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The Perils of MasculinityReview - The Perils of Masculinity
Analysis of Male Sexual Anxiety, Sexual Addiction, and Relational Abuse
by Andreas G. Philaretou
University Press of America, 2004
Review by Roy Sugarman, PhD
Mar 14th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 11)

Perhaps the definitive work on males came from feminism, in the form of Susan Faludi. In meeting and talking with men from various failed or successful backgrounds, Faludi sought to find how men's visions of heroism during their formative years coloured their perceptions and practices as men. In essence, fantasy and reality groomed men for a later life as heroes, a life that seldom materialised, unless they became soldiers, or similar, from GI Joe to astronaut, or perhaps real-life fakers, actors like Sly Stallone in an American culture.

Far from this were the early years for a young Cypriot named Andreas.† Growing up in a more traditional Orthodox Greek-Cypriot home in the '70's and '80's, he experienced the claustrophobia of gender role prescription and proscription, as did his sister.† Perhaps less tightly bound than his sister. He left for school in the USA and got laid, finally.† Up until this time, his experience and perceptions of sexuality were limited and onanistic, all coloured by the guilt of sin and expectations.† Occasionally we are given a glimpse of his forebears, and the patriarchy and machismo that shrouded their daily lives and adventures, or misadventures.† Above all else within the patriarchy are the prescribed values and expectations that profoundly shepherded his youth and adolescence, under the shroud of awful damnation that threatened any diversion from these rails.

As an adult, looking back Philaretou embarks on a deconstruction and reconstruction of his experiences.† He marries this with his viewpoint now that he is Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Science at Western Michigan University.† He is now interested in sex trafficking: one might consider this a bit iffy from a Freudian perspective given that he is after all, drawing from his own biography when he speaks of sexual angst, addiction and abuse in his experience, all sublimation and stuff.

In any event, the book is divided up into a five part discussion, perhaps from his doctorate, but beginning with patriarchy and the male ethos, moving on to masculinity and male sexuality, then to autobiographical research, then to the themes of the book encapsulated in the title, and then finally the macro and micro reconstruction.† I find this impossible to accomplish in 190 pages, of which 153 are his writing, the rest reference material.† It's a broad and complex field, involving the departure of family therapy from individual in the '50's as well as the massive changes and advancements in Feminist psychology that attended and critiqued the family therapy movement after dispensing with Freud's determinism.

There is no doubt this book was done irritatingly on the cheap, with the running head of chapter 3 abandoning the autobiographical theme and instead reading as chapter 5 does, confusingly, something the proofreader should have picked up.† The headings are set and spaced somewhat poorly, no bold breaks and so on, seemingly random in their organisation.† Some are italicised, some are not, it's hard to determine what each particular rationale is for, either one or the other philosophy, but I am not sure which.

There are no novel insights in the philosophy, certainly not from the point of view of 2006.† The great Australian Icon, Germaine Greer has recently told women to stop looking at the glass ceiling and patriarchy, and make their own choices, instead of dashing off to develop a career and endometriosis just for the sake of matriarchal freedom and cloned masculine identity.† Men certainly ain't having fun with it, and women aren't likely to enjoy the emancipated freedom of infertility, unchosen bachelorhood, heart disease, alcoholism, and other joys of living the patriarchal dream.† Andreas' own grandfather died of the bends coming up for air too quickly, a lesson for us all.

I recall visiting another Cypriot Andreas' household in my early adulthood.† My first vision of his drop-dead-gorgeous sister was of her rear end firmly triangulated on a stool in the kitchen, her chin on her fist, gazing intently at the oven window where some dead animal was giving up its juices.† I recall finding her right where I left her an hour later, like Rodin's Thinker with a basting brush. He on the other hand was draped over a couch watching sport on TV, no less intent, but he looked more comfortable in the godly status of the single boy among his two sisters. No role dysphoria there, but then again his girlfriends constituted a parade of personality disorders that bolstered my practice for years to come.† Such was his mother's role that she failed to learn much English despite decades outside of Cyprus, and was known to sprinkle holy water on his torn jeans in an attempt to get him to buy less fashionable but acceptable (to her) intact ones.† You don't have to be Greek, but it helps....

The point about Philaretou is I am not sure what his indulgent book is providing uniquely to the body of knowledge on the subject.† Given the chance, most of us throw aside the proscriptions and prescriptions of our childhood, it's part of growing up.† Since his generation, as he acknowledges, modern kids in Cyprus are pretty free at 14, drinking, hanging out, chatting and perhaps doing things sexual.† His grandparents were different to his parents, his parents to him, and the new generations to him in turn, that's progress and be damned even though I do not believe the Greek Orthodox Church has changed dramatically in turn.† This means I am unsure that his assertion that the dogma of the church created the patriarchy is correct: I think it merely reflected it for a few centuries.† I get the intrapsychic and social determinants of his argument, but what of the evolutionary pressures that have slowly fallen away?

Cypriot boys are trained in the military to fight the Turks, a very real issue for many years.† Military training does not turn boys into men, but hardens them and teaches the Mama's boys that he refers to, to cope with pain, discomfort, deprivation.† They are not trying to produce macho men, they are trying to make cosseted and favoured boys into soldiers.† Perhaps they should leave the boys on the couch, and take the girls off the kitchen stool, but I digress.

The process of self-examination makes for good autobiographies, and his work is fascinating when he moves ever so briefly down that road, not as a participant observer, but as a keen observer of his early life.† A book devoted to his experiences, a kind of Cypriot Portnoy's Complaint, would be a best seller.† However, when he teases us with elements of Protopappas' Complaint, and then rushes off into some postmodernist decon adventure, he removes the colour, and goes monochromatic.† Let me say how: when he gets laid for the first time, in a college in the USA, the other occupants of the house are two Lesbian girls and a gay guy.† And him, and his proto-girl.† Now this is the stuff of interest, surely...† On the other hand, when he leaves this brief description of a patient guide to virginity loss, he proceeds with the sexual revolution, his niece on Cyprus, and the twisted wrecks of the idiots who dive without decompression.† After all though, this is a writer who splits up the word auto-bio-graphy to show us how it means self-life-story, as if this were news, as an introduction to why he is heading off in to very well charted waters. That split is not deconstruction, nor has he deconstructed gender in any real way, or at least not in a way that is easy to follow, as Carol Gilligan has done in deconstructing morality in Freud's discussions, to a moral voice.† I think he has done more fractionating of his experience: rather than deconstructing gender, he has fractionated and re-organised his maturity.† As a coming of age discussion, it would have worked better.

So I cannot say one should dash out and buy it.† It doesn't enrich or inspire, but it does amuse when it personifies his existence, prior to getting laid, but after that, well, he isn't angry any more, and life goes better for him, but not worth reading much further.† Dual roles don't work in books unless there is a real capacity for detachment and scholarly comment.† Greer did the self-reflection stuff better, Hare-Mustin and Gilligan and others did the scholarly addition to our body of knowledge better.† Whilst Philaretou does embark on an ontological search, he never falls through the ceiling of epistemology and co-creation, and so Paul Dell and others of systemic postmodernist thought fame would feel unfulfilled.

It is after all the minutiae of his life, his very exotic family, and other aspects that are interesting and fresh, the rest has been said and done in the approximately 400 references he cites. Faludi isn't there, nor is Gilligan or Greer, but there is Goldberg, who being Jewish in 1976, 30 years ago, wrote about the hazards of being a privileged male, and did so much better than Philaretou, with better proofreading and editing by Signet.† He does make use of Hare-Mustin and her colleagues, such as Jeanne Marecek but with not much impact.†† Hare-Mustin was the first to assert that Gender is the basic category around which the world is organised, so again, Andreas is not providing us with any real insight, apart from the unique interest his background would provide if expanded upon, as My Big Fat Greek Wedding did for those uninitiated to Greek-Americans.

Like a virginical Prometheus, once he has found his first sexual experience in the USA, the light of the lamp goes out, and when the house lights come up, we are left asking: "What happened?"

 

© 2006 Roy Sugarman

 

Roy Sugarman, PhD, Acting Director of Psychology, Royal Rehabilitation Centre, Sydney; Conjoint Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry, University of New South Wales; Australia


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