Deleuze and Masculinity
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Deleuze and Masculinity

Anna Hickey-Moody

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Deleuze and Masculinity

Anna Hickey-Moody

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About This Book

This book uses Deleuze's work to understand the politics of masculinity today. It analyses masculinity in terms of what it does, how it operates and what its affects are. Taking a pragmatic approach, Hickey-Moody shapes chapters around key Deleuzian concepts that have proved generative in masculinity studies and then presents case studies of popular subjects and offers overviews of disciplines that have applied Deleuze's work to the study of men's lives. This book shows how the concepts of affect and assemblage have contributed to, and transformed, the work undertaken by the foundational concept of performativity in gender studies. Examining the work of Deleuze and Guattari on the psychoanalytic boy, as exemplified by their writing on Little Hans, Hickey-Moody reconsiders the politics of their approach to psychoanalytic models of young masculinity. In this context, the author examines contemporary lived performances of young masculinity, drawing on her own fieldwork.

The field of disability and masculinity studies has taken up the work of Deleuze and Guattari in a nearly unprecedented fashion. Accordingly, the book also explores the gendered nature of disability, and canvases some of the substantive scholarly contributions that have been made to this interdisciplinary space, before introducing case studies of the work of North American photographer Michael Stokes and the popular Hollywood film Me Before You. The book provocatively concludes by challenging scholars to take up Deleuze's thought to re-shape gendered economies of knowledge and matter that support and contribute to systems of patriarchal domination mediated through environmental exploitation.

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© The Author(s) 2019
A. Hickey-MoodyDeleuze and Masculinity
Begin Abstract

1. Introduction

Anna Hickey-Moody1
School of Media and Communication, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Anna Hickey-Moody
End Abstract
Masculinity studies has developed as an inherently interdisciplinary project since beginning in the 1970s. As part of broader growth, scholarship has devoted much time and energy to understanding and questioning the concept that boys are in crisis. Some scholars argue that masculinity has been synonymous with discourses of crisis since the 1700s, as a focus on unattainable ideals lead to anxiety about failure. These discourses persist; but are certainly not the dominant way in which masculinity is learnt in cultural pedagogies of gender. To a great extent, masculinity is largely taught and learnt through embodied and symbolic sets of practices that take place in a range of places and are distributed across often quite complex networks. Online and offline, between generations, cultures and classes, the gender performance that is popularly recognized as ‘masculinity’ is fluid in the different ways it can embody or represent courage, leadership, protectiveness, strength, power, control and command. This book is written from an appreciation of the complexities of the lives of men, and with a view to increasing the resources available for understanding experiences of lives of men. There are two parts of such a project. Firstly, this entails translating or re-reading Deleuze’s ideas in ways that align with existing agendas of Masculinity studies. Secondly, this involves critical engagement with cultures of masculinity that need to be challenged and changed in order to free existing experiences of masculinity from spectres of failure and crisis.
Men’s culture, and products marketed at men, have started responding to, and trying to change, configurations of toxic masculinity. For example, a popular shaving product recently released a digital advertisement that opens with a montage of news reports on bullying, #MeToo and toxic masculinity as the reversed question is asked by a narrator over images of men self-reflecting while staring into their bathroom mirrors. Recognizing the potential for change, the advertisement calls men to speak back to toxic gender performances, to be the change they want to see in the world. This popular cultural example is one of many existing attempts to change instances in which toxic masculinity is polluting social formations, and causing physical, emotional and psychological harm to boys, men and women who live gendered identities that do not align with the ideals espoused by aggressive men. As the book unfolds, I will also argue that some configurations of toxic masculinity are leading to the continued exploitation of our natural resources and the increasing degradation of our environment. Capitalist economies rely on the production and consumption of specific ideas about gender in order to maintain economic power through global assets such as the carbon market. This imbricated system of power articulates across many realms. The fossil fuel industry, the carbon futures trading market, carbon heavy car culture, and indeed, the disciplinary construction of ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ knowledges of ‘what matters’ when it comes to considering environmental science and thinking about carbon are all shaped directly and indirectly by ideas about gender. There are myriad ways in which masculinity is culturally valued, produced and consumed, however, the fossil fuel industry is a male dominated profession that valorises certain kinds of performances of masculinity, the carbon futures trading market is largely run by men, and most car cultures are male oriented. These are just three examples I choose to explore in detail in Chapter 5, but they are of significance in introducing this book because they map out just some of the many ways in which problematic gender configurations have become part of the status quo of late capitalist life and need to be rethought. Deleuze’s philosophy offers us rich resources for rethinking and expanding contemporary configurations of masculinity studies scholarship. Indeed, Deleuze’s thought is only sporadically being taken up in masculinity studies and this book is intended as a resource to support the translation and application of philosophy into the more applied experiences of masculinity.
With a view to challenging and changing negative cultures of masculinity in order to free existing experiences of masculinity from spectres of failure and crisis, I want to examine the #MeToo movement as an example of why we need a richer array of ways of thinking about, and doing, masculinity. The “#MeToo” crisis has shown that toxic configurations of masculinity still need to be shifted, and I argue that Deleuze’s thought offers us resources that help us to think beyond/in addition to binaries, hierarchies and to complexify power dynamics. Perhaps surprisingly, the “#MeToo” movement, as it is now known within popular consciousness, has taken many years to reach the level of visibility it is currently afforded. It began in 2006 when the North American civil rights activist Tarana Burke founded the “Me Too” movement to raise awareness of sexual assault and abuse. It was not until October 2017 that the New York Times picked up the issues that Burke had raised by publishing an article about the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, alleging that he ‘paid off’ his sexual assault and rape victims. Following this, the actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to say “#MeToo” if they had experienced sexual harassment or assault and the “#MeToo” hashtag became viral on social media. By December 2017 Tarana Burke was one of a number of women named “person of the year” by Time magazine. This very contemporary timeline shows us that women have been deprived of basic human rights such as personal safety across history and into contemporary times. Redresses are only beginning to be made in some areas, and reconfiguring ideas of masculinity is part of these changes. Indeed, the fantastic backlash to #MeToo made by misogynistic white, North American men (and led by the current American president, who says he fears for the plight of white men in North America) shows us that even the small redresses that are being achieved as a result of the movement are causing significant repercussions. Changes that have been effected as a result of the movement include the fact that in North America nine male members of Congress either resigned or declined to run for re-election after facing substantiated charges of sexual misconduct. Two White House officials left after being accused of spousal abuse and three congressional candidates lost or quit their campaigns. These changes have occurred despite the fact that “Trump is quietly making it harder to report Sexual Harassment and Discrimination” (Peck, 2017, online), through changing legislation but also through modelling and valuing cultures of misogyny, racism and exploitation. For example, Trump reversed an order made by Obama that forbade federal contractors from keeping sexual harassment discrimination cases secret. Obama’s 2014 rule prevented companies from settling such disputes silently through arbitration and out of the public eye. “This … [is] a clear sign of the administration silencing women”, said Jessica Stender (Peck, 2017, online), senior staff attorney for Equal Rights Advocates, and a women’s rights non-profit. “In this atmosphere, (of MeToo fall-out for Harvey Weinstein) … Trump’s administration actions look remarkably like a real-time backlash to the growing assertion of female power” (Peck, 2017, online).
The culture surrounding these performances of toxic masculinity is imbricated in State and institutional power. For example, in January 2017 Trump signed what is called his “gag rule”, that is meant to prevent health clinics from talking about abortion. Such state power is thought about by Deleuze in his work with Guattari as a form of machinic enslavement, through which social relations and desires, such as the woman’s right to choose and free access to good quality health care, is rendered subordinate to a despotic signifier. In this instance, Trump’s doctrine acts as statist thought, which is the particular signifier that is raised up to the status of standing for the whole, in order to create a despotic signifier. The despotic signifier overshadows or silences all others, so that the other of this signifier (in this case a woman’s right to choose) is defined as radically excluded. Deleuze and Guattari contrast state power against what they call ‘the War Machine’ which is a process through which capture and overcoding can be avoided. Deleuze and Guattari choose the name War Machine because war is the “surest mechanism directed against the formation of the State” (1987, p. 357). In contrast to the potential of the War Machine to escape coding and despotic signification, Deleuze and Guattari view the ‘state’ as a particular kind of institutional process that is produced through social relations that arise from believing in fixities and representation. The state exists primarily as a process, and there are three particular kinds of state form within Deleuze and Guattari’s thought, although the differences between them are not of relevance for our discussion here. What matters to me, in terms of understanding how translating misogynistic sentiment into state legislation can, for example, silence and also dictate woman’s experiences, is that the state-form is defined by the practices of ‘overcoding’, ‘despotic signification’ and ‘machinic enslavement’. These three practices are forms of control that shape expression and desire so that it aligns with state interests and will. The concept of despotic signification explains the fact that in statist thought, a particular signifier (such as Trump’s word) is taken to stand in for ‘the whole’ (e.g. the complexity of North American women’s experiences of early pregnancy), and also the ‘other’ of this signifier (e.g. the desire for abortion) is radically excluded. Despotic signification is a system of radical silencing and it is carried into systems and cultures through practices that Deleuze and Guattari call ‘over...

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