Vested Interests: Make a “real man” of you!

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Marjorie Garber prompts the reader to consider how there is a clear dissymmetry, culturally speaking, between what is considered to “make a man” and what is considered to “make a woman”. War, hunting, shooting, sexual initiation or some physical test or battle one-on-one in nature, have long been thought to “make a man” of a male. These activities would “make a man” of the unfortunate boy by testing his courage and spirit, “hence a whole literature of male sexual and martial initiation, from-say-Coriolanus to Norman Mailer” (p.93).

Media and film also depict such gender construction from hapless boy to brave warrior. Consider Hollywood blockbuster 300. 300 illustrates the metamorphosis of the protagonist from boy to great man, reinforcing what is deemed culturally acceptable and necessary to “make a man” of a boy. Other than testing physical and mental strength, having sex with a female is also considered to “make a man” of a boy. This custom and expectation of a man is also depicted within 300. “He is yet to feel the warmth of a woman”, makes him a questionable candidate to go to war with his army.

“Feel the warmth of a woman” is perhaps a little too romantic. Instead, boys use and still speak of “making it” or “making out” with a girl. The dictionary definition of “make” in slang terms is, “to persuade to have sexual intercourse”.  Thus, the phrase “making” denotes the sense that the boy has made it to manhood, the finish line by “making” a girl or rather having sex. Despite, the dictionary not giving a gender to the implied speaker, the phrase, “making” or “make” in relation to sex, is innately mannish as Garber proposes, “I have never heard a woman speak of “making” a man in this way” (p.93). It’s true. It seems males bond and boast if they “make” it with a girl but girls don’t refer to sex in the same way. Garber suggests than that to “make a man” of a boy is to test him; to “make a woman” is to have intercourse with her. In Spanish, a “public man” is a statesmen, a “public woman” is a whore. This in itself provides evidence that what is considered to “make a man” and what is considered to “make a woman” is very different.

For girls, becoming a woman is a passive process. Developing full breasts, rounded hips, periods and putting away childish things are biological and cultural customs, which ensure a girl, becomes a woman. However, “becoming a woman” and “making a woman” of oneself are not completely equivalent. For example, sexual initiation can help a girl become a woman but it doesn’t necessarily make her a woman, which is quite the opposite for males. An older relative or more experienced friend does not take a girl to a place of initiation such as a brothel to be “made a woman”.

Garber brings forward the concept of “male subjectivity”, “To be a subject is to be a man-to be male literally or empowered as male in culture and society”. And raises some interesting questions including, “Does, “male subjectivity”, conceptualized, represent anything more than a wishful logic of equality, which springs from a feminist desire to make “man” part rather than whole?” (p.94) Is what is “male” or “man” dependent on the mind or on an individual’s perception for its existence? What is male? What is man? As I’ve explored I feel what we consider man and what men employ as masculine traits are the outcome of visual media, society and culture. The repetition of stereotypic images make men want to conform as much as women do. Garber points out how there is a dissymmetry between what “makes a man” and what “makes a woman”. Her critique offers an explanation as to why media, film and advertisements portray heavily as men initiating sex and being aggressively sexual: this makes a “real man” of you!

Reference:

Garber, M (1991) Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety. London: Routledge. 93-95

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