Jouvert: Issue 1, Volume 2--Introduction

Postcolonial Masculinities: Introduction


Lahoucine Ouzgane and Daniel Coleman

University of Alberta and McMaster University

Copyright © 1998 by Lahoucine Ouzgane and Daniel Coleman, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the authors.


  1. How can "postcolonial" modify "masculinities"--in the social, never mind the grammatical, sense? What might be the nature of this modification? One way of reading this collection of essays on postcolonial masculinities is to think of it as a search for modification, a search for change. It could be read as an inquiry into what we can learn from masculine practices in postcolonial locations--those diverse sites of intercultural conflict and negotiation that have emerged in the wake of European colonialism--practices that challenge and modify conventional understandings of men and masculinity. If genders and sexualities are the products of cultural practices and institutions, as contemporary social construction theory claims, then what modified forms of sexualities and genders are produced or maintained in the hybrid societies of postcolonial places?

  2. But this search can be read in another direction as well: it can be approached with a view to finding out what new considerations the interrogation of masculinities in postcolonial locations might turn up for postcolonial studies. What might the study of masculinities reveal about the complex structures of postcolonial relations? How might a new awareness of kinetic, hybridized masculinities inform postcolonial analyses of institutions such as colonial and nation-state patriarchies, neo-colonial paternalism, anticolonial machismo, and the various fraternities of international trade? A careful sifting of the mixture of regressive inhibitions and progressive innovations among the intercultural, refracted masculinities of postcolonial locations could provide models for the combination of strategic coalition-building and reflexive critique fundamental to postcolonial theorizing and anticolonial activism.

  3. So this gathering of essays constitutes a collective search. And, like all searches, it assumes both present discontent and future hope. Enforced by recurrent violence, male dominance over women's and children's energies and labour is still pretty much universal, and the few remarkable exceptions are vastly threatened by the neo-colonial movements of global capitalism. For every prelapsarian story of Huron matriarchies (Brooke 32-39), there is a host of rationalizations for the colonial genocide unleashed against them; just as for every contemporary story of non-aggressive Senai tribesmen (Gilmore 208-19), there is a host of explanations for the encroachments of mining and timber companies into lands such as theirs. For every story in the North American media about the emergence of "New Men," complete with emotions and the capacity to nurture, there is a host of reproductions of the insular logic of "orgasm at home and napalm abroad," to borrow a 1960s phrase from George Grant (126). We might well wonder if there are too many utopian stories about alternative masculinities, and too many explanations for patriarchal complicity with colonial and neo-colonial systems of oppression, for us to maintain much hope for change--especially given the widespread malaise since the 1960s over the fact that a substantial redistribution of labour and capital, whether between genders or between the North and South, has not yet occurred. So, as these few gestures indicate, it is discontenting to give any prolonged attention to the politics of "postcolonial masculinities."

  4. But discontent is productive: it can motivate the search for change. And, as poststructuralism points out, some possibilities for change can be opened up when we reconfigure our paradigms. When we realize the terms that have been central to our social orders actually depend for their meaning on the very categories they oppose, we become conscious of the fissures and tensions in power structures that appear uniformly authoritative. We realize how "eccentric" (see Hutcheon 3-7, and de Lauretis) these orders actually are. Postcolonial criticism has borrowed poststructuralism's deconstructive strategy and identified, not "structural linguistics" or "modernism," but "colonialism" as the primary system whose continuing fissures and contradictions will be the objects of elaboration. [1] It calls this process of elaboration "decolonization." In naming, not philosophical, linguistic, nor aesthetic paradigms, but a diversely implemented material and economic system as its enemy antecedent, postcolonial criticism re-minds postmodern and poststructuralist analyses of philosophical, linguistic and aesthetic superstructures about the importance of these superstructures' material base.

  5. So postcolonial criticism starts with discontenting the present. And it does so because it entertains hope for the future. It hopes, against all odds, that criticism can be a form of activism, that it can change people's perspectives. It hopes that a sophisticated analysis of complex hybrid cultural forms, those that have grown out of the violences of colonial displacement and that increasingly constitute metropolitan social orders from Bangkok to Lagos and from New York to Singapore, can dislodge and loosen the mind-forged manacles of the neo-colonial structures of late-capital. Postcolonial studies hope that criticism works: that, by attending to the nascent cultural hybrids whose roots widen the fissures of the colonial edifice, criticism can contribute to the emergence of new ways of living, new forms of expression, new relations of production.

  6. Profeminist studies of masculinities operate with a similar combination of discontent and hope. They are discontent with the status quo. They do not celebrate the "family values" of male privilege and control. Nor do they long for the patrimonies of kings and warriors and iron men, for they recognize the dangerous nostalgia for dominance linked with these images--a nostalgia evident in the masculinism of the Million-Man March, the Promise Keepers's movement, and the current popularity of the modern (Western) aphrodisiac, Viagra. Rather than renovating the patriarchal monomyths, profeminist masculinity studies, like postcolonial studies, seek out what can be learned from the masculinities of the fissures and the margins. What alternative masculine practices have emerged from under the boot heels of patriarchal convention? What masculine innovations have emerged in gay communities? among working-class or unemployed men? among profeminist or environmentalist men? among colonized or enslaved or disenfranchised men? Once again, this search is motivated by the hope that criticism works: that, by calling attention to a diverse range of masculine practices and by analyzing the structural and social contradictions as well as the innovative possibilities among these practices, criticism can contribute to the propagation of new, non-toxic masculinities.

  7. Among the contributions profeminist masculinity studies can make to postcolonial studies, we wish to highlight three. First, they can contribute to the feminist critique of the sexist and homophobic practices that have often derailed movements towards liberation and decolonization. Second, along with feminist critique, they bring a balance to the Marxian arrogation of class over gender, sexuality, and race as primary domains of social struggle. And, third, the analytical apparatus of a hierarchy of masculinities (hegemonic, complicitous, marginalized, and subordinated) refines the accuracy of our understanding of the complex range of positions between dominance and resistance that characterize postcolonial societies.

  8. The fact is that the sexist and homophobic assumptions of many anticolonial liberation movements have inhibited their radical potential and curtailed their social power. In this respect, the patrimony of Frantz Fanon is instructive. The publication and translation of Black Skin, White Masks (1952), with its psychoanalytic story of the black man's need to prove his "manhood" through sexual competition with the white man and of the white man's fantastic fear of that rivalry, generated a powerful campaign for the dismantling of white hegemony and the recovery of the dignity of African manhood. Fanon called for the decolonization of both black and white men's minds so that, through a process of "disalienation," we might see a day when fierce racial divisions are dissipated and "The Negro is not. Any more than the white man" (231). Fanon hoped, as we do in this special issue, that critical analysis constitutes the first phase of work in the production of change. He hoped that his description of the psycho-sexual, racialized battle between men[2] could waken readers to its absurdity. But, in Fanon's delineation of this absurd battle, the women, over whose bodies he theorized these masculinist racial wars, were reduced to the status of subalterns. They were made to be vehicles in Fanon's metaphor, represented as the sexual battlefield over which the male warriors raged. And Fanon's patrimony has continued to play out its violent anti-female logic in numerous texts by male writers from Richard Wright's Native Son, Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice, George Lamming's Water with Berries, and Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North to Rachid Boudjedra's The Repudiation, Kateb Yacine's Nedjma, Malek Alloula's The Colonial Harem, Tahar Ben Jelloun's With Downcast Eyes, V.S. Naipaul's Guerrillas, Dany Laferrière's How to Make Love to a Negro, and the rap lyrics of 2 Live Crew. When colonial and racial violences are signified though the allegory of rape ("rape" of resources, "rape" of the colonies, etc.), the lived experiences of women are reduced to the discursive field over which nationalist, ethnic, and racial politics are inscribed. As Ania Loomba rightly notes, "Women are not just a symbolic space but real targets of colonialist and nationalist discourses. . . . Thus, despite their other differences, and despite their contests over native women, colonial and indigenous patriarchies often collaborated to keep women 'in their place'" (222).

  9. The reduction of women to object status in anticolonial and antiracist movements deprives these movements of half their members. This is the essence of Michele Wallace's critical history of the African American Black Power movement in Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman: the need of disempowered black men to assert a political potency against white oppression produced a superphallicism in the 1970s that pushed black women to the margins of the revolutionary movement and produced a gender bifurcation that has dissipated its energies ever since (13, 69; see also bell hooks, “Reconstructing” 108ff). A parallel critique, this time in reference to Indian anticolonial nationalism, has been launched by a number of postcolonial theorists, including Partha Chatterjee, Lata Mani, Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid, and Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan. The problem, in the words of the latter, is that in "the fight against the enemy from the outside, something within gets even more repressed and 'woman' becomes the mute but necessary allegorical ground for the transactions of nationalist history" (84). Such allegories of postcolonial liberation, then, too often reproduce gender oppression because, in using gender to illustrate the oppressions of race or culture, they ignore the specific injustices of gender relations. [3]

  10. Such unsubtle dichotomizations obscure other differences as well, as Kobena Mercer and Isaac Julien point out in their discussion of the complex negotiations of black British gays in "Race, Sexual Politics and Black Masculinity." According to Mercer and Julien, black politics formulates solidarity within a discourse of loyalty to the family, to which one goes for support and acceptance in a racist society; but white-dominated gay activism urges its members to "explode the family" through public declarations of one's sexual practices (104ff). Solidarity with either group demands the suppression of significant aspects of one's experiences and identifications. These examples of the sex-for-race allegory and of the double constituencies of black gay men in Britain, then, show how contemporary studies of differentially aligned masculinities can provide postcolonial theory and activism with highly nuanced information that is vital to the building of coalitions between its diverse audiences and constituencies.

  11. The profeminist study of masculinities can make a second contribution by reinforcing postcolonial and gender studies' revisions of the Marxian arrogation of class over gender, sexuality, and race as primary domains of social struggle. These revisions are not outright rejections of Marxian class analysis, but serve as correctives to its singleness of vision. The study of a diverse range of masculinities requires the simultaneous consideration of a whole variety of categories along with class--including race, gender, sexuality, physical ability, age, and ethnicity. Postcolonial approaches to British industrialization, for example, have revised strictly class-based analyses of the emergence of the British bourgeoisie by showing how this emergence depended on the racialized division of labour and resources that characterized the cane and tea plantations of the West and East Indies. And postcolonial studies of masculinities have shown how such racialized divisions of labour were influenced by the investments of European masculinities in ideologies such as the defence of private property (Hoch 98, 115-16). Such studies concur with Marxist-feminists such as Michèle Barrett, who argues that "the ideology of gender has played an important part in the historical construction of the capitalist division of labour and in the reproduction of labour power" (74).

  12. The dialogue with socialist theory we are sketching here does not deny the ready companionship capitalism has formed with various forms of patriarchy. Rather, it calls attention to considerations of gender that have often remained at the margins of Marxian thinking. Just as feminist revisions of socialist analysis have shown that "femininity is a kind of alienation," writes Kenneth Clatterbaugh, "masculinity, too, is a form alienation" (117). For, as Marx observed, both worker and owner are alienated by the relations of production which dehumanize the interactions between labourer and boss. In this way, capitalist alienation not only reinforces the violent hierarchies of patriarchy and colonialism, but also is itself reproduced by the alienated subjects of gender and racialized colonialism. Bell hooks's resituation of the terms "patriarchy" and "phallocentrism" in reference to African American history provides a powerful example of how this cycle works. She points out that slave narratives call for a re-evaluation of the concept of patriarchy in so far as, to alienated black male slaves, it represented the opportunity to provide for and protect their families ("Reconstructing" 90). However, hooks notes that, upon emancipation, capitalist white culture preempted the possibility of disalienation expressed in these narratives by producing phallocentrism as a compensation for black men's continued alienation from the means of production. "With the emergence of a fierce phallocentrism," she writes, a man's "ability to use [his] penis in the arena of sexual conquest could bring him as much status as being a wage earner and provider. A sexually defined masculine ideal rooted in physical domination and sexual possession of women could be accessible to all men. Hence, even unemployed black men could gain status, could be seen as the embodiment of masculinity" ("Reconstructing" 94).

  13. Through phallocentric ideology, then, white patriarchy, which controlled the means of production and the technologies of public propaganda, "re-alienated" black men from the possibility of a positive form of patriarchy which was based on solidarity with women.[4] And, by doing so, white capitalism derailed the formation of a unified black movement and its demand for a substantial redistribution of the means of production in the USA. Combining the insights of African American studies, feminist analysis, and postcolonial studies in this way, hooks's reading demonstrates how the study of masculinities can contribute to an expansion of Marxian class analysis.

  14. The third and, to our minds, the most substantial contribution masculinity studies can make to postcolonial criticism comes in the analytical apparatus of a hierarchy of masculinities. Harry Brod warns that because of the speed at which the plural term "masculinities" has migrated from its origin in gay studies (the term was coined by Jeffrey Weeks in Sexuality and Its Discontents, 1985) to "conventional usage" in men's studies by the 1990s, we may lose sight of the power differentials the term was first meant to signal, reducing it instead to an uncritical gesture towards pluralism (83-86). The analytical model which best maintains an awareness of these power differentials not only between men and women, but also between men and men, comes in the form of the hierarchy of masculinities developed by the Australian sociologist, Robert Connell (see "Cashing Out the Patriarchal Dividends: An Interview with R.W. Connell" in this issue of Jouvert).

  15. Connell elaborates the model he had sketched earlier (with Tim Carrigan and John Lee) in "Toward a New Sociology of Masculinity" (1985), in his monograph Gender and Power (1987), and most fulsomely in Masculinities (1995). In the latter book, Connell outlines four categories or levels of masculine privilege: hegemonic, complicitous, marginalized, and subordinated. These categories represent various abilities to cash in on what he calls the "patriarchal dividend," or the "advantage men in general gain from the overall subordination of women" (79). Connell defines hegemonic masculinity "as the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy" (77); complicitous masculinities are those gender practices which realize some patriarchal dividends without functioning as the frontline troops of patriarchy (79). Marginalized masculinities are excluded from most of the patriarchal dividends, but can derive meagre benefits because they can be used as exemplars or supports of masculine authorization; Connell points to the example of black sports stars who exemplify masculine potency, but who are excluded from hegemonic privilege (80-81). Subordinated masculinities are located at the bottom of the power hierarchy because these gender practices are the repositories of whatever is most virulently expelled from hegemonic masculinities. The reason why homosexual practices have been so violently subordinated, Connell argues, following many gay theorists, is that they are symbolically blurred with femininity, and thus those men associated with such practices are almost completely debarred from collecting patriarchal dividends (78-79). Connell is careful to remind his readers that these forms of masculinity are not identities or personalities; they are gender practices, and in so far as an individual's set of practices fits any (or a combination) of these categories, that person will experience a different level of access to social legitimation and power.

  16. Connell's model provides a useful apparatus for analyzing the kinds of interstitial, hybrid postcolonial subjectivities theorized throughout the essays of Homi Bhabha. Between the poles of Prospero and Caliban--indeed, very often within the consciousness of both the colonizer and the colonized--there are various levels of authority and inauthenticity. [5] This is Bhabha's point in "Of Mimicry and Man": the forked tongue of colonial discourse, which mimics the authority of the imperium in the inappropriate location of the colony, produces inauthentic subjects, whether white or "not quite," governor or governed, colonial or postcolonial. To cite a colonial example, we may recall that it is the bearing of the rifle, the symbol of colonial power, that makes George Orwell the inauthentic authority over the Burmese villagers in "Shooting an Elephant." His complicitous masculine actions garner him the dividends of the officers' club and a regular stipend for his enactment of hegemonic authority. Orwell points out that in spite of the widespread and bitter Anti-European feeling among the Burmese, "No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress" (531). This disparagement of the Burmese failure to meet the standards of British male chivalry goes hand in hand with Orwell's orientalist assumptions: when he questions the Burmese, often referred to merely as "a sea of yellow faces," as to the elephant's whereabouts, he, "as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes" (532). But Orwell's compulsion to satisfy the villagers' expectation of a sahib's decisive authority shows how marginal he is to the power he wields: the carrier of the gun discharges it under the immediate pressure of the people he subordinates. Of course, for the Burmese people, who "had no weapons and were quite helpless against [the elephant]" (532), the police officer is not merely a symbol of power: he is that very power. Like many masculinities caught in a crisis of authority, the sahib displaces his tension into violence--in this case, onto a peacefully grazing elephant.

  17. A more striking postcolonial example of the multiple axes of differentiation that can intersect in a single masculine narrative occurs in Shyam Selvadurai's 1994 novel, Funny Boy. In this collection of linked stories that together compose a gay bildungsroman, Arjie Chelvaratnam negotiates his emerging manhood between the over-lapping and contradictory codes of Tamil ethnic identity, postcolonial Sri Lankan politics, and class conflict in Colombo, as well as his own nascent sexuality. This complex negotiation comes to a crisis when Arjie's father, concerned about his son's effeminate tendencies, sends him to the exclusive Queen Victoria Academy for boys, which, he believes, "Will force you to become a man" (210).

  18. Ironically, it is at the academy that Arjie meets his first lover, Shehan, and is given a way to channel his hitherto unfocused desires. But Shehan is Sinhalese, and the school is caught up in a political battle between the older, liberal principal, who insists the school remain multi-ethnic, and the younger, government-appointed vice-principal, who wishes to replace the British ethos of the school with a Sinhalese ethnic nationalism. The principal, true to his colonial education, dispenses canings and detentions regularly in an effort to produce future leaders of discipline and virtue. He picks on Shehan repeatedly. When the principal entrusts Arjie with the honour of reciting a visiting government minister's favourite poems at the annual prize-giving ceremony, Arjie deliberately garbles his recitation and destroys the principal's last hope for attracting political patronage from the Sinhalese-dominated government. By destroying the principal's political future, Arjie frees Shehan from his daily punishments.

  19. There are many ways to assess Arjie's subversive act. It can be read as a postcolonial boy's rebellion against the brutal discipline of a tottering, paternalistic, colonial school. In so far as it constitutes a dramatic affirmation of his love for Shehan, it can also be read as a coming-out gay narrative. In trading off the pro-Tamil principal for his Sinhalese lover, Arjie rejects the ethnic fundamentalism that has fueled a quarter of a century of civil war in Sri Lanka. And, finally, in deliberately messing up his performance, Arjie rebuffs the class ambitions of his parents. To choose any of these interpretations to the exclusion of the others is to misrepresent the complexity of Arjie's action. His is not a single choice between gay and straight, Tamil and Sinhalese, upward and downward mobility, or colonial subject and postcolonial agent. It is an action that impinges on all these axes of difference at once.

  20. And each of these axes of differentiation is further complicated by the hierarchy of masculinities assumed in each domain. Tamil identification, for example, places Arjie and his family in a very tenuous relation to hegemony in Sri Lanka, as the anti-Tamil riots in Colombo at the end of the novel make very clear. On the other hand, the relative financial success his father has been able to achieve secures him enough patriarchal dividends to be able to send his son to the exclusive boys' school, which ironically places Arjie in a Byzantine masculine hierarchy cross-hatched with privileges and alienations based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical dexterity, and intellectual capacity. As these brief examples show, an apparatus that does justice to the complex negotiations of power differentials between a range of masculinities contributes to the growing capacity of postcolonial criticism's ability to account for the multiple vectors of power within and between the poles of hegemony and subordination.


  21. In their Introduction to Theorizing Masculinities (1994), Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman suggest we are now witnessing the emergence of a "second wave" of critical studies on men and masculinities. While they don't identify exactly what constituted the "first wave," we assume the analogy with first- and second-wave periods of feminist history indicates a first period of relatively homogeneous theorizing and activism in men's studies evolving into a second period in which theory and activism are more attentive to diversity. Brod and Kaufman claim that second-wave studies of masculinities are committed in theoretical and activist work to critical analysis of power relations and to "the ever-growing recognition that we cannot study masculinity in the singular. . . . Rather, we wish to emphasize the plurality and diversity of men's experiences, attitudes, beliefs, situations, practices, and institutions along lines of race, class, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, age, region, physical appearance, able-bodiedness, mental ability, and various other categories with which we describe our lives and experiences" (4-5).

  22. The shift Brod and Kaufman describe follows from the major shakedown of American feminism that took place in the 1980s when women of colour and lesbians criticized the feminist mainstream for maintaining structures of racism and heterosexism within the movement (see Hull,; Bulkin,; Moraga & Anzaldúa). Teresa de Lauretis later celebrated this shakedown as the moment when feminist theory became a full-blown theory rather than a critique of other theories. Interestingly, she called the mode of critique which brought about this emergence "postcolonial," and thus repeated the pattern by which postcolonial alterity gets pressed into the service of American self-construction (de Lauretis 131ff). Nonetheless, her gesture to the "postcolonial" does, indeed, signal that a growing awareness of cultural sites previously considered marginal to the Euro-American metropolitan centres can "deterritorialize" much contemporary thinking about gender and sexuality. The postcolonial turning of attention to these cultural sites is welcome because it provides a materially and historically grounded method for analyzing the diversified field of gender relations called for by theorists such as de Lauretis and Brod and Kaufman. Postcolonial criticism locates diversity in a history of the uneven representational and material relations between variously privileged people and places in the world. In Homi Bhabha's terms,

    Postcolonial criticism bears witness to the unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation involved in the contest for political and social authority within the modern world order. Postcolonial perspectives emerge from the colonial testimony of Third World countries and the discourses of 'minorities' within the geopolitical divisions of east and west, north and south. They intervene in those ideological discourses of modernity that attempt to give a hegemonic 'normality' to the uneven development and the differential, often disadvantaged, histories of nations, races, communities, people. ("Postcolonial" 437)

    Postcolonial criticism calls for location. It calls for cultural critics to look for more than "diversity"; rather, they must attend carefully to the ways in which the various forms of diversity (in the present case, among different kinds of masculinity) are products of specific cultural, political, geographical, and economic locations and their accompanying psychological determinants.

  23. Postcolonial criticism insists, for example, that an analysis of black gay gender practices in Britain of the kind sketched by Mercer and Julian must be informed by the history of migration from the former plantation-slave villages of the Caribbean to the British metropolitan centres (and the colonial-school pedagogy that established urban Europe as the pinnacle of progress, thus inculcating the emigration trajectory), as well as the sociology of Caribbean populations in London. In addition, this colonial-racial history must be combined with an awareness of the influence of the "black pride" campaign of the American Civil Rights movement on post-Stonewall "gay pride" movements. Postcolonial criticism contributes substantially to the study of masculinities by locating difference specifically--that is, it helps us identify different kinds of masculinity (the anthropological element), and it reminds us to locate those differences in material and discursive histories that resist the production of differences as if they were "normal" or "natural" (the element of politicized genealogy).

  24. One reason why postcolonial analysis can make this double contribution is that colonialism's many inter-cultural battles and negotiations have produced cultural hybrids or overlaps. The humans who inhabit overlapped postcolonial locations regularly experience "cross-cultural refraction" (see Coleman 3-6). When a ray of light passes from one medium into another (say, from air to water), it appears to bend. The same thing happens to sound. In refraction, there is continuity on both sides of the divide, but the passage from one local context into another causes distortion to occur. Thus, the same note, sounded in colder and warmer air, actually changes pitches. The refractions inherent to inter-cultural transfers that so often characterize postcolonial locations mean that these locations are highly volatile passages for a whole variety of cultural codes, including those of gender. The greater the negotiation and transfer between cultural "media," the more volatile the distortions are likely to be (in Physics, this is called the index of refraction). If it is true that postcolonial places are often sites of cross-cultural refraction, then we have reason to look to such sites for the kinds of distortion that produce new inflections, new combinations, new practices of masculine subjectivity.

  25. Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo's and Michael Messner's comparison of the gender displays of Mexican immigrant men and middle-class American "New Men" provides a good example of how cross-cultural refraction can produce masculine innovations. Though they do not position their work in direct relation to postcolonial studies, their research calls overt attention to the neo-colonial circumstances that cause men in Mexico to migrate to the USA in search of jobs and security. Hondagneu-Sotelo and Messner observe that the "New Man" or "New Father" figure much heralded in the American press does not truly exist. For all the hype about the reformed male who is less aggressive and individualistic and more involved emotionally and materially in the home, what has actually occurred is that these largely middle-class white men and their mates can afford to hire childcare and domestic help who, predictably, tend to be female and non-white.

  26. By contrast, the Mexican immigrant male's public image remains that of a fairly misogynistic machismo. Yet the two sociologists' research into the actual domestic arrangements of these men reveals that their status as patriarchs has changed since migration in three significant areas: low public status means they have less spatial mobility; it also means they have less authority in the family decision-making process, and the resulting increase of dependence on the nuclear family means that they are more involved in the duties of household labour (210). The men in this study are still as interested in patriarchal authority as they had been in Mexico, but the new cultural environment has refracted the codes by which they enact that authority. So the public displays of machismo appear to be compensatory practices for their experiences as marginalized masculinities, while, at home, these super-masculine practices are replaced by a true "new fatherhood" (210-13). The hybridized cultural medium of the immigrant community, itself a product of the economic inequities between Mexico and the US-imperium, makes necessary the translation of the codes from home into the circumstances of the new place, and in the process, bends those codes into new masculine practices.

  27. Postcolonial criticism, which commits its attention to the histories of inequity that produce such cross-cultural refractions, allows us to see such innovations taking place within various kinds of masculinity without losing sight of the very real inequalities that continue to exist. And, as in the case of the comparison of the "New Man" and Mexican immigrant men, the perspectives opened by a study of marginalized or subordinated masculinities enable strong critiques of the ruses of hegemonic masculinities.


  28. In "When Was 'the Post-colonial'? Thinking at the Limit," a recent essay assessing the major objections to and attacks against postcolonial theory and criticism, Stuart Hall suggests that the current weariness [8] in the field is due largely to its practitioners' unwillingness to reach out across disciplinary boundaries: “This is itself partly an institutional effect--an unintended consequence, some would say, of the fact that the 'post-colonial' has been most fully developed by literary scholars, who have been reluctant to make the break across disciplinary (even post-disciplinary) boundaries required to advance the argument” (258). Bringing together critics from the fields of gender studies, sociology, music, education, visual arts, cultural studies, and literature, this collection of essays, which builds on and extends the discussions of the colonial constructions of masculinity (see Christopher E. Gittings and Mrinalini Sinha), represents a conceptualization and practice of interdisciplinarity that we hope will give postcolonial and gender studies a new momentum.

  29. The collection opens with an email conversation with Bob Connell, the Australian sociologist who has produced the most comprehensive theoretical work on masculinities to date. In the interview, Connell comments on the interrelations between hierarchical orders of masculinities and current trends in an increasingly globalized economic order, on the imbrication of patriarchy and structures of the nation-state, and on the differences between his theory of gender as practice and Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity. He also calls attention to some progressive international activist and academic work on men and masculinity.

  30. In "The Significance of Uselessness: Resisting Colonial Masculinity in Philip Jeyaretnam's Abraham's Promise," Philip Holden looks at "the cultural grammar of post-independence Singapore as an example of what Ashis Nandy has called the 'shared culture' of colonialism. Colonial equations between the governance of the colony and the governance of the male body have been maintained and subtly nativised by post-independence cultural policies. The gendering of the nation has become a matter of Gramscian common sense in contemporary Singapore, and, as common sense, it is difficult to contest. While Abraham's Promise may be read as a direct political allegory, it also works on a different level. In a series of textual slippages centred upon the protagonist/narrator, Abraham Isaac, the novel attempts to shake the ideological framework within which it is written, by a process of renegotiation of the connection between national destiny and masculinity" (PH).

  31. Jillana Enteen's essay "'Whiskey is Whiskey; You Can't Make a Cocktail from That!' Self-Identified Gay Thai Men in Bangkok" examines "some of the ways in which identifying as gay in Bangkok is described to Westerners by several Thai sources: self-identified gay Thai men, Thai English language newspapers, and book and magazine presses in Bangkok. Comparing these descriptions demonstrates how gayness is constructed in this unique community, rather than assuming a universal model of gay identity. As a result of Thailand's ten-year economic boom and increased participation in international markets, self-identified gay men in Bangkok inhabit new gendered spaces that include fresh ways of self description and previously unavailable constructions of desire. Western gay identity does not prefigure being gay in Thailand, nor does the position of kathoey (Thai transsexuals and transvestites) or the terms Thai men who have sex with men use to describe their actions. Positioning oneself as gay in Thailand includes an awareness of the label as global, but the way in which this position is enacted in Bangkok combines and repositions ideologies from many sources, producing identities that are dynamic and often conflicting, as well as new erotic objects and avenues for articulating desire" (JE).

  32. George Elliott Clarke in "Cool Politics: Styles of Honour in Malcolm X and Miles Davis" argues that "by positioning themselves as archetypal black men, X and Davis became champions of the black male-delineated worlds of black religion and black music, spheres in which black mastery, however patriarchal, phallocentric, and sexist, privileged an ethic of 'cool.' X's and Davis's investments in codes of honor, in 'coolness,' not only offered a context for their cultural successes, but also provided a basis for the construction of a re-energized and progressive African-American socio-political movement" (GEC).

  33. In "(Re)sexualizing the Desexualized Asian Male in the Works of Ken Chu and Michael Joo," Joan Kee explores "the issue of Asian American male sexuality and its relationship to a postcolonial environment. Chu introduces the idea of the gay Asian American male as an active pursuer in his pastiche-like, mixed media work I need some more hair products (1988). Conversely, Joo establishes himself as an object of potential homosexual desire in his installation piece Miss Megook (1993), composed of several pieces of a reconstructed B-52 bomber with painted decals of a pin-up woman and the legend 'Miss Megook' (Miss America in Korean). For Chu and Joo, race and sexuality are ultimately intertwined. To deny or deprioritize the integral themes of male sexuality and homosexuality would be to emasculate the potency of their works. The importance of the works lies in the complex coalescence of racial and sexual themes within their works as well as within the perimeter of personal experiences" (JK).

  34. Using examples from several contemporary francophone Caribbean novelists, Thomas C. Spear's "Carnivalesque Jouissance: Representations of Sexuality in the Francophone West Indian Novel" examines the "authors' differing representations of an often exaggerated sexuality that reinforce stereotypes of exotic exuberance. Especially with sexual terminology, the use of Creole vocabulary serves to add a frisson of difference while recirculating stereotypes. Difference is often presented in a comically homophobic, misogynist manner as the male heterosexual ‘coq’ rules supreme. Masterful males carry on the slavemaster's tradition of (sexual) power over objectified and/or passively submissive females. Wilfully or not, the West Indian writers carry on a prolific tradition of 'doudouist' stereotypes of 'racy' sexuality" (TS).

  35. Derek Stanovsky's "Fela and His Wives: The Import of a Postcolonial Masculinity" explores the discursive production of a postcolonial masculinity in the Western media through "an examination of the life and death of Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Obituaries of his recent death from AIDS in Lagos appearing in the Western press pay as much attention to Fela's twenty-seven wives and his performances dressed only in bikini briefs as they do to his globally influential music and radical pan-African politics. This attention to the polygyny and misogyny of this postcolonial cultural and political icon are read in the context of Judith Butler's work on gender as performative citation and iteration. The racial, sexual and cultural politics surrounding the production and consumption of Fela by Western audiences are linked with his representation as radically polygynous and misogynist in ways that allow him to fit into the existing discourses of race and gender in the West. The ways in which Fela's biography fails to conform to these representations are then examined as are the progressive possibilities enabled by the resignification of these cultural images" (DS).

  36. Rob Pattman's article examines the discursive circulation of the notion of “traditional culture” to reinforce masculine privilege at a teachers' college in Zimbabwe (1991-93). "Focusing upon a Theory of Education lecture and drawing upon interviews, mainly with male students, the essay looks at how men related to and inhabited hegemonic masculinities, how they constructed and lived their identities in relation to women, 'other' men, the 'west' and 'Zimbabwean culture.' A discourse which elided assertions of male power with anti-white racism was hegemonic, and produced particular subject positions for men (and women) which were affirmed, negotiated and resisted" (RP).

  37. This collection of essays by scholars in a variety of disciplinary fields does, indeed, constitute a collective search for modification and change among postcolonial masculinities. The authors’ emphases vary between discontenting the present and sketching progressive possibilities, but always these essays are animated by the hope that criticism works, and that this work contributes to decolonization and gender justice.


  1. Useful sources which debate the relations and differences between postmodern and postcolonial theories include Adam and Tiffin's collection of essays (1990), Kwame A. Appiah, "Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonialism?" (1991), and Ania Loomba's "Postmodernism and Postcolonial Studies" in Colonialism/Postcolonialism (1998). Back

  2. This allusion to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire calls attention to the challenge posed by postcolonial locations to Western theories of gender and sexuality. Fanon's rivalry between black and white men mirrors exactly the "homosocial" desire between men that, according to Sedgwick, circulates itself through men's traffic in women. Presumably, however, her term "homosocial" signifies "of the same social group," while in Fanon's narrative, the colonial-racial opposition splinters the homogeneity based on sex and gender. Back

  3. For extended discussions of the problematic allegories between sexuality, gender, and colonial/postcolonial nationalist discourses, see Evelyne Accad, Marnia Lazreg, Jenny Sharpe and Anne McClintock. Back

  4. Hooks's description of this "positive" form of patriarchy does not blind her to negative forms of patriarchy. She extends her criticism, for example, to several black intellectuals themselves (Delaney, Du Bois, Douglass, Garvey, Cleaver and Malcolm X) for their uncritical (and self-serving) acceptance of the equation of black liberation with the development of a strong black patriarchy. See "Malcolm X: The Longed-for Feminist Manhood" in Outlaw Culture (1994) and "Challenging Sexism in Black Life" in Killing Rage (1995). Back

  5. See the brilliant developments from Bhabha's theories in Alan Lawson's analysis of the interstitial consciousness of the settler subject, caught between the authority and authenticity of the imperium and the authority and authenticity of the indigene--that is, between two first worlds, the first world of the metropolis and the first nations people he has displaced. Back

  6. The field of "postcolonial studies" continues to be the subject of much ongoing debate. Its critics note its "a-historical and universalizing displacements" and "its depoliticizing implications" (Shohat), its "ubiquitous academic marketability" (McClintock), and its failure to include a consideration of its relationship to global capitalism (Dirlik; Ahmad). For the best analyses of these debates, see Stuart Hall's "When Was 'the Postcolonial'? Thinking at the Limit" (1996), Bart Moore-Gilbert's "Postcolonial criticism or postcolonial theory?" in his Postcolonial Theory (1997) and Deepika Bahri's "Terms of Engagement: Postcolonialism, Transnationalism, and Composition Studies" (1998). Back

  7. We are indebted to the authors' own abstracts of their essays in the summaries that follow. Back

  8. At least two other critics have come up with a similar diagnosis: Robert Young, in Colonial Desire, sounds the warning that "from a theoretical rather than archival perspective, colonial-discourse analysis as a general method and practice has reached a stage where it is itself in danger of becoming oddly stagnated. . . . We have reached something of an impasse with regard to the theoretical questions raised in the study of colonial discourse" (163-64); Bart Moore-Gilbert, for his part, notes that the work of the major postcolonial theorists--Said, Spivak, and Bhabha--has indeed lost some of its radical impetus (185-87). Back

Works Cited

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Adam, Ian, and Helen Tiffin, eds. Past the Last Post: Theorizing Post-Colonialism and Post-Modernism. Calgary: U of Calgary P, 1990.

Ahmad, Aijaz. "The politics of literary postcoloniality." Race & Class 36.3 (1995): 1- 20.

Appiah, Kwame A. "Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonialism?" Critical Inquiry 17 (Winter 1991): 336-57.

Bahri, Deepika. "Terms of Engagement: Postcolonialism, Transnationalism, and Composition Studies." JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory 18.1 (Winter 1998): 29-44.

Barrett, Michèle. "Ideology and the Cultural Production of Gender." Feminist Criticism and Social Change. Ed. Judith Newton and Deborah Rosenfelt. New York: Methuen, 1985. 65-85.

Bhabha, Homi. "Of Mimicry and Man." The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. 85-92.

____. "Postcolonial Criticism." Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn. New York: MLA, 1992. 437-65.

Brod, Harry. "Some Thoughts on Some Histories of Some Masculinities: Jews and Other Others." Theorizing Masculinities. Ed. Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994. 82-96.

Brod, Harry, and Michael Kaufman. Introduction. Theorizing Masculinities. Ed. Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994. 1-10.

Brooke, Frances. The History of Emily Montague. 1769. Ottawa: Carleton UP, 1985.

Bulkin, Elly, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith. Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism. Ithaca, New York: Firebrand, 1984.

Carrigan, Tim, Robert Connell, and John Lee. "Toward a New Sociology of Masculinity." Theory and Society 14.5 (1985): 551-603.

Chatterjee, Partha. "The Nationalist Resolution of the Women's Question." Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History. Ed. Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1990. 233-53.

Clatterbaugh, Kenneth. Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity: Men, Women, and Politics in Modern Society. Boulder: Westview P, 1990.

Coleman, Daniel. Masculine Migrations: Reading the Postcolonial Male in "New Canadian" Narratives. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1998.

Connell, Robert. Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1987.

____. Masculinities. Berkeley: U of California P, 1995.

De Lauretis, Teresa. "Eccentric Subjects: Feminist Theory and Historical Consciousness." Feminist Studies 16.1 (Spring 1990): 115-50.

Dirlik, Arif. "The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism." Critical Inquiry 20 (Winter 1994): 328-56.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. London: Pluto, 1967, 1991.

Gilmore, David. Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity. New Haven: Yale UP, 1990.

Gittings, Christopher, ed. Imperialism and Gender: Constructions of Masculinity. Special issue. Kunapipi 18.1 (1996).

Grant, George. Technology and Empire: Perspectives on North America. Toronto: Anansi, 1969.

Hall, Stuart. "When Was 'The Post-colonial'? Thinking at the Limit." The post-colonial question: common skies, divided horizons. Ed. Iain Chambers and Lidia Curti. London: Routledge, 1996. 242-60.

Hoch, Paul. White Hero, Black Beast: Racism, Sexism and the Mask of Masculinity. London: Pluto, 1979.

Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette, and Michael Messner. "Gender Displays and Men's Power: The 'New Man' and the Mexican Immigrant Man." Theorizing Masculinities. Ed. Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994. 200-18.

hooks, bell. "Challenging Sexism in Black Life." Killing Rage: Ending Racism. New York: Henry Holt, 1995. 62-76.

____. "Malcolm X: The Longed-for Feminist Manhood." Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations. New York: Routledge, 1994. 183-96.

____."Reconstructing Black Masculinity." Black Looks: Race and Representation. Toronto: Between the Lines, 1992. 87-113.

Hull, Gloria T., Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds. All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies. Old Westbury, New York: Feminist P, 1982.

Hutcheon, Linda. The Canadian Postmodern: A Study of Contemporary English-Canadian Fiction. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1988.

Lawson, Alan. "Postcolonial Theory and the 'Settler' Subject." Essays on Canadian Writing 56 (Fall 1995): 20-36.

Lazreg, Marnia. The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. New York: Routledge, 1998.

McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Mercer, Kobena, and Isaac Julien. "Race, Sexual Politics and Black Masculinity: A Dossier." Male Order: Unwrapping Masculinity. Ed. Rowena Chapman and Jonathan Rutherford. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1988. 97-164.

Moore-Gilbert, Bart. Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics. London: Verso, 1997.

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Orwell, George. "Shooting an Elephant." The Norton Reader. 8th (shorter) ed. Ed. Arthur Eastman, New York: Norton, 1992. 531-37.

Radhakrishnan, Rajagopalan. "Nationalism, Gender, and the Narrative of Identity." Nationalisms and Sexualities. Ed. Andrew Parker, Mary Russo, Doris Sommer, and Patricia Yaeger. New York: Routledge, 1992. 77-95.

Sangari, Kumkum, and Sudesh Vaid, eds. Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1990.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia UP, 1985.

Selvadurai, Shyam. Funny Boy. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994.

Sharpe, Jenny. Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993.

Shohat, Ella. "Notes On the Postcolonial." Social Text 31/32 (1992): 99-113.

Sinha, Mrinalini. Colonial Masculinity: The 'manly Englishman' and the 'effeminate Bengali' in the late nineteenth century. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1995.

Wallace, Michele. Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman. New York: Dial, 1979.

Young, Robert J. C. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London: Routledge, 1995.


Lahoucine Ouzgane and Daniel Coleman would like to express their warmest thanks to Jouvert's editor, Deborah Wyrick, and managing editor, Steven Luyendyk, for their winsome and efficient help in bringing this special issue together. The attractive graphics and layout are the products of their hard work and creative expertise. We would also like to thank Bob Connell for taking time out of a busy schedule to wrestle with the inconveniences of email as the medium by which we conducted our interview. Finally, we would like to thank the contributors to this special issue who gave us such fine materials to work with and then bore patiently with the processes of revision and copy-editing. This collection would not have been possible without them. We also gratefully acknowledge permission from Ken Chu to reproduce "I Need Some More Hair Products" and "Then One Night, I Saw Sam Fuller's Crimson Kimono," and from Caroline Schneider, representative for Michael Joo, to reproduce his "Miss Megook" and "Salt Transfer Cycle." Daniel Coleman gladly acknowledges funds from the McMaster University Arts Research Board that defrayed some of the costs incurred in producing this special issue.

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