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Brutes in Suits

Male Sensibility in America, 1890–1920

John Pettegrew

Publication Year: 2007

Are men truly predisposed to violence and aggression? Is it the biological fate of males to struggle for domination over women and vie against one another endlessly? These and related queries have long vexed philosophers, social scientists, and other students of human behavior. In Brutes in Suits, historian John Pettegrew examines theoretical writings and cultural traditions in the United States to find that, Darwinian arguments to the contrary, masculine aggression can be interpreted as a modern strategy for taking power. Drawing ideas from varied and at times seemingly contradictory sources, Pettegrew argues that traditionally held beliefs about masculinity developed largely through language and cultural habit—and that these same tools can be employed to break through the myth that brutishness is an inherently male trait. A major re-synthesis of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century manhood, Brutes in Suits develops ambitious lines of research into the social science of sexual difference and professional history’s celebration of rugged individualism; the hunting-and-killing genre of popular men’s literature; that master text of hypermasculinity: college football; military culture, war making, and finding pleasure in killing; and patriarchy, sexual jealousy, and the law. This timely assessment of the evolution of masculine culture will be welcomed and debated by social and intellectual historians for years to come.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Gender Relations in the American Experience

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

In completing this study, I’ve come to view masculinity as a type of cultural disease—a contagion that spreads through the communication of ideas as well as through the transference of emotional and cognitive disposition. This pathological model may in some ways resemble post–Civil War elites’ assumptions about ...

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Introduction. The De-Evolutionary Turn in U.S. Masculinity

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pp. 1-20

“My mind-set has shifted from the intellectual to the animal,” Timothy McVeigh wrote to his sister in February 1995, two months before bombing the Oklahoma City Federal building: “I want to rip the bastards’ heads off.”1 This book locates the modern origins of such thinking in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century masculinity. ...

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Chapter One Rugged Individualism

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pp. 21-76

In examining masculinity, we need to consider at least two types of discourses, figures and texts. Ultragendered, outwardly violent hypermasculinity is a core component of this study. And in this realm, no subject deserves more attention than Teddy Roosevelt. Author as well as adventurer, the young Roosevelt’s ...

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Chapter Two Brute Fictions

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pp. 77-127

It’s hard to determine what it meant for one of the thousands of men who bought Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novel Tarzan of the Apes when it came out in 1914 to actually sit down and read through this story of the young Lord Greystoke, the infant son of English aristocrats, who is raised in the African jungle by ...

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Chapter Three College Football [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 128-196

If ever there was a good time for an anthropologist from outer space to drop down and take a reading of modern U.S. masculinity, it would have been at a college football game between Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley played in 1896 in San Francisco’s Central Park. ...

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Chapter Four War in the Head

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pp. 197-268

In an open-letter response to Albert Einstein’s questions, Why do humans make war and what can be done to avoid it? Sigmund Freud began by positing that “it is so easy to make men enthusiastic about a war” because “killing an enemy satisfied an instinctual inclination.” Written in 1932, Freud’s widely published letter ...

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Chapter Five Laws of Sexual Selection

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pp. 269-318

This chapter on masculinity and sexual violence is predicated on two uses of the word law. The first includes the laws passed by legislatures and interpreted by judges—the rules, codes, penalties, and procedures enacted by the state and accepted, contested, and developed by society as a whole. ...

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Epilogue Irony, Instinct, and War

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pp. 319-334

“Thinking,” as political theorist Harvey Mansfield has written, “is by itself a challenge to the superiority of manliness.”1 That masculinity is undone by mindfulness has been a first principle of this study. And yet thought and masculinity are hardly antithetical. As detailed in the preceding chapters, ...


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pp. 335-384

Essay on Sources

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pp. 385-398


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pp. 399-409

E-ISBN-13: 9780801891724
E-ISBN-10: 0801891728
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886034
Print-ISBN-10: 0801886031

Page Count: 424
Illustrations: 24 halftones
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Gender Relations in the American Experience