Our Title Has Legs

Just for the hizz-ell of it, I typed "masculinity and its discontents" into Google to see what comes up.

The first few hits refer to an essay from The New York Times on Brokeback Mountain by high mediocre film critic Manohla Dargis. She writes:

That "Brokeback" is a landmark is a matter of empiricism; its merits as a work of art are a matter of taste. What has gone missing is that this is also that rare American film that seamlessly breaches the divide between the political and the personal, the past and the present. Here, against the backdrop of the great American West, that mythic territory of rugged individualism and the Marlboro Man, is a quietly devastating look at masculinity and its discontents.

A few slots down on the Google-meter is a link to the homepage of Manliness and its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900-1930, by professor Martin Summers. It begins:

In America, at the turn of the twentieth century, manhood seemed to be a national preoccupation. From individual concerns about one’s own masculine character to larger collective anxieties over the nation’s manliness, definitions of manhood—ones that were fundamentally racialized and class bound—pervaded everyday discourse. Everything from definitions of success and citizenship to national conversations over expansion and empire was shaped, in part, by a gendered set of ideas that also informed the identity formation of white middle-class men. The overarching question of what constituted manhood, in other words, dominated the ways in which most men and women in the United States conceptualized, among other things, economic prosperity, national belonging, and, for many, their position within racial, ethnic, and class hierarchies.

I find it interesting, and vindicating, that a review of Summers’ book mis-refers to the book, at one point, as "masculinity and its discontents" rather than "manliness and its discontents." I would guess that this is both because "masculinity" has a better cadence to it than "manliness" and because "masculinity" and"civilization" both have 5 syllables, thus creating a better parallel between the original and its descendant.

It could be argued that manliness and masculinity mean different things, as I’m sure they sometimes do, but the true writer would choose the better-sounding title over the more accurate one. The academic, of course, would do the opposite, which is one of the reasons why writers and academics don’t always get along so good.

Author: Masculinity and Its Discontents

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