Masculinity He Sulked in the Department Store Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :


He sulked in the department store courtesy chair, two shopping bags in his keep. Other men walking by glanced at Adam with admiration, respect, and a hint of envy. "He got the chair," they thought. "That's the man's chair, the chair that we sit in while our wives and girlfriends and daughters do the shopping. I wish I was sitting in that chair right now." Similarly entrusted with shopping bags, these men, like Adam, reflect the masculine principle in operation in modern society. Adam's sigh and his slouching posture point to the "pressure of making one's way in a harsh, difficult world," and to the "unrelieved seriousness" that accompanies that pressure (Brownmiller 278). In contrast, the women around them, fully in their element, rejoice at the rainbow of colors on display, from cosmetics palates to silk scarves, on the department store shelves. As Susan Brownmiller suggests in her article "Femininity," it is often through the polar opposite that each gender defines itself. For instance, Adam slouches in his chair directly in response to the overwhelming display of femininity around him. Outnumbered by feminine beings on full throttle, he feels defeated and out of place. In fact, feeling defeated and out of place are anathema to the masculine principle, which is "designed to inspire straightforward, confident success," (Brownmiller 278). Adam's masculinity conforms to Brownmiller's definition of the gender because of three things: first, he is "straight-edged" and stiff in his chair, especially in comparison to the soft, jovial beings that surround him (275). Moreover, Adam's masculinity is characterized by "a driving ethos of superiority" that causes him to harshly judge the feminine culture (278). Finally, Adam's masculinity is an unmasked display of "mastery and competence" designed in large part "to please women," (Brownmiller 278).

Adam grew up in a small town in California in the 1950s. Adam's father was the ultimate masculine role model, for like Brownmiller's dad, he was "gone all day at work." In fact, when Adam was growing up he vowed to not work as hard as dad. However, forks will be forks: once a person experiences the "sharply pronged" and "formidable" traits bestowed on men by each other and the rest of society, it would be hard to relinquish such a position of power. After all, forks deserve a position of prominence at the dinner table; alongside the knife they alone have the power to cut, to tear away at pieces of meat, to skewer them, to move into them and through them. Spoons, on the other hand, take no role in the process of severing. They play the passive role at the table, yielding gently to the warm caress of soup or the cold tingle of cereal. The fork, now, that's an instrument, even a weapon. With a fork, Adam could ostensibly gauge the eyes out of an intruder, protecting his family from harm.

Adam learned how to become a fork from his father first, and then in school from his friends both male and female. When the group of boys gathered before the sounding of the bell, they stood stiffly like the tines of a fork, leather jackets outlining their frames. When the girls walked by, their colorful dresses ballooned in the breeze, forming a bowl-shape not unlike their cutlery counterpart the spoon. Just as darkness is defined by the absence of light, so too was Adam's masculinity defined by his blatant lack of feminine traits. The young Adam learned at an early age how to fight, how to walk, how to speak, how to respond to threats. His father taught him that the rest of the pack would accept him only if he conformed, only if he became "straight-edged, sharply pronged and formidable," (Brownmiller 275). Adam's friends, like fellow forks in the drawer, supported his right to masculinity. Especially when segregated as boys and girls in school often are, the two genders sense and promote their distinctive traits.

However, the competition between the masculine and feminine principles was rigged. On page 278, Brownmiller notes, "the masculine principle is better understood as a driving ethos of superiority designed to inspire straightforward, confident success." This success is uncompromised by the feminine principle; the masculine will always win. Adam knows that his dad is the breadwinner in the family, occasionally resentful of his mother who gets to stay home all day and watch television. Adam knows that his mother's part-time job on the weekends is "cute," not meaningful. Adam also knows that when his mother goes shopping, his dad snickers and sneers. Women's work and women's interests are inferior. In many cases, what women do passes the time away, fills up the spaces between when they can serve their men. Adam carries this sense of superiority with him throughout his adolescence. In school, the girls take home ec and learn how to fold napkins and set the table. The boys take shop and learn how to play with big dangerous machines. When it comes time for graduation, only the boys enter college with serious ambitions. The girls get in because they're smart but not because they will amount to anything special. They can't, after all, head a major company or become President of the United States. Men will win the battle for the jobs and for the paychecks. They do, however, need the women around them to validate their lives and offer up praise for their performance. However superior Adam's work would be to his future wife, he nevertheless needs the support and confidence of a marital partner.

Thus Adam plans the course of his life when he is in High School, displaying at a young age the "mastery and competence" that is designed in large part "to please women," (Brownmiller 278). He sits at his desk with his legs sticking out in front of him like tines on a fork, feet touching the seat in front of him. Adam thus marks his geographic space as a dog would, sending powerful messages to the rest of the class. Adam represents the model masculine principle. Other males in the class employ similar body language. Their collective communique is clear: "We are men!" Looking around the room, Adam takes in the faces of the girls around him and mentally selects who he would like to be "his." From puberty onwards, sexuality becomes a game of predator and prey for Adam and his friends. The girls sense this; they sometimes like the challenge of running from the chase. "Mastery and competence" are when they look for in a romantic partner, after all. It doesn't bother Adam that he needs the "admiring applause" of girls in order to validate his identity (Brownmiller 278). Confident and sure of himself, Adam retains a sense of fundamental superiority and mastery over women throughout his life.

Adam loves his wife. He views himself as her protector, as her provider. However, with a sense of superiority and mastery over women, Adam slouches in his chair at Saks. Watching some of the hard-earned dough he collects being wasted on trivial things, Adam scorns his wife's shopping activities. When she approaches him and asks, "Honey, which do you like better: the green or the blue?" He shrugs his shoulders and mumbles, "I dunno, they're both nice." Rebelling against the feminine, Adam needs to put on a display of bad attitude in order to prove his superiority and send the message that he is ultimately in charge. "I'm letting you shop," he thinks to himself, "Because I have to." Just as he would take the leash off of their golden retriever so he could run freely in the park, so too does Adam relent to allow his wife the pleasure of shopping at Saks. When the day is through, the leash comes back on and Adam can once…

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