Dude, You’re a Fag
In C.J. Pascoe’s book, Dude, You’re a fag, she discusses how masculinity in high school is asserted through dominance and control within male and female interactions. Through decades of categorizing and labeling others, society has developed a system of lumping males and females into two gender categories. This text discussed both male and female categorizing however it is men who face the most ridicule for not fitting in. The hurtful term ‘fag,’ as discussed by the author, has come to be synonymous with ‘stupid,’ ‘weird,’ ‘dumb,’ etc. In an interview with a student, Pascoe recorded that, “To call someone gay or fag is like the lowest thing you can call someone. Because that’s like saying you’re nothing”. Male masculinity is viewed as something sacred and whenever it is threatened, high school boys are quick to reassure it with each other. This is done through various ways but the main method that Pascoe references is the “fag discourse.” This involves boys joking with one another about “getting” girls, mocking one another’s sexuality, and other emotionally-damaging behaviors. In the following, I will be discussing how the events at River High School coincide and contrast with Machismo in Spain and the Kathoey in Thailand.
Dude, You’re a Fag opens up with an encounter the author had during the high school’s spirit contest called Mr. Cougar. The author describes a dance routine involving two boys who were dressed up as nerds. The nerds eventually had to fight off some jocks who stole their girls and acted weak by behaving in stereotypical feminine and homosexual manners. This is the overall theme of the book. Boys are called fag in an effort to diminish their self esteem. The boys do not even have to be homosexual to be called fag but rather the term is used as a test of one’s masculinity. An interesting tidbit that the author discovered was that boys in drama class did not use the term as much because they were already associated with a stereotypically-gay activity.
Another overall idea in the book is that of the fag discourse. The importance of the fag discourse is dependent on the situation. The locker room and body shop, for example, are major areas for the discourse. Boys will talk to other boys about topics that confirm their sexuality such as who they find attractive and how they plan on sexually dominating girls’ bodies. The author also discusses at this point another key concept: boys touching girls is viewed favorably as it promotes their heterosexuality; however male-male touching is frowned upon. Continuing the discussion of females, the author discusses how masculinity is not exclusive to boys. She wrote about how girls on the basketball team will often wear baggy clothes and talk in more aggressive tones.
Wrapping up, the author brought an interesting idea to the readers’ attention: when traits of one gender group are reinforced, the esteem of the opposite is damaged. In other words, whenever contemporary gender and sexuality ideologies are encouraged by adults and adolescents alike, someone is bound to be hurt. The author then concluded the novel by offering ways students can make their high schools a safer place for LGBTQ teens.
In My Encounter with Machismo in Spain, David Gilmore discusses his focus group that met and talked together in Andalusia about what it truly meant to be a man. He discusses how there are three main components that make up manliness in Spain: virility, valor, and virtue. In essence, virility means to honor one’s manhood. The author describes one account in which native men were baffled that foreign men made no attempt to get together with the beautiful women who were swimming at the beach. The natives said that it is a man’s responsibility to make any type of pass towards all women unless they are extremely ugly. Perhaps more surprising was the author’s witness of a group of teenage boys harassing every girl who walked by. This is apparently a common practice in Spain and even when the boys get in trouble, their fathers view any as compliments. They are proud of their sons for being macho and practicing this habit known as “abuchear.” In other words, machismo means acting in an overly-heterosexual manner to conquer women. Another way that these men would act macho is by giving piropos, or compliments, to women. These compliments are expected to be second nature for men as they are a vital part to protecting their manhood. The next aspect to manliness is valor.
Much like our view of manliness in America, a valorous man is one who shows great pride in his work. In an interview by the author, the interviewee’s friends said that, “A real man was one who worked hard under harsh or perilous conditions and who never complained, never ran away, who was ‘a hard worker’ and who made ‘sacrifices’ for his family.” This coincides with the stereotypical view of the American man who is expected to work long hours while his wife is at home with the children. Men are viewed as the primary household provider in both nations. What is interesting however is the fact that in Andalusia a man can be valorous but not machismo and still be considered a masculine man. Lastly, the author wrote about virtue, the third component of Andalusian masculinity.
In Andalusia, masculine beauty is not measured by a man’s looks but rather his virtue. Men are judged upon how well they pay back their debts and how serious they take their obligations. If a man is virtuous, or honrado, he is viewed as a favorable and masculine man. On the other hand, if a man is dishonest and unethical, he is viewed as having a “hard face.” This combined with the other two aspects are what make up an Andalusian man. This leads us to the ultimate question, how does this connect with the work of Pascoe?
As described in chapter one, hegemonic masculinity is, “the type of gender practice that, in a given space and time, supports gender inequality.” Men can either benefit from this or be oppressed by this. Hegemonic masculinity can be a very confusing and jumbled concept as Pascoe says. With the current model of American analysis of masculinity, both a quiet and professional businessman and a hard-headed muscular gang member can both be viewed as manly men. The difference between the United States and Spain however is that the preconceived notions of a hypersexualized heterosexual man being the only form of acceptable masculinity is taught early in life to young boys. Perhaps the best example of this would be the Mr. Cougar contest described in the second chapter of the book. Sitting in the gymnasium, the students were practically spoon-fed ideas of what is okay for boys to do and what leads to bullying and harassment. The boys putting on the show first started out as potentially gay nerds who could not defend themselves, trained in a gym with a female trainer, and eventually intimidated a group a gangsters into returning their girlfriends. This small skit performed by the students at River High may have been satirical, however it is not too far off from what America expects from men. Men are expected to act heterosexual, be obsessed with sculpting their muscles, and do anything it takes to woo women. This is very similar to the Andalusians in the sense that young boys are taught to make sexual passes towards any girl who walks by and to take every chance they get to sexually dominate every woman encountered later on in adulthood. While the Andalusians may not have a word as harmful as Americans (fag) to describe someone who does not conform to these norms, it is still not viewed highly.
The preconceived relationships between gender and sexuality are also carried out by the school systems. As stated by Pascoe, sex education curricula typically features a heterosexual married couple as the normal model of sexuality. Rarely, often never, are homosexual relationships discussed unless in a disrespectful manner. A student lawsuit was required in order for a gay-straight alliance club to be formed in the school. Although the school did recognize “alternative lifestyles,” their strict sex education curriculum continued to enforce heterosexuality as being the normal way to live and that girls were to be viewed as sexual items and that they should abstain from having any sexual relations with boys. While very different from the allowed behaviors of the Andalusian boys, teaching only heterosexual abstinence enabled the harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ students. Next, I will discuss how the term fag is very similar to the term Kathoey in Thailand.
In chapter 12 of his work, Genders and Sexualities in Modern Thailand, Peter Jackson writes about how to many Thai, Thailand is considered a “gay paradise” in the sense that they are very accepting of all sexualities. This, however, is not the case as stated by Jackson, “Thai academic writings commonly problematize male homosexuality as a “’perversion’ that needs to be ‘corrected’, or a ‘disease’ or ‘illness’ that needs to be ‘treated’ or ‘cured.’ Jackson breaks his argument down into three main themes. 1) Multiple interpretations of masculinity have led to an apparent widespread tolerance of transgendered, or Kathoey model of homoeroticism. 2) Gay-identified men are labeled as “diseased” or “perverted.” 3) Thai are quick to criticize the character of gays yet never hold interventions in an effort to get them to conform to heterosexual norms. Jackson then states that the combination of these three themes, “produces more finely nuanced discourses of homoeroticism and transgenderism in both everyday and academic contexts than have historically been found in Western societies.” It is also important to note that the Thai have two very different categories of non-normative men: the Kathoey, or transgendered, and openly-gay men. The Kathoey typically receive less criticism than the latter however as stated by Jackson, underground rap music such as Kliat Tut (translated to I Hate Faggots), is clear indication that a percentage of the Thai population find transgendered individuals disgusting. The Kathoey are respected more if they coincide with the normative standards set for either a man or a woman. In other words, they need to choose a gender and stick with it in order to be respected.
Masculine gay men are not welcome in Thailand unless they are willing to take on the title of Kathoey. Gay men who act in a masculine fashion are mocked in print media and labeled as eroticized. On the other hand, men who are brave enough to openly express their homosexuality are labeled diseased and immoral. What is one to do? In essence, the author is shedding light on the fact that Thailand is not the “gay paradise” that it claims to be. This ties in with the boys at River High labeling each other as fag if they do not follow the gender norms.
In chapter three, Pascoe tells the tale of a homosexual student named Ricky. Dealing with being called a fag throughout his life, Ricky had come to accept the fact that he would be ridiculed on a daily basis. His education suffered greatly because of the harassment he received and eventually he dropped out of high school to join a Drag show. While American culture may not have a distinct set of terms differentiating gay men, masculine gay men, transgendered individuals, etc., the term fag has developed into a way for boys to separate their peers into distinct groups of normal and unusual.
As told by Pascoe, boys are taught before adolescence to fear faggots for they are predatory and passive. She tells the tale of a group of 10-year-old boys running away from a boy who was satirically acting homosexual. When boys call each other fag, they are essentially threatening their masculinity in an attempt to get them to change their behavior. High school is a breeding ground for intimidation and hormonal-induced discrimination. Much like in Thailand, the boys at River High made anyone who deviated from the norm an outcast and even though programs such as gay-straight alliances existed, adults did nothing to prohibit discriminatory behavior and therefore encouraged their bullying. Next, I will discuss how Pascoe also incorporates the black/white binary into her writing.
While her research at River High was primarily focused around boys proving their masculinity, Pascoe did also make note of how the black students’ masculinity was often viewed by faculty as threatening. At a school dance competition, three different groups of students (one all white, one all female, and one all black) wanted to compete. Each group was required to perform in front of the vice principal for a prescreening of their dance moves. All three of the student groups recognized that their dance moves might be viewed as highly-sexualized however it was only the group of black boys who was reassured that they would be suspended if they touched any of the female members of their group.
Pascoe did discuss how black students are often very popular in American high schools due to their rarity and impressive athletic performance, however they still lay victim to faculty treating them as a greater threat than their white peers. Masculinity should be viewed equally regardless of a person’s race but Pascoe’s research showed that black teenage boys are viewed as hyper-sexual and receive different treatment. Lastly, I will discuss how Pascoe’s work in addition to my other chosen readings help demonstrate the social construction of gender, sex, and sexuality.
As stated earlier, high school is a breeding ground for students to prove their masculinity to one another through various ways. According to Dr. Pris, gender is not correlated to sex. The body parts a person has, their hormones, and other distinguishable characteristics mean absolutely nothing unless culture assigns them meaning. This is perhaps best displayed when Pascoe discusses how the athletic girls in the school will often display masculine qualities but are still viewed as girls. This proves that one’s genitalia does not correlate with their behaviors however society has deemed otherwise as demonstrated in the course readings I chose.
In Spain, culture has deemed that boys and men alike are forced to make sexual passes towards nearly every beautiful girl they encounter for fear that they will be harassed by their peers. In Thailand, men are not allowed to be openly gay unless they too want to be harassed. The only way they can avoid the torment is if they take on the title of Kathoey because then it is socially acceptable for them to have feminine qualities.
Dude, You’re a Fag critically analyzed how masculinity is developed whilst adolescent males coast through high school. Through countless interviews and observations, Pascoe helped the reader understand that gender, sex, and sexuality is merely a social construct. Comparing her work to Machismo in Spain and Kathoey in Thailand, one can see the similarities and differences between the cultures. While the United States may not be as harsh when it comes to gender roles, one cannot deny that with terms such as fag/faggot being thrown around, high school boys are being harassed into conforming to gender norms.