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Struggling with Subjectivity: A Comparative Critique of Susan Faludi's

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Struggling with Subjectivity: A Comparative Critique of Susan Faludi's

Struggling With Subjectivity: A Comparative Critique of Susan Faludi’s

“The Betrayal of the American Man, At Ground Zero of the Masculine Crisis,

The Ornamental Culture, Beyond the Politics of Confrontation” and

George L. Mosse’s “Toward A New Masculinity?“

If identification and study of any current “generally accepted” societal belief, image, or stereotype is considered a difficult undertaking, to identify and place that which is “generally accepted” into historical context is a Herculean task. As one looks back into history, even the history of his/her own lifetime, there is always the matter of “individual perspective.” Whether knowingly or unknowingly, how and why one views an issue in a particular way is partially determined by a vast array of previous influences and experiences. From the first day one opens his/her eyes, he/she embarks on an intellectual journey. While some influences and experiences are shared, never the less, this is a journey which is individually unique. This “individual perspective” often leads to subjectivity and is why twenty people can read the same book and have twenty different opinions about what they have read. Added to this is the fact that memory itself is selective. Quite often, what one person remembers is not what another person recalls. Even if they both have a memory of a particular event, their interpretation of that event may widely differ. What one may consider significant, the other may deem inconsequential. The past is always interpreted through the lens of one’s personal and philosophical biases. Therefore, anyone engaged in determining what he/she believes

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is an objective identification of historical stereotypes must constantly battle the one-eyed Cyclops of subjectivity. Susan Faludi and George L. Mosse have each undertaken this nearly impossible task. They have each attempted to identify the societal definition of masculinity within the historical context since World War II. It should not surprise the reader that, while both their examinations are historical, individually their subjectivity has taken them to divergent conclusions.

Faludi concludes the societal definition of masculinity has experienced a drastic change from the past to the present. She states, ”The veterans of World War II were eager to embrace a masculine ideal that revolved around [providing] rather than [dominating]” (88). Additionally, she states, “The man [controlling] his environment is today the prevailing American image of masculinity” (87). This “paradigm shift” from “providing” to “dominating” and “controlling” is one of Faludi’s primary conclusions. She also concludes:

Where we once lived in a society in which men participated by being useful in

public life, we now are surrounded by a culture that encourages people to play

almost no functional roles, only decorative ones. . . masculinity is something

to drape over the body, not [drawn] from inner resources. . . personal, not societal. . . displayed, not demonstrated. (93)

Faludi thus declares what she believes was the past definition of masculinity-- providing, useful, functional, based on the essence of man, relating to societal norms of conduct and demonstrated in purposeful action. In contrast, she declares what she believes is today’s definition of masculinity-- dominating, controlling, decorative, based on man’s appearance, relating to individually defined norms of conduct and displayed as an ornament.

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Mosse comes to a totally different conclusion. He concludes the societal definition of masculinity has experienced almost no change at all. While he admits to various challenges to what he believes is the societal definition, he declares, “the old masculine stereotype that long ago had saturated society still [seems] to hold” (120). Additionally he states masculine “tradition triumphs over innovation” (120). He ultimately concludes that although the definition of masculinity has not changed, the various challenges to it have “[given] the stereotype a greater flexibility” (121). His definition of masculinity is

extremely simple: “clear cut and fit” (116). By this, he means moral and respectable.

The evidence each author uses from pop culture to support their views are quite selective. Faludi draws our attention to television shows like “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver” to show that, in contrast to today, the provider was the

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