Various parts of a large paper I wrote for an Independent Study research project at The University of Maryland, College Park can be found elsewhere on E2 but this node serves as an introduction. The paper is titled Uncloaking America's College Males: A Discursive Abjuration of American Manhood, and in retrospect, I think the title may have been worded too strongly. Other sections of the paper can be found at:
It has occurred to me since posting those sections that the Introduction and other self-referential sections of the paper (i.e., sections of the work which refer to that very work itself), also have some useful background about the project, and information about my perspective. I therefore have adapted and posted the below:
In my occasional use of the term “society” throughout this paper, (and my frequent use of the word “America”, thereby implying, “American society”), do not find some notion that I consider “society” to be anything but a collection of individuals. I do not mean to imply that “society” is some group of people that does not include me, nor that American society exhibits any single unified opinion. Each of us is only responsible for the things we individually, actually do to further the negative parts of American masculinity. Very few people are exempt from blame to this end; I myself am certainly not.
This project began as a gargantuan endeavor. At the outset, I intended to “research, observe, and document the ways in which American college men interact with their worlds, with particular emphasis on the ways in which they interact with each other.” My interest in that subject is very personal; as a college male myself, I feel developmentally unsettled. Interacting with other males has historically been, for me, an awkward and unnerving process because I have felt sure that I was oblivious to the gender-specific social rules, which seemed to come so naturally to other boys but not to me. I like to call these the “rules of engagement”, especially because when that phrase is used in military parlance, it refers to a set of guidelines which discourage interaction except under very specific, limited circumstances.*
I have remained, for most of my life, baffled by (and therefore resistant to) gender constructions, and preoccupied with understanding the meaning of American malehood. Moreover, I have been obsessed with understanding the meaning of my own maleness. Of course, ‘understanding the meaning of my own maleness’ will likely be a lifelong pursuit, and although it was my ambitious goal at the beginning of this project to explore that topic in its entirety, I have quickly determined it to be unwieldy and unsuitable. In fact, nearly every early attempt I made at narrowing the scope of this study to a manageable size revealed that I would need to narrow it yet further. I eventually arrived at two related, manageable, specific, and interesting subjects to serve as the centerpieces of this study of college men: crying and nudity.
My reasons for choosing crying and nudity (and the relationship between the two) can be found detailed here, but I will offer here more reasons for focusing on males rather than gender constructions in general. There is a bit of a paradox in my fascination with maleness. On the one hand, my spiritual beliefs do not encourage recognition of a constitutional, spiritual difference between males and females; in my spiritual thoughts, I regard the male-female dichotomy as a distracting, illusory relic of the material world. Socialized gender as a binary, biological phenomenon corresponding with genitals is scientifically baseless. Even ‘male’ and ‘female’ are terms that resist reliable definition, as I will show. But on the other hand, when in the mindset of my impassioned, socialized self, I must admit to a very different view: that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are very much concepts that do exist (in my mind). I apply these concepts to my relationships with other people, and the way I apply them to males flatters neither those males nor me.
I offer you candor nonetheless. Men scare me. (I am male, by the way). “Man” is written in my mental lexicon alongside a thousand unpleasant concepts involving violence, force, power, greed, cold authority, hyper- and hetero- sexuality, competition, aesthetic repugnance, rank smells, dispassion, and (inconsistently enough) anger. Now, I don’t truly, intellectually believe this list to describe the only possible traits of all men. Rather, my earliest understanding, (whatever its origin), of the concept of manhood had ascribed in its most fundamental meaning these dark things, and so, for me, they are forever embedded in the concept. That is, these things must at least come to mind when I think of “men”.
Yet all at once, while scaring me on the one hand, men absolutely allure me on the other. My post-childhood experiences with heterosexual1 men have exposed me repeatedly to situations which contradict my prejudice. In the last few years, I have formed close friendships with several male college undergraduates and twentysomethings. I have earned their trust and heard their secrets – witnessed that they are, at heart, like me. This project itself, in its creating the opportunity for highly-personal interaction with college males, has given me yet further cause to reconsider my negative generalizations about American manhood constructions, and American college men.
Through the research and reflection for this project, I do believe that I’ve come to an understanding of what it means to be an American man. It is from this understanding that I launch my passionate, evidentiary plea to the American college man to wield well his power over America’s future sons, to recognize that the genderless substance of his soul is unalterable, and most of all, to discover and be truly himself.
1 - In using terms associated with sexual orientation, I only imply that as far as I am aware, the people I have in mind have chosen this label for themselves. I do not mean to imply that these labels have any reliable meaning. So please read the word “heterosexual” as always preceded by “self-identified”.
*Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense Military Dictionary.