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A search for man's meaning: examining manhood from the margins of gender and orientation

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While numerous studies have examined the nature of masculinity, scholars seldom seek to determine the meaning of manhood or to explore which types of individuals are culturally permitted to call themselves men. One scholarly approach suggests that the meaning of

While numerous studies have examined the nature of masculinity, scholars seldom seek to determine the meaning of manhood or to explore which types of individuals are culturally permitted to call themselves men. One scholarly approach suggests that the meaning of a cultural category can best be illuminated through examining marginalized examples within that category. Based on this assumption, this project illuminates cultural understandings of manhood in the United States by examining the experience of men within two marginalized categories--gay and transsexual--who have often found themselves fighting for the right to call themselves men at a time when hegemonic assumptions about manhood have required that one had been designated male at birth, claims a heterosexual orientation, and exhibits characteristics that are stereotypically masculine. For gay men who were born male, social marginalization could result from one's gay orientation as well as from a perceived lack of masculine traits. For some transsexual gay men, all three of the traditional markers of manhood may be absent or deemed insufficient. This scenario calls into question what it is that all men have in common if the concept of manhood is to be associated with any stable definition. Within rhetorical analysis, the concept of textual fragmentation suggests that a rhetorical critic performs an analysis of a text by examining dense textual fragments; the critic's audience members then produce what they perceive to be a finished discourse in their own minds. Along these lines, this project illuminates the concept of manhood by examining dense textual fragments found within mass media representations and personal narratives, and concludes that one's manhood is determined based on the degree to which one identifies with others who call themselves men. Therefore, manhood can best be framed, not as a specific identity with a stable definition, but as a body of intersecting identifications specific to a particular cultural location and time period. As such, it is linked to cultural systems of power and oppression, illustrating that the claim to manhood as an identity is a rhetorical act that is not free from controversy.

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2012