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Thursday, September 18, 2014

‘HYPERMASCULINE’ IS ONLY A CODE WORD TO ATTACK BLACK MEN’S MASCULINITY

Hypermasculinity is a term that I hear thrown around a lot in conversations about black men. We, ourselves, use this term. I have become troubled by the term because from what I have seen the word has no concrete definition; instead, it relies upon the connotations that it implies within a specific context.

For instance, black male rappers are often called hypermasculine. When we hear the word applied to them, we instantly understand what is being said. We know that what is being referred to is their demeanor that is perceived to be aggressive (maybe violent), dominant (maybe domineering), and sexual (maybe sexually exploitive). When I have asked people to define what hypermasculinity means I get a myriad of answers that do not always coalesce.

Dictionary.com defines hypermasculine just as ambiguously as “pertaining to or characteristic of a man or men,” which is the same definition that is used for the word masculine. So if both words are the same and interchangeable then where did the negative connotations come from? And why is the word used as something other than general masculinity? What is hypermasculinity?
In an attempt to define hypermasculinity, I first explored the semantics of the word. If the word masculine means pertaining to or characteristic of a man, and the prefix –hyper implies excess or an exaggeration then to be hypermasculine means to have an excess of male characteristics. Now there is an oxymoron if ever I saw one. A man, who is male and is expected to have male qualities, can have too many male qualities?

Fascinating.

If we were going to, for the sake of argument, assume that it is possible for a man to have too many characteristics that pertain to a man, then that would suggest that there is a certain amount of masculine characteristics that a man should have. What is this standard for masculinity based upon? And why is hypermasculinity so negative?

Some may argue about the validity of the next statement, but for this discussion let’s assume that gender is a social construct. As such the concept of gender categorizes characteristics of gender into masculine or feminine according to what society dictates. What dictates what society thinks is, of course, the ideals of the dominant culture which in America is an imperialistic, white-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy. Author, professor, and intellectual, Bell Hooks coined this phrase to describe the intertwining systems (of oppression) that influence American culture. These systems influence what becomes the “norm” and/or what is socially acceptable in mainstream America. With that in mind, I would imagine that the standard for masculinity must be based on white men. However, even when white men exhibit excessive male characteristics they are rarely called hypermasculine. When black men display similar behavior, the country clutches its pearls and gasps like a debutante in a room full of sailors and the outcry is “hypermasculine.”

I submit to you that hypermasculinity does not actually exist. Hypermasculinity has become a code word for young black males who being black are characteristically different from the white men upon whom the American mainstream is using as their baseline for masculinity. This difference is both confusing and scary because it does not fit in the prescribed box.

America has a history of hating that which is does not understand, therefore, characteristics are twisted towards the negative and aggressive becomes violent, dominant becomes domineering, and sexual becomes predatory. That is how a generally accepted public perception of black males can allow a young black boy in a hoodie to be seen by a grown non-black man and thought of as a danger that needed to be hunted and killed (Trayvon Martin). That is how a young Black man playing loud music could be seen as a threat that needed to be shot in the back. That is how Timberland boots and fitted caps can be seen as indicators of violence that need to be banned from nightclub dress codes. That is how sagging pants can be seen as a menace to society so great that it required legislation to eradicate it. That is how rap music can be so denigrated as to devalue its musical brilliance and relevance.


The truth is that there is no such thing as a man that has too many characteristics that pertain to a man. A man may have more or less masculine characteristics than another, but that does not make him better or worse for it. The use of the word hypermasculine is an attack. It is an attack on black man’s masculinity. It is an attack on his manhood. It is an attack on his humanity. We are not hypermasculine. We are black men displaying our masculinity in the context of what it means to be ‘Black in America’ – which does make it different. No one in America has to understand it, but they should respect it.

SOURCE: MUSED MAG

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