The subject of discussion of Mark Gerzon’ book A Choice of Heroes, in Midlife Quest, is the question of masculinity and its influence on contemporary man. Gerzon says that men, in their effort to emulate their heroes before their women, do so, unconsciously (p.414). This behaviour, he says, is largely a part of their childhood conditioning. All those who do imitate or try and act like their heroes don’t do so because they know them personally, but do so because of the influence the celluloid world has over them. Many people fall victim to the influence of the celluloid world and try and re-enact their roles in their lives, little knowing that their heroes aren’t exactly the same as they are on screen. This influence of the celluloid has robbed man of his senses, and he acts in a way he thinks he should, which is dangerous. When John Hinckley, the son of an oil magnate, almost shot and killed President Ronald Reagan, was asked why he tried to kill the President, he said he wanted to impress Jodie Foster, the actress whom he intensely in the film Taxi Driver (p.415). Gerzon believes that cultural images influence people more than they actually know; imitating a hero will lead man into further chaos. In order to prove this, Gerzon introduces five archetypes; the Frontiersman, the Soldier, the Expert, the Breadwinner, and the Lord. The Frontiersman explored new lands, while the Soldier provided security; the Expert introduced new concepts and knowledge, while the Breadwinner brought economic prosperity, and, the Lord offered salvation and immortality (p.415). These five archetypes served vital purposes and ensured that man treated their loved ones and others around them in an honest, sincere, and responsible way. However, are these archetypes given their due today? Given the kind of lifestyle men and women lead today, the meaning and usefulness of the five archetypes seems to have evaporated with time. There seems to be far too many diversions from responsibility to individuality, and it is for men to wake up to this growing disparity and find the courage to explore oneself deeply and to act with self-awareness.
This abstract, from the first chapter of The Male Machine (1974) from Marc Feigen Fasteau’s book Friendships Among Men, reveals the intimate relationship between men and women, their sexuality, and relations with people of the same sex. The subject is on the follies of masculinity in men, and their inability to have a more open, less self-protective relationship, like they do with women. In juxtaposing the relations women have with other women, and men have with their male colleagues, Fasteau shows relationships between men differ in comparison to those with women. In The Male Machine, the author focuses his attention on how and what men speak when they are together. Inadvertently, men spend more of their time with friends, and the conversation between them is friendly, than serious. Whether it’s in office, or in the open, men prefer to talk about things that aren’t personal. When in office, it is more on work-related discussions, and when they’re outside office, discussions are more on ‘others’ than on themselves. However, this changes when their attitude is influenced by something, like, when Fasteau writes; “Bob, ole boy, I gotta tell ya – being divorced isn’t so hot (And see, I’m too drunk to be held responsible for blurting it out)” (p.420); they tend to avoid anything personal.
This clearly shows that men are not comfortable talking about anything serious among them, unless they are influenced or become victims of their own doing. Because of this, they hardly speak openly about themselves or their problems to others whom they know. They would, however, open up and speak about personal things with strangers. The inability to open up, or “the stifling ban on self-disclosure that causes men to hide from each other is the reason for the taboos and imperatives of masculine stereotype” (p.421). This clearly reveals the lack of range in communication among men. Generally, because of their masculinity, men get into competitive mode, so that they can make contact with another person. The bridge in communication is illustrated by a rap singer of a group who says “When I was talking I used to feel that I had to be driving to a point, that it had to be rational and organized, that I had to persuade at all times, rather than exchange thoughts and ideas” (p.422). The situation was more of a catch-22 situation; competitiveness encouraged conversation, and it was this competitiveness that became the obstacle to openness between men. There is uncertainty in their discussions on subjects other than official or formal.
In Being a Man, Paul Theroux detects scepticism in male chauvinism. He feels that as a man himself, a lot of things are being said about men, which makes him dislike himself. He says that the idea of masculinity denies men the natural; friendship of women, as they position themselves as the source of power. It is unfair for men to treat women as though they were needed only as witnesses and seducers, for; masculinity celebrates the exclusiveness of man. Even as a small boy of thirteen, when Theroux wanted to talk to girls, he was told to join sports, boy scouts, and so on, so that he could be rid of the urge to be with girls. This was unfair on girls, as it kept them away from boys. There seemed to be a silent rule that said that men should not get involved with women, but rather treat them as sex objects, or punching bags. This is perhaps one reason why sportsmen’s attitude toward women in general is unfair. As Theroux says, “any object study would find the quest for manliness essentially right-wing, puritanical, cowardly, and neurotic” (p.429). In saying this, Theroux also claims that men couldn't write because it was degrading his masculinity, and those men who did write in a manly fashion, such as Hemingway, wrote stories that involved sports and other ‘manly’ things
In continuation of his interest in becoming a writer, Theroux says that, he had thought that writing was a profession for women and sports for men. For Theroux, sport was wastage of time and humiliating, and so, it was sickening to think that men should indulge in sports to show his manliness. The logic behind writing being equated with a kind of spirited failure; associated to the weak, namely women, is manly, if it produces wealth, is biased.
In The Men We Carry in Our Minds, by Scott Sanders, is a reflection of how men see women and women see men. Scott Sanders was born in 1945, and is a professor of English at Indiana University. He has written a number of fiction, and non-fiction, realistic and historical books. The Paradise of Bombs (1987), won the Associated Writing Programs Award for creative nonfiction, and The Men We Carry in Our Minds, is a part of this book. Right at the beginning of the essay, one sees two people, presumably of the opposite sexes, discussing how difficult it was for women to work with so much responsibilities and bosses around. To this, the woman named Anneke says that it would be harder for men. Anneke says that women are always at the receiving end because they feel so much pressure to be everything, do everything. Whether it’s one’s career, kids, arts, or politics, women have to have their babies and get back to work a week later. “It’s like women having to overcome a million years’ worth of evolution in one lifetime,” says Sanders (p.432).
Then she compares the role of men to wounded grizzly bears who lumber alone as though nothing else mattered to them. For men, there is no guilt; their attitude toward the poor, the Vietnamese, Native Americans, the whales, and so on are on are a disgrace. Anneke’s reflection reveals the inhumane behaviour of white men, who she believes, lives in a world of ignorance. This revelation by Anneke makes Sanders introspect the past, when white men supremacy dominated socio-political issues surrounding human existence. As he says, as a young boy, the first men, besides my father, “were black convicts and white guards) (p.432). “Their faces,” he continued, “in memory are utterly black, and those men, white and black, have become for me an emblem of racial hatred” (p.433). They came to stand for the two poles of Sanders’ early vision of manhood- the brute toiling animal and the boss. Sanders then goes on to describe the blacks and their features and responsibilities, and those of the whites, who had nothing much to do. This is why Anneke said that women, whether white or black, had more responsibilities than men, because men (white) had little or nothing to do except condescend the blacks and women.
In reviewing the four books by different authors, the common focus of these writers is centered on the dominance of masculinity. The authors give reasons they say, prove that there is a lot better way men can help society rather than proving their superiority over their opposite sex. There is a false notion, they say, that masculinity does not allow men to do things they believe, are women’s. All authors agree unanimously that they hate the view that men are made to dominate the opposite sex. This view, as mentioned by Gerzon, showed that the five archetypes didn’t support their original expressions anymore, and that, it was questionable whether men did consider these virtues today.
Fasteau, M, F, (1974), The Male Machine: Friendships among Men, p.418-27
Gerzon, M, (1982), A Choice of Heroes: The Changing Faces of American Manhood, p.414- 18
Sanders, S, (1983), The Paradise of Bombs: The Men We Carry in Our Minds, p.431
Theroux, P, (1985), Sunrise with Seamonsters: Travels & Discoveries 1964- 1984, Being a Man, p.428-29