Marked Men: White Masculinity in Crisis

By Sally Robinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
EXPRESSION, REPRESSION, AND MALE HYSTERIA

Marked Men and the Wounds of a Dammed Masculinity

The devolution into a primitivist spectacle of male release at the end of The Men's Club leaves us with the image of a dominant masculinity set free from social constraints. Ironically, a men's club prompted by feminist political analysis ends by evincing the impossibility of political action. Trumping the social with the natural, Michaels's men end up reinforcing the inevitability of a “raping” masculinity. References to both Freud and Darwin grease the path toward this end, as instinct and survival replace consciousness-raising and analysis. The release of male impulses and energies gets naturalized through a discourse that roots social trauma in the body, and uses biology to explain emotional expressivity and inexpressivity. The substitution of the personal for the political gives way to a new celebration of the “primal,” as Michaels does the men's liberationists one better. Yet even within the politically motivated if therapeutic discourse of men's liberation, a narrative charting the struggle between the primitive and civilized aspects of dominant masculinity can be discerned. It is, perhaps not surprisingly, around the concept of male sexuality that this struggle most fully emerges. In this chapter, I will further explore the effects of the naturalization of a construction of masculinity as torn between repression and expression, blockage and release, by focusing on a set of texts that place the current crisis in white masculinity within the context of a seemingly ahistorical battle between the forces of primitivism and the forces of civilization: James Dickey's Deliverance (1970) and the John Boorman film based on it (1972); Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides (1986) and, more briefly, Barbra Streisand's film of it (1991). Like the texts I discussed in the last chapter, these narratives are drawn to an image of a white masculinity perpetually in crisis, and figure that crisis in bodily terms. As we will see, they do so by drawing on discourses of evolution, biological determinism, and natural instinct, discourses that work to validate male power even as they gesture toward an acknowledgment that that power is frag-

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