Women and gay men become the other against which

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Women and gay men become the ‘other’ against which heterosexual men project their identities, against whom they stack the decks so as to compete in a situation in which they will always win, so that by suppressing them, men can stake a claim for their own manhood. Women threaten emasculation by representing the home, workplace, and familial responsibility, the negation of fun. Gay men have histor- ically played the role of the consummate sissy in the American popular mind because homosexuality is seen as an inversion of normal gender development. There have been other ‘others.’ Through American history, various groups have represented the sissy, the non-men against masculinity as homophobia 191
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whom American men played out their de fi nitions of manhood, often with vicious results. In fact, these changing groups provide an interesting lesson in American historical development. At the turn of the 19th century, it was Europeans and children who provided the contrast for American men. The ‘true American was vigorous, manly, and direct, not e ff ete and corrupt like the supposed Europeans,’ writes Rupert Wilkinson (1986). ‘He was plain rather than ornamented, rugged rather than luxury seeking, a liberty loving com- mon man or natural gentleman rather than an aristocratic oppressor or servile minion’ (p. 96). The ‘real man’ of the early 19th century was neither noble nor serf. By the middle of the century, black slaves had replaced the e ff ete nobleman. Slaves were seen as dependent, helpless men, incapable of defending their women and children, and therefore less than manly. Native Americans were cast as foolish and naive chil- dren, so they could be infantalized as the ‘Red Children of the Great White Father’ and therefore excluded from full manhood. By the end of the century, new European immigrants were also added to the list of the unreal men, especially the Irish and Italians, who were seen as too passionate and emotionally volatile to remain controlled sturdy oaks, and Jews, who were seen as too bookishly e ff ete and too physically puny to truly measure up. In the mid-20th century, it was also Asians— fi rst the Japanese during the Second World War, and more recently, the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War—who have served as unmanly templates against which American men have hurled their gendered rage. Asian men were seen as small, soft, and e ff eminate—hardly men at all. Such a list of ‘hyphenated’ Americans—Italian-, Jewish-, Irish-, African-, Native-, Asian-, gay—composes the majority of American men. So manhood is only possible for a distinct minority, and the de fi nition has been constructed to prevent the others from achieving it. Interestingly, this emasculation of one’s enemies has a ip side— and one that is equally gendered. These very groups that have histor- ically been cast as less than manly were also, often simultaneously, cast as hypermasculine, as sexually aggressive, violent rapacious beasts, against whom ‘civilized’ men must take a decisive stand and thereby rescue civilization. Thus black men were depicted as ram-
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