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The Representation of Masculinity in Contemporary British Fiction

Examination Thesis 2006 88 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Gender Studies
2.1 Gender is a Verb
2.2 Theoretical Approaches to Masculinities
2.2.1 Sociological Concepts of Masculinities
2.2.2 Men’s Talk
2.2.3 The Effects of Socio-economical Changes in the UK on Masculinities

3. Middle-class Masculinities in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim
3.1 Dixon’s Protest against Institutions
3.2 Dixon and his Opponent Bertrand Welch
3.3 Dixon’s Relationship to Women
3.4 The Climax of Dixon’s Inner and Outer Struggle
3.5 Conclusion

4. Working-class Masculinities in Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
4.1 Working-class Protest
4.2 Arthur’s Home and Work
4.3 The Teddy Boy
4.4 Arthur’s Relation to Women and their Husbands
4.5 The Reactions of the Betrayed Husbands
4.6 The Tamed Rebel
4.7 Working-class Language
4.8 Conclusion

5. Homosexual Masculinities in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library
5.1 Will Beckwith’s Shelter
5.2 Will’s Best Friend James
5.3 Will’s Relationships
5.4 Will’s Encounters with Other Men
5.5 Lord Nantwich
5.6 Homophobia
5.7 Charles’s Revenge
5.8 Conclusion

6. Masculinity in Crisis in Nick Hornby’s About a Boy
6.1 The Old Lad
6.2 The Old Boy
6.3 The Strange Friendship
6.4 Life is Air
6.5 Masculinity in Crisis
6.6 Conclusion

7. Comparison

8. Conclusion

Bibliography

1. Introduction

From 1950 to 1999, the fiction genre of Ladlit presented British readers with a romantic, comic, popular male confessional literature. It was comic in the traditional sense that it had a happy ending and was romantic in the modern sense that it confronted men’s fear of marriage and adult responsibilities, which they later got over. In addition, it was regarded as a chance to examine male identity in contemporary Britain. But by the beginning of the 21st century, the genre was in decline, as one was seeking for a new story of masculine identity. Although the term ‘lad’ has changed its meaning in English literature the main characteristics of Ladlit have remained the same, which are its anti-heroes, who are portrayed as losers, liars, wanderers and transients. However, they are also described as funny, bright and charming (Showalter 60-61). Additionally, the protagonists are heterosexual men in their late 20s or early 30s who concentrate on women, alcohol as well as football and looking back nostalgically upon childhood and youth. In contrast to Ladlit, another genre has been established: Chicklit, which was founded in Helen Fielding’s novel Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996). Every aspect of such books of the two genres, from the colour and design of the cover to where and how they are advertised, follows strictly prescribed gender lines (Gill 51).

In the meantime, there has been a slow focus on masculinity in language and gender studies, as the exclusive attention had formerly been upon femininity. The historical tradition of men being constituted in terms of universal, normative values has led to the phenomenon of ‘invisible masculinity’. But there has always been a discourse available to men which allows them to represent themselves as people, humanity or mankind. But this has been challenged in recent years by the fast rise of consumer markets, which aimed at capitalising the male consumer in the mid-eighties, and by the scrutiny of feminism (Benwell, Ambiguous Masculinities 154).

This focus has also been spread to the fields of literature and cultural studies, which examine how literal texts reflect, modify and generate new fictions of masculinity. As fiction can be regarded as a mirror of social change and society, one analyses the socio-cultural stereotyped representation of masculinity and its change (Steffen 273). In addition, popular culture, in all its forms and instantiations, plays a key role in the constitution of modern identities (Benwell, Introduction 7).

People often use terms like ‘masculinity’ or ‘manliness’ in everyday language, whereas scholars often tend to talk about masculinities. Thus, it is important to define these terms before applying them to the chosen texts.

In the nineteenth century, manliness was the most articulated indicator of men’s gender. It meant that there was a single standard of manhood, which was expressed in certain physical characteristics and moral dispositions dependent on class and religion. Furthermore, it referred to those attributes men were happy to own, they had usually achieved by great effort and they often boasted about. In addition, it focused on those aspects which were expected of men and which were clearly articulated in institutions as churches, chapels and schools and measured with reference to male institutions as sports and youth organizations. Its attributes, such as assertiveness, courage, independence, straightforwardness (Tosh 2-5), public duty, honour, moral obligation and emotional restraint (Rutherford 1), were commonly used to judge other men, treated as a social attainment in the gift of one’s peers and not mainly to maintain control over women (Tosh 5). But even in the 1950s, the idea of manhood was still used to appeal to teenage boys in order to motivate them, as it referred to courage and duty. Although it has become a rather critical term today, it is still used in the context of initiation rites, especially among boys in schools. It is something one has to achieve by demonstrations of physical strength, sporting ability, sexual prowess, etc.

But as we now live in a culture that is more open to gender diversity, the concept of manliness becomes more and more unpopular in favour of masculinities, a concept which refers back to the 1970s (Tosh 13-14). This expression of personal authenticity is often used in the plural as it should describe and express individual choices in connection to class, ethnicity, sexuality and even consumer choice (Tosh 2-4). It was developed out of women’s revolt against patriarchy, as an oppositional, critical and deconstructive term. Masculinity is used to describe, define and discuss performances, representations and discourses of ways of doing and being a man (Rutherford 1). Hence, it is both a psychic and a social identity: “. . . psychic, because it is integral to the subjectivity of every male as this takes shape in infancy and childhood; social, because masculinity is inseparable from peer recognition . . .” (51). So it is a relational character and examined in relation to the centrality of social power – of men over women, and heterosexual men over homosexual men. Thus, masculinity fits with the post-modernist era, with its proliferation of identities and its contradictory discourses (Tosh 2-5). People are less and less surprised, when individuals redefine their masculinity and gender identity is constantly shifting in meaning (Tosh 14). In addition, Tosh claims that the changes in masculine identities are determined by the balance between three key cultural components: the home and maintenance of family life, work as a premier expression of men’s individuality and associations that provide men with privileged access to the public sphere (Osgerby, The Consuming Male 60).

I have chosen the term masculinity in my title, as it is still used in everyday language and will probably attract more readers. However, in my paper I will stick to the term ‘masculinities’, as it soon becomes clear that there is a great variety of male identities presented in the novels.

In addition, I would like to examine how the representation of masculinity has changed in the recent fifty years in the Ladlit genre. But before examining my chosen novels, I will discuss different theories concerning gender studies and masculinities to create a concept, with which I will approach the novels. First of all, I will give a short introduction to gender studies in general, which will be followed by theoretical approaches to concepts of masculinities. I will mainly focus on a survey by the Australian sociologist Robert Connell, whose concept is often quoted in masculinities/ men’s studies. Additionally, I will discuss different linguistic approaches on features of men’s talk. Finally, I will have a close look on the effects of socio-economical changes and their influence on masculine identities in the UK.

I have chosen four different novels on account of various reasons: Lucky Jim (1954) by Kingsley Amis is regarded as the first novel of Ladlit. In addition, it contributes information on middle-class representation of masculinities. This novel will be contrasted with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) by Alan Sillitoe, which offers a view on working-class masculinities. As both novels contribute rather traditional perspectives on gender, I am going to compare them with novels, which are set in the late 20th century and which offer alternatives to a life that is ruled and restricted by the norms of a heterosexual society. First of all, I will focus on The Swimming-Pool Library (1988) by Alan Hollinghurst, which does not belong to the Ladlit but to the gay genre. However, it contributes important facts of another form of masculinity and its acceptance by heterosexual males. In addition, it seems to have influenced the last novel: About a Boy (1998) by Nick Hornby, which is also regarded to mark as the end of Ladlit.

In addition, I will compare the four different novels with each other and with the theoretical concept and will conclude that fiction in the fifties presented a rather traditional way of masculinity, whereas the novels of the late 20th century provide a great number of male identities that are not restricted to heterosexual norms. Furthermore, society and literature is influenced by gay life and thus the characters are presented as more satisfied and fulfilled human beings encouraged by individuality and freedom.

2. Gender Studies

2.1 Gender is a Verb

A very influential theory on femininity and masculinity was developed on the basis of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud and his French follower Jacques Lacan. Although it is partly derived from the 19th century, this approach still influences gender studies. It deals with disputing gender binaries and the equation of masculinity with human rationality. Freud and Lacan claimed that all humans were governed by irrational unconscious desires. Men but not women had a privileged relationship to social power, symbolised in the male anatomical part that men feared losing and women envied, i.e. the phallus is a symbol of power. But masculinity is always in danger of unconscious castration fears (Gardiner 38-39).

However, the most important theory of late 20th-century feminism is the concept of gender as a social construction, since: “ . . . masculinity and femininity are loosely defined, historically variable, and interrelated social ascriptions to persons with certain kinds of bodies – not the natural, necessary, or ideal characteristics of people with similar genitals” (Gardiner 35).

One of the recent influential gender theorists, Judith Butler, has revolutionised language and gender studies by her claim that:

. . . gender is not a stable, pre-discursive entity, inherent in individuals, but that is something constituted, mobilized and negotiated through the enactment of discourse. Gender, she argues, is something, not that we are but what we do or ‘perform’. Butler’s project is broadly deconstructionist in the sense that one of her main objectives is to expose the constructedness of gender and the processes by which a gender order and its attendant heterosexuality comes to seem ‘natural’ and stable. (Benwell, Ambiguous Masculinities 152)

The term ‘performativity’ is based on Pragmatics, which was founded by the philosophers Austin (1975), Searle (1969) and Grice (1975), who claim that utterances are not merely encoders of meaning, but acts which impact upon the world (Benwell, Ambiguous Masculinities 152). In addition, Butler refers to the tradition of psychoanalytic-inspired French poststructuralist feminism, which assumes that the gendered subject is endlessly produced through discourse and thus lacking in existential coherence and stability (Benwell, Introduction 8). Butler’s assumptions extend the traditional feminist accounts, famously expressed by Simone de Beauvoir, who claims that one is not born, but rather becomes a woman and is therefore socially constructed (Cameron 444). However, these positions are opposed by John MacInnes (1998), who claims that gender does not exist, at all. It is an ideology people use in modern societies to identify the existence of differences between men and women on the basis of their sex although there are none (Gill 38).

In the discoursive account of gender, there are two main approaches, which deal with the condition of masculinity: masculinity as power project and masculinity as identity project. Power, whether bodily or imagined, has always been included in definitions of masculinity. Defined as a relational category, masculinity is only understood in contemplementary or oppositional relationship to femininity. Most scholars have the opinion that such a relationship is defined hierarchically with masculinity as the superordinate category. Although there are commentators, who want to deconstruct masculinity and sometimes are in favour of a total deconstruction of gender, Butler opposes that it is not possible for a subjectivity to stand outside of gendered discourses. This claim is supported by Gardiner (2002), who argues that gender is so deeply structured into society, individual psychology, identity and sexuality that it would be hardly possible to eradicate it. In contrast, the identity project is based on describing and shoring up accounts of men’s subjectivity and to reclaim masculine values. But not all representatives of this approach are anti-feminist. Judith Halberstam claims in her text Female Masculinity (1998) that women are adopting masculine identities and that masculinity therefore loses power. She does not only separate gender from power but also from biology (Benwell, Introduction 8-10). This approach is supported by the psychologist Eleanor Maccoby (1998), who is in favour of encouraging individuality and freedom for both sexes. She claims that there are greater differences within each gender than between the two. Beyond, she describes contradictory components of both masculinity and femininity, and emphasises that: “. . . sex linked behavior turns out to be a pervasive function of the social context . . .” (Gill 38) more than of individuality. Other feminist theorists, such as Ehrenreich (1983) and Gardiner (2002), seek to diminish gender dualism by viewing gender as developmental across the life course, i.e. masculinity could be defined as boy’s development from childishness to maturity rather than as an opposition to an inferior femininity (Gardiner 38). Another contribution to the identity project is done by sociological theories of individualisation and movements of counter-modernity represented in the works of Giddens (1991), Beck (1992) and others. They argue that reinforcing gender is a psychic response to the fragmentation of traditional institutions, e.g. family and marriage (Benwell, Introduction 10-11).

Although these approaches are partly totally different and contrary, they have had an important impact on various levels of science and society. As a result, one has also started to have a close look at masculinities and it has become a new field of research.

2.2 Theoretical Approaches to Masculinities

As a result of the second feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s, the first studies of masculinity developed in the mid-1970s. The scholars Joseph H. Pleck and Jack Sawyer radically criticized a one-dimensional masculinity in their publication Men and Masculinity (1974). They claim that there is no defined healthy and normative gender against which women and children are measured. Thus, it was no longer the deviation from masculinity that was seen as abnormal but the pressure on gender roles (Steffen 272-274). This pressure places not only women but also men under strain and denies both sexes to express their true needs and desires. It was claimed that if they were able to free themselves of this competitive masculine ethos, men could be more satisfied and fulfilled human beings (Johnson 17). During the eighties, there was a strong movement to establish masculinity studies as a new field of research, parallel to women’s studies. The anti-sexist, pro-feminist new men movement criticized the ideal that men had been seen as the norm and synonym of mankind. Ten years later, the new men’s/masculinities studies were established in the USA. But it has not become as popular as women’s studies and there have been many overlaps with queer studies and other fields of research (Steffen 272-275). However, during the last ten years a new group has developed the men’s movement. It symbolises a backlash against feminism and partly women’s right, based on the recovery of an ‘authentic’ masculinity (Tosh 16).

2.2.1 Sociological Concepts of Masculinities

In his works, the Australian sociologist Robert W. Connell concentrates on masculinity as power project. He claims that as a first step to examine masculinity one has to identify the social gender, which orders the entire social practice and which is connected to other social structures like race or class, since every form of masculinity is located in different structures of relationships. Hence, Connell suggests a provisional three-fold model to describe the structure of gender. He distinguishes between power, production and emotional attachment (cathexis). The concept of power in Western societies is often seen as the subordination of women and the dominance of men. This universal structure is often criticized and patriarchy has to compete with opponents (Connell, Der gemachte Mann 92). Furthermore, Scott Fabius Kiesling concludes from Foucault’s concept of power (1982) seven types of power processes: physical (coercive and ability), economics, structural power (of a place within a structure, e.g. hierarchy), nurturant (process of helping another, as in teaching or feeding), demeanour (moral authority) and finally ideology, which ratifies certain traits as powerful, and determines which of the other processes are available. All the types of power are closely connected to each other (68). The second structure, production, is described in relation of the allocation of the capital, means of production and the divisions of labour. It is part of the social construction of masculinity, which assumes that there is an unequal distribution of these features between the different sexes. Emotional attachment, based on Freud’s concept, is an emotional energy which is attached to an object. The practises, which form and realise desire, are an aspect of the gender order. Thus, one can examine relationships between people, whether heterosexual or homosexual, if they are consensual or coercive, and if pleasure is mutually felt.

Connell concludes, as one has examined different relations between gender, race and class, it has become necessary to distinguish different forms or categories of masculinity. In addition, one has to look at the influence of gender on different milieus. The first category is the concept of hegemony, which is based on the analysis of class relations by Antonio Gramsci. It refers to the social dynamic, which enables a group to take in and hold up a leading position. Thus, at any time one form of masculinity predominates others. Furthermore, hegemonic masculinity embodies patriarchy and the dominance of men and guarantees women’s subordination. But this does not mean that members of a hegemonic group are the most powerful in a society, in general. In fact, the dominance of every male group can be challenged by women. As a result of this, hegemony is a historically flexible relation (Connell, Der gemachte Mann 92-99).

In addition, Connell claims that a common stereotype is that men are rational whereas women are emotional. This is also expressed in science and technology as they are regarded as male and guarantee social progress. The power of hegemonic masculinity is partly based on the idea that it embodies reason and therefore provides new opportunities for society. Referring to Winter and Robert, male dominance over women is less legitimated by religion or forced on by violence in these days but is rather justified by the technical organisation of the production. Boys and young men are brought up and educated concerning their future careers and here masculinity is therefore formed by economy. Connell argues that masculinity is partly based on technological knowledge: “. . . especially in the ‘new middle-class’ – or the new class, the intellectually trained workers, technostructure or new petty bourgeoisie . . .” (Masculinities 165). Although rationality legitimates hegemonic masculinity, it can also undermine gender hierarchy and strengthen feminism in cases of market rationality or legal equality. Especially authority is undermined and hegemonic masculinity is confronted with tensions as the institutionalisation of rationality dominates workplaces. Connell concludes that hegemonic masculinity does not seem homogeneous at all, as men’s lives are characterised by contrasts (Der gemachte Mann 185-201): “ . . . domestic patriarchy and sexual adventuring; between generalized and specialized expertise; between egalitarian and hierarchical workplaces; between conciliatory and hostile views of feminism” (Masculinities 181). The interest of men in patriarchy is concentrated in hegemonic masculinity and is supported by culture and the state; as the latter also has an interest in this form of masculinity. It is maintained by violence and intimidation of women and homosexuals. In addition, the global economy and the globalisation have spread patriarchy around the world, which has become an important component in nearly every culture (Connell, Der gemachte Mann 264-265).

As hegemony collectively refers to cultural dominance in a society there are specific relations of predominance and subordination between male groups. Most important are the dominance of heterosexual men and the subordination of homosexuals. This results in a cultural stigmatisation of homosexuality or gay identity. Thus, homosexual masculinities are forced to the bottom of the male sex hierarchy (Connell, Der gemachte Mann 99) and this also censors intimacy between straight men (Tosh 16). This is also claimed in Gale Rubin’s essay Thinking Sex (1984). She reveals hierarchies of sexuality, through which heterosexuality, whether female or male, and especially if marital, is still privileged over homosexuality, which was, in turn, less stigmatised if monogamous. In contrast to this, promiscuity, prostitution, sadomasochism and paedophilia are considered as the worst of all and therefore they are pushed to the bottom of the sexual hierarchy (Edwards 58-59). In addition, the relation between heterosexual men and homosexuals is not personal but collective, which influences gender in every social layer. People tend to think that homosexuals are lacking of masculinity as opposites attract. If someone is attracted by a male then this person has to be female and if it is not the body then the psyche has to be female. This stereotype of effeminacy is often claimed by men, who belong to the group of hegemonic masculinity. Surprisingly, female adjectives are also often used to describe subordinated, heterosexual men. But one cannot be hegemonic if one is not heterosexual since this is seen as a contradiction in the patriarchy of Western societies. Gay men always fear that they have to face discrimination at any time as they meet heterosexuals every day. Hence, their relations are often characterised by prudence, reserve and concentration on the gay subculture. However, homosexuals do think that they behave as ‘normal’ men, as their choice of object and their personality is male.

As a result of the gay liberation during the 1970s and 1980s, new social spaces of freedom have been created like the gay communities, which have their own pubs and shops and also political groups. Being a homosexual means to be connected to one of these communities. Hence, scholars have stopped to treat homosexuality as a disease and have perceived an identity, which underlies a development and integration in itself. Homosexuality has been seen as a new subculture ever since, which has a strong potential to change society. Homosexuals have grown up in surroundings of hegemonic masculinity, e.g. in sport clubs, media, schools, etc. Thus, their homosexuality is not based on a lack, a gender vacuum. Their decisive inflection is generally followed from a sexual experience, often with a woman, since compulsory heterosexuality was a stable part of growing up (Connell, Der gemachte Mann 165-184). This finally ends in the coming out, which is seen to work on three interconnected levels: first, through accepting one’s sexuality for oneself; second, in exploring it with others of similar orientation; and third, by telling the rest of the world with pride (Edwards 56). But this model, which is often proclaimed by gay liberation, is often contested, as the final ‘coming out’ often means coming in to an already-constituted gay milieu.

The most common sexual practices between men in our culture do not differ from those between men and women. The difference with a man lies in the shape of his body. On the one hand, this is reassuring but on the other hand it might be confusing. The similarity allows to explore the other’s body but also allows to explore one’s own.

If one compares homosexual with heterosexual relationships, one asserts a high condition of reciprocity in these partnerships. The factors for reciprocity are complex: The partners are to be of the same age, have the same social background and have the same position in the structure of gender. Thus, finding a partner is problematizing as one wants to find oneself mirrored in his partner.

Furthermore, homosexuality is often closely connected to bisexuality. However, in Western cultures, there is no positive social category of the bisexual. Bisexuality is often seen as a to and fro between heterosexuality and homosexuality or something that connects the two sexualities as one of it is subordinated to the other. In Western societies, bisexuality is characterised as something instable (Connell, Der gemachte Mann 165-184).

A third internal relation of the gender structure is complicity. Although only a small number of men fulfils the criteria of hegemonic masculinity, the majority of men profits from the patriarchal dividend, the advantages of subordinating women. These men recognise the relationship of complicity with the hegemonic project but they do not expose themselves to the tensions and risks of patriarchy (Connell, Der gemachte Mann 100). However, there are also tensions between hegemonic masculinity and complicity (Der gemachte Mann 265).

In addition, there are also other structures in form of class and race, which can be examined. Connell submits a second, in this case an exterior, relation – marginalisation. Men are often marginalised as members of special ethnic groups or classes and therefore authorise the hegemonic one (Connell, Der gemachte Mann 101-102).

One of the most important marginalised group is the working-class. Although in the working-class new family forms have been pioneered and working-class and labour parties have been more progressive in gender politics in general than middle-class or upper-class parties this class is often seen as conservative and backwards. According to Andrew Tolson, masculinity in this class is constructed but also undermined in the relation of family-household and work-place experiences. Connell criticises this model and claims that it is rather the labour market than the work-place that is important, especially in a time of high unemployment and temporary jobs. In addition, it is fairly important for young men to have their own income and their entering in the workforce has a strong effect on them.

Living on the edge of the labour market often results in aggressive behaviour within and between different peer groups. But it is not uncontrolled or even psychotic. It is socially defined and regulated. Often, violence is shown symbolically in forms of earrings or tattoos. In addition, Connell sees a strong connection to Alfred Adler’s model of the male protest, which is a marginalised form of masculinity. It picks up contents of hegemonic masculinity but modifies them in context of poverty and exclusion from cultural and economic resources. Based on early powerless experiences in working-class childhood, men excessively strive for power, which is generally connected to their sex in Western societies and often results in violent behaviour. These men regularly concentrate on other people’s opinions and often feel that they could lose this unjustified attitude of power, especially in comparison to hegemonic masculinity. Actually, it is not an individual phenomenon but a collective one. This collective is characterised by a masculine working-class ethics of solidarity, which separates them from the rest of the working-class and results in the contradiction of egalitarism between the two sexes and misogyny (Connell, Der gemachte Mann 117-140).

In addition, Connell remarks that compulsory heterosexuality is also enforced on men although scholars like Gayle Rubin and Adrienne Rich use this term only when referring to women. In their opinion, the cultural and social pressures on women make them sexually available to men. But Connell reveals in his research that the male body also has to be disciplined to heterosexuality.

In addition, Connell identifies a second marginalised group of men, which can be allocated in the upper middle-class. These men have been influenced by feminism and want to reform their masculinity. On the one hand, they were often able to identify with their mothers in the pre-Oedipal period and on the other hand, their fathers or their brothers have reproduced hegemonic masculinity. But during their adolescence they have been confronted with feminism and decided to change the traditional form of masculinity and to integrate it into their own personality, which is not sexist but rather androgynous. They have experienced that they are able to express their emotions, especially in relationships. They avoid sexist expressions and the domination of conversations with women, as they do not want to oppress them. But this is often seen by other men as passivity or even as a homosexual attitude (Connell, Der gemachte Mann 143-163).

These two types of relations – on the one hand, hegemony, dominance/ subordination and complicity and on the other marginalisation/ authorisation – can be used as an instrument to examine masculinity. However, they are no stable characteristics but configurations of practice generated in special situations in a changing structure of relationships (Connell, Der gemachte Mann 102).

But Connell’s concept has also been criticised. Steffen remarks that he centralises men in his concept too much. Connell’s approach of hegemonic masculinity is based on a male claim to power. In addition, Steffen claims that he is not able to part with a patriarchal duality of man and woman. In Connell’s concept, women remain dominated by men. Women can criticise male hegemony but they are still emotionally bound to men. This is contrary to the American pro-feminist approaches in new men’s studies (Steffen 275-277).

However, Connell’s concept offers an appropriate opportunity to examine masculinities in society and fiction as it is well structured and my main aim is to examine masculine identities and not only the relationships between men and women.

2.2.2 Men’s Talk

Judith Butler’s performative model can also be used to describe gendered speech, as it is also a repeated stylisation of the body and aims to identify the speaker as a man or a woman. The postmodernist approach suggests that people are who they are because of the way they talk. Since Butler does not think that men and women are regulated and policed by rather strict social norms, they can act as conscious agents, i.e. they perform gender differently in different contexts and can sometimes behave in ways one would associate with the other gender. Therefore, one has to examine whether the speaker performs his utterances in a mixed or single-sex company, in private or public settings and in which of the various social positions (parent, lover, professional, friend) (Cameron 444-455).

Jennifer Coates reveals in her survey that men’s talk is lacking overlaps, i.e. that one speaker speaks at a time, and that participants in talk cooperate in the orderly transitions of turns from current speaker to the next speaker. This is seen as a contrast to women’s talk, which is generally described as all-in-together than one-at-a-time, and includes simultaneous speech. In addition, she argues that in a friendly talk, in which people want to be considered as equals, men avoid overlaps and interruptions, as the main goal is to maintain friendship, mainly by the exchange of information. Beyond, Coates shows that they rather prefer to talk about more impersonal topics such as current affairs, travel or sport than to reveal their emotions to their friends. Another important characteristic of men’s talk are monologues, i.e. stretches of conversation, where one speaker holds the floor for a considerable time. Coates reckons that this could be associated with playing the expert, and which is motivated by questions, whereas women avoid this in conversations (111-125). Cameron even claims that both sexes gossip: “. . . affirming the solidarity of an in-group by constructing absent others as an out-group” (449), although its cultural meaning is feminine. Therefore, men in all-male groups must unambiguously stress that they are heterosexual, which is often done by exchanging sexist and homophobic jokes (455-456).

These claims are also supported by Janet Holmes, who reveals in her survey on politeness that there are few explicitly agreeing responses and often long pauses between speakers, whereas women agree with each other where possible, not only in single-sex but also in mixed-sex contexts. Generally, male conversations are more competitive, aggressive and argumentative than their female counterparts. For females, being negatively polite includes avoiding, minimising or mitigating disagreements, being positively polite includes agreeing with others, encouraging them to talk, expressing support and ensuring they get the same share of talking time. In contrast, males disagree badly, challenge other’s statements, interrupt and compete for attention without intending to cause offence. In some contexts, aggressive and competitive verbal behaviour even appears to be enjoyable and mutual insults may even serve as expressions of positive politeness and solidarity (337-343).

In addition, in her survey, Vivian de Klerk claims that swearwords and slang form an entity of non-standard forms in most Western societies. She examines the use of expletives, which include the more shocking or taboo range of words, with slang coming closer to acceptability. The focus of expletives is mainly on sex and excretion and anything that holds a sacred status in the belief system of a community. The speaker intends to break norms, to shock, show disrespect for authority or be humorous. Thus, the use of expletives have become associated with power and masculinity in Western cultures, as the common stereotype is that women are more tactful, sensitive, submissive and act more in the background, whereas men’s talk is more direct. On the one hand, male adolescents are expected to use expletives to show confidence and assertiveness. They also copy the speech habits of other males as a role model to become a man. But later in life, when they have reached a certain status through material acquisition and education, they have enough confidence in themselves and more and more avoid these forms of language. On the other hand, surveys in the 1970s and 1980s reveal that women are violating norm expectations when using expletives. However, de Klerk concludes from recent surveys that women use slang and expletives more and more. Hence, the gap between the two gender groups is closing. There have to be found new ways of doing masculinity if the gender division in language is to be maintained (147-157).

2.2.3 The Effects of Social-economical Changes in the UK on Masculinities

As a reason of the informational and service economy, certain traditional characteristics of being male, rooted in the industrial revolution and its domestic division of labour, are becoming antiquated. The debate over the changes in men’s lives has been going on for three decades. New values and forms of living are brought into existence like the ‘new man of feeling’ of the 1790s, the ‘new man’ of the 1890s or the ‘new man’ of the 1980s. These values are nonuniform and affect some classes and groups more than others. In the second half of the 20th century, the consumer society combined with new permissive legislation on divorce and sexuality changed the styles of being a man and heterosexual relations. Personal and love relationships were being democratised (Rutherford 1-2).

The ‘new man’ and ‘new lad’ are probably the two dominant and most common constructions of masculinity circulating in Britain over the past decades. Although there have been other forms to label and classify masculinities, none had the staying power of the ones mentioned above. They have become familiar stereotypes (Gill 36-37) and are consequences of economics, marketing, political ideology, demographics and consumer society.

The ‘new man’ of the 1980s is often described as sensitive, emotionally aware, respectful of women, egalitarian in outlook and sometimes highly invested in his physical appearance. He can be straight or gay (Gill 37). Benwell adds that the ‘new man’ is: “. . . an avid consumer and unashamed narcissist but [has] also internalised and endorsed the principles of feminism including reassessment of the traditional division of labour and a new commitment to fatherhood . . .” (Benwell, Introduction 13). The ‘new man’ is first of all the result of feminism, as the latter started a debate about gender, power, work, sex, intimacy, nature and culture. This was reinforced by a number of other social movements during the 1970s and 1980s, e.g. the peace movement, anti-racist organizations, environmental movements, movements for sexual liberation, postcolonialism and others. They expanded the term ‘political’ outside the institutions of representative democracy into everyday life. Thus, a cultural milieu was created where discourses of new manhood could emerge and flourish. In addition, new psychological perspectives became popular in the last third of the 20th century. The ‘whole person’ or ‘self-actualized’ person was examined and seen as an androgynous person, whereas extreme masculinity and femininity were to be regarded as socially restricting and unhealthy. A third influential change was the dramatic decline in manufacturing and a rise in the service sector in the 1980s. The increasing numbers of people within the retail sector was an important factor in the change of the structure and meaning of shopping and consumerism. Thus, in the 1980s the ‘new man’ became a target for fashion companies: men were the new market. The stereotype that shopping was traditionally female had to be given up. In the meanwhile, shopping has become the main leisure activity of the British. As a result of the gay liberation, men were not only seen as active sexual subjects but also as objects of desire, even outside the gay media. This has become manifest in the media, especially in advertisement and has challenged the old assumptions about subject/object, active/passive. Women have become active subjects who can look as well as being looked at. Therefore, men have started to be concerned of their appearances, their bodies, etc. to attract women (Gill 41-46).

By contrast, the ‘new lad’ is, on the one hand, a clear backlash against the ‘new man’ and partly feminism, and an attempt to reassert the power of masculinity deemed to have been lost by the concessions made to feminism by ‘new man’. It is a return to traditional masculine values of sexism, exclusive male friendship and homophobia (Benwell, Introduction 13). But on the other hand, it must also be understood as a reaction to and rebellion against the figure of the male as breadwinner and family provider. The ‘new lad’ offers a refuge from the constraints and demands of marriage and nuclear family. He is seeking fun, consumption and sexual freedom, in contrast to traditional adult male responsibilities. In contrast, the ‘new man’ is seen as inauthentic by the ‘new lad’, a media fabrication or marketing strategy by ordinary men in order to get a woman and to have sex with her (Gill 47-48).

[The ‘new lad’] was also a construct which drew upon working-class culture for its values and forms, was younger than ‘new man’, was little invested in the world of work, preferring to drink, party, holiday and watch football, made barely any reference at all to fatherhood, addressed women only as sexual objects and was ethnically white. (Benwell 13)

However, another defining characteristic was the ability to switch from old lad to new man according to what situation requires, although he was never as sexist as his predecessors (Crewe 93). These mentioned features were intensified by the loaded effect, a lifestyle magazine, which was first published in the UK in 1994. Jon Robb claims that it has been one of the key cultural influences of the decade in the UK (Benwell, Introduction 6) and Ben Crewe argues that in contrast to the early 1990s, loaded has changed the ‘new lad’ into a louder, more hedonistic, not necessarily well-educated man (93). One of the key characteristics of the ‘new lad’ is the emphasis on his knowing and ironic relationship to the world of serious adult concerns (Gill 37). But the ‘new lad’ is increasingly being represented as an archaic model and tired. Therefore, one can expect: “. . . new cultural intermediaries to be at the forefront of producing new masculine subjects for the 21st century” (Gill 54).

But in the meanwhile, what it means to be a man has become a problematic question, as the traditional benchmarks of masculinity have been vanished. The ‘crisis of masculinity’ has become a popular term, which assumes a pre-existing stability that has been undermined. In the 1970s, it was a topic among liberal writers but by the 1990s it had become a rhetoric of complaint, indicating a more negative reaction to the loss of identity and power by men on all fronts (Tosh 19). The media and popular literature described the man of the 1990s as emotionally inarticulate, disoriented and demoralised (Rutherford 2). Although uncertainty about male gender identity is a very common experience among men, this change is based on different anxieties, which have changed the relation between the two sexes ever since. First and most important is the fear that men could lose the battle of sexes, as women are said to have won advancement at the expense of men in the workplace and in public life. There is a focus on the bad performance of boys in schools in comparison to girls. Secondly, there is a change of the labour needs of the economy. The unskilled physical strength of young school-leavers is not needed any more. Furthermore, a rise in unemployment like in the 1980s could threaten masculinity, as the bread-winner role could be undermined. Thirdly, masculinity has been redefined by changes in sexuality, as the gay liberation movement has changed a strictly heterosexual male culture into a diversity of styles and practices. In addition, the AIDS epidemic has also threatened masculinity, as it is a threat to all who are sexually active but especially to those who define their masculinity through sexual ‘scoring’ (Tosh 19-21). In addition, numerous research projects and surveys revealed a list of failings of masculinity: “. . . the collapse of paternal authority, the rise of absent fathers, broken families and delinquent sons, . . . criminality, sexual immorality and promiscuity, rising rates of suicide, and violence” (Rutherford 2).

3. Middle-class Masculinities in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim

The classic comic romance and campus novel Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis was published in January 1954. Although no dates are mentioned in the text, the novel is set in the late 1940s, as the atmosphere is clearly socialist with a lot of austerities for a university lecturer. But also the facts that a Labour government was in power during the 1940s and Amis was working on this novel in 1950 are hints for this assumption. Kingsley Amis and his anti-hero Jim Dixon were grouped together with other authors such as John Osborne (Loock Back in Anger) and John Braine (Room at the Top) into a category called ‘The Angry Young Men’. It was a journalistic term, which was originally spread by a leading article in the Spectator and included all authors and their fictional heroes in the mid-to-late 1950s. The education of those authors and their careers had mainly been interrupted or delayed by the Second World War and their formative years were the 1940s. In their texts, they expressed their discontent with life in contemporary Britain. However, Kingsley Amis always denied belonging to this group, as any interesting young writer was automatically classified as an ‘Angry Young Man’. Amis rather related his works to ‘The Movement’, a school of poetry, of which Philip Larkin was the acknowledged leader. The poets used verse that was: “. . . well-formed, comprehensible, dry, witty, colloquial and down-to-earth” (Lodge ix). Amis also cultivated these characteristics, which were a backlash against surrealistic and metaphorical poetry, in his novels (Lodge viii-x).

3.1 Dixon’s Protest against Institutions

The central character and anti-hero in Lucky Jim is Jim Dixon, a lecturer of History at a provincial, redbrick university in the North of England (Lodge v-vii). It is his first job after being an R A F corporal in Western Scotland during World War II. He is not an intellectual and fairly anxious to lose this job. This is revealed in the relationship to his boss, Professor Welch. Although Dixon feels: “. . . real hatred” (85) and thinks: ”. . . this man had decisive power over his future, at any rate until the next four or five weeks were up. Until then he must try to make Welch like him . . . to be present and conscious . . .” (8). In addition, Welch’s superiority is emphasised by the contrast of their appearances, whereas: “Welch [is] tall and weedy, with limp whitening hair, Dixon [is] on the short side, fair and round-faced, with an unusual breadth of shoulder that had never been accompanied by any special physical strength or skill” (8). Although both men seem weak, Welch is tall and the colour of his hair marks him as a respectful and wise person, while Dixon appears to be weak and not masculine. His physique rather reminds the reader of an adolescent. Thus, when he is with Professor Welch, Dixon’s personality does not come across as striking because it seems to be overpowered by Welch’s. This is also expressed in their conversations. Welch, who: “. . . set such store by being called Professor” (7), dominates their whole talks. His monologues contain topics such as music and culture in general, whereas Dixon is bored by it, thinks of something else or as a sign of protest and aggression: “. . . [puts] his hands into his pockets and [bunches] the fists” (12). If the latter asks a question, Welch does often not react, switches the topic or even interrupts him, e.g. when Dixon is talking about his article: “. . . After all, a new journal can’t very well be bunged up as far ahead as all the ones I’ve...” and Welch interrupts him: “Ah yes, a new journal might be worth trying . . .” (14). This reveals Welch’s disrespect for Dixon, as one does not interrupt his counterpart if one regards him as equal.

Dixon’s inner protest against Professor Welch is building up throughout the novel. During a conversation about his article, Dixon feels so aggressive that he grinds his teeth and compares himself with a boxer: “. . . still incredibly on his feet after ten rounds of punishment . . .” (84). But instead of being open to Welch and telling him straight into the face, Dixon is fairly friendly and merely tries to switch the topic. He wants Welch to state whether he can go on with his job or not. But Welch does not give him a clear answer so Dixon thinks of punishing him and intending: “. . . to tie Welch up in his chair and beat him about the head and shoulders with a bottle . . .” (85). But: “He’d never be able to tell Welch what he wanted to tell him . . .” (86) and after he says goodbye he thinks: “You ig norant clod, you stu pid old sod, you ha vering sla vering get …” (87). This scene reveals that Dixon’s protest is getting stronger and more violent. But he cannot openly react against Welch, as he is economically dependent on him. This is also expressed in the scene when Welch asks him whether he could do some research for him in the library although Dixon is quite busy with his Merrie England lecture because: “. . . he daren’t refuse; this sort of task might easily, to Welch, seem a more important test of ability than the merit of the Merrie England lecture” (173). But in the beginning, Dixon is not told by Welch that he has to go to the town library and not to the university one. So Dixon apologises for this misunderstanding because he is used: “. . . giving apologies at the very times when he ought to be demanding one” (174). However, Dixon is motivated, as Welch pushes the library door in the wrong direction and hits his head on the panel and Welch is revealed as a comical figure, which somehow underlines his unprofessionalism and incompetence.

The protest against Welch can, first of all, be interpreted as a reaction to Welch’s lack of interest for Dixon’s career. Furthermore, Welch does not really show any interest in Dixon’s life and behaves with disrespect superior to him. Secondly, Welch is a representative of old structures. Although it is a new, provincial redbrick university, quite a lot of things remind the reader of the old Oxbridge university. First of all, the staff consists of graduates of the ancient universities such as Oxford or Cambridge. Secondly, Welch is an absent-minded, arrogant, eccentric and incompetent person, that old universities stereotypically seem to tolerate and even to encourage in their senior staff and thirdly, he can be classified as a member of the pre-war provincial bourgeoisie, as the Welches have a music-room and maidservants. In addition, a professor of history at a provincial university could not afford this standard of living (Lodge viii-xi). It is Mrs Welch, who contributes: “. . . a good-sized income of her own. Dixon had often wondered how Welch had contrived to marry money . . .” (66). In contrast to this, Dixon must have low middle-class or even working-class background, as he does not show any interest in classical music, has a: “. . . flat northern voice . . .” (9) and is not an intellectual. This can be proven as Dixon often mixes up quotations: “He’d read somewhere, or been told, that somebody like Aristotle or I. A. Richards had said that the sight of beauty makes us want to move towards it” (107). Dixon does not fit into the university world, as he does not accept its social and cultural values. He prefers pop music to Mozart, pubs to drawing rooms, non-academic company to academic (Lodge xi). When he is out with Margaret, he admires a barmaid and thinks: “. . . how much he liked her and had in common with her, and how much she’d like and have in common with him if she only knew him” (25). In addition, he feels a deep respect for his barber: “. . . of his impressive exterior, . . . and his unsurpassable stock of information about the Royal Family” (177). In contrast to Dixon, characters such as Bertrand, his father or Margaret behave or act in the opposite way: they do not get drunk in a pub; they seem to be intellectuals, who admire objects of cultural value and behave self-confident in society. At some point Margaret even calls Dixon: “a shabby little provincial bore . . .” (158). Dixon is promoted into this archaic hierarchy by education, whereas he is at the low end, the Welches at the top and Margaret and others in the middle.

[...]

Details

Pages
88
Year
2006
ISBN (eBook)
9783638585378
File size
852 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v67188
Institution / College
University of Göttingen – Englisches Seminar
Grade
2,0
Tags
Representation Masculinity Contemporary British Fiction

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Title: The Representation of Masculinity in Contemporary British Fiction