Monday, November 17, 2008

Fragile Male Egos

My new colleague asked me to take her Introduction to Gender and Sexuality course this morning at 8 am! I am amazed that the students make it for that hour. I have to be up; Maddie makes sure of that.

Anyway, my colleague asked me to show Boys Don't Cry and then get the students in small groups for discussion. I had some trouble getting the film started, so I threw out her plan. Showed part of the film, then had them put questions on the board and we started a discussion.

I was my usual, in-your-face-let's-talk-about-sex-masculinity-homophobia self. I mostly pushed the group of men huddled together in the back of the room clinging for dear life. (They may have been perfectly at home--this was my perception based on past experience).

I wanted the students to think about the relationship of masculinity to violence. Why do men continually have to prove their masculinity through violence? (In the back of my mind I had Kerry's observation about the normality of drunken fights and brawls among our students).

Brandon, played brilliantly by Hillary Swank, continually puts himself in risky and violent situations. At one point, Lana (Chloe Sevigny) asks him why he was willing to be tied like a dog to the back of truck (referring to "bumper skiing," wherein drunken guys hang onto the back of truck bed with a rope, while the driver twirls in circles). Brandon's response: "it just seemed like what guys do here."

The film gets to the heart the rituals--painful ones at that--men go through to prove they are men. Proving you are a man, means proving you aren't gay. That is why you have to talk a lot about fucking and get into fights and engage in risky behavior.

In any case, I started directing some of my, admittedly, pointed questions to the men huddled together in the back row. One kid was chewing his pen, and so I dubbed him "pen chewer." He didn't want to answer my question so threw it to his buddy. His buddy lowered his eyes, hoping I wouldn't call on him. Didn't work. Then a third guy said: "look, women haze as much as men."

I turned back to others in the class. But, I returned to huddlers again and finally the women started "protecting" them. One woman said: "they think you are picking on men." Another: "they feel attacked."

I found this phenomena fascinating. The women were rushing to protect the "fragile" egos of these men, because I was asking them the same questions I was asking everyone else? Sure, I was mocking pen chewer a little bit to get him to lighten up and answer the question. But, he further retreated into himself.

Clearly, these three guys don't analyze homophobia or masculinity much. That's the point of the film. They get punished--violently--if they do. But, I am still bemused by the womens' reaction to my attempt to get these guys to think about these connections.

I have to go back on Wednesday. Any ideas what I could do to make this observation worthy of discussion in relation to the film?

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