Discipline, Suppress, or Kill: From "Ages of Man" to Masculine Temporalities

By Janssen, Diederik F. | The Journal of Men's Studies, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Discipline, Suppress, or Kill: From "Ages of Man" to Masculine Temporalities


Janssen, Diederik F., The Journal of Men's Studies


Carl Horner (1989) observes that in 20th-century American literature mainstream businessmen must either "discipline, suppress, or kill boyish tendencies that collide with the expectations of American business or suffer the frustration, demotion, or demolition of corporate Darwinism" (pp. ii, 9). This observation, though pertinent mainly for Americanists, hints at the much broader anthropological question of stages in male biography, more generally still to the developmental underpinnings of codified masculinity. Indeed, time is found to be a key analytic attribute of masculinity across cultures. Masculinity, accordingly, is variably conceived as a product of an enduring disciplinary regimen, a corollary of a repressive principle, or considered instantiated by a metaphorical death.

While the above opens up a range of questions too extensive to be dealt with in full, in the paragraphs below, I attempt to illustrate how biographic time may confound both conceptual and ethical writing on men/masculinities. A score of recent contributions to the study of masculinity has, promisingly, focused on "temporal scripts," life-course perspectives, and on ethnographic and discursive intersections with life phases (Aapola, 1997; Comeau & Kemp, 2007; Gardiner, 2002; Jackson, 2003; Spector-Mersel, 2006). Spector-Mersel (2006), however, notes a sustained under-theorizing of temporality by canonical masculinity theorists. In this review I argue, not quite to the contrary, that temporality is, and often remains, covert yet pivotal in most political operationalizations of masculinity. Motivated by three cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary bibliographic inquiries into the notions of boyhood, manhood and initiation, respectively, (1) I offer a critical review of various interpenetrations of age and masculinity as they fundamentally inform and complicate bipolar and mono-variate concepts of gender. Pursuing a radically cross-disciplinary perspective, I ask how gender and age structures have been theorized as partial to compound identity positions, "'gender phases" or "temporized genders," the analytic and cultural complication of which may be lost to analytic procedures that a priori break such positions down into demographic (and thus politicizable) coordinates.

Specifically, I will briefly examine (1) limitations of so-called ages-of-man models; (2) the notion of maturity as a framework for gender; (3) the distinction between developmental and what I call post-developmental models of genders; (4) the need to historicize developmental notions of gender; (5) cultural and analytic equations of masculinity and maturity; (6) limitations of quantitative anthropological approaches; (7) general qualitative observations across cultures; (8) indigenous notions of masculinity as they show plurality in temporal and developmental delimitations of gender; and (9) the complex of gender/sex/sexuality as it illustrates political and anthropological conventions in theorizing temporalities. Added is (10) a brief conclusion.

Ages of Man

The launch of a Journal of Boyhood Studies in 2007 (followed in its wake by Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal in 2008) invites reflection on temporized inclusions and temporalities in "men's" and "women's" studies. There has been an explosive attention to both junior and senior genders during the 1990s and since. This may be partially explained in the light of emerging theoretical and political conceptions of gender as instable, alterable, developmental, relational, multiple, performed, emergent, "tried on" and "in crisis." According to this line of ethics- and policy-driven conceptualizations, masculinity encompasses a simultaneously gendered and generational matrix of aspects that can meaningfully be critiqued only as it orders or organizes social structure and privilege over a range of "axes" (including age and gender) at the same time.

Such simultaneity is being documented across the full range of current perspectives on masculinity, to the point of organizing the monitoring of "sex roles" in Western societies. …

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Discipline, Suppress, or Kill: From "Ages of Man" to Masculine Temporalities
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