On (Black) Masculinity: It’s Fragile + Illusive

Harry Brod’s essay “Studying Masculinities” has some straight ahead information on teaching and understanding masculinity.

I reread it last night and was reminded of how good it is.

I am going to post excerpts below, with some comments.

On How Privileges Work

[All]Men, as do whites [men and women], have a vested interest in not asking questions about sources of privileges. Any form of oppression maintains its power by masking how it operates, making its structure as invisible as possible. To shed light on masculinity is therefore at least potentially to threaten patriarchy.

Ahhh. This why my conversations with @beautynubian are so illuminating on Twitter. We stay talking about patriarchy, gender roles and what it means to have a gendered political identity and be? going out on dates. #somuchwin.

So much of masculinity and femininity rests in asking the why people do what they do? Is it natural, taught or a combination therein?

Or we look at what is being assumed when an action is taken, ie, walking on the outside when walking down the street with a woman. Who gets to walk on the outside when TWO women are walking down the street?? #ummhmm.

On Questioning Masculinity

Quoting Michael Kimmel “…for a man to admit that he has questions about masculinity is to admit that he has failed at masculinity.”

So eloquent. Yet so direct.

On the Uselessness of? Blaming Men for Sexism

For at least some men, moving away from being personally blamed for sexism facilitates moving toward taking personal responsibility for it.? It is difficult, if not impossible, to take effective steps towards positive personal and political change if one imagines oneself thereby to be taking steps in opposition to oneself.? But if I see that my target is not myself but rather social forces and what they have done to me, I find such steps become not only possible but desirable.

I found this to be really useful, in terms of ally building. It is ONE thing to read this stuff in books.

Its another thing to be at brunch and my gentleman friend feels like I called him a four letter word because I said that he did something that was patriarchal. What he doesn’t know is that there are SOME WOMEN that I don’t care to be around because THEY are hella patriarchal. The issue isn’t whats between your legs, but your politics, whats between your ears. How you think about stuff. #ummhmm.

I like this paragraph by Brod because it gets at getting men to see the social forces at work, and not simply blaming them for being sexist. What is the benefit of doing something like that? Where is the space being created for education or transformation. There is none with blame. That doesn’t mean I’m not gonna call a negro man or woman out if they are outta pocket. But it does mean that I will open up a discussion, if the person is willing. Or leave them alone if it is taking too much work.

On Men In Masculinity (Feminist) Studies Classes

Men who are willing to question masculinity to the extent of devoting a semester to examining it therefore pose? threat to their own and other men’s power.

The act of simply being willing to question masculinity and learn about it threatens how society is organized. #ummhmm. Peace to the men who are willing to learn.

Another quote that I found interesting is from Global Gender Issues in the New Millennium.

“…Heternormative masculinity is an extraordinarily fragile and unstable construct and identity that leaves men having to prove repeatedly that they have “it”. They are put in constant fear and anxiety that they will be dubbed less than real men and therefore, be demoted down the gender hierarchy and be subjected to greater violence by other, higher men.”

This has me thinking about how men are subjected to violence in similar to how? women are, but under difference circumstances. It all turns on “conform to the way its done”? or get smashed. Gimmie your number, or imma call you a ______ and slap you. Act like a man or imma sock you in the face and call you a _____. You get my drift?

How do men deal with this psychologically?

Especially Black men, constantly having to be on guard, performing.

Isn’t this shit a lot of work? Ya’ll get tired. How you deal with it? Do it ever drive you crazy?

Thoughts about the fragility of masculinity?

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  1. says

    I’ve always thought that performing gender (to borrow a phrase from Judith Butler) was exhausting. The intensity with which a man’s masculinity is defended (even to death) suggests that masculinity is very fragile indeed. While it may be the “default” in a patriarchal society, it is still relational. Men eschew being a “pussy” or “girly” [among other gendered and ableist terms used to denigrate a boy’s/man’s masculinity].

    Similarly, some feel that even questioning the system weakens it. If that’s the case, then question away. Even in religious discourse, dogmatic preachers encourage “blind faith” that does not allow for the possibility of questions. For me, questions are the basis of faith. If you can ask the questions, your faith is bigger than the person who allows ignorance to define their piety. [Reminds me of an article I read about an Egyptian (Muslimah) woman who suggested that true and pious Muslimahs are the ones who are illiterate [meaning, they’ve never read the Qu’ran, and have only had it read to them and interpreted for them.

    As far as I’m concerned, agency is key. If you can’t question gender norms, then what’s the point? Mindless conformity does not serve us in the least.

  2. says

    ??for a man to admit that he has questions about masculinuty is to admit that he has failed at masculinity.?

    actually i would say it’s to admit that masculinity has failed him.

    How do you deal with it psychologically?
    You don’t. It’s just the way it is. You accept it. It’s not hard if you never question it.

    Once you do question it though, watch out. You start questioning everything. You have to be extremely secure with yourself to deal with the consequences of questioning manhood.

    It’s about acceptance though I think. If you accept that humanity & thus “manhood” is fluid you can find peace.

  3. AmakaCamille says

    Thought provoking quotes. Familiar with Kimmel but not Brod–need to dive into this essay.

    Performing gender, particularly for men, has to be tiring, no? From the few really deeeeep convos I’ve had with Black men re: masculinity, vulnerability, it seems as if carrying all this gender stuff is exhausting. I mean when and where are those moments when you can let it all go?

    @Ed, what do you mean by “masculinity has failed him” vs. “failing at masculinity”? How do you see these as different? Just curious.

  4. john says


    I think that for a man to not question but to learn about masculinity is a passing. I think you have so many young males that are stuck inside a box because society has given them a blueprint to what masculinity means; and if they step outside of it that they are less masculine. Therefore, they often feel the need to prove themselves to be masculine of at the detriment of themselves and society.

    I think when you Learn who you are and are comfortable in your skin then you define who you are and your level of masculinity! Not every man is going to be the same just like not all women are going to be as feminine as the next. But the more ignorant we as men are to stepping out of that box and finding out who “WE” I think therein lies the danger.

  5. Mickey says

    Im interested in how Eddy differentiates “masculinity failing [the man]” versus “[the man] failing at masculinity”

  6. says

    To your questions:

    >How do men deal with this >psychologically?

    >Especially Black men, constantly >having to be on guard, performing.

    I don’t have to deal with this on any level other than that of an observer. I don’t mute my love of self, of the world, of my people and the entire human family. I don’t relate well with this performing aspect in this current incarnation of my life. I do recognize it and I can say with confidence I had to have engaged in this manner of “acting” but I was a mere child when I did so.

    >Isn?t this shit a lot of work? Ya?ll >get tired. How you deal with it? Do it >ever drive you crazy?

    Not applicable to me but if I had to assume, and I abhor doing so, it’s what you know coupled with what’s put in front of you. It isn’t as if (black) boys are raised in groups and in environments that would encourage a deeper emotional understanding or connection with the joy of expression.

    >Thoughts about the fragility of >masculinity?

    I feel like(in SOME cases)any manner of grandstanding is a cover-up for a personal weakness. I find “brash” is a cover-up for “hurting”. I find people cower behind assumed “roles” or “performing” to either fit some archetype or fill the missing holes inside self. I don’t need my gender’s approval nor do I need my opposite gender’s acceptance of what I feel is my most self-aware presentation.

  7. says

    How do men deal with this psychologically?

    You don’t. You take it for what it is and try to adjust accordingly.

    Especially Black men, constantly having to be on guard, performing.

    But to most men its really not an act. It’s real life as we perceive it.

    Isn?t this shit a lot of work? Ya?ll get tired. How you deal with it? Do it ever drive you crazy?

    See above response.

    Thoughts about the fragility of masculinity?

    Depends on how you define masculinity, what are its origins? What is its purpose?