This week my class started Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried which looks into the Vietnam War. In about two weeks my class will be splitting up into groups and discussing a film; my group has picked Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, which is also about Vietnam. I mention this because O’Brien writes a lot about the idea of soldiers being actors, men playing a part, or a man performing his gendered duty.

O’Brien’s own tale in the chapter “On the Rainy River” admits that he does not support the war, in one of my favorite quotes he states

“Certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons (p. 40).”

Yet he goes to Vietnam.

Through the chapter “On the Rainy River” he battles within himself to decide to flee to Canada or go to war. In this chapter I found it really powerful and revealing on why some men feel they need to go to war. O’Brien does not want to be dishonorable, a pussy, a sissy, a bitch, a coward, or any other word that is given to a man with a very natural fear of dying in a war he doesn’t believe in. This idea that society will emasculate a man because he does not wish to fight is motivating to those that do not wish to be emasculated to prove their masculinity. Masculinity’s most defining trait would be violence and a military is the largest entity of violence in a society.

O’Brien doesn’t just talk about his own performance in the military but others as well. In the next few passages he really makes a connection between the performance of masculinity and how men really feel/think.

“They afraid of dying but they were even more afraid of to show it (p. 20)”

The men had a very natural and human fear of dying but to show this fear meant they were less than a “real” man. A sissy, a coward, a pussy.

“They were actors. When someone died, it wasn’t quite dying, because in a curious way it seemed scripted, and because they had their lines memorized, irony mixed with tragedy, and because they called it by other names, as if to encyst and destroy the reality of death itself (p. 20)”

O’Brien describes the soldiers as actors. Actors have the ability to model themselves into what the audience wants. Actors in gender model themselves into what society demands.

As discussed in most of my blog masculinity is socially constructed and taught to men at a young age. So masculinity being a learned behavior could be comparable to learning to lie or to be polite; the important thing is to unlearn (not teach) this behavior. Most of the my posts deal with some learned behavior—men are unable to express their feelings, men use sexual violence as a form of control, men fear emasculation, etc, (Full Metal Jacket remarkably covers racism, homophobia, sexism, rape, and violence all in the first seven minutes). If society would change its perceptions of masculinity (and in turn femininity) then people would be people not confined to a little box of qualities that one should have and should perform.

Last week my class finished up Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. Although I enjoyed the novel very much it was hard for me to think about how it connected with masculinity. I thought about examining Billy Pilgrim and how he was not the typical masculine war hero; yet I felt this was too trivial. I decided to focus more on Vonnegut’s anti-war message. How could I connect this message to masculinity in war?

“So it goes” is interpreted to mean that human beings have no free will. What if we apply this idea to the problems associated with masculinity in war/the military?

“For fiscal year 2008, there were 2,923 reports of sexual assaults among active duty U.S. troops worldwide, up from 2,688 reported the previous fiscal year.”

So it goes…

“Up to 90% of [military] women will be sexually harassed.”

So it goes…

“According to the Department of Defense’s own statistics 74-85% of soldiers convicted of rape or sexual assault leave the military with honorable discharges (meaning the rape conviction does not appear on their record!)”

So it goes…

“Over 90% of all females that report a sexual assault is discharged from the military before her contract end. From the 90%, around 85% are discharged against their wishes. Almost all of the 85% lose their careers based on a misdiagnoses that makes one ineligible for military service. The most common misdiagnoses are: adjustment disorder, personality disorder and pre-service existing PTSD or other disorder.”

So it goes…

“four in 10 women at a veterans hospital reported being sexually assaulted while in the military.”

So it goes…

I am obviously focusing on sexual harassment, assault, and rape of women in the military. I do not want to exclude other problems like the homophobia of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” racism, and elitist behavior that plaques the military; but for the sake of space I will limit my discussion.

Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape are all methods that men use to control women (and men). These are not acts by sex-starved men nor a crazy few. These are acts by men that directly tell women (and men) that this is not a place for you e.g. the street, workplace, military—the public sphere or masculine word.

Women, like LGBTIQ people, people of color, and other diversities threaten American masculinity. In order to combat this threat men resort to the single most masculine action, violence.

What if we really meant this “so it goes” when it’s applied to sexual violence in the military?  If it’s a “boys will be boys” mentality that we keep and justify then how will we change these facts?  If we accept “so it goes” do we accept the responsibility for masculinity’s consequences? I think this is getting to the root of Vonnegut’s argument, we cannot accept “so it goes” because we should/can change society.

While reading Since You Went Away by Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith this week I felt there was a lot that I could use for my topic but I didn’t know exactly how to frame everything. After the class discussion today I was able to formulate an idea, mostly from the V-Mail advertisement below.

The advertisement shows a woman, rocking her baby, cooking, and writing a letter to a man at the front. The woman is going in every direction and I think this connects well with the letters written by women. The women in the letters write about juggling many things; families; jobs; emotions; stress. Just like the advertisement, women were expected to write letters to the men at the front and be a little escape and connection for the men. Yet, what about the women, where was their escape? In one letter Kay writes to Jim that…

“there are two sides to it (p. 52)”

“It” is referring to the two sides of war, the home front and the front lines. Kay understood that Jim faced the violent side of war, but she faced with everything else. Kay was pressured by the government and society to stay cheerful for Jim, but she experienced horrible things as well.

Women are pressured into this position of  ‘nurturer” and they are supposed to deal with everything on their own and support the men in their life. This is a prefect example of socially constructed gender roles. The men are at war, they are competitive, aggressive, violent, heroic. While the women stay at home and wait. Yet what does this waiting entail? Pain, anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness, depression etc. Not to mention any external factors that affect women as well.

WWII is often romanticized mostly because of the “heroic” man is off to fight for the good of humanity and his wife stays a loyal wife and citizen at home. Death looms near and it makes every moment a couple spends together dramatic. Along with this romantic notion about wartime the gender roles of men and women are also romanticized because of this these gender roles are thought to have value in our society, even today.

While I was reading the military section of the blog Feministing I found this article about women soldiers and PTSD. The article not only addresses the struggles of veterans, but the struggle of women veterans because they are mostly alone.

“Indeed, at home, after completing important jobs in war, women with the disorder often smack up against old-fashioned ignorance: male veterans and friends who do not recognize them as “real soldiers”; husbands who have little patience with their avoidance of intimacy; and a society that expects them to be feminine nurturers, not the nurtured.”

Exactly what women are revered for, their nurturing qualities, is what destroys women. This is very different from women waiting for their loved ones to return home from the front. Now women are the ones returning home. Yet, when they return home are they treated with the same nurturing qualities that they are expected to give their male counter parts. Just like the women of the WWII letters, these women are left alone to deal with their problems based on their forced gender roles.

Damien Cave. A Combat role, And Anguish, Too

October 31, 2009













For the last two weeks my English class read Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz; the novel chronicles an Italian Jewish man who was taken to the camps in 1944. Connecting with this novel are my last two posts focusing on WWII, more specifically the Nazi concentration camps. I have brought up the themes of fear and power and how they connect to the camps. I want to continue discussion on these themes and how they connect to the regression of man into beast. There is an assumption that man is better than animal, this connects with the idea that because man is civilized. There is often this dichotomy in the world about who (or what) is civilized versus who (or what) is not. Man versus beast is a dichotomy that comes to mind but more often it is man versus man. This other man is someone who deviates from the clean definition of American masculinity, anyone of color, non-Christian, non-heterosexual, poor, etc. On the civilized side of this dichotomy that is created are the Nazis and Aryans versus the other, the supposed animal.

As we spoke in class today about how was it possible for the Nazi’s to value the work of the Jewish man in something like Chemistry, but then treat him less the human beings all the same?  I think this connects to the concentration camps directly. I say this because working in the same laboratory and earning the same wages with a Jewish man puts him on a Nazi’s level, it would be harder to say that Jews are lesser beings if they are on the same level.  The concentration camps remove all levels the Jewish man ever thought about being on. With this removal what is left for a man who is, more often than not, defined by his status in the world? Levi puts it this way…

“That precisely because the Lager was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts (p. 41).”

The Lager, or concentration camp, is a place that the Nazi strip a person of any kind of human quality and try to reduce a man into an inferior being; self-justifying their hate. The men in the concentration camp were forced to give up their morals and normal ideal about a civilized world inside the barbed wire.

“Many social habits and instincts are reduced to silence (p. 87).”

This is a world that has been created for that reason; to have no connections a world that is familiar and safe.

Yet, who is the animal in this scenario, the product of the machine or its maker?  The Nazi’s actively and systematically create these men; while slaughtering millions of others. I can see a modern day connection with the systematic creation of beasts in dog fighting; again the assumption that  men are better than animals. In semi-recent news Atlanta Falcon, Michael Vick was charged with animal cruelty for his extensive dog fighting ring. He created dogs that would fight, fight for their survival. Much like the men in the Lager they must fight against all the other men to survive. Yet, if neither one had been forced to fight for survival than neither one would not have been degraded and treated sadistically.  



 I can not see the difference of man verses beast. I only see living beings.

This week my English class finished reading Maus by Art Spiegelman. It is a graphic novel depicting the story of Speigleman’s father, during his time spent in Nazi occupied Poland and Auschwitz. This is my favorite piece so far, it incorporates visual depictions of the war but also the feelings about the war as well.

How does Maus tie to the theme of masculinity? Well besides the relationship between Anja and Vladek, where he is the provider and protector; and competitive relationship with father-son.  Not to mention the extreme drive for power, domination and conquering the Nazi regime was exuding. However, I want to focus on the powerlessness of men at this time.

More importantly being male equates one with holding power but in Vladek’s case he had very little power over if he lived or if he died. Granted he was a very clever man and saved himself and others many times but he did not feel the power of his gender as an individual. Most men don’t feel this power on an individual bases. In most cases males are the powerful figures over women, children, and other men; those men that are powerless feel emasculated and feminized, as discussed in an earlier post.

Unlike Vladek who accepted his circumstance and tried to go about things the right way; many people did not do the same. This is the main focus, to look at the several men that betrayed Vladek or asked for something in return for their help. Why would someone feel this need to betray someone in times of war? Audre Lorde, a feminist, discusses the danger in white women allying themselves with white men against minorities. These women are…

“being seduced into joining the oppressor under the pretense of sharing power.*”

Although Lorde is speaking about white women I feel this very statement can be used to describe the many people that allied themselves with the Nazi’s, i.e. the Jewish police, the man that gives Vladek away in the attic (p. 113). These people were seduced into thinking that the Nazi’s would spare them because they sided with them. Yet, many that did this didn’t live long and lost respect from their group. Is it just saving one’s own skin or is it more than that? Is it more about being part of that power the Nazi’s had. Men that feel powerless want to feel powerful, men experience power in a group and Nazi regime was the only powerful group accessible to these men.

Although this has nothing to do with my post I was checking out some graphic novels and I stumbled upon one that is related to war that maybe someone would be interested in.

The Shooting War

“The year is 2011. The global war on terror is raging out of control. The American economy is deep in recession. The president is popping Prozac. When a suicide bomber blows a Brooklyn Starbucks to bits, hipster video blogger Jimmy Burns is in the right place at the right time. His dramatic footage is picked up by Global News (“Your home for 24-hour terror coverage”) and Burns is transformed into an overnight media sensation. The next thing he knows he’s on a Black Hawk flying low and fast towards war-ravaged Baghdad. But Burns’ greatest dream – to become a war correspondent – quickly becomes his greatest nightmare. Everyone from his ratings-ravenous bosses, to a renegade squad of U.S. Army commandos, to a tech-savvy band of murderous jihadists all try to make him their pawn. But Burns has other ideas.”

*AudreLorde. Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005.

This week my English class watched two films, one was A Holocaust Documentary by Alfred Hitchcock and the other, Nazi Concentration Camps, part of the Nuremberg Trials. While watching both very emotional and graphic documentaries, it almost doesn’t seem real.  Pictures, video, and audio show me otherwise.

The only thing I can think of that could make people commit such a crime is fear.

Fear is defined as “a feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger.” People fear other people, I think more than they fear anything else. Other people are smart, resourceful, and can affect change. What could be scarier than this?  People have the ability to change minds, overthrow systems of oppression, and overthrow governments, this should be feared by the elites and privileged.

This fear of other people, people who are different from the “norm” relates to the preservation of traditional gender roles. Some men and women fear the change in gender roles will somehow lead to “danger.” The Nazi Regime was no exception. Below are several Nazi war propaganda posters.

This shows an image of the German labor force. They are all men, white, Christian (besides the one Jewish man), and lean and muscular. The one person that is not a German laborer is fat and ugly; he is obviously Jewish because he is called “Der Jude” or Jew. This shows that German masculinity is not far from tradition ideas of masculinity.  Michael Kimmel writes in his essay Masculinity as Homophobia, that the American male fears other males. Although Kimmel is using it in the context of describing homophobia it can still be applied here. Men fear homosexuals because they fear being emasculated. German workers unemployed feel emasculated because most men’s lives are determined by their production. Men would of course feel the effects on their masculinity when they are unemployed, with starving children, and possibly homeless. In turn many Jews were successful or at least well enough off that those that weren’t took notice. Jewish men threatened many German men’s sense of masculinity. This fear of emasculation materializes and the only masculine way to combat this is violence.


These two posters show what German women were expected to do during the war. Women are not supposed to be warriors or laborers but mothers and caregivers. Children, from the supposedly superior race, were needed to create the Nazi German state. Promotion of childbearing and child rearing, also promoted female gender roles.

When these gender roles begin to change, when economies fail, and when race tensions meet a breaking point, fear reaches a point where atrocities like the Holocaust occur. The fear builds and those who are feared have power over those who fear them. In order to regain power those that feel weak because of their fear will dehumanize and feminize their enemy.

“To be a “real” man, a male cannot be fearful, indecisive, conciliatory or weak. A boy or man who is not sufficiently masculine will be stigmatized as a sissy, ostracized as a “mama’s boy,” or stereotyped as gay.*”

Pile the starved bodies, androgynous, creature-like; one does not have to see the faces. One can completely detach from the fact that they are humans.

I feel this will be a topic I will revisit again with our future readings. Fear is a compelling feeling that dictates many of human actions. If you feared storms you would not go out into them, if you feared spiders you would not have them as pets. What do you do if you fear people, their minds, their abilities, or the changes they can create? It is not as simple to avoid but one will want to fight against their fear and change to uphold the status quo.

*Nancy Ehrenreich

Journal Article; Masculinity & American militarism

Tikkun Vol: 17 Issue: 6 ISSN: 08879982 Date: 11/2002

This week for my English class we read The Ghosts May Laugh by Stuart D. Lee. The Ghosts May Laugh, is a short play about several men at the frontline of World War I. The play’s three main characters that I will be focusing on are Jones, Jenkins, and Lewis. These three men have been on the front for about two years and each man is trying to cope with what they are going through. This play connects so well with my earlier post that I thought that I would continue my examination of coping and masculinity.

The character Jones’s defense mechanism is to be cynical about the things he encounters. He becomes like this especially because of his war experiences. Jones experienced shell-shock and accidently murdered a man who was trying to save him. In Jones’s case his masculinity is in question because he breaks down and becomes weak, and because of his weakness an innocent man dies. To cope with this murder he builds up walls around him to keep himself safe. Jones is cruel to the other men, not because he dislikes them, but because he knows that caring for a man at the front will only lead to more pain. Also, with his cruel behavior he is really punishing himself, because he feels he doesn’t deserve comaraderie. Shutting himself off from the world is similar, but more extreme, to what Roland does in Testament of Youth. While Jones is alone with the new soldier Saunders they talk about surviving the war, and Saunders mentions that Jones has lived through the last two years.

“JONES: You call this being alive? (Pause.) I don’t think I can remember what real life was like (p. 15)”

Jones tries to forget his past life because that is “something” and Jones is obsessed with the “nothingness” of the world. Jones sees the pointlessness in the war, dying, training, and orders but I don’t think he sees the pointlessness of his wife and sons. Their existence threatens the walls he has protecting him. He is a shell of his former self, shell-shock fits him, I have always known that shell means bombs but I have always thought it as a person puts a shell around themselves to deal with the shock. Jones happens to be my favorite character of the play because he does have so many layers and he slowly unfolds them throughout the play.

Jenkins escapes, he escapes into a bottle and into the stories the men tell. All the men use escapism in some way but with Jenkins it is very obvious how he accomplishes this. He thinks himself as being a literary aficionado of sorts and quoting poems or passages is one way he escapes. Joking, talking, and drinking are other ways, but I think he purposely tries to be lively because of his fear of dying. All the men fear this but Jenkins seems more bothered by the afterlife then his mates, he changes Saunders story, his own story has ghosts, and he wonders if there are ghosts in the dug-out with all of them now.

“JENKINS: Because that’s what we are trained to do. That is what we have been trained to do since we were young. Never look back, never show emotion (p. 51).”

Jenkins’ joking and constant talking is his way of talking about the issues that haunt him, but in a masculine way. Men do not show emotion but they can joke about it.

Lewis also escapes but he uses his work and his orders to escape responsibility for things he has to live with. He sent a man to his death because he would not change his orders. Jones calls Lewis out on his extreme devotions to orders.

“JONES: That orders are just bits of paper. They can be destroyed a damn sight easier than the men we lose everyday. Can’t you see? Can’t either of you see? Only a couple of hours ago you calmly went out and selected a party of men with orders for them to blow the brains out of some poor fool who just couldn’t take it anymore. And you didn’t bat an eye. Yet when some tins of jam go missing, well that’s horrendous. Don’t you see? It’s the same bit of paper, issued by the same idiot back at base. But if you had just ripped it up, then some poor sod would be alive in a week’s time and eight men wouldn’t have to live the rest of their lives with walking nightmares.

LEWIS: It’s an order. They were both orders (p. 75).”

Lewis feels the guilt like the rest of the men but finds relief in the fact that these were all orders, not his choice. I find Lewis to be very interesting because men are supposed to be thinkers and independent. Yet Lewis is completely dependent on the organization of the military to act and react to his environment. Does this diminish his masculinity? Maybe it could be put this way, a man who fights for what he believes in is a patriot and a man that follows orders is a soldier. All the men are just following orders but they don’t know what this war is about so they can’t believe in it.

Although these men have unhealthy ways of coping a few vetrens have found a way of coping with stress from the military and stress from everyday life through writing and art. Very similar to the authors of the books we have read this semester. Through creating something maybe it will serves as an outlet for people. An anti-war veteren blogger wrote this…

“This is the first time I’ve shown my work since college. I have a BFA and do not use it professionally. After finding Sassoon’s poem I made drawing upon drawing, even a sculpture, and wrote and wrote and wrote about it. I do not think my classmates understood my interest. I don’t think they understood my obsession. Part of my personal problem with it is while I am creating something, the drawings are essentially about the opposite of that. It is hard to find balance in that light.”

If this man and others like him can find an out let like this maybe so many would not suffer internally.

Vera and Roland, from Testament of Youth, vocalize in chapter five their fears of the other one changing during the time they spend apart. Roland uses the term metamorphosis to describe his change and he wonders if Vera has went through a transformation as well. Roland, Vera, society, gender roles, technology, warfare, and human rights are all undergoing a metamorphosis of their own during this time period. As the old Roland who loved poetry and classics dies a new more equip for war Roland is born. Another example is as Victorian views of gender fade away only to be replaced by new gender roles. Roland and Vera are wrapped  in this change but I think Vera’s change is an improvement while Roland’s is a defense mechanism. Vera gains independence, knowledge, and experience that improve her over all out look on the world. Although she sees the pointless destruction of war she looks at it as only bringing her closer to what Roland experiences. While I feel Roland’s detachment and coldness toward Vera is his way with coping with the devastation and death he witnesses everyday. Roland reigns himself in, any feelers he had back in the world outside of the war he cuts because they only remind him of his life before the war.

How does this connect to masculinity? Well I feel this connects directly on men’s limited ways of expressing their emotions. For Roland it is better to distance himself from Vera, because what he is seeing and experiencing is far too emotional for him to deal with.  Vera writes of Roland,

“But the War kills other things besides physical life, and I sometimes feel that little by little the Individuality of You is being as surely buried as the bodies are of those who lie beneath the trenches of Flanders and France (p. 218).”

She is saying that she fears the war is changing him and taking all the part of him that she fell in love with. She is afraid of his coldness to her and she is afraid that when Roland comes back he would have permanently changed because of the war.

Roland in turn describes himself as,

“A phantom in the void (p. 216)”

Roland is not only disconnected with Vera but with himself. He has so much inter-turmoil and no way to properly (and healthily) express his feelings because men, especially men at war, can not show weakness. Roland’s weakness being his natural fear of death and the pain he feels from the death that surrounds him.

As I read a blog from an anti-war veteran he told a story about another defense mechanism someone he knows used.

“They called Murgia giggles, and finally one day we were in the motor-t lot and I asked him why. Prior to this I just heard the other Marines ragging on him about giggling, and that he had continually been sent to get the remains of pilots. When pilots crash they brace for impact, and while they tightly grip the handles in the helicopter they typically end up frying on impact. When mortuary affairs goes to collect the remains and personal effects you have to pry the fingers off the grip, and when Murgia did this, many times the ends of the fingers would pop off and blood would squirt out. So I asked him why they called him giggles. He looks at me, dead in the eyes, and says, “corporal, that was how I coped,” and we just stared at one another for what seemed an eternity. I wanted to take that weight off of him, to share it, but he was still carrying it.”

The images are so raw in that passage that I can not imagine being Murgia who has to live with those memories nor the author who has to live with the gravity of that man’s pain. Yet, Murgia’s giggling is very similar to Roland’s phantom-like state. Each man had to find a way to survive after seeing people die in hideous ways. Expressing those feelings, breaking down, shows weakness and men in war can not show weakness if they want to triumph (this word is loosely applied).

I thought I would start by explaining the title of my blog. “Gee!! I wish I were a Man!” comes from the WWII propaganda poster shown below.

I saw this poster winter semester in my U.S. History class and it really struck me as a powerful propaganda tool. The poster demonstrates two very important issues that one might not see right away. One issue being what “being a man” means and the other being the insult to masculinity. To deal with these issues we have to analyze the text of the poster. In the first line “Gee!! I wish I were a Man!” implies that women (or at least this woman) want to be men. Yet, why would any woman want to be a man, or is it really saying women want to be masculine, i.e. rational, courageous, honorable, and strong? I think this raises a very good point about men that do not want to be or can not be masculine, this essentially devalues their choices and sense of self. If we continue to analyze the text at the bottom the poster says “be a man and do it,” and what do you have to do to be a man? Well join the Navy (or any armed forces for that mater) of course! The poster directly states that to be a man one must be apart of the fight and those that can not or will not is less than real men. Rupert Brooke, who contributed to WWI propaganda, said in his poem Peace

           “Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move and half men (p. 2).”

Brooke directly attacks men that are not a part of the war by calling  them “half men,” or cowards. Men are the protectors of family and country and when they can not or will not fulfill their gender duty then they are less than real men that do perform their gender. I don’t think Brooke realized by using “half men” that he is describing the men who have lost limbs and their minds because of war. Can Brooke emasculate the image of a half man, a veteran that fulfilled his gender role? It would be difficult for these “half men” to regain their self-worth when they are thought of as being less masculine.

Although this poster was created during WWII when masculinity and femininity may have been defined differently, I think the general idea persists today. While watching the Army and Marine recruitment videos I could see the same idea of “be a man,” like the WWII poster shows. In other words being a man means being strong, respected, and even feared. Words like build, tear down, command, obey, and overcoming, are all action words. These words go well with an idea that men are associated with action and doing, while women are associated with emotion and being. The Army is doing something which makes those that do something masculine. For some reason the link to the Army recruitment video is not uploading so here is the link to YouTube.

War propaganda has a way of inspiring patriotism, because of this it also allows us to over look gender, race, and class stereotypes that it can perpetuate. Examining propaganda could be deemed unpatriotic but its messages can not be expressed with stereotypes because it diminishes the patriotism that it is trying to show.




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.