Academic journal article African Studies Review

Hegemonic African Masculinities and Men's Heterosexual Lives: Some Uses for Homophobia

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Hegemonic African Masculinities and Men's Heterosexual Lives: Some Uses for Homophobia

Article excerpt

Abstract: Based on two relatively well-reported cases of homophobia in Malawi and South Africa, this article aims to show some of the ways in which hegemonic African men and masculinities are unsettled by, but also find ideological use for, the existence of homosexuality and nonheteronormative sexualities. Deploying the notion of psychopolitics, the article traces the interpenetrating psychosocial and sociopolitical aspects of homophobia. The argument is that analyses of issues of lesbian, gay, and "othered" sexualities are vital for a fuller understanding of the production of hegemonic forms of gender and masculinity in Africa. The article suggests that the threat posed by homosexuality is used as a distraction for some of the socioeconomic development-related failures of Africa's ruling men but also, more significantly, for the impossibility of hegemonic African masculinity itself.

Résumé: En s'appuyant sur deux cas relativement bien médiatisés d'homophobie au Malawi et en Afrique du Sud, cet article vise à montrer quelques-unes des façons dont les hommes hégémoniques et les masculinités africains sont bouleversés, mais aussi à trouver une utilisation idéologique pour l'existence de l'homosexualité et des sexualités non hétéro-normatives. En exposant la notion de psychopolitique, l'article retrace les aspects psychosociaux et sociopolitiques entrelacés de l'homophobie. Une hypothèse de l'exposé est que les analyses des problèmes des lesbiennes, gays, et des sexualités de T "altérité" sont essentiels pour une compréhension plus complète de la production des formes hégémoniques de genre et de la masculinité en Afrique. L'article suggère que la menace posée par l'homosexualité est utilisée par dirigeants africains comme une distraction de leurs propres échecs socio-économiques liés au développement et aussi, de façon plus significative, de l'impossibilité même de la masculinité hégémonique africaine.

Key Words: Homophobia; homosexuality; heteronormative; heterosexual; masculinities


In his well-anthologized article on (white American) masculinity and homophobia, Michael Kimmel (1994:133) contends that "the fear of being perceived as gay, as nota real man, keeps men exaggerating all the traditional rules of masculinity." Kimmel traces the history of dominant forms of masculinity in the United States in order to show that masculinity is not a trait that male children come into the world with. As a pattern of practice that men (and women in their capacities as mothers, for instance) construct as a group and in their subjective lives, masculinity is a historically located cultural project in which sexuality figures centrally.

Kimmel's work emphasizes the complex (sexual) fears that males live with, including the fears of heterosexual males that they do not measure up to the standards of hegemonic masculinity. This article focuses similarly on the ways in which fear of homosexuality, including the fear of being perceived as homosexual, troubles hegemonic African men and masculinities. It argues that homosexuality and non-heteronormative sexualities, along with homophobia and homophobic acts, play a significant role in the practices, identities, constructions, and social reproduction of hegemonic African masculinity. This is a subject that has been largely neglected in the literature on homophobia in Africa. Reports of homophobia-such as those from Human Rights Watch and other multinational nongovernmental organizations-tend to neglect the fact that gay, lesbian, trans, and other forms of nonconforming sexualities are fundamental in the configuration of hegemonic men's gender practices. The argument here, therefore, is that issues of lesbian, gay and "othered" sexualities are vital for a more complex understanding of the working-out, construction, and reproduction of ruling forms of masculinity and gender in Africa. The article suggests that the well-publicized turmoil over homosexuality in Africa is in fact a poorly choreographed distraction from the tenuousness of hegemonic African masculinity and is also imbricated with the socioeconomic development-related failures of Africa's ruling men. …

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