The representation of masculinity in Western Culture is usually fairly straightforward. The ideology of hegemonic masculinity (men as powerful) is usually put forth. This means that men are seen as someone strong, independent, and self-sufficient. They are depicted as aggressive, and the figure of the soldier, as one who restores the order of normality is respected. When the order is disrupted, they restore it.
In slave narratives, these representations are changed- black masculinity is docile and men are feminized. However, “docile black masculine identity were simply a way to placate the masses.” (Humphreys, lecture) In The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Douglass is feminized by his owner. Master Thomas “told me I could go nowhere but that he could get me…He exhorted me to content myself and be obedient. He told me, if I would be happy, I must lay out no plans for the future. He said if I behaved myself properly, he would take care of me. Indeed, he advised me to complete thoughtlessness of the future, and taught me to depend solely upon him for happiness.” (Douglass, 96) He is treated as a stereotypical female by his master- incapable of caring for himself and only capable of doing what is expected of him. There is hope and a contradiction of this when he is alone. During his leisure time “I spent this in a sort of stupor, between sleep and wake, under some large tree. At times I would rise up, a flash of energetic freedom would dart through my soul, accompanied with a faint beam of hope, that flickered for a moment, and then vanished.” (Douglass, 68) Black masculinity was a performance. When away from the stage of the plantation and the role he needed to play, Douglass slowly transforms- first through his thoughts, then his actions. He is passive at first, accepting and then hiding his resistance of his fate. He then becomes active later. Through resistance, he is able to let go of the docile image, and instead be transformed into a beast. “I resolved to fight; and suiting my action to the resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as I did so, I rose.” (Douglass, 73) He overpowers Covey, who was once dominant and places himself more on Covey’s level. “The animal represents the unknown, a representation of the shadowy world of instinct.” (Hallett, 169) He can be a beast and fight when he has to- just like others can. He has several roles, “The fairy-tale hero…is sometimes a rollicking daredevil and sometimes a silent sufferer; at times a lazybones and at times a diligent helper; often sly and wily but just as often open and honest. At times he is a shrewd fellow, an undaunted solver of riddles, a brave fighter; at others he is a stupid person or one who sits down and begins to cry every time he encounters difficulty.” (Luthi, 316) Douglass is a person, with several different feelings, he is not an object as the slaveholders try to position him as.
Through his transformation he becomes more humanized-he aligns himself more with the representation of masculinity instead of the image of “black masculinity” as a docile servant. He finds that he has power, and he realizes that in order to be free- he has to act like a beast. His master “raved and swore his determination to get hold of me. I did not allow myself a single word; but was resolved, if he laid the weight of his hand upon me, it should be blow for blow.” (Douglass, 98) Here there is a mirroring of the two men; they are no longer dominant/subordinate; they both have the same personality as the strong, male figure.
By presenting himself as a double of his master during, he reconfigures black masculinity as equal to white masculinity. He makes himself seem beastly to counter the image of docility, and through this regains his humanity. In order to counter the purity myth he has to bring out the ideology of hegemonic masculinity and follow it. He counters one ideology by following another.
IMAGES (In order of appearance)
- Hercules- Zero to Hero (English) Prod. defrankfurt YouTube. YouTube, 14 Sept. 2007. Web. 10 June. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRCteeZTrjE>
- Mulan-I’ll Make a Man Out of You. Prod. XFliiy. YouTube. Youtube, 27, Nov 2006. Web. 10 June 2013 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSS5dEeMX64>
- Douglass, Frederick, and Harriet A. Jacobs. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave & Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. New York: Modern Library, 2000. Print.
- Hallett, Martin, and Barbara Karasek. Folk & Fairy Tales. 4th ed. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2002. Print.
- Luthi, Max. “The Fairy-Tale Hero: The Image of Man in the Fairy Tale” Folk & Fairy Tales. By Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek. 4th ed. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2009. 315-323.
- Humphreys, Sara. Class Lecture. American Literature. Trent University. Oshawa. Ontario. June 3, 2013. “Ideology of Indiginaity, Whiteness, and National Belonging”