The Agony of Masculinity
Race, Gender, and Education in the Age of the 'New' Racism and Patriarchy
Peter Lang 2010
New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in EducationNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network October 17, 2011 Vershawn Young
In his new book, The Agony of Masculinity: Race, Gender, and Education in the Age of the “New” Racism and Patriarchy (Peter Lang, 2010), Pierre Orelus analyzes the “heartfelt stories of fifty men of African descent who vary in age, social class, family status, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, and ability” (1). One of the purposes of the book is to allow black men to share how they both perpetuate and are negatively impacted by heteronormativity, that is, the oppression of women and other men on the basis of how well they perform heterosexuality.
During my interview with Pierre, I was surprised that he labeled some of the men as closeted bisexuals and homosexuals simply because they did not disclose their sexualities to him. This was surprising since the book itself seeks to undo heteronormativity, which enforces the requirement to announce a heterosexual identity. This announcement is made both by how a man performs his masculinity, and in his actual sex life. Since the bedroom is private (we don’t know who people actually have sex with), one is supposed to feel unrestrained in disclosing his sexual practice by stating that he is heterosexual. If a man doesn’t make this pronouncement, he is deemed non-normative (otherwise, it’s assumed that he would proudly proclaim his straightness). What’s more, Orelus gives the men the choice to remain silent regarding their sexuality, yet when some take the option, it is read as a fear of coming out. This may be an instance when Orelus himself perpetuates the exact crisis he hopes to end.
This isn’t a criticism of this good book. Orelus begins by placing himself as a subject of analysis. He states that he has his own ongoing personal struggle with patriarchy, a fact often brought to his attention by his wife. It’s this experience he shares with other black men that prompted him to write the book. Please, listen in to our discussion of it.