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Feminized, post-masculine men in Fight Club

Essay 2008 10 Seiten




1. Introduction

2. Causes

3. Effects
3.1. Physical effects
3.2. Psychological effects

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

David Fincher’s movie Fight Club (1999)[1] provoked a lot of debates because of its explicit depictions of violence, the representation of a mental disease, called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and its questioning of today’s masculine role. The latter is a very interesting theme to which I will dedicate this essay. In the following, I will show and analyze the representation of the feminized, post-masculine men in Fight Club.

Firstly, I will concern myself with the causes of this emasculation. Directionless and without any real-life role-models or strong father figure, without any wars or enemies, men in Fight Club are drawn to consumer society to find a new focus in their lives. But consumerism feminizes men’s bodies and pushes them more and more into a female sphere.

Secondly, the effects of this feminization will be analyzed. Men want to re-masculinize their bodies and try to achieve this through a traditionally masculine way: violence. But even aggressive behaviour does not rescue them from their feminized self, as deriving pleasure from a fight involves both parts a sadistic, male and a masochistic, feminine one.

2. Causes

Frustrated by his job, his absence of close social relations and a fulfilling sexual life, average man Jack[2], the protagonist in Fight Club, suffers from insomnia. His job in an automobile company, for which he has to travel to accident sites to perform product recall cost analyses, does not give him too much gratification and his only pleasure in life seems to be the frequent visits of numerous support group meetings. His life is going nowhere and he is not even trying to question the sense of all that.

He has no real-life role model to identify with or a strong father figure that would have led him the way to success and happiness. Jack’s father left the family when he was six years old and Tyler’s father only gave him yearly, one-sentence advices on the telephone. Like the creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jack and his alter ego Tyler are left fatherless, without a mentoring through a father figure to aid in forming values that define the masculine and foster success, to tell them, when and how to fight for their desires. It is the father’s central role to help sons develop a conscience and a sense of responsible manhood. But Jack / Tyler are left without that guidance and Jack experiences abandonment and scorn from the societies. In Fight Club, the viewer becomes the witness of Jack’s rebellion against a world that will not father him. Fight Club and Project Mayhem seek to recapitulate the function of the father as the primary male mentor and model for manhood, which attracts many members.

Tyler also critiques the conventional male models and their striving for success in America. But what is it that those men are really striving for? Power, fame, and money? Kimmel and Kaufman observed a very interesting fact when concentrating on the relation between men and power: “Ironically, although these men are everywhere in power, that aggregate power of that group does not translate into an individual sense of feeling empowered” (Kimmel/Kaufman, 262). They do not have a real relation to their power because they did not have to aggregate it and prove themselves; it has been passively given to them. Men are the receivers, a historically rather feminine part.

So how can men nowadays at least gain real fame and become men of honour? There is nothing to conquer, no glorious battles to fight, no common mission. Men have to remain physically powerful while eschewing all violent behaviour. There is not even a common enemy against whom men can ally. So in this atmosphere of general directionlessness, everybody could become a potential enemy, so why not oneself.

Tyler Durden directly identifies this problem: “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no great war. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war …our Great Depression is our lives.” American manhood has become totally disconnected from any meaningful social purpose, men seem to be useless. Jack goes to support group meetings without having one of the problems discussed in the group. Boon brilliantly summarizes the paradoxical expectations put on today’s men:

Fight Club addresses the impossibility of satisfying the contradictory cultural demands placed on men, who in relinquishing power, are expected to renounce the traditional, defining rituals of manhood while continuing to fulfil the functions those rituals were designed to prepare them for: to physically defend without training in single combat, to exhibit bravery and valour without physically imposing themselves on anyone else, to conquer without dominating, to acquiesce without surrendering, to control their environment without being controlled, to attain victory without defeating anyone, and to remain ready to fight without fighting. (Boon, 4)

Men still have the same tasks as centuries ago: the protection of the home and family, the expansion and growth of the community, and the defence of the nation, all aims that require a certain ability to act with aggression. They live in a paradoxical cultural environment that makes heroes of aggressive men while debasing aggressive impulses. Thus, the American man in Fight Club oscillates between engaging in traditionally masculine behaviours and risking being labelled as a social pariah or avoiding those behaviours and risking the shame of being characterized as less than a man, a ‘sissy’ for example. White masculinity has undergone a re-visioning, especially as a result of 1960s Civil Rights, feminist, and gay and lesbian movements, causing white men to increasingly imagine themselves as victims of the system in light of these advances made by marginalized groups. Today, the importance of the role of men is constantly questioned, especially as the quality of masculinity is rather indeterminate; it seems to be a vacant signifier.

Consequently, new ways for male behaviour to merit respect and recognition are needed.

It seems that the only thing that American men can strive for is to accumulate their money and buy consumer goods in order to increase their prestige and to function as a compensatory response to all the fears of humiliation. Jack, for example, excessively shops and his flat already resembles an Ikea store. Male worth is measured only by their participation in consumer culture. Imprisoned in his job cubicle and possessed by his possessions, Jack tries to escape the effects of social anonymity that make him just another mass consumer.

To sum up, men’s role has shifted from an active, heroic, confrontational one into the passive, ornamental roles usually assigned to women. Boon concludes: “to be a man is to be the problem“(Boon, 2).

3. Effects

There are different levels at which post-masculine men illustrate their new role. The feminisation does not only have physical effects and change men’s bodies into consumer goods, but it also has a strong impact on men’s psyche.

3.1. Physical effects

In order to fulfil their new ornamental role, men need to ornament their bodies as well. In Fight Club, there are some representations of the ideal male body. In contrast to rather weakly built Jack, Tyler, Jack’s vision of a perfect alpha-man, is in a very good shape, having a lot of muscles and a tanned complexion. There are also some other public representations of near-naked male bodies, as in the Gucci men’s underwear advertisement. So narcissistic men need to exercise in the gym and they need to buy special commodities to shape their bodies according to society’s expectations. As a consequence, the “male body has become a[n] [empty] fashion item” (Buchbinder, 230), an expensive cover that can be bought. Faludi observes rightly that today “masculinity is something to drape over the body, not draw from inner resources” (Faludi, 35). There seem to be no substance, no core, no dignity to it; the decorated body just passively invites a (female?) gaze. But aren’t rather women the ones to be observed and looked at? As the traditionally male space diminishes more and more, men are forced to step over into the rather feminine sphere of passivity and objectivity.

Jack wants Tyler to rescue him from his fatherless, feminized self and show him, how to be a man, a reason that also draws other participants to Fight Club. Tyler symbolizes the perfect manifestation of idealized masculinity within the feminized narrator. And he identifies the problem again by complaining to belong to a “generation of men raised by women”. He has a point as from the late 19th century on, the socialization and education of children increasingly became the responsibility of women, and the cultural sphere is dominated by women as well.


[1] Based on the novel Fight Club by American author Chuck Palahniuk (1996)

[2] As no real name is mentioned throughout the film, I will just call him Jack, based on the name of the author of some documents that he finds in his new house and from which he constantly quotes.


ISBN (eBook)
463 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – Anglistik / Amerikanistik
Feminized Fight Club Postmodern Cinema



Titel: Feminized, post-masculine men in Fight Club