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Consuming men : shaving, masculinities, and the competition of identity at the fin de siècle Bengry, Justin Dean

Abstract

Fin-de-siecle England was marked by myriad tensions, both domestic and imperial. At home, gender constructions and assumptions were destabilized as women forced the re-evaluation of traditional spheres of experience. For both men and women identities could not merely be assumed. The pursuit of manliness, for instance, required industry and competence. Men had to prove their manliness, implicitly acknowledging the constructed nature of masculine identities. Fragmentation-not only of empire but also of assumptions regarding gender and sexuality further contributed to anxieties regarding normative conceptions of masculinity. And increased consumerism even threatened the boundaries.between public and private, male and female space. Society appeared to be in a state of transformation, and in response to these complex and often inconsistent pressures, various masculine identities proliferated. Consumerism, however, offered solutions as well. It is through consumerism and product marketing, this paper argues, that additional masculine identities were constructed which contributed to the ongoing power of hegemonic masculinity in a period otherwise marked by change. Advertising for shaving products represented performances of masculinity which offered either validation of existing identities or new models for emulation. Despite contemporary invocations of a crisis, this paper further argues that historians' evaluations of hegemonic masculinity have been too uncritical of the fin-de-siecle "crisis of masculinity." Hegemonic masculinity was, through the incorporation of a plurality of identities responding to the perceived proliferation of inconsistent and contradictory threats, maintaining stability and power, even in a time of insecurities and flux.

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