Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Reconstructing Masculinity and Sexuality

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Reconstructing Masculinity and Sexuality

Article excerpt

In this paper, we argue that contemporary men need to negotiate a reconstruction of their sexuality, given the clash between the old and new paradigms of essentialist and postmodernist ideologies, respectively (Hare-Mustin & Marecek, 1988; Levant, 1995). Essentialist ideology defines and distributes gender roles and identities across traditional masculine and feminine boundaries, elevating masculine identity to a superior status in the social hierarchy (White, 1996). Postmodernist ideology promotes egalitarianism in human relationships and avoids the preferential construction of gender roles and identities based on socio-biological theories of patriarchal determinism (Hare-Mustin & Marecek, 1990). Postmodernists move away from essentialist notions of differentiated and preferred male vs. female ways of being and acting (Kerr & Bowen, 1988), advocating, instead, an androgynous way of being and acting (Gilbert, 1993; Hare-Mustin & Marecek, 1988).

A social constructionist perspective has emerged amidst the present-day AIDS pandemic and the multitude of socioeconomic ills affecting everyday lives, especially the heightened awareness for issues regarding gender, sexual orientation, and racial, religious, and ethnic inequality. This perspective is ecologically oriented and moves the focus of concern from the sexual actions of specific bodies--male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, white or black, Christian or Muslim, Hispanic or Caucasian--to the greater cultural, social, and historical contexts in which sexuality occurs (Gagnon & Parker, 1995; Weeks, 1995; White, 1996). The social constructionist perspective, as applied to human sexuality, refers to the construction of gender identities and roles from the raw core substance provided by ever-present social, cultural, and historical forces (Hare-Mustin & Marecek, 1990; Kessler, 1990; Weeks, 1995; White, 1996). These forces create particular kinds of environments, which offer individuals alternative and equally feasible sexual, ethical, moral, political, and economic actions.

Essentialist ideology advocates for the immutability of social constructions (such as gender and sexuality) based on core assumptions made about the natural order of things (Gagne & Tewksbury, 1998; White, 1996). Therefore, biology is sexual destiny; that is, human heterosexual sexual relations are considered as inherently natural and biologically determined (Gross, 1992; Whim, 1993). Such views constitute only a small part of postmodern social constructionist notions, which tend to move away from traditional assumptions of essentialist sexual ideology, and advocate for the historical, social, and cultural complexity and contextual totality of human sexual experience as it is exemplified in the personal sexual narrative (Gagnon & Parker, 1995; Hare-Mustin & Marecek, 1988; Weeks, 1995; White, 1996).


To illustrate the deconstruction process, consider the following analogy. Deconstruction resembles the demolition of an old, unstable, and outdated building (that of patriarchal heterosexualism) ravaged by the passage of time (historical time) and the ever-present eroding elements of the surrounding physical environment (the sociocultural environment).

Continuing the analogy, the old building will be replaced by reconstructing new buildings that enhance sexual agency. Their blueprints will be based on the eclectic selection of theoretical conceptualizations set forth by various sexual ideologies. While essentialist formulations will help create their strong structural foundations, paralleling those of the ancestral counterpart, social-constructionist and postmodernist ones will supplement these reconstructed buildings with all kinds of innovative and aesthetically pleasing styles and accommodations to fit the varying needs and preferences--the sexual ideologies--of its residents. Even though these new buildings will have the monolithic stability and functionality of the ancestral counterpart, they will ultimately allow for competition, plurality, and multiplicity of alternative styles, formations, and accommodations. …

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