Howard Chiang

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					Howard Chiang
History 245gm
Lois Banner
November 12, 2002

                 American Hegemonic Masculinity in 1890-1950s

    Feminism grew out of American patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity. Despite the

American male-driven system, people in America are borne with either one of the two

different biological sexes: male or female. Once they enter society, their sexes

become their gender, and they are to fulfill certain gender expectations and gender

roles. These gender expectations posed by society are simply the following: men are

supposed to be masculine while women are supposed to be feminine. The different

gender roles between man and woman (such as the notion of “separate spheres”)

result in gender inequality, and feminism‟s ultimate goal is to overcome that.

Moreover, the two different genders alone result in different sexualities. In

defining male gender, Americans identify masculinity with strength and force. More

specifically, the term “hegemonic masculinity” was introduced to exemplify how male

gender should function in American society. In fact, the heterosexual orientation

was embedded in that term and implied by it. Psychologists Robert Branon defined

hegemonic masculinity as a term that includes four parts: “(1) never do or say

anything that remotely suggest femininity; (2) accept a drive for power, success,

wealth, and status as one‟s primary goal; (3) never show emotions; (4) exude an

aura of manly daring and aggression” (Banner, “Supplement”, 2). In American history,

hegemonic masculinity successfully shaped America‟s patriarchal system. In fact,

hegemonic masculinity was idealized at the turn of the twentieth century (e.g.,

1890) and throughout the two World Wars, and it was prolonged into the 1950s.

Hegemonic masculinity functioned prosperously in the discussions of primitive

culture, sexual orientation, and images of women and men in America.

    Primitive societies had always been regarded inferior to western society. Among

the five (later six) major Indian nations that the Iroquiois Confederation turned

into a political and military power on the North American continent (the “Civilized

Tribes” of the Southeast, the Plains Indians, the Northwest or Kwakiul, the

California Indians, and the Pueblo or Southwest Indians), the Pueblo Inidans was

the main nation that the anthropologist Ruth Bendict focused on her study. She

discovered that the Pueblo Indian society was based on a matrilineal and matrifocal

system. In other words, descendents in this matrilineal society were traced through
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their mothers, and after marriage in this matrifocal society, a man had to move

into the household of the maternal side. In such matrilineal culture, society was

organized around the realming matriarch. Children were raised not by their fathers

but by their maternal uncles. Therefore, the crucial male-bonding in this culture

was between the children and their uncles. In other words, the uncles were the

people who took the role of father in the western culture. Furthermore, the Pueblo

Indians was a Kin-based society: people belong to a kin with a name. The Kin-group

or Kin-name of a person was assigned through his or her mother (not father) at

birth. In response to such matrilineal, matrifocal, and kin-based society, the

American patriarchal government passed the Dawes Severalty Act (1887). By this act,

many Native Americans were forced into nuclear families and lands. In other words,

Americans believed that the ways these primitive societies functioned were

“inferior” to the ways how western male-driven culture functioned. In addition to

the female-driven system, Benedict discovered the tradition of “vision quest” in

the Pueblo Indian culture (which also flourished in other Native American cultures).

It was perceived by the Native Americans as a guide to the spiritual world, and it

could form a direct relationship between nature and human being. This mystical

experience was mostly done by males, and it suggested the notion of homosexuality

among the Indian tribes.

    The Zuni Pueblo Indian culture contained the “berdache” tradition that was

identified with homosexuality by many westerners. This tradition was often called

the “man-woman, woman-man” tradition among the Zuni. The term “berdache” was a

French term invented by explorers and missionaries in mid-nineteenth century when

they went to Native Americans and discovered men had sex with men. (Originally, the

word “berdache” derived from a word that meant “boy prostitute.”) Berdache was an

institutionalized form of cross-gender behavior that many analysts thought that

constituted a third sex. For example, a female berdache (could be called either a

“man-woman” or “woman-man” upon personal preference) would be a woman who was

biologically constructed as a female but preferred to take on a male gender role.

On the other hand, We‟wha, a well-known male berdache, was a biological male who

took on female gender role. In the Zuni culture, We‟wha could do the farming, but

he could not be a warrior like other men. As a result, after We‟wha died, he was

dressed in pant as well as a dress before his burial to identify him as a “third

sex.” Although the idea of identifying berdaches as “third sex” was prominent,
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there were many variations to the roles that the berdaches played in their society.

They could be homosexuals, transvestites, husbands of female wives, and/or wives of

other males. The outcome of such institution among the Native American tribes was

that it went underground around 1910s but remained vibrant in their society due to

the westerners‟ detestation on the berdache tradition. The hegemonic masculine

characteristic of western culture suppressed the wide acceptance of the berdache

tradition among the Indian tribes. More specifically, the homophobia of American

society oppressed such primitive culture with homosexual content.

    The homosexual subculture in primitive societies represented a different sexual

orientation from western society‟s norms. It suggested the possible existence of

sexualities other than heterosexuality. In other words, it brought America‟s

attention to a necessary investigation on homosexuality. The term “homosexuality”

was coined in the late 1860s and cleared up the notion of “romantic friendships” in

the Vicotrian era. It was invented due to three main reasons: the intense drive of

scientific classification, the rediscovery of Plato‟s dialogues, and Germany‟s

homosexuality rights movement. In the late nineteenth century, scientific

classification was the major drive of the western technological world; the western

world presented a necessity for naming and classifying everything. People believe

that it was impossible to understand something without giving it a name and thus,

an identity. As a result, the term “homosexuality” ended the notion of “romantic

friendships.” Along with the classification drive, the western world discovered a

new element that identified “homosexuality” in Plato‟s dialogues. While exploring

Plato‟s The Symposium and The Phaedrus, scholars discovered that homosexuality was

the preferred sexuality in ancient Greeks. Men were married around 31 years of age,

but they would have sex with other men prior to this. The relationship between

older men and younger boys was an idealized relationship, because this male bonding

exemplified a spiritual relationship for the ancient Greeks. Following Plato, Karl

Heinrich Ulrichs, a German gay sexologist, came up with the term “homosexuality”

(around 1868-1869) and tried to explain what it was throughout his life. His

writings reflected the Germany homosexual rights movement at his time, and he tried

to offer solutions to the problem that sodomy laws were varied from place to place

in Germany unlike America. Plato‟s dialogues and Ulrichs‟ writings were examples of

early literature that presented and started the discussion on homosexuality.

    At the turn of the twentieth century, many scholars started to study sex, and
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they were collectively called the “sexologists.” These sexologists constituted an

international sexology discourse. In some of their studies, they tried to

understand different sexual perversions, and homosexuality was often listed as one

type of sexual perversions. Among these sexologists were Richard von Krafft-Ebing,

Sigmund Freud, and Havelock Ellis. They were the three most prominent sexologists

that made huge impact on western culture‟s view on homosexuality. Krafft-Ebing was

a Viennese psychologist who worked in a mental institution. In his work,

Psychopathia Sexualis (1884), he identified many sexual perversions such as sadism,

masochism, and fetishism. Homosexuality was also identified as one of the sexual

perversions, and he argued that all homosexuality was an evolutionary degeneration.

In other words, he fundamentally argued that homosexuality was a disease. Though he

was trained as a medical doctor, Englishman Havelock Ellis never practiced medicine.

Instead, he devoted his life to the scientific study of sex, represented by his

collected works on sex Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1895). He was well known

for his discussion on “sexual inversion” (in his book Sexual Inversion). His

fundamental argument was that homosexuals invert to the other gender. For example,

a male invert would take on a female “soul” (the third sex), and a female invert

would take on a male “soul” (the fourth sex). In his terminology, homosexuality

required a person to abandon his or her biological gender completely. Krafft-Ebing

and Ellis interpreted homosexuality as a “perversion” and an “inversion

respectively. Their terminologies upheld gender difference and kept women from

stepping into the realm of masculinity.

    Sigmund Freud‟s arguments in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905)

resonated with Krafft-Ebin and Ellis in certain ways. Under the influence of

Krafft-Ebing (by being one of his students), Freud posed the idea of “polymorphous

perverse”. He argued that everyone had the potential to be perverted in every

aspect. In other words, everyone was borne bisexual rather than heterosexual. In

his conclusion, however, he contended that true maturity occurred only when a

person became heterosexual. The liberal view of Freud was that he argued for

bisexuality, and thus society should leave homosexuals alone. Te Conservative view

of Freud was that he claimed the immaturity of homosexuals, and thus homosexuality

should be destroyed in order for everyone to be “mature.” American society at the

turn of the century specifically picked up “perversion” of Krafft-Ebing,

“inversion” of Ellis, and conservative interpretation of Freud. Consequently,
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gender differences were further reinforced and heterosexuality was presented as the

representative sexuality for hegemonic masculinity. In other words, the outcome was

that notion of homophobia.

    As soon as America entered the twentieth century, it was involved in the World

War I during the 1910s. In the World War I era, America began to encounter

difficulties in the construction of homosexual identities and sexual boundaries.

America was challenged by distinguishing Christian brotherhood and sexual

perversion specifically at Newport, Rhode Island. In the spring of 1919, officers

at the Newport Naval Training Station sent a group of young enlisted men (as decoys)

into the community to investigate the homosexual activity obtaining there. These

decoys had sex with the suspected “queers” and tried to offer a definition system

to label and identify the homosexuals. However, problems arose when the navy tried

to separate the “straight” sailors (such as the decoys) from the actual queers. For

example “almost all straight sailors agreed that the effeminate members of the gang

should be labeled „queer,‟ but they disagreed about the sexual character of a

straight man who accepted the sexual advances of a queer” (Chaunsey 196). This

attempt of separation troubled navy because “while its opponents focused their

questions on the character of the decoys in particular, by doing so they implicitly

questioned the character of any man who had sex with a „pervert‟” (Chaunsey 197).

In other words, the countless other sailors came under question if a decoy was

suspected for being a pervert. To complicate this issue, Christian brotherhood came

under suspicion by trying to offer a solution for the ministers. A prominent local

Episcopal clergyman, Samuel Kent, and a Y.M.C.A. volunteer and churchman, Arthur

Leslie Green, were accused of being homosexuals. The problem was that “when the

navy and ordinary sailors labeled this behavior „effeminate‟ in the case of Green

and Ken, and further claimed that such effeminacy was a sign of sexual perversion,

they challenged the legitimacy of many Christian social workers‟ behavior”

(Chaunsey 199-200). In conclusion, America struggled in attempting to construct

sexual boundaries by offering a very strong interpretation of masculinity in the

World War I era. Hegemonic masculinity began to be perceived as not the only

ultimate solution to all social problems.

    As the revelation of homosexuality became to challenge the hegemonic

masculinity ideal, two famous anthropologists, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead,

demonstrated a sexual revolution through the discussion of homosexuality in their
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own lives. Ruth Benedict was borne in 1887 and died in 1948, and Margaret Mead was

borne in 1901 and died in 1961. They met at Barnard College in 1922 when Benedict

was a teaching assistant (graduate student) and Mead was a student. Eventually,

Benedict convinced Mead to obtain a Ph.D. degree in anthropology at Columbia

University. Their intimate relationship strongly resonated with the “romantic

friendships” popularity in the Victorian era (1760-1880). The period when Benedict

and Mead were most “sexually active” or “loved” was 1922-1927. They both fell in

love with men and women, so they were both faced with the sexual dilemma in

identifying themselves as either a homosexual or heterosexual. Their sexual dilemma

resolved in 1934 and 1935 when they published their works: Benedict published

Patterns of Culture in 1934 and Mead published Sex and Temperament in Three

Primitive Societies in 1935. Benedict believed that everyone had two sexual drives

in them: homosexuality and heterosexuality. She argued that one had to satisfy both

the homosexual drive and the heterosexual drive in order to be a fully content

person. Mead, on the other hand, contended that there should be no sex or gender

differences in society. She believed that society would function best with people

presenting “temperaments” instead of fulfilling gender roles or expectations. As a

result, if “homosexuality” was not perceived as normal, it was at least not a

problem. Both Benedict and Mead were involved in the “free love movement” of

Havelock Ellis by believing that love could reform the world (“make love not war”).

However, one criterion of the free love movement was the abandonment of jealousy.

Mead managed to overcome jealousy quite successfully, but Benedict failed to

abandon it. As a result in the early 1930s, Benedict proclaimed herself homosexual

(she further declared that homosexuality might be biological) while Mead proclaimed

herself bisexual. Although these two anthropologists were noted for their works,

their influence on the western culture‟s view on homosexuality was not as strong as

the turn-of-the-century sexologists‟. Apparently, America decided to accept the

sexologists‟ approaches on the discussion of homosexuality to maintain the

heterosexual-dominant environment and the hegemonic masculine ideal.

    Moving away from the discussion of sexual orientations, American images of

women and men in the 1920s merged as a result of World War I. Many analysts saw a

sexual revolution in the 1920s. They believed that the images of women became to

overlap with the images of men (viewing from the traditional perspective), and it

was a result of the sexual revolution. In fact, due to the rebellions of youth
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against older generation, women became more masculine. The masculine look in women

(boyish look) reflected more independence and freedom. However, feminism failed to

take root in the 1920s as a result of the rebellions of youth. Young people turned

their attention to other interests such as sexual revolution. Because “it had

limited appeal for young women” and “no movement could prosper long without

attracting younger members,” feminism began to decline (Banner, Women, 143).

Therefore, despite their masculine images, women failed to truly overcome gender

equality by the failure of feminism. In other words, their rebellions that

manifested in their images were still upholding the gender differences between them

and the hegemonic masculine men.

    The image of hegemonic masculine men diverged into two types in the 1920s as

another result of the sexual revolution. While the old tough masculinity still

remained through the 1920s, a new image of masculinity called the

“flapper/gentleman” became popular. In Kevin White‟s The First Heterosexual

Revolution and F. Scott Fitzgerald‟s This Side of Paradise (1920) and Tender is the

Night (1933), the “flapper/gentleman” was presented as a soft, gentle, and not

completely muscled man. The “flapper/gentleman” loved to read Oscar Wilde (image of

homosexuality), and thus he created a sense of homoeroticism. (This model, however,

was not entirely new; it was very similar to Theodore Roosevelt‟s “dandy man.”) In

Fitzgerald‟s novels, the “flapper/gentleman” was usually confused of whom he really

was, and he was always destroyed by women. In this era of “flapper/gentleman,”

actors with such characteristic were praised and admired by the public. For example,

Douglass Fairbanks in Mark et Zorro (1920) and Rudolph Valentino in The Shiek (1921)

showed that the sexuality of men overpowers these films. This new masculinity,

“flapper/gentleman,” could also be interpreted as a result of the war and the

women‟s opinions. First, the World War I was suggested to make men more feminine by

the discovery of the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder of the returning soldiers

(“Shell-shock”). The symptoms of the “shell-shock” were similar to that of hysteria

(a psychological disease that was identified only with women), so men were

perceived to become more feminine. Second, in the early 1920s, the major (60-80%)

movie going population was women. Thus, the soften image of men was considered as

what women wanted or desired. Similar to the images of women, the change in the

images of men seemed to suggest a decline in hegemonic masculinity on the surface.

However, hegemonic masculinity functioned when men attempted to offer a new image
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like how the women did. They satisfied women‟s desires to stay in control and to

stay in power. The “flapper/gentleman” model did coexist with the old tough

masculine model, while the masculine women model was the dominant image for women.

By upholding two images at the same time, men intended to show their greatness in

power and their ability to offer variations. As a result of both the World War I

and the sexual revolution that followed the war, hegemonic masculinity seemed to

decline on the surface, but it was actually still in each man.

    As America moved towards the 1950s and away from the 1920s, the increasing

intensity of hegemonic masculinity began to display itself on the surface. Images

of women and men became more distinct as a result of the entertainment industry and

World War II. Starting with Hollywood glamour in the 1920s to 1940s, images of

women and men were idealized through Hollywood celebrities. Hollywood glamour

developed from the promotion of “white rich” ideal (“escapist”). In other words,

although the 1920s was a period of reform in sexuality, it also contained a dark

side which was the white-racists class discourse. For example, African Americans

would only be casts as servants or slaves. In the late 1920s, a new female beauty

image of exoticism called “Glamoris Garbo” was developed by Greta Garbo. Then, this

image started to associate with Hollywood women. Eventually, all women were

responsible for “glamour” look to become successful. In other words, women were

posed with the question on whether they were fulfilling the female role. Glamour

became purchasable (through cosmetics and clothing), and all successful women had

to be glamorized. Glamour eventually entered the realm of Hollywood men. Male

glamour was considered to make men more masculine. For example, Johnny Weissmuller

in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) presented the notion of “primitive masculine” in which

it suggested the natural man. In other words, men should go back in nature, and

thus, gender differences became more distinct. By making women more feminine and

men more masculine, hegemonic masculinity was embedded in the development of

Hollywood glamour.

    The Western and the Cowboy genre of the films made during World War II set a

role model for masculine images of men. The image could be traced to mythology of

the frontier: a lone man conquering nature and the Indians. The formula of such

films was a lone gunman, often a Southerner who had fought in the Civil War and

then migrated West, solved problems for cattle owners facing rustlers. The final

scene of these films involved a gun battle between the hero and the central villain.
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John Wayne was a representative actor of such genre. He, however, established a new

twist in the genre: as lone gunman now able not only to solve problems of cattlemen

facing rustlers but also the problems of an entire community menaced by outlaws.

The hero was always portrayed as silent but powerful. He would not show pain, and

he knew what was to be done. In other words, he was regarded virtuous than anyone

else. Following this model of masculinity, men were presented as the people who had

total control in society. Hegemonic masculinity was idealized in such genre and its

actors, and it was suggested to be carried out in the real world.

    Began in 1941, when Humphrey Bogart played in Maltese Falcon, another film

genre became prevalent: film noir. As suggested by its genre name, these films were

shot in black and white with dynamic contrasts. Hundreds of these films were made

between 1942 and 1958, made very fast and cheaply. In these films, universe was

depicted as corrupt. Humans engaged in sadistic, merciless behaviors, and nameless,

ubiquitous forces. These films often critique consumerism, the corporate world. The

central focus of these films was often power. Thus, these films suggest a notion of

aggressiveness in the 1940s and 1950s. The aggressive element of these films

corresponded with the hegemonic masculinity of American society. In conclusion, the

film industry strongly raised the intensity of hegemonic masculinity at the surface

level of American society throughout and after World War II.

    Finally, Arthur Miller‟s Death of a Salesman (premiered in 1949) demonstrated

the impact on the 1950s hegemonic masculinity. Before World War II, work was the

key to male identity, and the notion of the “breadwinner ethic” permeated all

classes of men. The “breadwinner ethic” meant that “a man‟s sense of self rested on

his ability to support his family” (Banner, “Supplement”, 5). Willy Loman, the main

character in the play who was a representative of the American male, failed to

fulfill the “breadwinner ethic.” During the war, women entered the work force, but

did not remain there after the war was over. After the war, its mass spending

solved the Depression, and thus 1950s was romanticized as happy families: everyone

was in a nice suburban home. Women returned to the home (with a sense of

“nurturing”), and domesticity was idealized for women. The notion of home and large

family was magnified and romanticized, so families were often seen as a happy unit.

However, this was not the case with Loman‟s family at the time when the play took

place. He was always disappointed with his eldest son, Biff, and he was always

unsatisfied with his life, if not anything. As his name suggested, “lo-man,” his
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character was always depicted in a “low” manner, and he was incapable to reach the

“breadwinner ethic.” Miller‟s play was a play about aging, family, and failures.

The failures of his two sons, both handsome, one a former football player, are a

comment on hegemonic masculinity. The failures in Miller‟s play suggested that

hegemonic masculinity functioned in the 1950s as a huge insecurity. (Cold War

started as soon as World War II ended.) And, the anxiety and fear of the 1950s

raised the discussion on the issue of communism. The House Un-American Activities

Committee was formed in 1938 to investigate communism in the government. The

committee launched the probe of Hollywood that resulted in “blacklists” of liberal

directors and actors. An actor would be blacklisted if he didn‟t name names, and no

one in the Hollywood industry would hire him. The consequences of being blacklisted

suggest that the people who were blacklisted were “guilty until proven innocent.”

The investigation of communism by the HUAAC was worth mentioning because Miller

himself was blacklisted in 1957. In the 1950s, HUAAC was also known for

investigating homosexuality, because communism was equated with perversion. Thus,

American hegemonic masculinity continued to function in the 1950s like the way it

did before the turn of the century.

    In the discussions of primitive culture, sexual orientation, and images of

women and men in America from 1890s to 1950s, hegemonic masculinity never failed to

offer explanations to certain patterns of behavior. Since 1950s, today‟s America is

still heterosexual and patriarchal. Accordingly, it is apparent that hegemonic

masculinity, along with heterosexuality, never ceases to function in America since

then. To solve this problem, feminism tries to overcome gender roles and gender

inequality, while queer theory tries to overcome inequality between different

sexual orientations by offering greater sexual freedom. It will take long before

American society recognizes that different does not mean unequal.
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                              Works Cited

Banner, Lois. Women in Modern America: A Brief History.

---.   “Background to the History of Men”.

Chauncey, George. “Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion?”.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman.

Roscoe, Will. The Zuni Man-Woman.