Multiple Masculinities: The Postmodern Emperor’s New Clothes

Gaia Charis’ article, Multiple Masculinities: The Postmodern Emperor’s New Clothes is now available on her website, which outlines her argument for the illusory nature of masculinity (and multiple masculinities, in particular). Gaia spends some time towards the end of the essay referring both to Numen, Old Men and The Masculinity Conspiracy, and how I allegedly perpetuate a number of problems about the lack of definition around masculinity in its academic study:

Gelfer’s answer to this question is both astonishing and depressing. He is standing here on the edge of the chasm that was once just a faultline in Connell’s definitional thinking. Over two decades that faultline has widened to the point that any given masculine multiplicity could both logically, theoretically and empirically embody ascribed ‘femininity’, as exemplified in Queer perspectives and specifically in the work of Judith Butler that Gelfer cites. The conclusionary void that Gelfer is staring into here is, in fact, the complete illusion of gender and particularly, as I will argue in the next section of this essay, the illusion of masculinity that is sustained by the quintessential defining of it as not-feminine. But it is a void that he chooses not to face and instead of naming what he sees he steps backwards into the false security of that illusion.

In a lot of ways, I agree with Gaia: gender is an illusion. But I would reject the claim that I step back “into the false security of that illusion”. Rather, I step back into the common perception of that illusion (which is basically the same as the “conspiracy”), as this is the site of power imbalance that requires challenging if we are to achieve transformation.

Certainly, defining what exists after the illusion of gender is revealed is important, but the vast majority of people are so embedded in the illusion that I believe they simply could not accommodate the meaning of such a revelation (were it ever successfully articulated). To achieve transformation, it is necessary to speak in the language (albeit stretching it) of those we seek to transform, thus the perpetuation of the language around masculinity, even if it is ultimately illusory.

Referring to the stretching of the meaning of multiple masculinities, Gaia concludes this first part of her essay with the claim that “the problem for the outside observer is that, from Connell all the way to Gelfer, we never found out what it was that was being stretched in the first place”. I’m not sure this is as mysterious as she suggests. What is being stretched (and in doing so, problematised) is the normative understanding of a singular masculinity that is commonly perceived to be biologically innate in and appropriate for men (sex role theory), and the power imbalances that have resulted through this in the form of patriarchy.

I find it rather ironic being lumped in with “the postmodern emperor’s new clothes” (despite the fact that relative to “genuine” academic theorising, my work is extremely light)—with all the lack of praxis that implies—when it is precisely a concern for engaging in the “real” (or at least commonly perceived) world that underpins my strategy. Would it not be the call to gender being devoid of meaning that is ultimately more postmodern, and therefore draped in the emperor’s new clothes? 😉

6 thoughts on “Multiple Masculinities: The Postmodern Emperor’s New Clothes

    1. You’re most welcome: as long as it is sustainable for me to do so, I am happy to invest time in responding to anyone who has invested time in responding to me.

    1. You refer to my “presumptive paternalism” over those I “seek to transform”. You also say “Personally, I don’t seek to transform anyone. I don’t believe I have that right, and further, I think an assumption of that right is both arrogant and dangerous. I believe that the role of thinkers, researchers and writers is to present their conclusions clearly and with integrity. If we have managed to extrapolate some ‘truth’ I do not believe it is acceptable to coat that truth with ‘untruth’ to manipulate its palatability.”

      Hey, look, I don’t apologise for wanting to transform anything or anyone. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I *do* have a better way than the status quo, and I’m not worried about stating it, or communicating it in any way that I believe (based on my skill as a writer and editor) is effective.

      I am not concerned about “presumptive paternalism”. I have my opinions and present them freely: I have the right to pitch my ideas, and anyone who cares to read has the right to accept or reject them. I do not claim to be a “leader” of any sort, but equally I am happy to adopt that role if it is asked of me. I’ve probably got a few good decades left to do something useful: I’m not going to waste them worrying about appearing paternalistic when, through a constant process of anxious self-analysis, I know the true nature of my intentionality and goals.

      That said, I welcome your criticism as a useful variable in the mix as these ideas continue to evolve 🙂

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