Saturday, March 21, 2009
Masculinity in the British Empire
This chapter focuses on how conceptions of masculinity drove British imperialism in the period from 1880-1900. Professor Tosh asserts that "empire was man's business" in a literal sense. This is true in two ways. First, empire's "acquisition and control depended disproportionately on the energy and ruthlessness of me," and second, "its place in the popular imagination was mediated through literary and visual images which consistently emphasized positive male attributes." Since the chapter uses many examples of the effects of the man-making empire on labor patterns and also class considerations, I include this reading under the themes of gender, categories of difference (certain classes were more affected by the imperial propaganda program), and employment and work.
The author himself is not guilty of being caught up in the glorification of either empire or masculinity. He in fact seeks to undermine the role of increased masculinization by claiming that this last flourish of British ultra-masculinity was actually a symptom of weakness. While Britain--except between the years 1899-1902--was not at war during this period, they saw their international holdings as increasingly threatened by a hostile international environment. The saber-rattling and rhetoric about the need to defend the empire was therefore subsequent to fears about the instability of the empire.
I do not necessarily agree with Tosh on this point. The correlation of Britain's relative decline and increased masculine rhetoric is interesting, but it is difficult to establish causation here. During the allied bombings of Germany in WWII, German production in war materials actually doubled as the people became more resolved to survive, more angry, etc. For late 19th century British men, increased international competition from Germany, France and Belgium may well have initiated more "struggle, duty, action, will and 'character.'" Whether an increase in these traits results in greater masculinity is a matter of semantics.
Image: The Colonization of Africa. http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://african-diaspora.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/colonial-africa.gif&imgrefurl=http://african-diaspora.com/2008/05/a-look-at-the-colonization-of-africa/&usg=__nivRd4Id-TxZ056hfPvJXwMa7Gc=&h=513&w=500&sz=51&hl=en&start=17&sig2=YAAqDGBNhy5x45tIG2UUmQ&tbnid=jJdUFX6pU0L0aM:&tbnh=131&tbnw=128&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dbritish%2Bcolonizer%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG&ei=LXLFSariIpK2sQOP1envBg