What is does it mean to be masculine? How do we measure masculinity and how do we judge who is considered masculine? Masculinity is socially constructed to define what it means to be a man within today’s society. But like with all other social constructs, not everything or everyone necessarily fits neatly into society’s expectations. In the first two chapters of Straightjacket Sexualities, the traditional concepts of masculinity are examined and reinvented to fit within the context of Asian Americans, particularly Asian males. Author Celine Parrenas Shimizu deconstructs the normative view of masculinity, drawing examples from the life and works of Bruce Lee and the concept of shame within specific Asian American films.
An Asian American icon, Bruce Lee is notorious around the globe for his muscular physique and impeccable kung fu skills. Having starred in several Hollywood films, Bruce Lee counters the typically portrayed view of the weak Asian male. Though he challenges the stereotype that Asian males are inherently weak, his characters still seemingly lack one aspect of masculinity: sexuality. But Shimizu claims that Bruce Lee does indeed show not only masculinity, but also sexuality, just in a different way. She argues, “between ferocity and tenderness, vulnerability and strength, and caring not only for the self but other—especially friends, family, and women—Bruce Lee formulates an ethical manhood not aligned with patriarchy alone but with a larger field of social relations” (34). Bruce Lee transcends the normative Western views of masculinity and exemplifies masculinity in relation to culture and people.
Aside from Bruce Lee, Shimizu also counters the Western view of masculinity by examining the use of shame within film. Drawing examples from films such as Eat a Bowl of Tea, The Wedding Banquet, and Sixteen Candles, Shimizu argues “that shame may provide the opportunity for undoing one’s position and transforming the self away from the standards that demean and degrade it into a more enriched experience of self-respect and even joy in forging one’s own manhood” (83). Though each film portrays a different aspect of shame, it is through the use of this shame that the static definition of masculinity can be redefined. By wiping away the preconceived notions of masculinity with shame, these films represent the possibility to form new concepts of masculinity.
Unlike their white counterparts, Asian men are often viewed as feminine and soft. Details magazine published a photograph that taught the American public how to distinguish an Asian man and a gay man. Having examined this in class, I was dismayed to find the multiple discrepancies and incongruities in the photo. Not only were the descriptions racist in nature, they were also discriminatory against gays. It detrimentally stereotyped the identities of Asian males and gay men as interchangeable. Not only were the descriptions inaccurate, they could also be used to describe many other categories of men. With this one photograph, both Asian males and gay men were wrongly depicted.
Evelyn Pei — #83257157