Essay: Masculinity in literature

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  • Masculinity in literature
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Masculinity is still a new and fresh field to be ploughed specially in the field of literature. Many researchers have done abundant researches on femininity. Yet, masculinity has never been studied fully neither as a concept nor as a movement. Terms like masculinist or Masculinism are still rarely to be found in daily used dictionaries. This is a sign of the urgent need to study masculinity as a phenomenon in society. Some scholars, researchers and critics have studied masculinity as a part of ethnography, societal studies and history. Till the beginning of the 1970s, masculinity was not heard as an independent area of research. Some researchers find masculinity as an antonym of femininity only which is not logically or scientifically correct. Masculinity is an independent area similarly as femininity is. Away from being a male chauvinist, the truth is that masculinity is an ongoing process like any other process of human behaviour. It is not a static concept. As a concept, it has undertaken a growth process. Terms like maleness and manhood were used in place of masculinity. Terms were to some extent controversial but the know-how of people about masculinity was as the socially accepted way of being a man. So, it was a social understanding about the behaviour of the man. This is the know-how of the society. The term masculinity refers to men’s traditional manners, habits and attitudes, which constitute the patriarchal system of order in society. It governs the relationship between men as well as between men and women in society, where women in general are marginalized to men. There must be a separation of understanding masculinity as something related to power, maleness and domination. However, masculinity like many abstract terms is not so easy to be pinpointed. Even the understandings of societies are not the same. That is why we have different masculinities. So, it is a must to understand the nature of masculinity, the meaning of being masculine and why it is understood differently. This task is the task of researchers to study masculinity even more academically.

The twentieth century is the fruitful age in which masculinity was much investigated. Several researchers and scholars started to study men and masculinities in different places of the world. This thesis presents several definitions by several scholars and researchers among which Michael Kimmel from America, John Tosh from England, R. W. Connell from Australia and others. The researcher has surveyed the works of these scholars from different places in the world in order to have a global understanding of masculinity and to come across shared understanding of what is meant by masculinity. This is done through the critical investigation of some literary pieces of a specific era called Victorian period. R. W. Connell finds that Masculinity is simultaneously a place in gender relations, the practices through which men and women engage that place in gender, and the effects of these practices on bodily experience, personality and culture. This definition tells us that masculinity is not the property of men, and reminds us to be wary of using the terms ‘men’, ‘male’ and ‘masculinity’ interchangeably. R. W. Connell focuses on the factor of culture in the understanding of masculinity. John Tosh argues on the concept of masculinity of nineteenth-century Britain that manliness was only secondarily about men’s relations with women. Self-control, hard work and independence were the dominant code of Victorian manliness. John Tosh focuses on the historical factor more that the cultural factor. Michael Kimmel sees masculinity as homophobic in the sense that any symptom of femininity in a man is sure to draw effeminate criticism from his peers. Men, who subscribe to this lessen structure of masculinity, are afraid of any peer men. Michael Kimmel focuses on the lack of feminine features is the essence of being masculine. He sees it as the antonym of femininity. All these definitions contribute to give a holistic view of masculinity. No single definition is satisfactory without the other. All of them make us aware of what is meant by masculinity. Away from the theoretical background, masculinity is a performance rather than rules to be followed. Masculinity is to be performed through certain actions with other people whether men or women. This is the gist of what is meant by masculinity.

Masculinity is studied only partially as a concept and not a movement in other fields like sociology, history and anthropology. This is due to the male gender roles played by men which can be consider as hegemony. Anyhow, masculinity should be studied as a movement since masculinity is initialized as a reaction to femininity the concept and the movement. Masculinity is more than hegemony, power, and domination. Moreover, masculinity is more than the antonym of femininity. Masculinity is an independent science of studying men and their relations with men as well women. The present thesis presents masculinity as a complementary field to femininity. The researcher finds that those who are interested in femininity must pay attention to masculinity as an independent area of research field, not as an opponent concept to femininity. Masculinity cannot be understood well without the study of femininity and femininity cannot be understood clearly without the study of masculinity as well. Stereotypically, it is thought than men are aggressive and women are passive. This cannot be overgeneralised in all societies. Due to different reasons, there are different masculinities and different femininities in which both men and women might dress the gender roles of the other. That is why we have feminine masculinity, masculine femininity and effeminate masculinity. Thus, it is relative from one society to another; what can be thought as masculine in one society can be feminine in another. Thus, the American masculinity is to some extent different from the British or the Eastern masculinity. Masculinity of middle ages is different from the Victorian masculinity or the modern age masculinity.

The problem of the misconception of masculinity is because of the relation of men to women. Many studies were done in this area to find solutions for the hegemonic and patriarchal masculinity against women. However, it is rarely found that some studies were done to solve the hegemonic masculinity within men as one category or the female hegemony against men, especially after women’s liberation movements. Hegemonic masculinity is related to the present study. This masculinity marks the destination between the masculine and the feminine factor. The feminine factor is suffering from this type of masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity proposes that society consents to masculinity as dominant and superior to femininity suggesting that men have rights to certain positions and roles in society which inherently disadvantages women. However, this hegemonic masculinity is not the most common masculinity in societies. Most scholars of gender studies want to eradicate this hegemonic masculinity. The present thesis proposes a solution for the controversy over hegemonic masculinity. This solution is to replace hegemonic masculinity with gentleman masculinity. So far the gentleman masculinity is concerned, it will suffice to be acceptable for both genders; male or female. This solution is a result of the critical analysis of the four novels of Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen; Jane Eyre, Villette, Pride and Prejudice and Emma.
Masculinity is not a one-sided phenomenon related to men’s treatment to women. Masculinity relates to what men ought to be as well as what others ought to be towards them. The lack of masculine features is not necessarily feminine and vice versa. It is similar to the idea that biological differences do not mean that this gender is masculine or that gender is feminine. Not all men are manly or masculine and vice versa. Among the male Believers are some who have been true men. So, not all males are masculine or manly. There are some features that make men masculine. The present study presents these features in the gentleman masculinity which is proposed in the novels of the two women Victorian novelists, Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen.
Victorian period witnessed huge changes in every field of life including literature. Since literature is a mirror of society, it reflects every aspect of society including masculinity. The concept of masculinity during the Victorian period is viewed differently from the masculinity of the middle ages or the romantic period. There were some changes regarding the gender role of both man and woman. However, there were great similarity. In middle ages, man was seen the most important member of the family since he is the breadwinner of the family. The gentle birth and the social status decided one’s masculinity. The Victorian masculinity was hegemonic per se, based only on two spheres; the public and the private sphere. Victorian society gave the public sphere to man and the private sphere to woman. The separate spheres philosophy holds that men were capable for action, reason, aggression, independence, and self-interest .This is related to the public sphere. Women were capable of having such soft qualities of femininity such as emotion, obedience, submission, reliance, and selflessness. Such philosophy allowed men, to control mentally and intellectually, to dominate society, and to be the dominating gender. The dominance of men over women, in an age even ruled by a woman Queen Victoria, was incorporated from classical literature and religion. The idea that male domination was the will of nature was also supported by the Bible.
The industrial revolution played a major role in changing the gender roles of both men and women and certain changes happened to the philosophy of public and private spheres in which woman became no longer an ‘Angle of the House’. Man started to share woman in the private sphere. There was intermingling of the gender roles of male and female. Education had witnessed huge changes. Women started to have chances of formal education. With such changes brought by Industrial Revolution and education women started pursuing serious gender roles in society like education rather than cooking, piano playing and painting.
Literature, like any field of the Victorian period, witnessed great changes particularly in the field of novel. The Victorian age was an age of the novel genre. Many writers contributed to the growth of novel at this period, but mostly dominated by women. Women novelists like George Eliot, the Bronte Sisters and Jane Austen, portrayed the concepts of femininity and masculinity as they were in practised in that era. Victorian women novelists wanted to reconstruct their woman’s identity as well as man’s identity. Most critics find that these women novelists portrayed femininity struggling to get their rights, yet they portrayed masculinity as real as it was practised by men and society. They also proposed another form of masculinity which is desirable for both men and women. The present thesis studies the novels of both novelists, Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen.
Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen have broken off the monopoly of male writers in literature and they won the bid. The female novelists of Victorian period have attacked the traditional masculinity and hegemonic masculinity prevailed in that period. They have called for a new kind of masculinity. This new masculinity is merely the Gentleman Masculinity. Victorian gentlemen are defined by their adherence to the ‘English’ morality tied to the sense of the Englishness that is regarded as the very England’s ideal form of masculinity. So, the concept of the Gentleman is the best form of masculinity. The Victorian gentleman is revered, especially because he is highly associated with being English, which implies a certain expression of masculinity. The Victorian novelists have portrayed the concept of the gentleman as a more refined and emotionally controlled version of masculinity compared to the men of the working class portrayed as an overtly degenerated version of masculinity.
Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen are two pillars of the English novel. Both of them did their best in writing the English novel and in changing the follies of their society; among which is the hegemonic masculinity of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They paved the way for women writers and novelists of the twentieth century. They were feminists before feminism. They portrayed the miserable situations of women during the period in which they were living in. Usually the initial step is the most difficult one. This is because they confronted the Victorian society and its culture which was mainly male-dominated. Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen wrote in an age in which there is no chance for women at all. Jane Austen says “Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything” . This indicates the dominance of men over women during the nineteenth century in education and literature. Charlotte Bronte was told by Robert Southey that literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be, when she asked him for a feedback for her poems. Then, Charlotte Bronte fought against the notion of literature as male dominated. Writing novels was a strange gender role in at the dawn of the Victorian period. It was customary to see woman only as the ‘Angel of the House’.
Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen brought new gender roles for women like writing novels. Another gender role seen in their novels is the role of a teacher or a governess. They modified the role of a governess into the role of a teacher played by woman. This gave a chance for demanding more gender roles out of the realm of the private sphere. Accordingly, the construction of new femininity started to sprout with new gender roles than those stereotyped roles given to women in the Victorian period. The construction of new femininity demanded the construction of new masculinity as well. This is what happened in their works. The challenge of creating and formulating a new form of masculinity by women writers like Charlotte Bronte was not a bed of roses. At the beginning of their task to construct new femininity as well as masculinity, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte wrote under the pseudonyms ‘By a lady’ and ‘Currer Bell’. This choice of pseudonym enabled them to generalize their authorial power in a way that they thought their names could not. Moreover, publishers had no interest to publish their writing under woman authors.
The Victorian society did not recognize woman to be a writer. So, the most significant issue that it was not only a social hegemony but also a literary hegemony. This literary hegemony provoked Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen to fight against the hegemonic masculinity prevailed in the Victorian society. Their dilemma under the literary patriarchy is a uniting factor in their struggle inside the male – dominated society. Consequently, they had no option other than their novels. The researcher has chosen four novels of the two novelists as a case study of their novels. These novels were chosen randomly. These novels are Jane Eyre, Villette, Pride and Prejudice and Emma. The researcher analyses critically and comparatively these novels focussing on the related quotes on masculinity.
Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen belong to one era though there was only one year linking the two. Charlotte Bronte was born one year before the death of Jane Austen in 1817. However, they share several things in their lives. Both of them got education at home which is one of the reasons for them to attack the hegemony of the Victorian society. Men of their age got formal education which was not available for women at that period. Another feature linking their lives is their unrequited love. Both of them lived sheltered lives within the domestic sphere, they both lived remote life. They also thought in their right to love. Jane Austen once wrote, “The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love”. Truly, she did not find a man who was deserve of her love. This unrequited love affects their writing and their way of thinking towards men. As a result, they rejected the traditional model of men of the Victorian period. However, this was negative for them and positive for the readers of Victorian novels. Unless they were unmarried, we could not have seen such brilliant novels like Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice. The life of spinsterhood of the two novelists and their sisters might affect their unheard anger towards society. Their anger is written in their novels and still has been being heard through centuries. Charlotte Bronte wrote her novels more passionately than Jane Austen. However, Jane Austen wrote more delicately than Charlotte Bronte.
Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen are the leaders to construct a new movement in literature, i.e. feminism or at least a new perception of femininity. This is known to all the critics and theorists of both feminism and femininity like Virginia Woolf, Elaine Showalter, Claudia Johnson, Gilbert and Gubar. The novel attempt of this study is that Austen and Bronte are also the creators of new masculinity which works hand in hand with that femininity. Some theorists, critics or scholars focus on one concept, but Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte focus on both femininity as well as masculinity. They fought against the traditional masculinity of the Victorian period. The traditional masculinity is a patriarchal masculinity which degrades woman as an inferior gender. Victorian men and Victorian society gave the private sphere to women and the public sphere to men. Woman was seen as an ‘Angel of the House’. Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen demolish this concept of in their novels. They give them wider sphere than that one given by the Victorian society. More gender roles are given to women in their novels. Both Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte give their heroines the gender roles that they were looking in their lives. They also construct ideal men for them to marry and live a happy life.
The present thesis presents Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen’s new techniques and tools to construct the new version of masculinity which is a novel attempt in the history of English novel. The researcher analyses critically the four selected novels of both novelists. Both novelists construct a new proposed masculinity in which men act according to what men ought to be. In this newly formed masculinity, Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen call for two different identities; woman’s identity and man’s identity. These two identities must work hand in hand to acknowledge the identity of the other. This masculinity is something new and strange to the Victorian man. The Victorian man sees woman’s identity as secondary. Most of the male characters of Jane Eyre, Villette, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma have this patriarchal feeling towards women. Brocklehurst, St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre, Dr. John, de Hamal in Villette, Mr. Collins, Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and Frank Churchill, Mr. Elton in Emma are hegemonic in their treatment towards women in these novels. These specimen are presented to the patriarchy and hegemony of the Victorian man. These men stand for different types of masculinities in that era whether religious men, traditional men or even gentlemen. Yet, they believe that they are the superior sex and women are the inferior sex.
Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte do not only present the problem without offering the solution; they invite men change and to be aware of the new forms of masculine identity. Austen and Bronte’s search of feminine identity leads to search of a new masculine identity. The heroines of Jane Eyre, Villette, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma are looking for a new woman identity; likewise the heroes of these novels have gained new masculine identity which is different from the traditional Victorian masculinity. Rochester, Paul Emanuel, Darcy, and Knightley are new versions of a new masculinity in the Victorian period. They are reconstructed to be what men ought to be. These heroes are the exemplars of the newly constructed masculinity suggested by Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. Some of them are gentlemen and masculine by birth like Mr. Knightly in Emma, while others are changed from the hegemonic masculinity to the gentlemen masculinity such as Rochester, Paul Emanuel and Darcy who have been undertaking a gradual process of change. The best factor to judge their gentleman masculinity is their performance. So, man is because of what he acts, not because of gentle birth or because of his rank in the society. It is the society also that makes him a man. So, a man is not born; it is the society that makes him man. This type of gentleman masculinity is based on performance rather than social rank is in consonance with the standards of the modern masculinity of W. R. Connell, Judith Butlers and others who argue that gender is a doing and a performative.

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