Conference Report: Masculinities between the National and the Transnational, 1980 to the Present: An International Conference (Kent State University, August 5-7, 2011)

Article excerpt

Phyllida Lloyd's recent award-winning film, The Iron Lady (2012), which depicts former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her rise to power, features a montage in which Thatcher is seen dancing with U.S. president Ronald Reagan. The short sequence is an eerie yet fitting emblem of the 1980s and a fascinating (gender) image on a number of levels, not just because both political leaders are impersonated by actors in this danse macabre, but because their individual political careers have been read as masculinity performances- on the one side, the B-movie Cowboy-turned-President, and on the other the "Iron Lady," whose alleged lack of femininity was constantly levelled against her and became part of her public image. A conference on British and American Masculinities since 1980 inevitably has to deal with the long shadow cast by the Thatcher and Reagan years, and many of the papers presented during the three-day conference, Masculinities Between the National & the Transnational, 1980 to the Present, held at Kent State University, August 5-7, 2011, indeed addressed the diverse cultural and political ramifications of this era. It was the second of three conferences to emerge from the ongoing research project, Towards Comparative Masculinity Studies, a transatlantic cooperation initiated by Prof. Stefan Horlacher (Dresden University of Technology) and Prof. Kevin Floyd (Kent State University), sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and Kent State University. Having already welcomed scholars from three different continents in Dresden in 2010 in order to offer transnational perspectives on masculinity and the intersections between literary production and gendered identities in the post-war era up until the beginning of the Thatcher/Reagan years, this time, global developments in masculinities of the past thirty years were interrogated by scholars from the United States, the United Kingdom, Estonia, New Zealand, and Germany.

In his opening address, conference co-organiser and host Kevin Floyd (Kent State) summarised the current state of research in the field of Masculinity Studies which has undergone both diversification and differentiation in recent years, moving from the groundbreaking work in the 1980s which focused on (monolithic) masculinity as a response to feminism towards post-1990s differentiation, which is dominated by a pluralised conceptualisation of masculinities. With a number of influential studies on male images, representations and embodiments of male identity having been published in recent years, Floyd stressed that there was an increased need not just to re-address traditional questions, but to interrogate masculinities from a transnational and international perspective in the political climate of the past thirty years. He argued that the emphasis of this conference would also have to include perspectives outside the strictly delineated field in order to examine how the neoliberalist movement which started with the rise of Thatcher and Reagan in the U.K. and in the U.S., respectively, has shaped male identity politics in contemporary narratives. Following a short welcoming address by Timothy S. Moerland, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Kent State University, the first conference panel (entitled "Handle with Care") invested much thought into the fragility of male identity constructions, but also addressed the perception of monstrous embodiments of masculinity in popular media. Seth Friedman (DePauw University) dealt with the disguises of male movie villains in "Constructing the Perfect Cover," focusing on the way contemporary misdirection films- narratives with twist endings-force the viewers not only to reinterpret the events they have been presented, but also to question their beliefs about gender. Characteristically, the protagonist of misdirection films is male and finds out that he has been living a dream or a hallucination. The villains in both Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects (1995) and Shyamalan's Unbreakable (2000), on the other hand, reveal a paradoxical constellation at the heart of these narratives. …

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