Intersections with class, race, age and sexuality

Normative masculinity is often presented as middle class and class differences are often exaggerated. For example, upper class masculinity is often seen as compromised (the effete toff), comical (the upper class twit) or decadent (as seen in the popular ITV series Downton Abbey, for example). Working class masculinity is often seen as threatening, as in documentary series on working class people, the mass media obsession with the football hooligan, and depictions of the white supremacist and the ‘chav’[190]. In cinema the gangster was a working class hero in the 1930s but by the 1940s, with the introduction of the production code and film censorship, he became a villain and the hero became the policeman.

Race and ethnicity are complex issues in and of themselves. Non white masculinities are almost always ‘othered’ across media, drawing on stereotypes that are linked to colonial ideas about the Orient and assumptions about other continents. Common examples include the hyperpotent black male as represented in popular music culture, the athletic black men, the black man as a comedy figure who is presented as an ‘acceptable’ face of black masculinity for white audiences, and the wise black man who exists in films to help the white male protagonist on his journey[191]. There is also the Latin lover, a form of a masculinity that is usually depicted as highly sexualized (and therefore threatening) but also as suspect in that it is effete, narcissistic and ultimately self serving. This is also usually seen as a form of sexual threat because it responds to female desire and thereby acknowledges the existence of female desire. Representations of ‘Eastern’ masculinity, whether that be Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, or the Far East) have in common the fact that masculinity is often tied into a threatening and avowedly ‘alien’ sexuality[192].

Representations that link masculinity to life stages tend to be structured around a trajectory moving from rebellion to crisis to resignation. In the 1940s and 1950s representations of youthful rebellion often romanticized the potential threat of juvenile delinquency – for example, in Rebel Without a Cause. In more recent times this ‘rebellion’ has been linked to notions of ethnicity and religion, resulting in stereotypes of religious fundamentalists (usually Islamic); almost always a young Asian male who struggles to reconcile himself with ‘Western’ (secular and consumerist) values. Middle aged masculinity is represented as linked to being bored or sexually frustrated, and coming to terms with youth being at an end. Older men tend to be associated with wisdom if this crisis has been negotiated[193].

Gay masculinity has tended to be represented in problematic ways with being gay depicted as the antithesis of being a ‘real’ man. There is an assumed association of gayness with femininity and an idea of ‘authentic’ masculinity in opposition to the ‘artifice’ of femininity[194]. Gay men have often been stereotyped as effeminate, inadequate men. In the 1970s the gay liberation movements made an active move to reject negative stereotypes and to celebrate the signs of macho masculinity. However this resulted in something of a dichotomy between representations of macho gay men (for example ‘clones’) and representations of ‘queens’ as effeminate figures. Recent years have seen increased diversity in depictions of gay masculinity. For example, in the fight for same sex marriage gay couples are often presented as being like heterosexual men, television programmes include more than one gay character, and ‘bear culture’ celebrates hirsute, larger men who reject the body consciousness and its focus on muscles, waxing, and tanning of the commercial gay ‘scene'[195].

Despite the increasing representation of diverse gay men in media, bisexual men have tended to be invisible, with bisexuality either presented as a ‘phase’ on the way to gay or straight masculinity, or doubt being cast over the very existence of bisexual men in high profile news stories[196]. One notable exception to this is the character of Captain Jack Harkness in the television series Torchwood[197]. Jack – whilst still conforming to the stereotypes of bisexual promiscuity and moral dubiousness at times – is a positive lead character.

Sexualization of men

190. Timmins, A. (2012). Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 20(1), 116-117; Jones, O. (2012). Chav: The Demonization of the Working Class. London: Verso.
191. Glenn, C. L. & Cunningham, L. J. (2009). The Power of Black Magic; The Magical Negro and White Salvation in Film. Journal of Black Studies, 40(2), 135-152.
192. Powrie, P., Davies, A., & Babington, B. (Eds.) (2004). The Trouble with Men: Masculinities in European and Hollywood Cinema. London & New York: Wallflower Press.
193. Pomerance, M. & Gateward, F. K. (Eds.) (2005). Where the Boys Are: Cinemas of Masculinity and Youth. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
194. Gough, B. & Edwards, G. (1998), The beer talking: Four lads, a carry out and the reproduction of masculinities. The Sociological Review, 46(3), 409-435.
195. Edwards, T. (2002). Erotics and Politics: Gay Male Sexuality, Masculinity and Feminism. New York: Routledge.
196. Barker, M., Richards, C., Jones, R., Bowes-Catton, H. & Plowman, T. (2012). The Bisexuality Report: Bisexual inclusion in LGBT equality and diversity. Milton Keynes: The Open University, Centre for Citizenship, Identity and Governance.
197. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Harkness

Sexualization of men