Bone Up ➤ The Masculine Myth

On September 8, 2016 by Josh Vandiver


It is time to try to speak about masculinity, about what it is and how it works.

Antony Easthope opens his book What a Man’s Gotta Do: The Masculine Myth in Popular Culture (1990) by emphasizing he tries to speak of the masculine myth in politics and culture. For the masculine myth functions, in large part, through concealment and even deception:

Despite all that has been written over the past twenty years on femininity and feminism, masculinity has stayed pretty well concealed. This has always been its ruse in order to hold on to its power.

Easthope writes on the masculine myth in a limpid style evincing theoretical discipline, exemplary argument, and critical self-awareness. In the future, we’ll explore his distinct ideas about men and masculinity, but for now I wish to emphasize these three features of his style.

First, Easthope maintains a consistently disciplined theoretical approach throughout. His approach is psychoanalytic, drawing from both Freud and Lacan, especially the concept of the phallus, to analyze the masculine myth as it appears in our popular unconscious. Easthope’s consistency and discipline stand in sharp contrast to many scholarly works today. Most scholars, especially those writing in the last couple decades, attempt to deploy far too many theories and approaches – often incommensurate, if not downright contradictory – to their subject.

Easthope What a Man's Gotta Do The Masculine Myth in Popular CultureSecond, Easthope shows us how to use the complex thinking of Freud and Lacan always by way of concrete cultural and political exemplars – touchstones illustrating larger phenomena – which are also accessible to most readers. He avoids excessive abstraction and quibbles with other academics.

Third, Easthope openly reveals the challenges of writing about the masculine myth and the importance of being self-aware as one does so. For example, he analyzes three types of “masculine style” in speech, one of which is “clarity,” the ambition to make the truth seem self-evident to the listener or reader, masking the position of the speaker or writer. After closes that chapter with a crucial observation:

Of course, someone might well point out that, according to this account and definition of the clear style, this present book is written in a masculine style. Once again it seems that the structures of mastery associated with the masculine ego cannot be avoided in our culture. And certainly his book does try to be as clear as it can. At the same time there are two factors at least which call its truth into question, leaving its meaning open to debate rather than trying to close it on to something absolute and fixed, out there. One is that the writing does not try to conceal the ideas and concepts by which it gets to its meaning. The other is that from the outset the argument has followed a political purpose – to unmask masculinity – that is openly avowed. Because that aim is explicit it can easily be argued against.

Easthopes reveals himself as repeating, in the book itself, a masculine style of writing. It would have been easy to leave it at that, but he would thereby have perpetuated the masculine myth of clarity and self-evident truthfulness. He admirably turns this discovery into an opportunity to openly illustrate what he has done and why it is significant.

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Josh Vandiver, a graduate of Harvard College and Princeton University, is an American political scientist and historian. Based in Manhattan, he was the Lord Harlech Fellow at New College, Oxford, and has taught at the University of Chicago and Williams College.