A song of changing genders a literary gender analysis of

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In the problem formulation I defined gender enlightenment in a fictional text as, among other things, creating characters that represent aspects of society in one way or another – the characters must provide some form of connection to a past or present reality. In order to answer the main question in this thesis, whether George R.R. Martin is enlightened in regards to his male gender politics, it is therefore necessary to define the characteristics of masculinity in contemporary society. I start by describing the background and characteristics of hegemonic masculinity since it has had a significant influence on men’s self-identification today.


In today’s postmodern society there is a certain identity ideal that most men strive to uphold. This ideal is heavily influenced by the dominant role that men have held in society since the beginning of our known history. And because it has such ties to men’s dominance (over women, over nature, over less civilized peoples) this ideal has come to be known in recent years as hegemonic masculinity. Hegemony is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others”8. The days when men dominated every aspect of social life are gone; the feminist movement’s lobbying for equality during the last century have made sure of that. The social oppression of women has been diminished extensively in postmodern societies, especially in the Northern hemisphere; however, the masculine ideal has not yet caught up with the social reality. Men are still expected to dominate every aspect of their lives (except for their women).


In his publication, The Masculine Mystique, Andrew Kimbrell writes of how the hegemonic masculine ideal is intimately tied to the notion of success; success and competition, something that hails back to the Industrial Era and the age of emerging capitalism. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, a man (or woman) was born to a specific station in life and never thought to move up or down from there. The notion of raising oneself to a better position in life is a modern concept; it did not come into existence until the introduction of capitalism and industry. Peasants moved to the cities and for the first time competed against one another for work. They had to outperform one another if they wished to keep their jobs and support their families. Kimbrell calls it “the enclosure of men”9.

He argues that after the introduction of the Industrial Age men stopped being identified as individuals and began being defined as machines instead. Working hours increased drastically as rural farmers became industrial workers of mills, factories and mines and these men were expected to endure these prodigious labor hours without complaint – or they were likely to be replaced when there was no other work to be had10. Kimbrell quotes historian Sidney Pollard,

The worker who left his domestic workshop or peasant holding for the factory entered a new culture as well as a new sense of direction… [The] new economic order needed not men but rather ‘part-humans’: soulless, depersonalized, disembodied, who could become members, or little wheels rather, of a complex mechanism.” 11

Kimbrell continues, “Finally subsumed into the industrial mode, men became the “robots” demanded by the industrial system. They became conditioned by the factory clock and the fear of the factory manager, and ended up being virtually absorbed into the rhythms and needs of the machines with which they worked”12.

This notion of the mechanized man is an integral part of the postmodern, masculine identity. Men are not allowed to ‘break down’. It exhibits weakness, which is shameful for a man to admit. He is expected to be constantly running at maximum capacity and reach his goals with single-minded determination. Kimbrell writes, “They have been forced into a bind, in which their lives and identity are judged on an efficiency basis, yet this very quality ensures dysfunctional relationships and an emotionally deprived existence”13. Men are taught to ignore illness and injury; there is especially shame connected to the issue of impotence, since it is the very symbol of a man’s masculinity, his manhood, which is not functioning properly. The very phrase ‘sexual dysfunction’ has a distinct mechanical ring to it. Kimbrell notes, “[The] masculine mystique demands that men be able to perform their sexual role in a machine-like fashion. So-called impotence stigmatizes man as a failure”14.

A ‘real man’ is therefore successful in his career. He enjoys competing for a better position at work and he relishes winning even more. He is always striving to do better, to climb upwards in the hierarchy, to earn more money so he can buy a bigger house, another car. He has a personality that is powerful and charismatic enough to do better than his coworkers and yet, even after reaching the very top, he will never be satisfied with the status quo but ever strive to rise even further. As Anthony Synnott writes in his Rethinking Men: Heroes, Villains and Victims (2009), “Men have to compete to prove their masculinity and their worth, or risk being categorized as unmasculine, and they have to be successful, winners, number one, in at least some particular domain, and in their own eyes”15. This is how capitalism impacted male identity in today’s society; it has become second nature for modern men to act in the name of self-interest. It has become synonymous with masculinity for a man to have the need to rise ever higher in the ranks of his career while ignoring the ‘softer’, ‘female’ emotions of his nature like compassion, pity and patience.

Synnott speaks of how America is unique in the way the states expanded west during the 18-19th centuries. The creation of a new world in the west, a new life, facilitated rapid social mobility and it became the model of masculinity to work one’s way up the social ladder to the top. Synnott calls it “The Self-made Man” – one who “made it from rags to riches”16. It was very different from the European traditions of class hierarchy and inheritance, which were the relics of feudalism.

Synnott writes that emerging capitalism is not the only experience from the past that has influenced contemporary hegemonic masculinity. This ideal also has historic ties to chivalry – the knight and warrior ideal dating back to the Homeric heroes of ancient Greek history and probably further17. The knightly tales of the eleventh and twelfth centuries have not only been stories of war, but have always included the internal struggles of warriors as well. King Beowulf, from the saga written around 800 AD, was a warrior but “no killer”18. Chaucer’s portrait of the knight in The Canterbury Tales (1386) describes a warrior “as meek as is a maid […] a verray, parfit gentil knyght”19. The chivalrous knight of wartime became the perfect gentleman in peacetime; courteous, gentle and patient. In contemporary Western society, where war is no longer a natural part of life, the warzone has moved from the battlefield to the corporate office, to a world of business mergers, departmental alliances and hostile takeovers. And the gentleman of the past can be translated into the modern day family man. At the end of the day, he leaves the warlike career race behind and comes home to a wife and children. Therefore, a ‘real man’ is not only successful in the business world, but within his family as well. He not only has the means to support spouse and children, but also the time to be present and witness every one of his children’s experiences. He is a supportive, loving and romantic husband who is more than apt at satisfying his wife sexually. He is happy to make repairs and improvements around the house thanks to his identification as a machine-man20, and even though he is a non-violent person he is willing and able to protect his family from danger, should the need arise. These are the ideals of the postmodern gentleman and chivalrous knight – the ideal of hegemonic masculinity.

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