How Can Men Reject the Harmful Norms of the U.S. Masculine Ideal by Acting “Mean”? The Answer May Surprise you.

The Project:
(Draft version as of 3/31/14. Do not quote or cite without permission)

Abstract: Hegemonic masculinity is the dominant and ideal masculinity within a gender hierarchy.  In the U.S., hegemonic masculinity is white, Christian, heterosexual, and upper-class. This Hegemonic masculinity is characterized by aggressiveness, lack of emotion, denigration of others, and wealthy and powerful status.

Hegemonic masculinity not only affects how one treats a certain gender or racial group, but it also affects how one treats oneself. I argue that hegemonic masculinity causes self-inflicted harm. This gives men personal reasons to resist. Because hegemonic masculinity is not one person or institution but an ideal and norm, effective resistance will come through resisting the norm, an act I refer to as queering. As opposed to suggesting that men should queer by “acting like a woman”, I believe it is important to find a mode of resistance not grounded in essentialism.

Therefore, I argue that men queer through a cultivation of human virtues; they should “act mean”, in Aristotle’s sense. For Aristotle, virtuous living is the mean between two extremes: excess and deficiency. For example, servility is a deficiency, cantankerousness is an excess, but friendliness is the mean, the virtue we ought to strive for. I will argue that human virtue or the doctrine of the mean is opposed to hegemonic masculinity. Not only is it possible for men to queer through a cultivation of human virtues, but the rhetoric of “cultivation of virtues” doesn’t slur the feminine. While queering through a cultivation of virtues might sound like a politics of respectability, it turns respectability on its head by debunking stereotypes and resisting hegemonic masculine norms.

Hegemonic Masculinity In The News
The Macho Paradox (ELLE)
Masculinity Means Protecting the Planet (NPR)
Elliot Rodger, Misogyny and Murder (PolicyMic)
The Unbearable Invisibility of White Masculinity, David Leonard (Gawker)
Elliot Rodger’s Shooting Spree: further proof that misogyny kills, Jessica Valenti (The Guardian)


Upcoming Events:
To invite Myisha Cherry to give this talk at your school or organization, send an email to mcherr4 at [uic] dot edu. 50 minute presentation with Q&A.

Additional Resources:

The Mask You Live In
Question Bridge
Man Up! What Does It Mean to Be A Man in the New Millennium?
Jay Smooth on Young Black Men and Respectability
Mark Anthony Neal on “Looking For Leroy” (NPR)
I Am A Man: Black Masculinity In America
Masculinity as Homophobia (M. Kimmel)