01: Conspiracy, Problem, Solution cont’d

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The Problem

Now, you might look at those themes I’ve outlined above—from history through to nature—and think, hang on a minute… Rest assured, I will be unpacking these themes with suitable granularity. Each chapter will start just like this one started, with a section called The Conspiracy. These sections will outline the popular understanding of the theme at hand via one or two books that perpetuate the Masculinity Conspiracy. These books are not chosen because they play some special role in the conspiracy, rather because they provide useful examples: any number of other examples could have been selected.

These sections are about presenting the conspiracy on its own terms: a fair go, as we say in Australia, before I start identifying problems. This critiquing process will happen in the second section of each chapter—just like this one—called The Problem. The goal of these sections is twofold: first, to identify problems in the conspiracy specifically to do with masculinity; second, to promote the kind of critical thinking required to identify and mitigate these problems.

We’ll get into specific examples of this in the following chapters, but the fundamental thing to be mindful of when reading is that when popular presentations of masculinity are offered in The Conspiracy sections a suggestion is made (to put it mildly) about the appropriateness of these issues for men. This is often achieved by putting a qualifying word in front of “masculinity.” For example, various forms of Christian men’s movement might speak in terms of “biblical masculinity.” The use of “biblical” here is intended to communicate that this is not some new-fangled masculinity—the like of which has resulted in today’s “crisis of masculinity”—rather, “proper” masculinity. Now let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you’re no great fan of Christianity, much less using Old Testament patriarchs as a role model for contemporary men. You might, with some justification, ask, “Why should I accept biblical masculinity as a model for men? What possible relevance can this have for me?” I hope you would ask these questions, particularly if you were a Christian.

But there’s something else going on here. The use of the term “biblical” not only suggests a “proper” masculinity, but also some kind of bottom line that cannot be further reduced or questioned. In short, it is a statement of authority. Again, if you’re no great fan of Christianity, this will come as no surprise to you, and may confirm your assumptions about Christianity and authority.

However (and it’s a BIG however), there are various other words that perform the same function here as “biblical” that may be slipping under your radar. If you have concerns about “biblical masculinity,” you should also have concerns about “real masculinity,” “genuine masculinity,” “authentic masculinity,” “archetypal masculinity,” and so on. These types of words are very common in discussions about masculinity in conservative and progressive contexts alike. But make no mistake: whenever you read such words, two things are happening. First, you are being told what masculinity should be about. Second, you are being told not to question why this is the case. Sometimes the people communicating these two messages are perfectly aware of what they are doing, other times they are not. In both cases we are witnessing the Masculinity Conspiracy at work. If you stop reading this book right now, here’s the takeaway:

  • never accept being told what masculinity should be about
  • always question why you are being told what masculinity should be about.



Written by Joseph Gelfer

April 25, 2010 at 1:32 pm

One Response

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  1. Nice and clear, not antagonistic, comes across as a helpful process of guiding the reader to a new thinking.


    April 26, 2010 at 6:48 pm

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