Marked Men: White Masculinity in Crisis

By Sally Robinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
PALE MALES, DEAD POETS, AND THE CRISIS
IN WHITE MASCULINITY

Scenes from the Culture Wars

It is in Michael Crichton's 1993 bestseller Disclosure that the figure of the white male victim fully emerges from the political into the personal, and becomes visible as a marked man whose endangerment signals the triumph of a liberationist zeitgeist that tramples all innocents in its path. This novel, a Byzantine tale of white male victimization in the workplace and in the streets, offers evidence of the crisis in dominant masculinity and contributes to the perpetuation of that crisis. Sexually harassed by his predatory female boss, Crichton's hero Tom Sanders barely has time to register the effects of this assault on his masculinity when that boss, Meredith Johnson, turns around and accuses him of sexual harassment. Passing on the opportunity to truly explore what Crichton claims to “know” about sexual harassment—that it's not about gender, it's about power 1—the novel instead opts for a far more paranoid narrative, making its hero a poster-boy for marked men everywhere. Not only is he victimized by Meredith's humiliating and disconcertingly arousing advances, Tom is further victimized by her false claims of victimization. 2 Cashing in on a “contemporary climate where men were assumed to be guilty of anything they were accused of” (269), a climate where men are marked as the always already guilty bearers of a malignant power and unearned privilege, Meredith is aided by an identity politics and a feminism that equates masculinity with violence and femininity with victimized innocence. But Crichton, delighting in one of the “role-reversals” that he claims help us excavate the truth of fraught politicosexual conflicts from beneath “traditional responses and conventional rhetoric” (“Afterword”), reveals that strong and ambitious women are the truly violent ones; as Disclosure's most vocal feminist puts it with vengeful zeal, “[Sanders is] resentful, and he's violent. He's a typical man. And let me tell you, before I'm through with him, he'll wish he had never been born” (353). The harassment narrative is reinforced in countless ways, as various characters be

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