I had this really nice pair of new madras shorts he

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after a brutal northeast winter, he decided to wear shorts to class. ‘I had this really nice pair of new Madras shorts,’ he commented. ‘But then I thought to myself, these shorts have lavender and pink in them. Today’s class topic is homophobia. Maybe today is not the best day to wear these shorts.’ Our e ff orts to maintain a manly front cover everything we do. What we wear. How we talk. How we walk. What we eat. Every mannerism, every movement contains a coded gender language. Think, for example, of how you would answer the question: How do you ‘know’ if a man is homosexual? When I ask this question in classes or work- shops, respondents invariably provide a pretty standard list of stereo- typically e ff eminate behaviors. He walks a certain way, talks a certain way, acts a certain way. He’s very emotional; he shows his feelings. One woman commented that she ‘knows’ a man is gay if he really cares about her; another said she knows he’s gay if he shows no interest in her, if he leaves her alone. Now alter the question and imagine what heterosexual men do to make sure no one could possibly get the ‘wrong idea’ about them. Responses typically refer to the original stereotypes, this time as a set of negative rules about behavior. Never dress that way. Never talk or walk that way. Never show your feelings or get emotional. Always be michael s. kimmel 190
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prepared to demonstrate sexual interest in women that you meet, so it is impossible for any woman to get the wrong idea about you. In this sense, homophobia, the fear of being perceived as gay, as not a real man, keeps men exaggerating all the traditional rules of masculinity, including sexual predation with women. Homophobia and sexism go hand in hand. The stakes of perceived sissydom are enormous—sometimes mat- ters of life and death. We take enormous risks to prove our manhood, exposing ourselves disproportionately to health risks, workplace haz- ards, and stress-related illnesses. Men commit suicide three times as often as women. Psychiatrist Willard Gaylin (1992) explains that it is ‘invariably because of perceived social humiliation,’ most often tied to failure in business. [. . .] In one survey, women and men were asked what they were most afraid of. Women responded that they were most afraid of being raped and murdered. Men responded that they were most afraid of being laughed at (Noble, 1992, pp. 105–106). ......................................................................................................................... HOMOPHOBIA AS A CAUSE OF SEXISM, HETEROSEXISM, AND RACISM ......................................................................................................................... Homophobia is intimately interwoven with both sexism and racism. The fear—sometimes conscious, sometimes not—that others might perceive us as homosexual propels men to enact all manner of exag- gerated masculine behaviors and attitudes to make sure that no one could possibly get the wrong idea about us. One of the centerpieces of that exaggerated masculinity is putting women down, both by exclud- ing them from the public sphere and by the quotidian put-downs in speech and behaviors that organize the daily life of the American man.
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