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Brief Historiography–Bederman, Gorn, Kimmel, and Putney

Kimmel, Gorn, and Bederman all use the same definition of gender, but Gorn calls it masculinity.  They all basically say, “by gender I mean the sets of cultural meanings and prescriptions that each culture attaches to one’s biological sex.”(Kimmel 2)  That basically means that the idea of masculinity or femininity is merely a set of characteristics or objectives that men or women can display that define their masculinity or femininity.  In the 19th century, gender ideals, masculinity and femininity, were no longer innate among the biological sexes, it was no longer certain that a boy became a Man when he developed body hair, or a girl became a women when she hit puberty.  Therefore, these academics agree gender is a changing, fluctuating being that has to be displayed and seen to be understood by those around us.

Kimmel builds on Gorn in other ways too.  Kimmel uses Gorn’s work on sports to say, “as men felt their real sense of masculinity eroding, they turned to fantasies that embodied heroic physical action, reading novels of the Wild West and cheering the exploits of baseball and football players.'(4) If manhood could no longer be directly experienced, then perhaps it could be vicariously enjoyed by appropriating the symbols and props that signified earlier forms of power and excitement.”(Kimmel 81)  This is to say that Gorn used boxing a means of living vicariously through the boxer, via fight promoting, betting and spectatorship so that you have a stake in the fight, and hailing from the same neighborhood as a fighter.

Kimmel and Putney also have some commonalities when Putney employs some of Kimmel’s theories and ideas.  Namely, the idea that both of these works are based on, that heightened senses of masculinity were based on fear; fears of effeminacy, fears or women in leadership positions, fear of non-Christians, fear of non-whites, fears of rearing sissy boys, fears of all that pointed to femininity and weakness among men.  Both of these writers use 19th century male fears to show how they made these insecurities into strengths for themselves by issuing decrees and proscriptions about what it took to be an American man, and they changed the terms as necessary to ensure that it resonated with most white American men.

Bederman also builds on Gorn’s ideas of using boxing to show the uneasy balance that race, gender, and class played in the 19th century.  Even after Jack Johnson beat Jim Jeffries for the boxing title, white men used every means necessary to denigrate Johnson because of his skin color and the class he came from.  They went so far as to convict him of trumped up legal charges, and he fled the country, but upon his return he was sentenced to prison and lost everything he earned in the boxing ring; the money, the glory, and the honor and respect.  Gorn had a similar idea, but used nationalism between Britain and the US instead of the skin color of John Molineaux when he fought in Britain.


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