Monday, November 23, 2009

Boys Don't Cry

As we have seen, masculinity is illustrated and played out in almost every aspect of our lives. We witness constructions and performances of masculinity all around us; especially exhibited by our families, friends, and media such as music, TV shows, and movies. A movie that very distinctly portrays constructions of hyper-masculinity, ideals of lower-class masculinity, and issues related to homophobia and transphobia is Boys Don’t Cry (1999).
This movie is based on a true life story of a white transgendered female-to-male named Brandon Teena (or Teena Brandon), who lived in a small town in Nebraska in the early 90’s. The character that most exhibited dangerous examples of hyper-masculinity was John Lotter. John is Brandon’s ‘friend’ and Brandon’s lover (Lana)’s, ex-boyfriend. After Brandon falls in love with Lana, John begins to become very possessive of her, and begins to be hostile and threatening towards Brandon.
As we have discussed in this class and in the texts, threatening others with violence is a way that men are often socialized to solve problems. John eventually finds out that Brandon, who identifies as male, has biologically female anatomy. When John finds this out, he does a wonderful job of displaying extremely hateful homophobia, transphobia, and masculinity. John brutally rapes, beats, and eventually kills Brandon because he was transgendered.
Patriachy’s need to display it’s dominance over women and keep strict gender roles in place is disturbing. John’s character illustrates this type of sexual violence that our society instills in men. Men are taught that to be masculine and “a real man” they must exert their heterosexuality. The best way to do this is to show hatred and be violent towards those who do not abide by the gender roles and heteronormativity that society has in place.
Even before John became menacing towards Brandon and they were ‘friends,’ John and another boy bullied Brandon and peer pressured him to do things that were ‘masculine.’ These things included being pulled through the mud on the back of a truck, driving recklessly to escape policemen, and cutting themselves with a large knife. These types of activities apparently prove strength and masculinity and the characters feel they must do these things in front of other men in order to exert their manhood and prove that they are not weak or like women in any way. John often uses alcohol to ‘bond’ with Brandon and mask his own pain. We have seen this type of behavior in our readings about the utilization of alcohol in men’s friendships.
The masculinity that John performs is also affected by his class. The characters in this movie are all working-class. The way that John becomes possessive, jealous, and controlling of Lana portrays how in order to act masculine, men must be in control of a woman. Exerting that power over women, as we have discussed in class, is sometimes performed by lower-class men for several different reasons. One of the reasons is that men threaten or inflict violence upon women because they are oppressed by those in higher classes, and in turn take out their anger by oppressing women. Boys Don’t Cry exemplifies this cycle of oppression and how seriously intertwined capitalism, misogyny, patriarchy, violence, and masculinity are, and how connected they are to each other.
It is apparent from this film, and discussion and readings in class, that love, acceptance, and care are not the traits that men are socialized to have. Men are even punished when they exhibit these ‘womanly’ or ‘feminine’ traits, which are seen as weak. John punishes Brandon for not acting in hyper-masculine, violent, and dominant ways and for loving and caring for Lana. He does this by doubting Brandon’s manhood by suspecting that he was not even biologically male. Because Brandon did not act hateful and dangerous like a ‘real man’ should, he was thought of as odd and suspicious.
I highly recommend Boys Don’t Cry to anyone interested in exploring issues related to hate-crimes, transphobia, class issues, and/or masculinities. However, viewers may want to be aware of the graphic rape, assault, and murder scenes that are quite brutally portrayed. Even though these scenes may be sensitive to many viewers, I think it is important for films to illustrate the horrific realities of hate crimes and I appreciate the way this film shows audiences how terrifying and real constructions of masculinity and heteronormativity truly are.

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