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Manhood in the Making

Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity

Copyright Date: 1990
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Manhood in the Making
    Book Description:

    What does it mean to "be a man" in different cultures around the world? In the first cross-cultural study of manhood as an achieved status, anthropologist David D. Gilmore finds that a culturally sanctioned stress on manliness-on toughness and aggressiveness, stoicism and sexuality-is almost universal, deeply ingrained in the consciousness of hunters and fishermen, workers and warriors, poets and peasants who have little else in common.

    "Gilmore's subtle and illuminating inversion of ordinary understandings-his insight that male sterness, toughness, acquisitiveness, and aggressiveness serve, in circumstances of threat and scarcity, the same social ends as female tenderness and gentleness-has been suggested elsewhere, but never stated so completely nor in so unmistakably masculine a voice. . . . A signal service."-Beryl Lieff Benderly,New York Times Book Review

    "The news in this anthropological study is not that so many societies . . . have developed rigid codes of masculinity. . . . Rather, it is that there are societies-on Tahiti and in Malaysia, for two-in which men are encouraged to be passive. . . . All of which, the author observes, causes consternation among Freudians (not to mention apostles of machismo), who have an investment in believing that fear of castration has engendered universal male anxiety over masculinity as something to be earned and steadfastly maintained."-Washington Post Book World"Provocative and absorbing."-Library Journal"An absorbing, well-argued, and finely written study."-Nicola Shulman,Sunday Times"The great virtue of this textbook is to demonstrate clearly that there is nothing natural or inevitable about gender polarity."-Robert Brain,Times Literary Supplement"

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15725-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    This book is about the way people in different cultures conceive and experience manhood, which I will define here simply as the approved way of being an adult male in any given society. More specifically it is about why people in so many places regard the state of being a “real man” or “true man” as uncertain or precarious, a prize to be won or wrested through struggle, and why so many societies build up an elusive or exclusionary image of manhood through cultural sanctions, ritual, or trials of skill and endurance.

    In pursuing these aims from a cross-cultural perspective,...

  5. 1 The Manhood Puzzle
    (pp. 9-29)

    Are there continuities of masculinity across cultural boundaries, as the anthropologist Thomas Gregor says (1985:209)? Are men everywhere alike in their concern for being “manly?” If so, why? Why is the demand made upon males to “be a man” or “act like a man” voiced in so many places? And why are boys and youths so often tested or indoctrinated before being awarded their manhood? These are questions not often asked in the growing literature on sex and gender roles. Yet given the recent interest in sexual stereotyping, they are ones that need to be considered if we are to...

  6. 2 Performative Excellence: Circum-Mediterranean
    (pp. 30-55)

    The lands of the Mediterranean Basin have for centuries been in close contact through trade, intermarriage, intellectual and cultural exchange, mutual colonization, and the pursuit of common regional interests (Braudel 1972; Peristiany 1965; Davis 1977). The use of terms such asMediterraneanorCircum-Mediterranean(Pitt-Rivers 1963; Giovannini 1987) to categorize these lands is not meant to imply a “culture area” as that term has been used in American ecological anthropology—for Mediterranean societies are as diverse and varied as anywhere else in the world—but rather to serve as a concept of heuristic convenience in ethnographic analysis and comparison (Pitt-Rivers...

  7. 3 Looking for Manhood: Truk Island
    (pp. 56-77)

    Andalusian manhood requires an erotic and economic competence and a willingness to “engage,” to take risks. Manhood comes gradually, cumulatively; there are no chronological markers, except perhaps, marriage, which signifies adulthood for both sexes. Or at least marriage provides an opportunity, not always seized, as in the case of Tissot.

    In Spain there is no formal recognition of manhood. There are no investment ceremonies, no visible emblems, no curtain calls. Endorsed rather than ordained, manhood remains forever in doubt, requiring daily demonstration. One observer (Murphy 1983) has called the boy’s passage “riteless,” feckless, and amorphous—yet pressured. This ambiguity is...

  8. 4 Performance Anxiety: Mehinaku
    (pp. 78-98)

    Moving now to the New World and the Mehinaku Indians of central Brazil, we begin to glimpse the deeper psychological roots of this inspirational manhood imagery and its consequences. The author of the Mehinaku ethnographies, Thomas Gregor, is a sophisticated and gifted student of psychoanalysis as well as of cultural anthropology. As we follow his description of male identity among the Mehinaku, I digress briefly to consider his psychological theories. Such considerations will help prepare the way for more detailed discussion later of the relation between psychodynamic and cultural factors in the etiology of an omnicompetent masculinity.

    Let me remark...

  9. 5 Interlude: Other Men, Other Manhoods
    (pp. 99-122)

    Do the Mehinaku, the Trukese, and the Spaniards share a “deep structure of masculinity” (Tolson 1977:56)? Is Gregor (1985:9) right to say that there are “universalities in the male experience”? Perhaps. We have seen an echo of the masculinity cults of some Mediterranean peoples in far-away Truk, reappearing in the sexual obsessions of a tribe in Brazil. The linkage is not simply one of the boastful male vanity that we call machismo, for not all these cultures can be called macho. The Mehinaku are certainly not macho like the Trukese in the sense of being bellicose or physically aggressive. This...

  10. 6 Markers to Manhood: Samburu
    (pp. 123-145)

    Living in different continents, pursuing different goals, the Trukese brawlers, the Mehinaku wrestlers, the American he-men, and the Spanish macho-men have little in common other than their passionate concern for demonstrating manhood. But they are alike in one other way: they all navigate a pathway to manliness that is without clear signposts. To attain their goal they inch forward by trial and error, following sometimes vague injunctions laid down by their cultural script. Along the way, they must avoid pitfalls and temptations that tie them back, in Campbell’s terms above, to childhood.

    Their voyage to manhood, then, resembles what Erik...

  11. 7 Rites of Manhood: Sambia
    (pp. 146-168)

    With their rituals and their honor, the Samburu are closely related in both culture and blood to their neighbors, and their practices are common over a wide area. The same may be said of the Sambia of New Guinea, whose customs concerning gender are fairly representative of neighbors in the adjacent Highlands, although some have been forced to abandon them because of white interference or, more lately, Papuan government pressure.

    The Sambia are an exceptionally well researched people within the relatively large Melanesia literature, thanks to the untiring efforts of anthropologist Gilbert Herdt, who has been reporting on them since...

  12. 8 Action and Ambiguity: East and South Asia
    (pp. 169-200)

    The idea that manhood is a triumph over the impulse to run from danger can be found in some cultures not normally associated with the hypermasculine bravado we have seen above. Although the subject has not been explored at any length—because of a lack of interest rather than of ethnographic clues, I think—there are some arresting, if faint, echoes in the populous civilizations of Asia. These traces are especially suggestive in China, India, and Japan, societies not known either for rugged individualism or for sexual boastfulness. Asian ideas about manhood are worth exploring for the many nuances and...

  13. 9 Exceptions: Tahiti and Semai
    (pp. 201-219)

    Whether “hard” or “soft,” manhood has to be validated, vindicated, and defended in many societies. Even when equivocal, as in Hindu culture, manhood is experienced as a problematic status—a labile boundary that can be traversed in either direction. With all its attendant anxieties, however, the manly threshold is not universal as a cultural category. There are some societies where the concept is either insignificant or absent. These virtually androgynous cultures raise questions about the universal “need” for masculinity in male development, and in my opinion they suggest that cultural variables may outweigh nature in the masculinity puzzle.

    We already...

  14. 10 Conclusions
    (pp. 220-232)

    Now that we have descriptions of manplaying from just about every corner of the world, can we answer our original questions? Is there a deep structure of manhood? Is there a global archetype of manliness? Although I began this project with a suspicion that the answer would be yes, I am less sure now. After reviewing the last two cases, I do not think there is a conclusive answer to that question. Perhaps I should give the reader a “definite maybe,” as the cartoonist Walt Kelly used to say about the really big questions.

    The data above support a number...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-248)
  16. Index
    (pp. 249-258)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)