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Where Have All the Cowboys – er, men- Gone?

If Newton’s third law of physics states that every action requires an opposite and equal reaction, then Jennie Joiner would like to see that applied to emerging trends in the state of manhood.

“If we’ve redefined feminism, we need to redefine [masculinity],” says Joiner, assistant professor of English at Keuka. “We’re in an interesting space culturally, where no one wants to step up and do that – it makes everyone uncomfortable.”

As such, a Thursday talk Joiner will present, “Lifting the Fig Leaf to Reveal Hidden Masculinities,” will explore contemporary notions of masculinity in the figurative cowboy as depicted in the novel True Grit and its two film versions. Joiner’s talk will also include a scene from the recent Keuka production of Rabbit by Nina Raine and a discussion of the themes of that play. Her presentation starts at 4:15 p.m. in Hegeman 109.

The cowboy – a specifically American icon – has always embodied the conflicting issues seen in manhood, she said. However, there’s a difference between the 1968 cowboy depicted by John Wayne and the 2010 cowboy depicted by Jeff Bridges in the Coen brothers recent Western remake, Joiner said, one that speaks to an apparent reluctance on the part of men these days to embrace a fully defined role.

In the past, Joiner said, men’s “brawn” was needed for production and protection, but there has been a transition from an agricultural and industrial economy to one where knowledge and information are the resources being managed. Now, the character traits deemed most critical for future job success – problem-solving, compassion, sensitivity – are ones traditionally upheld as feminine ideals, and “where does that leave men?,” Joiner asked.

“We’re backwards, because we’re always talking about issues of feminism and roles of women and more people are willing to talk about that than roles of men. The movies and literature have depicted this reluctance for a long time,” says Joiner, pointing to another cultural phenomenon seen in TV’s “The Simpsons.”  “Bart is the screw-up, while Lisa is the smart, bright, brainy kid. Culturally, we see reflections that could be promoting Bart Simpson as a role model more concerned with laziness and fart jokes than responsibility.”

Joiner’s talk is sparked by the recently published Kay Hymowitz book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, a provocative cover story in the July/August 2010 issue of The Atlantic entitled “The End of Men?” and discussions that have come up in her English classes. For example, The Atlantic article introduced students to a new term, “mancession,” in reference to the primary victims – white men – of the recent economic recession.

“In all my courses, these issues are coming up and ‘boiling,’” Joiner said.

Look for a follow-up feature this weekend on Joiner’s presentation.

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