American Masculinity

 What do we Americans consider as masculine? Masculinity by definition on Google is the “possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men.” but what kind of qualities makes a man? In the academic article “Masculinity as Homophobia” by the American sociologist Michael S. Kimmel, he stated that “American manhood is rooted in the sphere of production, the public arena, a masculinity grounded not in landownership or in artisanal republican virtue but in successful participation.” Kimmel’s way of elaborating how masculinity is a sense of production translates to the characters in the novel “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk. In the novel, we were introduced to a depressed man “Jack” who is suffering from insomnia, he meets a soap salesman named Tyler Durden. One day after coming home from a trip, Jack finds his condo had been blown up and he finds himself living with Tyler in an abandoned house. The two men later in the novel formed a club with strict rules, where men who were fed up with their lives fight each other to prove something of himself. The club later on extended to becoming something more extreme, creating project mayhem: an organization of army to bring down modern civilization. While reading this novel, we question what Chuck Palahniuk point is, and why did he write the book? Many critics and fans interprets the novel as a call for reclaiming “real masculinity” through violence and social destruction but Palahniuk is actually critiquing the idea that men should try to reclaim true masculinity through violence. Palahniuk critiques that there is no real masculinity to achieve, that it is all fake. Palahniuk demonstrated his critics with the characters Tyler Durden, Robert Paulson and with the ending of the novel.

Nowadays boys are fixated on being masculine, but we don’t know what that means anymore, because with everything a man does wrong he is viewed as “feminine”. Boys follow the outdated model of a masculine man just like the one Tyler Durden is portrayed as. The ideal typical masculine man, he is strong, handsome, self made, independent man, and he is not to be vulnerable. In the short article “The boys are all not all right” by Michael Ian Black, he elaborates his point on how boys nowadays suffer from society norms. “Boys, though, have been left behind. No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender. It’s no longer enough to ‘be a man’ we no longer even know what that means”. In that quote Black agrees that there isn’t an ideal figure for masculinity, because there isn’t a ideal movement for it, we all see masculinity as different understandings and figures that there isn’t just one ideal way anymore, and that is torturing the gender norm. Palahniuk also agrees with Black but in a different way, he just doesn’t think masculinity ideals are real and he mocks Tyler Durden for that. Tyler and Jack both came up with the idea of Fight Club but Tyler proceeds to wanting something more demanding and he created Project Mayhem. Fight Club gave men a purpose to rediscover their raw “masculinity”, and accordinging to the novel masculinity means willing to feel pain, and dishing pain out to other people. In the novel while Jack and Tyler were in the parking lot, Tyler asked Jack to hit him, and gave his reasoning to why he wanted to get hit, he explains “about not wanting to die without any scar, about being tired of watching only professionals fight, and wanting to know more about himself”. To Tyler Durden masculinity is a physical state; the awareness of one’s body, and the willingness to use one’s body to satisfy aggressive needs. Tyler did not have an ideal identification of masculinity except for violence. He saw violence as a way to escape reality and society because he believed that society is what was emasculating men. Masculinity is something that’s controlled it’s natural, and it’s something that men are associated with but Tyler does the opposite of that he saw masculinity as something to show off. After creating the Fight Club and not getting enough he started Project Mayhem with his followers where they were apart of series of dangerous terrorist attack, and that’s when he gets out of control. Tyler is now more focused on destruction, violence and brutality, and that’s not what makes a man. Jack begins to see Project Mayhem with its overly eager embrace of the more aspect of masculinity, aggression and violence, and tried to stop it but that’s when we find out that Jack has been Tyler the whole time, that Tyler was a made up character of Jack’s, that Jack is not real at all. Palahniuk critiques that belief, Palahniuk suggests that there is no such thing as real masculinity and we see that when we learn to find out that Tyler Durden is not real and in that sense masculinity ideals are not either.  

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