Reconceptualizing Masculinity: Review Essay

disClosure 1996 (Reason Incorporated):74-83 (1996)
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Recent feminist and postmodern thought has critiqued traditional conceptions of masculinity, describing the effect that the distinctive masculinity of the "man of reason" has had on the history of philosophy, on consciousness, and on the academy. A common characteristic of the recent literature on masculinity is that it reflects the historical and cultural context in which it is written -- a context of binary, hierarchical dualisms which involve certain symbolic associations. These dualisms, such as Man-Woman, masculine-feminine, and reason-emotion, arguably find their roots in Pythagorean philosophy and can be traced through the Renaissance to our current historical context. One example is our conception of reason: the association of maleness with a clear, determinate mode of thought, i.e. reason, was incorporated into the form-matter distinction that was central to Greek thought. This paper will show that in cases where women attempt to redefine the dichotomy by revaluing the traditionally feminine (like feelings and emotions) over the traditionally masculine (like reason) their work is often mistakenly criticized for being purely political; conversely, when men attempt to redefine the same dichotomy in an attempt to allow men to "get back in touch with their feelings," to be nurturers, their work is described in terms of providing a better epistemology. The current literature on masculinity explores alternatives to rewriting or redefining Woman that try to avoid the problem of status remaining with redefinition. This alternative is rewriting or redefining Man. Through redefining Man, one may be able to reconceptualize the privileged side of the hierarchical dualism in such a way that it is no longer privileged. Deprivileging, as well as redefining Man, is argued by theorists of masculinity to be possible because while the devalued status of the inferior side of a hierarchical dualism tends to keep the same status when redefined, it may be possible to redefine the privileged side of the dualism in such a way that it loses its privileged status. Unfortunately, many of these attempts to rewrite or redefine masculinity have detrimental faults of their own. Finally, this paper will discuss more promising possibilities for new definitions of Man, as well as a vision for better interaction between the work of women and men in general.
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