March 11, 2008

Masculinity and Vulnerability: An Interview with Paul Baines of Media Mindful

Shoulder to Shoulder: Men and Vulnerability is a doc by Paul Baines. Check out parts 2-4

*Just a quick FYI, all the links in this interview were provided by me.

First up one the interview list is Paul Baines, media artist and activist, blogger, and one of thes co-founders in the development of Masc magazine, a space for youth to address issues facing masculine culture. Paul took a few moments to answer a few questions that I had...

A common theme in your blog, as Questioning Masculinity clearly states, is to question the accepted norms of masculinity. Would you care to expand on these norms, why they are problematic, and why you feel it is important to question the typical masculine gender role?

"Norms are easy to identify if we just stop for one second and ask the most basic questions:
  • What’s a guy movie?
  • What’s a real man?
  • Why is it considered bad for a boy to “play like a girl” or show weakness?
There are hundreds of norms for masculinity and what makes them norms is the general consensus I get when I ask a group of 30 people the 3 questions above. Norms are problematic when they box-in what we should be like and limit our potential to live a full life. They are even more problematic when they support a system of violence.

I believe many masculine norms need to be questioned for at least 2 reasons:
  • because it’s not being done as much as it should
  • because it has some very dangerous consequences
There are many consequences, but one I’ve been looking at is vulnerability. When we accept the norm that masculinity (and by mistake, men) should hide, ignore, devalue their emotions, we are “creating” a dysfunctional person. This acceptance is dangerous because these “created” (or as we say in the media studies community “constructed”) men make their own lives a living hell and often everyone else too. Look at male suicide rates, male life expectancy, numbers of male war-makers and males abusing women and children."

Masculinity and maleness are often used interchangeably. To you, is there a difference between masculinity and of the male? Why or why not?

"Yes, big difference. One of the major barriers to talking about gender is detaching it from sex or biology. Masculinity and Femininity (2 of many categories of gender) are performances based on cultural, historical, political, etc. conditions, assumptions, and organized efforts to assign a gender category to a sex category.

For instance there is nothing biologically male about fixing cars, being athletic, or wearing blue (instead of pink). These stereotypes make assumptions of what masculinity is, yet there is nothing in the genetic male/man code to link it to the colour blue."

When speaking of pop culture (Visibility Alert is a pop culture blog after all), I feel that most people think of television and films. What sort of representations/stereotypes are out there in regards to masculinity? Any films/shows particularly negative in this respect? Positive?

"I wrote a blog article about Lars and the Real Girl and Into the Wild. I was looking at manhood, suffering and forgiveness.

I thought Lars was an excellent representation of the male experience. I also liked SuperBad. One of my old favourites is Rushmore. A while ago Jim Carey starred in The Mask, which was actually a very clever movie looking at the performance, promise, and pain of masculinity."

Do you feel there is any particular reason why many magazines have not devoted more space to issues in masculinity?

"Most magazines (like much of the mass media) are selling consumers to advertisers and are constrained by this advertising-based business model. There are likely many other reasons too, but ultimately I think this absence is a result of a larger void.

Thinking critically about masculinity, feminism, and patriarchy would raise too many questions about society. Who does most of the work and who gets less pay? Who feels entitled and who doesn’t? How is strength defined and who has it? Why is our culture obsessed with commodified sex and consequence-free violence?"

Sut Jhally’s documentary Tough Guise focuses on the link between violence and masculinity. Your documentary, , on the other hand, questions male experiences with vulnerability and how it shapes their relationships. How do you feel this shift away from the dominant discourse of violence by focusing on the theme of vulnerability affect males?

"I started my questioning by looking at Jhally’s work and being really engaged with it. There is a part of his educational video that deals with vulnerability and I think it’s the most interesting. Most men will not commit gross acts of violence on those around them.

However, all men can relate to the emotional confusion around being strong and weak. My work is to start a conversation about masculinity and if the first thing guys hear is that it’s violent or messed up, I’m afraid they would turn off. Plus, this doesn’t validate their experiences of vulnerability. If the mass media isn’t going to do look at the complexities of male pain and privilege, then I want to."

Part 4 of Shoulder to Shoulder, by Paul Baines

For more information on Paul Baines' projects, you can find him at Media Mindful. Stay posted for part 2 of my masculinity series...

1 comment:

Matt said...


I love the rock parable in the Baines film.