Speaker discusses masculinity and sexuality

Alyssa Rettelle

Jane Ward, an associate professor of Women’s Studies at the University of California Riverside, visited Grand Valley State University on Friday to talk about her latest book titled “Not Gay, Sex Between Straight White Men.”

“I’m really excited to be here,” Ward said. “Hopefully I can shake things up a bit with images of men’s butts.”

She spoke on the experience that led her to began this project, which was having dinner with a friend who told her about his time being hazed in a fraternity. This hazing practice included many crude, homosexual acts among fraternity members. Ward said this fascinated her.

“As a young feminist, I was repelled by the objection and aggression and yet, at the same time, the queer critic and pervert in me was impressed by their imagination,” she said. “I was fascinated by the rules and the ritualistic way. I also sensed that as these men groped one another, they believed they were doing something masculine and white.”

She quoted a line from broslikethissite.com, which stated, “The heavier the hazing, the stronger the bros. War builds amazing bonds and hazing is basically war. One thing is for sure, bros would be nowhere without hazing.”

Ward’s thesis is that homosexuality is an invisible, but vital, ingredient of heterosexual masculinity.

“Heterosexuality is not the opposite or absence of homosexuality, but is a unique mode of engaging homosexual sex, a mode characterized by pretense, disidentification and heteronormative investments,” Ward said. “When straight, white men approach homosexual sex in the ‘right’ way, it functions to bolster not only their heterosexuality, but also their masculinity and whiteness.”

The theme of hazing continued when she transitioned to her section on the U.S. military rituals. In the Navy, she spoke of a “time honored officially sanctioned” ceremony that happens when the men on the ship cross the equator for their first time.

“Military initiation ceremonies are a hyper-masculine thing,” she said. “U.S. military officials said touching was normal. They were worried about gay men being in the military while ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a thing because they thought gay men would misinterpret the ceremonious touching.”

She also spoke of the casual encounter section on Craigslist. She analyzed 125 different personal ads that contained white men seeking white men, and she found that homosexual acts were being made heterosexual by masking it as male bonding and friendship.

“These people use archetypes of youthful men, jocks and surfers and frat boys; they’re presented as natural subjects of platonic male friendship,” Ward said. “Their ads contain hetero-masculine codes like ‘straight porn and beer.’ They’re being used to represent a kind of white masculinity that isn’t weird because it carries no association with gay subculture.”

She linked the ads on Craigslist to the homosexual and straight white male risk-taking that is evident in popular culture TV shows and movies, such as Jackass and South Park. She said because the men in Jackass are straight, white bad boys traveling and doing “dude on dude groping,” it invites viewers to celebrate homosexual acts like it is a sacrifice made for our entertainment.

In her closing remarks, she said the take away from this talk should be three different things.

“First, we haven’t focused enough on the vast array of activities happening under the bolster of heterosexual men,” Ward said. “All activities appear to thrive in hyper-heterosexual environments, as well as bisexual and homosexual ones.

“What sets it apart from ‘gay’ isn’t specific acts, but the cultural narratives circulating them. If male and female heterosexuality incorporate many kinds of homosexual contact, then this fact complicates theories of exclusive sexual orientations and hardwired sexual natures.”

In addition to the book that inspired this talk, Ward has authored a book titled “Respectably Queer.” She has also published several articles on queer politics, whiteness, heterosexuality and, most recently, queer motherhood. At the University of California Riverside, she teaches courses in feminist and queer studies.

The event was cosponsored by Iota Iota Iota: Women and Gender Studies Honor Society, the Department of Sociology, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office, Student Senate and the Academic and Professional Funding Board.