In the olden times, it was the primary duty of men to provide food and care for their family. Men would search for food and fight if the need arises in order to keep their family away from harm. As the world advanced, women started taking different roles which were considerably different from being protected and taken care of in the past. Fast forward to the present, women are now active participants in shaping the society and in most parts of the world, this new representation of women as successful and hard-working are widely accepted. According to psychologist Cordelia Fine, the changes in gender roles are due to how people conform to the prevailing social expectations of how it is to be a real man or a woman (Gender inequality). However, the men of Fight Club sees this change in women’s role a challenge to their masculinity. To address this issue, Fight Club men turned to fighting as a way to reclaim their manhood. Although considered violent in some society, fighting seems to be a necessary act in reclaiming man’s lost masculinity in the story.
Galtung, in her research, writes that 95% of the total number of violence committed in the world today are attributed to men (1). Although the figure is a strong indication that a link between violence and masculinity and male role exist, it does not prove that all men are violent. This idea is also illustrated in the story as before meeting Tyler, Jack was a good employee who holds a significant position in the company where he’s working. His depression and frustrations were the results of his lack of sleep due to insomnia. Until he met Tyler, he was a man who appreciates a set of green glass dishes, a Haparanda sofa, Johanneshov armchair, Rislampa/Har lamps, and other things he lost in the explosion in his apartment. After meeting Tyler, all his frustrations in life were realized. However, it should be remembered that most of his frustrations, both perceived and real, are caused by lack of sleep and the inability to express his emotions like how he used to do in the support groups. Jack was a person who had so many things to complain about but was not violent. After experiencing fighting and seeing bruises as a result of the fight, Jack felt a new sense of freedom.
With Tyler, Jack’s idea started to shift towards fighting. From his previous preoccupation of domestic problems and other social issues, Jack starts appreciating his cuts and bruises from his fight every night. Tyler feeds him with the masculine belief that being able to fight is what describes a man. This is the same idea that Gultang presented in her research, which states that in 1950-1960, boys who show hesitation in fighting when asked to fight were labeled as soft, pathetic and cowardly (8). Gultang indicated that the definition of violence varies from culture to culture, society and time. These days, fighting in schools is already considered an act of violence, but men who are able to defend themselves in any given situation are preferred by more women (Gultang 9). In some society, exhibiting a lack of self-control is what is considered unmanly. Despite the mixed ideas about what characterises a real man, most society these days condemn violence but is tolerable of men fighting back when the need to protect ones self or his loved ones arises. This idea of violence is best explained by Gultang in her study. According to her, there are two types of violence that exist, one is taboo and the other is not (24). Taboo violence refers to what society perceives as objectionable, such as violence towards women or children or towards a person who is inferior in strength of the person instigating violence. On the other hand, violence which are not considered to be taboo are those instances when the perpetrator feels that he has done nothing wrong towards a person. However, in Fight Club, Gultang’s idea of taboo and not taboo violence does not apply as all men in the club are considered equal. Gaining popularity despite its rule of not telling others about it, any man is welcomed in Fight Club. In the end, even members of the support group that Jack used to go to are seen fighting every night.
Tyler talks about his purpose of getting God’s attention through the club in order to achieve damnation or redemption. According to him, “Unless we get God’s attention, we have no hope of damnation of Redemption,” which he believes is hell (Palahniuk 103). Tyler believes that it is only be letting themselves known to the public will they be able to completely reclaim their lost masculinity. Through Project Splinter, Tyler aims to release urban terrorism to catch the attention especially of the wealthy people who look down on waiters and gas station workers. In a study conducted by Streicher, it shows that similar situation also occured in East Timor. Gangs in Dili in East Timor also struggled to have their voices heard. In order to do so, they creatively constructed masculinities and violence by reinventing themselves as youth gangs. Although the members feel that their method may be taken negatively, they expressed their frustration at being ignored by the government. Gang Kulau, the gang responsible for the staged act, became notorious for being violent, got the support of some government representatives, international researchers and some NGOs. Known as a country that has been under a long period of violent regime, East Timor has shown great potential of being civilised in just a short period of time. However, the clashes caused by the gang caused a great uproar and caught the attention of the govenrment. As expected, the government was disappointed, and to avoid further conflict, the government gave in to the demands of the gang for better job opportunities and the civilising of the youths who have gone astray (Streicher 71).
Clark, in her paper, talks about Giroux’s statement about Fight Club being an agent that seduces people to express rage against the constraints that people experience in everyday life as products of a culture that appears to be impersonal and feminized (411). However, in the story, Tyler’s ultimate purpose in putting up Fight Club was to revive man’s lost masculinity. According to him, men have become slaves of private corporations and the demands of their superiors who don’t recognize their full potential. In one of his talks with the members of Fight Club, he compliments them by saying how he finds some of the best men in the society within the club but are not recognized outside. According to him, seeing men who possess great strength and ability to fight are reduced to doing menial jobs that are often derided by the wealthy. To regain a sense of control, Tyler puts up Project Mayhem, wherein members from Fight Club are chosen to join and are divided into different groups that are tasked to carry specific missions. Project Mayhem harms a great number of people, even intimidating the police in order to give the men the feeling of having the upper hand. This act of rebellion is the realization of Jack’s idea of “breaking everything to make something better for themselves” (Palahniuk 33).
Fight Club and Project Mayhem have created a community bound by a strong sense of brotherhood moving towards their own empowerment. Although strongly characterised by acts of violence, both clubs offer men an opportunity to find the male identities they lost in the outside world inside the club along with other men. This step in reasserting masculine identity is not new as history also tells the story of how then President Lincoln took up boxing lessons in order to strengthen his masculine image. According to Sills and Merton, masculinity is closely intertwined with sports under the ideology that sports puts men in a superior position than other men (Moore and Dewberry). President Bush after the 911 attack has shown his masculine side by giving brusque and direct treatment of the press. These instances show that the desire to appear masculine is common among men, regardless of their stature in life. Perhaps the violence exhibited in the story may be considered disruptive by many, especially women, but maybe it is best to understand that masculinity can only be best understood by men.
Several criticisms have been written about the novel, pointing out to its being irresponsible for promoting male revolt against a constraining culture caused by private corporations. While some criticise, there are some who sing praises for the story brought awareness to the people about the pervading issue of emasculative capitalism and its relation to violent solutions. Clark wrote that the story can instigate discourse about gender identity and violence, thereby opening a channel for further discussion (419). It is also important to bear in mind that the primary purpose of the characters in the story is to highlight the importance of masculinity and how to reclaim it, and in that sense, the inclusion of fighting was necessary as fighting is closely attributed to men and their masculinity. In Faludi’s The Betrayal of the American Man,she points out that man, like women, are also faced with the reality of a society that strips them of their rights to take charge of their fate. “As men struggle to free themselves from their crisis, their task is not, in the end, to figure out how to be masculine – rather, their masculinity lies in figuring out how to be human” (1).
Clark, Suzanne. “Fight Club: Historicizing the Rhetoric of Masculinity, Violence, and
Sentimentality.” Journal of Advanced Composition 21.2 (2001): 411-20. Print.
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Faludi, Susan. “The Betrayal of the American Man.” Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man.
Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 1999. Print. 25 Apr. 2014.
Galtung, Johan. “Masculinity and violence.” xyonline.net. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.
Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: 1996, W.W. Norton and Company. Print.
Streicher, Ruth. “The Construction of Masculinities and Violence: “Youth Gangs” in Dili, East
Timor.” Working Paper No. 2. 2011. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.