Masculinity as Moments of Becoming
It is generally accepted that the socio-political changes in late modernity have resulted in a massive revision of masculinity. Several theoretical positions have been put forward in order to account for this revision, among them the abandonment of the polarity masculine/feminine, which results in the enrichment of masculinity with feminine elements such as passivity and vulnerability, and the description of male being not in terms of a coherent, stable identity but as ‘moments of becoming’. Yet the outcome of the revision and whether masculinity is actually reinforced or subverted in the process remains an open question.
As ‘moments of becoming’ suggest existential turning points in the male biography and the expansion of masculinity is in most cases effected via an encounter with the woman, the present paper attempts to specify the potentially subversive sense of ‘becoming’ with reference to the feminine. Using examples from contemporary European cinema, it first highlights cases in which ‘becoming’ is a series of experiences of vulnerability and passivity that amount to a ‘fair price’ for regaining access to traditional masculinity. It then focuses on cases of men who appear to have no desire to rejoin the traditional order and for whom vulnerability and passivity signify a deliberate departure from the ways of the common man. This illusion, however, is challenged by exceptional or eccentric females who, by refusing to subscribe to male desire, stir men into recognising the all too traditional motives of their behaviour. A further challenge is mounted by these women: one is invited to imitate not their ‘feminine’ vulnerability but of their active indifference to the values of the male universe. Thus the most radical moment of becoming for men in late modernity is a moment of loss of the cultural and individual tenets of masculinity as well as an aspiration to the feminine, not as a set of transferable attributes but as an attitude to being which goes against the grain of the masculine, patriarchal social organisation.
Keywords: Masculinity, Gender, European Cinema
Dr Angie Voela
Department of Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, Kings College London