As a sex, sexuality, and gender focused scholar in the humanities graduate program at ODU—with backgrounds in art, art history, and a B.A. in English literature—bodylore as a discipline combines many related fields of study that have been kept divided within the academy for me. Particularly focusing on masculinities and queer representations through cultural criticism and media studies in my research, the body is a harmonizing locus of inquiry that highlights issues of identity, knowledge, power, and discourse.
Within English, the primary discipline that informs my work, sex and gender discourses are anchored in feminist thought and women’s studies, which also colors their usage of queer theory as stemming from feminism. With this as my background, I’ve begun to feel unmoored by the representational divide in sexes between the faculty and who teaches what (at O.D.U. and in academia more broadly), with male professors largely not teaching gender within women’s (or queer) studies (as they are combined in many departments), and hence female professors spend less time on masculinity construction in women’s studies classrooms.
From the standpoint as a cis-white gay male, I feel divided between the two. It appears masculinity gets discussed more in media/communications and cultural criticism, but my academic upbringing and queer solidarity pull me to a broader feminist methodology in research. While the two are in communication and alliances are strong, the divide between them still separates the students who will be receiving the messages. Male students will be more likely to go into other disciplines for gender scholarship and female students will pull more towards women’s studies. While not wanting to supplant, erase, or denigrate the importance of holding women’s studies as a prominent discipline within academia, naming conventions could perhaps be adapted in the twenty-first century to include women’s and gender studies. I believe it is important to keep feminism as the lead in gender scholarship, as that work has allowed queer and masculinity studies to exist, but in light of new work by gender non binary and trans- scholars who challenge any notion of fixed gender or sexual divides, these schisms within disciplines and representations I hope will become more porous, and perhaps this whole article moot (Halberstam 126).
For the larger public, masculinity studies is more discredited than women’s studies, as those with power (relying on masculinity constructions and institutions) have the means to attack, belittle, discredit with more protections and impunity—which is why work from this standpoint is all the more crucial. Questions a study of the body can address as we move further into the twenty-first century will focus on: the medicalization and treatment received by different bodies, robotic automation and A.I. identity (how autonomous robots will respond/react to human bodies, and/within public spaces), ethics/humanities in STEM fields, questions around law and order (police body cams, courtroom artists versus increased camera presences), and international politics are all being shaped by body politics today; it used to be impossible to imagine that threats of thermo-nuclear war could begin by fat shaming another international leader through Twitter (Trump 2017). These difficult questions would best be addressed by all fields in gender studies working together in collaboration and for mutual benefit.
For further scholars implementing this approach towards the male and masculinity within gender and body studies, see:
- Steve Neale’s “Masculinity and Spectacle: Reflections on Men and Mainstream Cinema,” which builds off Laura Mulvey’s work in feminist film theory (Mulvey 1975). He seeks to:
[L]ook in particular at identification, looking and spectacle as [Mulvey] has discussed them and to pose some questions as to how her remarks apply directly or indirectly to images of men, on the one hand, and to the male spectator on the other [. . .] to open a space within the framework of her arguments and remarks for a consideration of the representation of masculinity (Neal 4).
- Sociologists Gill, Henwood, and Mclean in their article (2005) “Body Projects and the Regulation of Normative Masculinity,” cite that significant changes have occurred in male body representation, going from “near invisibility to hypervisibility in the course of a decade. The change is regarded as so significant that a number of anxieties have been raised about its impact on men (particularly boys and young men)” (Gill, Henwood, and Mclean 39).
Halberstam, Judith. “F2M: The Making Of Female Masculinity.” The Lesbian Postmodern, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. 126–133.
@realDonaldTrump. “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!” Twitter, Nov. 2017, 4:48 p.m., twitter.com/ /status/929511061954297857.
Bordo, Susan. “Reading the Slender Body,” Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western culture, and The Body. Uni. of California Press, 2004. 185–212.
Gill, Rosalind, Karen Henwood, and Carl McLean. “Body Projects and the Regulation of Normative Masculinity,” Body & Society. 11.1 (2005): 37-62.
hooks, bell. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. Simon and Schuster, 2004.
Kasson, John F. Houdini, Tarzan, and The Perfect Man: The White Male Body and The Challenge of Modernity in America. Macmillan, 2001.
McIntosh, Jonathan. “What is Toxic Masculinity?” YouTube, uploaded by Pop Culture Detective, Aug 1, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gha3kEECqUk.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema,” Screen. 16.3 (1975): 6–18.
Steve, Neale. “Masculinity as Spectacle: Reflections on Men and Mainstream Cinema,” Screen. 23.3 (1982): 2-14.
NW is a graduate student at Old Dominion University’s Institute for the Humanities. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, and a minor in studio arts from ODU with concentrations in art history, graphic design, and linguistics. In his scholarship, he is interested in body, gender, sex, and sexuality studies — focusing on the masculine body — as applied to American media and cultural studies. Nathan has interests in digital humanities scholarship, and loves good puns.