Taking up topics as diverse and timely as the work of FBI profilers, the pornography debates, feminist analyses of male supremacy as sexual abuse, the ritual meanings of fraternity gang rape, and the interplay of racial and sexual injustice, T. Walter Herbert illuminates the chronic masculine anxieties that seek compensation in fantasies of sexual coercion and in sexual offenses against women. His work offers an unusually clear view of this prevailing convention of insecure and destructive masculinity, which Herbert connects with contemporary analyses of male identity formation, sexuality, and violence and with cultural, political, and ideological developments reaching back to the nation's democratic beginnings.
Reading iconic nineteenth-century texts by Whitman, Hawthorne, and Stowe, and pursuing the articulation of their gender logic in Richard Wright's Native Son, Herbert traces a gender ideology of dominance and submission, its persistence in masculine subcultures like the military and big-time football, and its debilitating effects on imaginations and lives in our own day. In materials as diverse as Hannah Foster's post-Revolutionary War novel The Coquette and the Coen brothers' 1996 movie Fargo, this book taps into popular culture and high art alike to outline the logic of American manhood's violent streak--and its dire consequences for a culture with truly democratic and egalitarian ambitions.
Herbert demonstrates the centrality of violence to the developing culture of democratic manhood. The book’s power comes in the lean simplicity and directness of its argument, and its framing personal reflections that document the author’s own willingness to apply this analysis to himself and invite readers to see the possibilities of such self-analysis. Sexual Violence also demonstrates Walt Herbert’s absolute passion for social change, for the idea that people can, by struggling courageously with their own flaws and demons, improve their own lives and American democratic practice.
This is a passionate and provocative book, more polemical sketch than in-depth scholarly study, but powerfully urgent in those terms. It literary analyses are first rate, uncommonly pithy and wide-ranging. An important and unusually intimate book.
This book is hopeful and sympathetic. Herbert’s argument is measured, nuanced, and patient. His discussion of pornographic manhood is insightful and his outstanding observations about martial rape advance the issue.
Thread by thread, Walter Herbert reveals the knot conjoining masculinity, sexuality, and violence. Compelling, carefully reasoned, and large in scope, the book is ambitious—and it delivers. Using literature, popular culture, and, most movingly, his own story, Herbert authoritatively places sexualized violence in a particular American context. This is an important work that should be read, not only by historians, psychologists, and sociologists, but by anyone desiring a better understanding of our current world, or anyone dreaming of a better one.
[Herbert] exposes the myths that allow men to justify sexual domination, whether it takes the form of physical abuse or exclusion from decision-making.
Herbert mines American literature and film, as well as his own experience, to weave a disturbing, but finally hopeful volume about the shaping of American codes of masculinity.
Herbert traces the shifting ideologies that have created and justified the sexually abusive behavior of men in 19th- and 20th-century America, mainly through an examination of literary texts… His conclusions about the past and present culture of misogyny in America are as convincing as they are sobering, but Herbert sounds a hopeful note throughout, believing that Americans can draw on their democratic traditions to achieve more egalitarian sexual relations. His brave, highly personal prologue and epilogue serve to humanize the author… Highly recommended.
- 272 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8 inches
- Harvard University Press
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