Masculinity, Performativity, Queer Gaze, Sense8

A Break With Traditional relationship constellations

As part of breaking with the heterosexual matrix and its dominans, both series question our idea of marriage as the destination for a happy, fulfilling life. With this, both Sense8 and Transparent points to those structures (marriage and monogamist relationship constellations) that are part of making sure the idea of the heterosexual matrix is seen as natural and ‘right’ – this is challenged by the sexuality of the characters.

Lito

Sense8 portrays a break with the stereotypical portrayal of male homosexuality in the medias through the Mexican sensate, Lito. Beside this, Lito’s storyline is also part of challenging the idea of monogamy and ‘traditional’ relationship constellations. Lito is especially interesting, since he becomes the embodiment of just how much the heterosexual matrix can affect identities that break with this discourse. In the presentation of Lito, it is already indicated how torn he is. It is especially evident when he, during the shooting of his new movie (Lito is an actor), is alone in his trailer where he is talking to himself trying to get a grip and be able to finish the scene: “Who are you? Who am I? Blow your fucking brains out. Where’s that coming from?” (22:53 in Limbic Resonans). He punches himself in the head while repeating: “Who am I? I’m Tino El Caido. I’m the fallen one” (ibid.: 23:05) – and points to a picture of himself:

you're a liar Lito.png

You’re a liar!” (23:36 in Limbic Resonance)

The camera is placed behind Lito, depicting him looking at a picture of himself as ‘the actor Lito’, which is further underlined by the mirror, where we see his face. This over-the-shoulder frame makes sure that the viewer sees what he sees while at the same time looking at him from the outside, as an onlooker. The intention is clear: Lito is torn between being two people at the same time – the person his fans see, while Lito, and the viewer, have gained access to another, more private, side of him.

As a reaction to living this double life, he starts to hump the wall in a very ‘masculine’ way. As if he is trying to convince himself that he is a ‘real’ man who does not have trouble performing:

Lito humper væg.png

(23:47 i Limbic Resonance)

I’m a man! Bah – Bah-pah!”, he exclaims, while looking like someone who gradually starts doubting it. This is underlined by the scene pictured above where the venetian blind might insinuate bars. These bars become almost symbolically depicted in the mirror, which further underlines this feeling of being caved in, imprisoned. Not only is he imprisoned by society (the trailer could be understood as a symbolic prison), but also by ‘himself’ (the mirror as a reference to the fact that he can no longer see himself). With this in mind, Lito is imprisoned by the heteronormative discourses that dominates society and the media world. His repeated attempt to ‘out’ himself as a liar might insinuate that Lito’s hyper-masculine appearance is nothing more than a performance he too is captured by.

Kimmel, Masculinity, Masculinity & Femininity, Why Feminism

Masculinity

Since gender is constructed, equality is about transforming culture in a way that does not limit nor dictate either boys or girls to do their gender in a certain way. We therefore find, that it is crucial to involve men and masculinity in the fight for gender equality. Not just as advocates, as many have been, but also on a theoretical level. Because, if hyperfemininity is unhealthy for girls, how healthy is hypermasculinity for boys (and women)?

The Masculine Identity

Kimmel thinks, it is crucial to involve masculinity in the feminist approach to gender. This, because masculinity should be redefined in a way, that dis-associates it from violence, power, and entitlement, so that we as a society can protect both men and women. Political researcher and teacher Dr. Caroline Heldman supports this in the documentary The Mask You Live In (2015) (Looks at how our limited definition of masculinity hurts boys, men, and society at large)

We raise boys to become men whose very identity is based on rejecting the feminine and then we are surprised when they don’t see women as being fully human (…) we set boys up to grow into men who disrespect women at a fundamental level

(Heldman i Newsom 2015: 27:35)

Kimmel points to the fact, that the debate about masculinity already exists, the problem is, that it is invisible. He emphasises this by asking:

(…) what gender comes to mind when I invoke the following current American problems: “teen violence,” “gang violence,” “suburban violence,” “drug violence,” “violence in schools”? And what gender comes to mind when I say the words “suicide bomber” or “terrorist hijacker”?

(Kimmel 2017: 9)

The answer is simple: men. Young men. From lower social classes. Trouble is, according to Kimmel, that the debate surrounding this fail to mention that the idea of masculinity is an important factor (ibid.). Especially the hegemonic definition of masculinity is a problem for men’s self-image:

(…) young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant, father, of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height, a recent record in sports … Any male who fails to qualify in any one of these ways is likely to view himself – during moments at least – as unworthy, incomplete, and inferior

(Kimmel 2017: 10)

(web)

Masculinity and the Media

Kimmel argues that the media reflects gender identities that already exists in society today by having ‘his’ and ‘her’ media (Kimmel 2017: 352). In relation to this, he points out that women can read and watch ‘his media’, but men perceive ‘her media’ as degrading and as a thread to his masculinity (ibid.). Language too, is a factor that creates inequality between genders, since role models such as parents or coaches use phrases like ‘You play like a girl’, ‘Don’t be a girl about it’, ‘Man up’, og ‘Soft crap’? (Newsom 2015: 43:25). Serano supports this, since she thinks true equality can only be achieved, when boys learn to embrace ‘girl’s stuff’: “Because male pride is not really about pride. It’s about fear – the fear of being seen as feminine. And that’s why “girl stuff” is so dangerous” (Serano 2016: 316).


 

Sources

Newsom, Jennifer Siebel (2015): The Mask You Live In, The Representation Project.

Kimmel, Michael (2017): The Gendered Society. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN: 9780190260323

Serano, Julia (2016): Whipping Girl – a Transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Berkeley CA, Seal Press. ISBN-13: 978-1-58005-622-9