femininity, which has no doubt stolen the limelight. As femininity takes center stage, masculinity has been pushed aside as the men stare confused and sometimes cheer on femininity. Femininity has no doubt brought the equality of the two genders almost to an equal footing. However a lot needs to be done to ensure that the women, femininity is able to completely overshadow masculinity. Attribute which defined masculinity 200 years ago; have been taken up by women. For instance in the house hold level, it is no surprise to find that the woman is the bread winner of the family. This clearly was not the case; it is a complete reversal of roles, when compared to the 17th century. The reversal of roles and subsequent abandonment of masculinity attributes by men is influenced by a number of factors; top on the list is the empowerment and sensitization of the women. The harsh realities of life both economically and socially are other factors. Given the nature of the society we live in encourages competition regardless of gender, nobody can afford to sit and just let an opportunity slip by just because it suitable for the other gender. People do almost everything with total disregard of gender. That is what it takes to pull it off in this society that only rewards winners.

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