Male bodies, Masculine Bodies, Men's Bodies: The Need for a Concept of Gex

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Though bodies are diverse, and with many different meanings, talk of the male body can easily suggest a male (bodily) essence. This can in turn imply some kind of ‘deep (bodily) masculinity’ that supposedly only men can know, and that is men’s or males’ special property. On the other hand, there is another usage or meaning of ‘male’: something that speaks to the specific social, political and embodied bounded experience of men, the boundaries, bodies, skin, fluids, leaks and all, all embodied, material, all social and cultural. Though this makes some more sense, I remain cautious of the word ‘male’ as it can so easily be misused out of context. This is partly why I often prefer to use the term, ‘men’, rather than ‘male’. Bodies, male bodies, can be seen in many ways: as sexed, (sex-)gendered, or gender-sexed, or simply as ‘gex’. This last approach refers to post-constructionist material-discursive theorizing, which does not assume to proceed from sex to gender. Despite this, the host of what might be called ‘general’ or gender-neutral analyses of the body, such as ofthe individual body, the world’s body, body politic, consumer bodies, medical bodies (O’Neill, 2004), usually fail to address gendering of the body, and even more rarely gendering of male bodies or men’s bodies. O’Neill (2004) also discusses the anthropomorphization of the world, as in the ‘encyclopaedic body’. In the extreme case the cosmos may be mapped onto the male body. Or the male body can be represented in or as the cosmos. This body may well be male, spreading body parts into society and well beyond. Oddly, many sophisticated gendered analyses are often explicitly about women (Howson, 2005) and only implicitly about men. And most of what may appear as ‘general’ analyses about bodies are often implicitly about male, masculine and men’s bodies (and not about women). Men and men’s bodies often remain unnamed, decisively unmarked, in a similar but different, way to ‘white bodies’ in Western societies. Gendered and bodily-related associations of and for men are often seen or experienced as less negotiable, less open to critique than, say, ‘economic’ or class-based associations, such as assumed relations of ‘the working class’ or ‘the masses’, and certain social ways of being ‘men’ or coded as ‘male’. Male, masculine and men’s bodies and relations to bodies are far from one thing. There are many waysin which the male, masculine and men’s gender relate to embodiment. The social accounting for men’s bodies has been greatly strengthened through the recent growth of critical studies on men and masculinities. This critical focus on men and masculinities has derived from several, not always compatible, directions and traditions. First, these include various feminist critiques of men, in which the male body isanalyzed as a site of power, especially in relation to sexuality and violence, and the phallocentrism of the male body. Second, critiques from lesbian and gay studies problematize the normative male heterosexual body, from gay studies point to the desirability between (some) male bodies, and from queer studies subvert gender, sexuality and other categories. Third, there have been some men’s positive and explicit responses to feminism, that are profeminist or anti-sexist; there is also work that is ambiguous in relation to feminism or anti-feminist in perspective. Then, there are the influences of poststructuralism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, STS (Science and Technology Studies), and more recently so-called ‘posthumanism’ and ‘new materialism’. These critiques together bring the theorizing men and masculinities into sharper relief, making men and masculinities explicit objects of theory and critique, in ways that are themselves more or less embodied. However, even with these influences the question of embodiment – the experience of, effects on, and social construction of the body – has been unevenly present in developing debates on men and masculinities. This chapter has a dual focus, to consider both the significance of ‘the body’ with critical studies on menand masculinities, and the significance of critical studies on men and masculinities for so-called ‘more general’, often non-gendered studies of ‘the body’. Yet oddly, this particular line of argumentation can easily reify the body and neglect what men do, the practices that make and re-make men. So what is the significance of bodies for men? And the significance of men for bodies? How do men/bodies figure in theories, in social life, and their relations? What is specific about the focus on the male body?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Body Studies
EditorsBryan S. Turner
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780203842096
ISBN (Print)9780415593557, 9781138080119
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2012

Publication series

NameRoutledge International Handbooks


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