Masculinity and World War II
The image of Man has changed throughout time. Dominant constructions of masculinity, which are basically attempts to stabilize gender identity, are developed within the dynamics of shifting cultures and societies. The male stereotype, which is still prevails nowadays, started rising at the end of eighteenth – beginning nineteenth century in Europe with a great concentration on the male’s body. The stereotype made the world look at man more like a type rather than an individual. Masculinity was strengthened due to the positive stereotyping, however for those that did not conform to this label or fit in with the ideal, were negatively stereotyped. Being an outsider who was born in a different country made it especially interesting to penetrate the American culture and research about American masculinity. Truly, much of the progress of any country has been defined around the lives and accomplishments of great men. One cannot begin understanding the history of America without understanding manhood and the influence of the male. In every generation in America, manhood has been in the center of life and progress. It constantly strives to uphold its own traditions while trying to redefine itself. I have done a lot of research about American masculinity and how it has been changed throughout the history. While going through different literature about the nature of masculinity, I came to the conclusion that for many men, the idea of masculinity is deeply tied to military prowess and adventure. One cannot but agree that war, the most violent and decisive of human acts, is the paradigmatic masculine enterprise. Military service is one of the rites of manhood; it makes men men. Moreover, war makes nations masculine, too. This paper examines the nature of masculinity and the role of masculinity in America. My main focus is on the changes in definitions of masculinity during the WWII Era and goes on to discuss the psychological and emotional effects of the war and the subsequent readjustment efforts in the same era. In this work I will try to explore different author’s conclusions about masculinity, its changes and/or problems during the WWII and in its post-period. War, more than any other action, offers the ultimate test and demonstration of manhood. Indeed, it has been suggested that the sole cause of war is masculinity. War requires masculine energy and communal effort. It engages man in the age-old conflict between courage cowardice, right and wrong, aggression and compassion. In his book Manhood in America: A Cultural History, Michael Kimmel concentrates his attention on a large set of questions about the importance of masculinity: “I do believe that a comprehensive historical account of the American experience can no longer ignore the importance of masculinity – and especially of men’s efforts to prove their manhood – in the making of America” (5). For the soldier who fought during the WWII, the country conveyed upon him the gift of manhood. It was a war which redefined American masculinity. Although it led men to brutality on a very personal level, it served the hero archetype well. To embody courage under the most gruesome circumstances, the soldier has to repress his fear. To embody strength, he had to repress his feelings of vulnerability. In fact, what war required is manliness: “The men who were the best soldiers were, in effect, the best men” (Gagen 23). Elizabeth A. Gagen in her article “Homespun Manhood and the War Against Masculinity: Community Leisure on the US home front, 1917-19,” discussing the war and its influence on masculinity, states that “military masculinity became more entrenched in myths of heroism as sacrifice as citizenship was masculinised and masculinity was militarized” (27). Even though the author’s concentration is mostly on the WW I, Ganger discusses a lot about masculinity and the effect of wars on American cultures. Gagen locates the early-century crisis of...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document