Masculine Style: What Cowboy Masculinity Tells Us About Our Material Selves

Cover of Daniel Worden's Masculine Style: The American West and Literary Modernismby Jonathan Alexandratos

A quick search on a particular, massive online bookselling site yields numerous texts that discuss cowboy masculinity. Some do it by examining the “high art” of Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, etc. Others use “low art” – John Wayne films, dime novels – as their starting point.

Daniel Worden’s Masculine Style: The American West and Literary Modernism, however, uses both. In a brief-but-pertinent 178 pages (excluding his bibliography and index), Worden summons, more-or-less chronologically, T. Roosevelt, Nat Love, Cather, Hemingway and Steinbeck, as well as Anthony Comstock, Edward S. Ellis, and Edward L. Wheeler (all dime Western novelists) to support his claim that masculinity, in Western (meaning, here “of the American West”) modernist literature, is a performance, not a biological assignment. To Worden, a character’s ability to participate in the culture of masculinity relies on how well he can wear its costume and conform to its established traditions.

“Masculinity is not a thing but a history,” begins Masculine Style. With this opening statement, Worden is able to do two things: (1) show that masculinity is not a tangible, static “thing” but a role that one acts, and that (2) this view is supported by various historical mile markers, starting in the late 1800s and going through the Cold War. Read more

Posted on by Jonathan Alexandratos in Pop Culture 1 Comment

Don’t Buy Into Shame Culture

Photo of spray-painted word "shame" on a wallby Matilda Branson

When we talk about gender issues and gender roles, a recurring theme of gender debates is shame. A victim of sexual assault is blamed and shamed for wearing too short a skirt or walking alone down a dark alley drunk. A football player is scorned by teammates or fans as a “pussy”, for not being manly enough.  People of all genders are shamed in different ways for not conforming to overarching gender norms and expectations.

But why do we feel ashamed? When shamed, why do we feel this overwhelming emotion that is not only uncomfortable, humiliating and embarrassing, but an emotion that wounds a person to the core? What is shame?

Shame is a very powerful and public emotion. The common ancestor of Germanic derivations of shame is skamo and it is thought to mean “to cover”, somewhat fitting in that the natural expression of shame is said to be covering oneself, either literally or figuratively. Hence shame, when it remains covered, or hidden, can be coped with – it is when shame is uncovered – is seen in the public sphere – that it becomes humiliating and disgracing. Shame operates in two ways:


  • It is a failure of recognition
  • It is recognition of failure


Firstly it is perceived failure by you, the individual, to recognize the importance of toeing the unwritten cultural boundaries, to do what is expected of you by family, friends and your community. You have overstepped the mark, and there will be recrimination/anger/hurt at what you’ve done, as the wider community recognizes your failure to abide by cultural norms and sees this as bringing your shame on your family, community or society. When people say, “He’s/she’s got no shame”, it means the individual’s behaviour is not constrained by those cultural norms.

Shame itself is not only a personal reaction to knowingly deviating from cultural norms which people invest heavily in emotionally, but it is also reliant on public discovery and condemnation to have power.

It’s a not-so-funny thing, this shame business. It’s a state of anxiety, a loss of control and even identity. If you’re associated with shame, then the way in which you’re recognized by everyone else is not the way you want to be recognized. The carefully constructed outer image of yourself that you put on show for the public has somehow failed, and a very private part of the self is exposed because you have failed to control it. Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism, LGBT 4 Comments

Chris Brown and the Culture of Misinformation about Sexual Assault of Men and Boys

Chris Brown performing on stageby Arwen McKechnie

Trigger Warning: discussion of sexual assault, child abuse, victim-blaming.

I’m going to start this with a disclaimer – I don’t like Chris Brown. I don’t like his music and, more importantly, I think he’s a typical example of the kind of man who batters his partner.

He’s never really taken any responsibility for his brutal assault on Rihanna, and seems to feel that rather than getting a slap on the wrist by virtue of his money and success, he has been poorly treated by the media and world at large. He’s sick of talking about, he wants to move on, so why won’t the world just let him be great? It makes me sad for humanity that many people can so easily disconnect his abhorrent personality from his musical and commercial success.

So it’s a new feeling for me to have some sympathy for him, but that’s exactly what I’m feeling right now. Chris Brown effectively told a reporter for The Guardian that he was sexually abused as a child. And based on the content of his interview, he doesn’t even realize it. Sadly, it would appear that his interviewer didn’t realize it either, and that’s where my heart really does break for him.

There’s a moment when rape survivors, especially those that have been assaulted by an acquaintance or potential romantic partner, come to terms with the fact that what happened to them was sexual assault. Some people know it right from the start, but it’s more common than you might think for people to rationalize what happened to them: it was a bad date or it was a mistake, drunken or otherwise, but surely it wasn’t rape. Something went bad, something didn’t feel right, but surely it wasn’t rape. Because if it was, if it really was rape, what does that mean for them now?

This line of thought is sadly common in survivors of sexual assault. Sexual violence is more commonly experienced by women than by men, and women are taught from a very young age that their physical safety, especially their sexual safety, is their own responsibility.

So in the aftermath of a sexual assault, the litany of self-blame begins: if only I hadn’t done this, if only I hadn’t said that, why didn’t I just…, etc, etc. It’s a normal reaction to the years of social conditioning that women receive supposedly teaching them how to prevent themselves from being raped.

At the same time, while some boys and young men are actively taught to be respectful of their partners and themselves and wait for the enthusiastic “yes” rather than just the absence of a “no”, the broader narrative around male sexuality dictates that men must be patient. Men, apparently, always want sex, but must restrain their natural impulses and wait for their partners to be ready.

This myth of the super-charged male sex drive eclipses any possibility that men and young boys may not be ready for sex, may not want to have casual sex, may actually experience sexual assault. Read more

Posted on by Arwen McKechnie in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

The Dads Left Out of Father’s Day Marketing

IMG_1906by Jarrah Hodge

I want to wish a Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, but in particular, to the dads that are left out of the mainstream Father’s Day marketing. Let’s take a look at who those dads are:

Gay Dads:

How many cards do you see on the Hallmark shelves that let you send best wishes to both your moms or dads for Mother’s or Father’s day? The answer would be none. This year South Carolinian Kristiana Johnston started a petition to change that but so far the company has no plans on the books.

And if we really want to celebrate all fathers, how about taking a minute today to support gay parents’ right to marry and adopt their kids? Freedom to Marry and the Campaign for Southern Equality have put together this video about two North Carolinians who aren’t allowed to have their marriage recognized in their home state, or to adopt their four foster kids.

Read more about 8 gay families celebrating Father’s Day this year at the Freedom to Marry website.

Trans Dads:

Whether you identify as “Maddy” like Jennifer Finney Boylan, as a woman who is also a father, a man who is pregnant or has given birth, or a trans man who is parenting in any other way, Happy Father’s Day. As the author of the genderqueer Tumblr says: “These families are unique, and unique families have to be strong and loving to make it in our society.”

Dads of Colour:

Main image on for Father's Day

Main image on for Father’s Day

The lack of positive representations of dads of colour, immigrant dads and multiracial families in pop culture reinforces how we think of fathers and Father’s Day. Along with the dated ideal of masculinity we see in Father’s Day cards and advertisements comes an image of the father as white. Today on, every single Father’s Day e-card that showed a dad depicted that dad as white.

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism 1 Comment

Harper’s Gendered Attack on Justin Trudeau

Recent print attack ad against Justin Trudeau by the Conservatives.

Recent print attack ad against Justin Trudeau by the Conservatives.

by Matt Moir

Michelle Rempel rolled her eyes and paused, choosing her words carefully.

Standing in the lobby outside the House of Commons, the Conservative MP for Calgary Centre had just been informed that she had been voted Sexiest Female MP in an Ottawa newspaper’s annual poll.

“I get the opportunity to speak to a lot of women’s groups about encouraging women to run for office, and about women’s leadership issues and the number one thing I always say is women should be judged and evaluated by their merit.”

If only her boss would heed her message.

Her Conservative Party’s negative ad campaign against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau may, as some have claimed, be successfully rallying the Tory base, and thus helping the party fill its coffers. But it’s also alienating a section of the electorate vital to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chances of winning another majority government: female voters.

Trudeau’s poll numbers are overwhelmingly positive among women. A recent Harris/Decima poll found that 61% of Canadian women view Trudeau favorably, whereas Harper is viewed favorably by only 37% of women.

Some commentators attribute this support for Trudeau to the fact that women in Canada traditionally are more supportive of left-leaning politicians than conservative ones.

Others say that women are drawn to the Liberal leader’s charisma and good looks- he was, after all, voted sexiest MP in The Hill Times’ annual survey.

What shouldn’t be discounted, though – and what probably should be explored further – is that Canadian women might be able to identify with the young MP, and the nature of the personal attack ads he’s had to endure.

Immediately after Trudeau won his party’s leadership race, the Tories unleashed a torrent of ads attacking the newly minted Liberal leader. This is nothing new, of course. The Conservatives are well versed in the art of the political takedown; just ask Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. But what makes the ‘Justin’ ads different is the unseemly gender baiting aspect to them. Read more

Posted on by Matt Moir in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 1 Comment

Male Emotions in The Place Beyond the Pines

placebeyondpinesby A. Lynn. This piece was originally posted at her blog A Nerdy Feminist and is cross-posted with permission.

This weekend, I saw The Place Beyond the Pines, a drama starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendez. I will try to make my point without spoiling anything.

I’ll be honest, I went for the Gos, but I was pulled in by the story. A movie really has to be compelling to make 2.5 hours fly by, and fortunately it was. The trailer billed the film as “An exhilarating epic of fathers, sons, and consequences.” It’s very male-centric (which is fine for some movies to be, I just wish that MOST of them weren’t…) but nevertheless, it got me thinking about how sexism in our culture routinely hurts men and boys.

Let me be clear, I believe the root of all sexism in our society is tied to misogyny, and that women suffer far more negative consequences. But that doesn’t mean that men make it out unscathed. Read more

Posted on by A Lynn in Feminism, Pop Culture 1 Comment

Gender Focus Reads: Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power


by Jarrah Hodge

Every once in a while I’m asked to recommend books or other resources for men who are new to feminism and want to learn more. I usually start with bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody and follow up with Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel’s more recent and more specific book, The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. Now I have a new one to add to the list – one that really explores the diversity of issues and identities of male feminists and pro-feminists: Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power.


The 2nd edition of Shira Tarrant’s edited anthology contains 41 essays (11 new since the first edition) around six themes: Masculinity and Identity, The Politics of Sex and Love, Dealing with Violence and Abuse, Masculinity at Work and Home, Men and Feminism, and Taking Action, Making Change. The insightful, personal pieces cover a range of topics within these themes, including masculinity in hip hop culture, teaching men about violence against women, sexual harassment in the U.S. Military, the problems with the “fathers’ rights” movement, and explorations of sexuality and gender identity.

It’s hard to narrow it down, but if I had to pick my top three highlights of the book, they would be Amit Taneja’s “From Oppressor to Activist: Reflections of a Feminist Journey”, which uses a series of narrative “snapshots” to explore the author’s path to becoming a feminist as a gay, immigrant, person of colour; Jacob Anderson-Minshall on grappling with newfound privilege after transitioning from lesbian to straight white man; and C. Winter Han on fighting racism in the queer community and homophobia in anti-racist groups.

The only quibble I had with the book was Michael S. Kimmel’s intro to his essay, “Abandoning the Barricades: or How I Became a Feminist”. Overall I’m a big fan of Kimmel’s work. I already mentioned The Guy’s Guide to Feminism and Manhood in America is another must-read for anyone interested in the how our current gender roles in the West have been built through pop culture and politics. But I was a tiny bit disappointed reading his contribution to this book because he prefaces it by saying there are things in this older essay that he no longer agrees with, but doesn’t identify specifically what those are other than saying he now identifies as “pro-feminist” rather than “feminist”:

“I’ve left the text as I wrote it in 1975…I do so not because I stand behind every word I wrote more than thirty-five years ago; indeed, I would take a few things back, mute or sharpen various points, or change the language. No, I leave it the way I wrote it not because I stand behind every single word, but because I still stand with the young man who first wrote them.”

I felt like that was kind of a cop-out because it forced me as someone who has a lot of respect for Kimmel to give him the benefit of the doubt on things I disagreed with (it was mostly the overall slightly self-righteous and condescending tone I objected to, such as when he talks about feeling “angry at the men and protective toward the women” watching harassment in his college dorm). I would’ve appreciated more clarity on what he would and wouldn’t stand by so I didn’t just have to assume. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor point.

Back to the big picture: there are big questions about the appropriate roles for men in feminism and Tarrant identifies some of these in her intros to the various sections. For example, in the intro to the part on Men and Feminism, Tarrant writes:

“The puzzle is this: How can we (a) make room in feminism to account for men as “our comrades in struggle,” while (b) retaining a central focus on women, yet (c) avoid reinscribing the gender binaries that feminism-as-female invokes?” Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Books, Feminism 1 Comment