The stereotype of masculinity embraces many qualities. To be manly one must be brave, daring, and cool under fire. A man must be physically strong--tough, skillful, dexterous. And one must also be honorable, honest, and courteous. A man must not complain. A man must not lose control of his emotions. A man must not cry. Even today, many men would accept these qualities as defining masculinity. But how did our idea of manliness evolve? How long have these qualities been the norm? And will they continue to be our basic image of man?
In The Image of Man, noted historian George L. Mosse provides the first historical account of the masculine stereotype in modern Western culture, tracing the evolution of the idea of manliness to reveal how it came to embody physical beauty, courage, moral restraint, and a strong will. This stereotype, he finds, originated in the tumultuous changes of the eighteenth century, as Europe's dominant aristocrats grudgingly yielded to the rise of the professional, bureaucratic, and commercial middle classes. Mosse reveals how the new bourgeoisie, faced with a bewildering, rapidly industrialized world, latched onto the knightly ideal of chivalry. And he shows how the rise of universal conscription created a "soldierly man" as an ideal type. In England, the nineteenth century gave rise to an educational system that emphasized athletics, team sports, and physical strength, as did the gymnastics movement on the continent. At the same time, ideals of masculine beauty developed throughout the continent, intertwined with theories of art and personal comportment. And dueling experienced a renaissance, spreading throughout society, though tinged by each country's character (in France, many duels were fought, but few ended in death, whereas Germans evolved an almost bureaucratic set of rules governing such combats--participants used pistols rather than swords, leading to a high fatality rate). Indeed, in the nineteenth century, the idea of manliness appeared in so many areas of life and thought that it was accepted as a social constant, a permanent endowment granted by nature. Mosse shows, however, that it continued to evolve, particularly in contrast to stereotypes of women and unmanly men--Jews and homosexuals--all considered weak and fearful, unable to control their passions. Mosse concludes that socialism also made use of this stereotype, while in the twentieth century Fascism took this process to its extreme expression--mass political rallies glorified the fearless storm trooper as outsiders were stigmatized and persecuted.
Today, the manly image has been challenged as never before. The old foils for masculine assertiveness have been eroded: the women's movement and gay and lesbian organizations have won new recognition, while anti-Semitic stereotypes have crumbled in the wake of the Holocaust and the rise of Israel. The long-standing idea of middle class respectability--one of the foundations of the masculine norm--has been cracked and battered. And yet, Mosse writes, manliness remains with us, a component of society that demands to be understood as we move into the future.show more