The Construction of Masculine Identities in Nineteenth-Century Western Europe
Buese, Christine S.
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In my studies of history, it seems that I have always asked the question; "What about women?" As I read about the importance of the constructions of womanhood and how these constructions related to social, cultural, economic and political themes and events in history, I found myself not asking "What about women?" but rather "What about men?", and more specifically the question: "What were the ideals of manliness, and how did these ideals relate to politics, economics, and culture?" A specific example of how I began to ask these questions about the relationships between masculinities and history was when I was reading about the portrayal of women in Nineteenth Century popular women's literature. The model of the heroines in this literary genre was glorified as the "innocent undereducated heroine" whose "virtue makes the men who try to seduce [her] evil by contrast, and as virtuous heroines who resist seduction by evil men these women gained the power of moral authority." Evil men? I began to imagine the implications of the portrayal of men as evil in such novels. If women were portrayed as having a "moral authority," then what did this mean for the male identity? If women are virtuous, and gender was thought of in terms of opposites, men would be what? Corrupt? Evil? Thus, a quest to answer some of my questions about the construction of male identities in history began. This study focuses on the construction and enforcement of male identities in Western Europe from the second half of the Nineteenth Century through the early twentieth century up until the first World War. Within this time frame, the scientific, political, and cultural forces which began in the late eighteenth and continued into the nineteenth century will be explored as they contributed to the establishment of new ideals of manliness. In light of these changes, themes will emerge in the discussions of the development of men during this period. These themes determined the construction of gender and we will find that science, "respectability" or "middle-class values", nationalism, and imperialism all played roles in constructing and enforcing ideals of manliness during this period. Once establishing these themes, the structure of this paper follows the development of masculine identities of males through the different stages of their lives. The indoctrination of boys, the transitional period of young adulthood to the ideal of fatherhood and the professional will be explored in reference to the formation of ideals of manliness. Furthermore, this paper also discusses the dilemma of men who fell away from the mainstream and found themselves labelled into a new category of sexual identity, the homosexual.