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White Masculinity in the Recent South

Trent Watts

Publication Year: 2008

From antebellum readers avidly consuming stories featuring white southern men as benevolent patriarchs, hell-raising frontiersmen, and callous plantation owners to post–Civil War southern writers seeking to advance a model of southern manhood and male authority as honorable, dignified, and admirable, the idea of a distinctly southern masculinity has reflected the broad regional differences between North and South. In the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond, the media have helped to shape modern models of white manhood, not only for southerners but for the rest of the nation and the world. In White Masculinity in the Recent South, thirteen scholars of history, literature, film, and environmental studies examine modern white masculinity, including such stereotypes as the good old boy, the redneck, and the southern gentleman. With topics ranging from southern Protestant churches to the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd, this cutting-edge volume seeks to do what no other single work has done: to explore the ways in which white southern manhood has been experienced and represented since World War II. Using a variety of approaches—cultural and social history, close readings of literature and music, interviews, and personal stories—the contributors explore some of the ways in which white men have acted in response to their own and their culture's conceptions of white manhood. Topics include neo-Confederates, the novels of William Faulkner, gay southern men, football coaching, deer hunting, church camps, college fraternities, and white men's responses to the civil rights movement. Taken together, these engaging pieces show how white southern men are shaped by regional as well as broader American ideas of what they ought to do and be. White men themselves, the contributors explain, view the idea of southern manhood in two seemingly contradictory ways—as something natural and as something learned through rites of initiation and passage—and believe it must be lived and displayed to one's peers and others in order to be fully realized. While economic and social conditions of the South changed dramatically in the twentieth century, white manhood as it is expressed in the contemporary South is still a complex, contingent, historicized matter, and broadly shared—or at least broadly recognized—notions of white southern manhood continue to be central to southern culture. Representing some of the best recent scholarship in southern gender studies, this bold collection invites further explorations into twenty-first-century white southern masculinity.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Making the Modern South

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii

Editing this collection has been a pleasure as well as an education. Thanks to series editor David Goldfield and Rand Dotson at Louisiana State University Press for believing in the project and for offering much-appreciated encouragement. Craig Friend provided a thorough and expert reading of the manuscript....

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Introduction: Telling White Men’s Stories

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pp. 1-29

During a 1991 trip to my southwest Mississippi hometown, my wife and I visited one of the city’s main downtown businesses, a men’s clothing store. The store’s proprietor, a pillar of the First Baptist Church, was also an early and enthusiastic investor in local boy Bernie Ebbers’s feloniously run telecommunications giant WorldCom, but that is another story. One of the businessman’s sons recently had...

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Church Camping and White Southern Manhood: Evangelical Males and Christian Primitivism, 1920s–1970s

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pp. 30-45

Beginning in the 1920s, it became popular for evangelical white southerners to send their children to church-run camp. Enthusiasm for these camps peaked in the 1940s and 1950s. Most camps were segregated by gender, providing either separate places or separate times for male and female campers. The lessons camp organizers tried to teach young campers dramatized the religious ideals evangelicals...

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Where the Action Is: Interstate Rest Areas, the Creation of Gay Space, and the Recovery of a Lost Narrative

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pp. 46-62

I grew up in Conway, Arkansas, and the rest area where the trouble began was only twenty miles down Interstate 40 toward Little Rock. Though I was only thirteen years old at the time, I do remember the arrests that commanded headlines across the state. The battle they began was over not only the use and misuse of a public place but also the creation and facilitation of a gay identity and space in the...

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Political Parties: College Social Fraternities, Manhood, and the Defense of Southern Traditionalism, 1945–1960

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pp. 63-85

At the end of World War II, numerous college social fraternities, led by members who were returning war veterans, initiated a debate over discriminatory racial and religious policies within their organizations. From the late 1940s into the 1950s, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and Time magazines, educational journals, and local newspapers joined fraternities over this hotly bandied topic. Greek...

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A Real Man’s Place: Attitudes and Environment at a Southern Deer Camp

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pp. 86-98

It is the humidity, not the heat—so the cliché goes—that makes summers in the Deep South so famously oppressive. But when August’s dog days and autumn’s pleasant weather are gone, the region’s moist climate is also responsible for wet, uncomfortable winters. The fields and forests, framed by flat gray skies and seemingly ceaseless rains, are muted, no longer thick with riotous vegetation and the...

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A Question of Honor: Masculinity and Massive Resistance to Integration

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pp. 99-120

Howard University professor Roosevelt Williams gripped the podium with both hands as he addressed the Mississippi NAACP audience in December 1954. Williams began by paying his respects to the black Mississippians who helped to pave the way for the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which overturned racial segregation. He then lauded the efforts of African American soldiers...

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The Boycotting of Coach Rutter: Manhood, Race, and Authority in Post-1970 Mississippi

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pp. 121-145

John Grisham’s novel Bleachers (2003) reminds us just how seriously some Mississippians take their football. The novel centers on the reconciliatory funeral of long-time Messina High School football coach Eddie Rake, a hated but beloved figure whose legendary tenure ended after a particularly intense practice killed a player. Coach Rake led the Spartans to a Harlem Globetrotter–like streak of...

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Neo-Confederates in the Basement: The League of the South and the Crusade against Southern Emasculation

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pp. 146-171

It has often been said that, though Germany and Japan lost the war, they won the peace. By the same measure, it might also be said that the South lost its war but won the peace that followed—and did so by, as Walker Percy put it, “taking over the national myth.”1 Percy was, of course, referring to what some have dubbed the...

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“The Most Man in the World”: Nathan Bedford Forrest and the Cult of Southern Masculinity

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pp. 172-185

In 1998, Nathan Bedford Forrest, brandishing a pistol and a sword, emerged from the Tennessee woods atop his horse, two stories tall and surrounded by Confederate flags and barbed wire. Located in a small private park outside of Nashville and sculpted by Jack Kershaw, an avowed segregationist and one-time attorney to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, the Forrest statue ostensibly represented the...

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White Southern Masculinity and Southern Comfort: An Interview with Kate Davis

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pp. 186-205

Kate Davis’s film Southern Comfort focuses on the last year of Robert Eads, a fifty-two-year-old female-to-male transsexual, who is dying of ovarian cancer. Although the film, winner of the Sundance 2001 Grand Jury Prize for Feature Documentary, describes the difficulties Robert had in getting treatment for his cancer because of...

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Doctor’s Son

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pp. 206-219

When I was very small, I sometimes confused my father with Mark Twain. This is not as improbable as it sounds. My father was born in 1910, the year Twain died, and I easily conflated these two events, imagining a transmigration of spirit, I suppose, engendered by Halley’s Comet. I didn’t know that Twain died in April, while my father was born in October, but it wouldn’t have mattered. My father loved...

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Drinking Poisoned Waters: Traumatized Masculinity and White Southern Identity in Contemporary Family Memoirs

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pp. 220-233

Near the beginning of his 1997 memoir Power in the Blood: An Odyssey of Discovery in the American South, author John Bentley Mays describes his descent during his early adulthood into acute depression. Although the breakdown stemmed from his repressed grief over his parents’ death when he was a child, Mays explicitly links it to his misguided, obsessional identification with a mythic South he associated...

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Ratliff and the Demise of Male Mastery: Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy and Cold War Masculinity

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pp. 234-250

When William Faulkner talked in the 1950s about the Snopeses, characters who had haunted his imagination throughout his long career, he resorted to words and images that resonated with the language of cold war fears and anxieties.1 At the University of Virginia interview sessions, he noted that the Snopeses represented “the idea of a tribe of people which would come into an otherwise peaceful little...

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Where Has the Free Bird Flown?: Lynyrd Skynyrd and White Southern Manhood

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pp. 251-266

When Neil Young sang “Southern Man” (1970) and “Alabama” (1971), the songs that provoked Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” (1974), he provided the most obvious in what was (and would be) a host of insults and boasts from the Los Angeles–based country rockers who dominated California country rock music in the late 1960s and early...


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pp. 267-269

E-ISBN-13: 9780807137673
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807133149

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Making the Modern South