I have decided to talk about some of my favorite books about men and masculinity, the books that have shaped my viewpoints on what it is to be a masculist.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahuinick is, of course, the classic of alienated twentysomething white-boy masculinity. It’s a very incisive portrayal of the emptiness within success object masculinity (the Narrator), violent and destructive hypermasculinity (Tyler) and even Sensitive New Age Guy masculinity (Remaining Men Together). Ultimately, all of them, even the most prestigious or badass, turn out to be hollow, because as it turns out being a stereotype of masculinity is not a substitute for being a person. Entire gender studies dissertations can, and have been, written on this damn novel.
From a gender egalitarian perspective, I absolutely love the portrayal of Marla Singer. Despite the sexist narrator who essentially treats her as an objectified vehicle of homosocial competition with Tyler, Marla clearly has agency. The glimpses we get of her past are fascinating. That is how you write a damn female character, people. Also, Fight Club is really fun to read, so there’s that.
Shira Tarrant’s Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power is my favorite anthology of feminist thought about men and masculinity. True, there’s not much competition for the title, but this is definitely one of my favorites. Yes, there are some extremely problematic essays (I think my least favorite is either Robert Jensen’s or an extremely gender essentialist “humorous” piece about the perils of feminist dating). However, all of the essays are extremely thought-provoking, even if the thought in question is, in fact, OMGWTFBBQ.
One of the things I liked most about the collection was the obvious effort put into finding a diversity of perspectives. Intersectional issues were clearly covered: classism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc. Conventionally masculine men talk about the synthesis between their masculinity and their feminism; conventionally unmasculine men discuss the struggles of growing up “sissies.” The essays are on topics ranging from surviving sexual assault as a man to being a man in a women’s studies classroom. It’s a really excellent introduction to some intelligent thinkers about masculinity.
bell hooks… well, just read everything by bell hooks. Feminism from Margin to Center, Feminism is for Everybody, All About Love: New Visions, Ain’t I A Woman: Black Woman and Feminism… bell is really a remarkably good feminist thinker, insofar as she mostly refrains from saying really stupid shit, a talent rare among the feminist cognoscenti. (Someone really does need to teach her the word “kyriarchy,” though, because “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” is a hell of a mouthful.)
However, for masculist purposes, I think her best work is We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. With her usual sensitivity and insight, bell considers the intersection of gender and race. She talks about the kyriarchy’s dehumanization and domination of black men, and the way it keeps them from becoming full human beings. I particularly like the chapters on the abuse of black boys and her recognition of the fact that many abusers have been abused themselves, and the passages that discuss the relationship between the myth of men as a success object and the economic reality that black women tend to succeed more than black men.
So, what books influenced your gender egalitarianism and thoughts on masculinity? What would you recommend other people looking for masculist insight read?