Hegemonic Masculinity in 'Boys Don't Cry'

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The story that I observed involves a 1999 romantic drama that occurs in a working-class American setting, particularly in the small town of Lincoln Nebraska. The film features Brandon Teena, a female-to-male transgendered person, struggling to defy the boundaries of gender and sexuality existing in his hometown (Pierce 1999). Brandon is thrown out of his cousins trailer because of being physically threatened by men and relocates to Falls City, Nebraska. While in Falls City, Brandon gets involved in a fight in the attempt to defend a female from being harassed by a male. This incidence results in him becoming friends with a group of locals (Kordvani 2). Of particularly importance is Tom and John, who just like other locals, does not know that Bandon is transgender. After realizing Brandons biological sex, the two abuse him physically and sexually. Despite reporting the incidence to the local police and being notified about the charges, Tom and John attack Brandon the following morning, they shoot him in the head and stabs him multiple times. Brandon succumbs to the assault when only 21-years old (Grozelle 4).

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The main message that depicts in the people and relationships that this story sends to the audience is that society uses biological sex as a symbol or in the construction of gender and sexuality. This perception fosters a hegemonic masculinity, which has a negative effect on the constructions of gender and sexuality (Lumbsden 4). The society, particularly the local community in Falls City, has a real simple way of perceiving gender it draws a single line based on a culture that proclaims that a person is either a man or a woman. This peculiar need for individuals to categorize themselves and others based on gender directs the manner in which people interact in society (Kordvani 5). The construction of gender, especially among adolescent males, often amplifies negative characteristics associated with hegemonic masculinity (Kordvani 3). Such negative tendencies are often associated with elevated violent and aggressive behavior in homophobic hate crimes that men commit. For example, failure to subscribe to either of the two sides leads to gender transgression. For example, Tom and John physically and sexually molest their friend after realizing that Brandon is biologically female.

C. Analysis of the Society

From a symbolic interactional perspective, this society treats biological sex as a symbol of gender and sexuality. The characters not only define their self based on their biological sex, but also the way they treat one another (Lumsden 5). As a result of the ability of the young people in this movie to employ biological sex as a symbol of their social interactions. For example, Brandon and his lover become lesbians based on that symbol and the rape and murder can be argued to be the consequences of vicious homophobic rage in the perpetrators. The story incorporates unconventional problems of transsexuality into a more conventional story structure (Swan 51). The story presents Brandon as a doomed but heroic stature, which is drawn from his unwillingness to undermine his self-identity. In fact, the film presents Brandons transgression against biological determinism as the battle or pursuit for a dignified self. Furthermore, the character in the film gives love as a social object some importance largely through fixed biological patterns rather according to what others around them choose to give importance.

Moreover, the society in this story is largely dysfunctional. It depicts a hegemonic relationship between male and female characters. In the particular scene, I observed, male dominance is demonstrated, reinforced and celebrated via violent behaviors like aggression, that men often engage in the attempt to demonstrate strength and power over their female counterparts (Grozelle 8). Therefore, Brandon engages in conflict to defend the female so as to prove that he is masculine and to get approved from his male friends, Tom and John. Such male-dominated ideologies displayed by the male characters in the film are embedded in the social structure of the local society. By assuming the social role of a man, Brandon sends the message that young men have been socialized into certain male roles (Lumsden 5). In order to feel accepted in the society as a man, Brandon has to perform culturally sanctioned roles of masculinity. Also, the police as a social institution are dysfunctional because the local police put Brandon in a female jail without considering his gender and sexuality.

Additionally, the story displays an intense conflict at the societal level; a conflict between two distinct classes the traditional gender (male and female) and transgender, which depicts a class conflict. The relationship between Brandon and those around him is found on the conflict in which the main character and his oppressors are constantly are struggling against each other. Their first disagreement happens in the bar in which Brandon involves in a bar fight trying to defend a female victim (Swan 48). Also, there is gender violence between the main character and Tom and John. Gender-based violence perpetrated by men is aimed at controlling, dominating and expressing authority over power (Kordvani 2). As a more powerful group, John and Tom use their power in order to maintain their power and exploit the less power (transgender) by assaulting and murdering Brandon. For example, they rape and violently abuse Brandon as a way to re-enforce their dominant heterosexual norm. In this scene, a conflict theorist would argue that Brandon perceives conflict or violence as a solution to change.

D. Conclusion

In conclusion, the main message I observed in this film is that society uses biological sex as a symbol or in the construction of gender and sexuality. The view of biological determinism and the connotations attached to it results into romantic and violent relationships between Brandon and those around him. This message is formed by several characters, such as John and Tom using biological sex in the constructions of gender and sexuality. For example, the images of John and Tom assaulting and killing their friend after realizing that Brandon is transgender fosters the idea that one is either a man or woman in this society. The society draws a line between being a man and being a woman. Nonetheless, symbolic interaction theory would agree most with the message about the people and relationship in this movies because the story is centered on symbols and the meaning the character attach to them. Particularly, biological sex is used to determine gender and sexuality of the characters in this society.

Works Cited

Grozelle, Renee S. "Hegemonic Masculinity in" Boys Don't Cry"(1999)." Inquiries Journal 6.03 (2014).

Kordvani, Amir Hossein. "Hegemonic masculinity, domination, and violence against women." (2002).

Lumsden, Karen. "Gendered performances in a male-dominated subculture: girl racers', car modification and the quest for masculinity." Sociological Research Online 15.3 (2010): 6.

Peirce, Kimberly. Boys Don't Cry. [Motion picture]. Greenville Texas: Fox Searchlight Pictures. (1999).

Swan, Rachel. "Boys Don't Cry." Film Quarterly 54.3 (2001): 47-52.


Attached Notes

The story narrated in Boys Dont Cry happens in Lincoln Nebraska in a working-class setting

The story involves the life of Brandon Teena, a transgendered person

Brandon Teena struggles to escape the socioculturally created boundaries of gender and sexuality existing in his local town.

Physical threats from fellow men leads to Brandon Teenas eviction from his cousins trailer

Brandon moves to Falls City, Nebraska

Engages in a fight with a man from the local area in order to defend a female character

This rise to the occasion leads Brandon to make friends with a number of locals

The local friends include Tom Nissen, John Lotter, Candace etc.

A short period upon his arrival in Fall City, Brandon meets Lana Tisdel and a romantic relationship develops between them

Lana Tisdel is unaware that his fiance is transgendered person

Tom and John, among other locals, also dont know Brandols biological sex

Tom and John realizes that Brandon is transgendered,

They force Brandon into a washroom, physically removes his pants, beat him viciously and rape him

Brandon gets a chance and manages to escape from the two

Brandon files a case with the local police

The local police humiliates Brandon during interrogation and further puts him among female detainees

The police make Tom and John aware of the case

The following morning Tom and John attack Brandon, shoot him in the head and stab him a couple of times

Brandon Teena succumbs to the injuries

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