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  • Manly Traditions: The Folk Roots of American Masculinity
  • Pauline Greenhill
Manly Traditions: The Folk Roots of American Masculinity. Edited by Simon Bronner . 2005. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 392 pages. ISBN: 0-253-34613-4 (hard cover), 0-253-21781-4 (soft cover).

I took on this book because I hoped it would provide a text for a women's and gender studies course I teach on gender and folklore. But, although there is a wealth of fine work in this collection, it has significant flaws that make it less useful than it might be for courses in gender studies, men's studies, or folklore. Its problems lie in the introductory and opening materials by Simon J. Bronner, which betray a singular lack of sophistication with respect to current work on gender, and in the first essay. I'm genuinely gobsmacked that an author introducing this subject could not only frame it on a fairly limited quasi-Freudian perspective, but could also apparently ignore the work of the two people who have arguably made the most significant contributions to late twentieth and early twenty-first century studies of gender—Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler.

I didn't initially argue with the book's claim to be "the first to focus on the problem of the construction of manliness in American folklife" (p. xvi), and yet when I read through the essays, example after example of the inaccuracy of this evaluation came to mind. To mention only a few of the best known American authors, the works of Roger Abrahams, Dick Bauman, Michael Bell, Alan Dundes, Joe Goodwin, Jay Mechling, and Américo Paredes do just that. [End Page 197]

Further, the editor's contention that men's culture isn't "well documented or understood" (p. xvi) is simply wrong on the former point and misleading on the latter. The feminist truism that we need women's studies because the rest of the academy is men's studies applies as much to studies of culture as it does to any other area. Men's culture has been taken simply as culture, unmarked, but it has been extensively and very well documented. And while the analysis hasn't for the most part taken (men's) culture as men's culture (with many exceptions including those mentioned above), when read and understood through a gender lens, the material is clearly understandable as just that. The equation of "this new men's studies, [and] what some might call post-feminist studies" (p. xvii) and the implication that feminist studies have created a "universe of exclusion and ideological bias" (p. xviii) are profound misconceptions about a range of ideological, empirical, and political practices that are much less exclusionary and biased than the blindly androcentric scholarship that preceded them.

Bronner's assertion that men are biologically "different" and the catalogue of physiological traits that follows (p. 1) completely discount transgendered and transsexual men. Essentialist in the worst possible way—apparently presuming that men are violent and women sensitive (pp. 9–10), for example—his "Menfolk" chapter goes through the same old sexist notions—that men are afraid of women's reproductive power, that women are really in charge and keep men in line by a combination of whining and nagging, and so on. The raced privilege implicated—in the chapter's photographs, pictures of African-American men are identified as to race/ethnicity (p. 33), while the rest are just "hunters," "soldiers," etc.—disappears the extent to which hegemonic masculinity isn't only unmarked, but also white. The glaring oversight that ignores female masculinity and female to male transgender and transsex continues throughout the entire work.

The first essay in the body of the work, by Gary Alan Fine, similarly exemplifies white male privilege and ignorance about it. The presumption that there were "domains that were exclusively male" (p. 61) ignores the fact that most such locations were served and maintained in America by women, often women of color. The assertion that "whether females are accepted in the folk culture of male-dominated groups depends upon their willingness to accept and engage with the sexualized masculine culture of the group" (p. 61) discounts both...


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