The 2004 Presidential election was a revealing commentary about social associations between war and masculinity. The Iraq war became a defining issue for each candidate, prompting analysis of masculine leadership qualities. In the end, the mans man with a wife who neatly fit within a traditional role beat the more refined candidate with the European wife who spoke her mind. The loser was feminized, portrayed as weak and indecisive. Ironically, John Kerry had actually fought a war, unlike his opponent.
Leo Braudy picks up on such assumptions and contradictions about masculinity in his latest book, From Chivalry to Terrorism, tracing the complex and uneven effects of war on stereotypes in society. Braudy, a prolific academic and political commentator, presents a sweeping historical account of the relationship between war and masculinity in the West, from the European Middle Ages to Sept. 11, 2001. In the tradition of Michel Foucaults histories of cultural structures and institutions, Braudy seeks to inform the present by troubling the past. The best books, academic and otherwise, allow readers to draw their own conclusions, and Braudys book does just this. Like Foucault, his methodology is a type of historical excavation, out of which conclusions arise on the readers own terms.
The author suggests that masculinity is not stable or static but dynamic, subjective and ever-changing. War is a rich field for exploring masculinity because it emphasizes and exaggerates values typically considered masculine, such as aggression and competition. Braudy also outlines events and conditions that contribute to a jeopardized notion of modern masculinity, including the Industrial Revolution, immigration, feminism, race politics, gay rights, postwar syndromes, anti-war movements, McCarthyism and the Kinsey reports. He believes masculinity survives in the modern world but it is often under siege. His historical inquiry also offers insight into our countrys current war and the reactionary aggressive military response to an alleged threat.
Unfortunately, Braudys chapter on terrorism is his weakest; its where he makes some broad, oversimplified claims that echo contemporary wartime slogans and attempt to establish the current global conflict as almost exclusively ideologically based. He seems to abandon the commitment of the rest of the book to historical and material realities. But this is not enough to negate the books value. If the author oversimplifies at the end, it does not overshadow his ambitious ethical project, through which he seeks to question concepts such as masculinity and patriotism in an era that increasingly encourages us not to.
Kelly McDowell is a freelance writer. Send comments to email@example.com.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.