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The Complexities Of Gender And Sexuality: How Masculinity Is Represented In “Brokeback Mountain”

2264 words - 10 pages

The dominant masculinity in western culture is associated with heterosexuality, a unit of a man and woman from opposite axis of masculinity and femininity. For Annie Proulx, “Brokeback Mountain” complicates the gendered duality, portraying two men acting on their homoerotic desires, but also depicts them as hetero-social. Proulx blurs the boundaries of gender and sexuality by representing her main protagonists, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, as bisexuals. The characters are able to slip in and out of a heterosexual life with their wives, which are portrayed as socially acceptable, but also struggle with their sexual desires for each other, which are always hidden from the public. As her ...view middle of the document...

They also suggest that the hyper-masculine, cowboy culture the characters are in, prohibit them from freely exploring their homosexuality (248). Harry Brod takes the discussion a step further, suggesting that Ennis and Jack are not homosexuals struggling to conform to heterosexual ideals, but that they are in fact bisexual (252). His theory represents Proulx’s diversion of the norm, complicating the heterosexual and homosexual duality by adding a third category.
In the beginning of the short story, Proulx describes the conditions of masculinity. Ennis del Mar and Jack twist were “brought up to work hard and privation, both tough-mannered, rough-spoken, inured to the stoic life” (2). Characteristics of masculinity are highlighted through the use of dashes within the quotation. To be masculine is to be “tough” and “rough” in every way. Sequentially, men must also be “stoic” in life, meaning that they must be free from passion and remain removed from emotional feelings. Proulx suggests that this type of masculinity is harmful to men. The diction used to describe their masculinity highlights the author’s refusal of the norm. The descriptions of the men are defined through heterosexual views.
Rose and Urschel state that “The mindset of 1960’s cowboy culture cannot accept any man, especially a cowboy, who does not meet its definition of masculinity: to be strong, stoic, successful and heterosexual” (248). The reader expects that the men, both being male, will most likely be heterosexual based on their character traits, yet the author complicates the reader’s expectations by portraying them having homoerotic desires. The men are deprived of living their homosexual desires in public, reflected in the word “privation”. The word implies that Ennis and Jack lack something in their lives hindering them from being able to be openly gay. The socially constructed idea of what masculinity is, and how a man should act, limits their ability to show their homoerotic feelings towards one another in public. The word “inured” suggests that they are forced and accustomed into living with the hardships and pain the stoic life offers them. Therefore masculinity is constructed and men are “brought up” learning how to be masculine from society and family.
Masculinity is also associated with violence, strength, and domination. Jack is first described to dominate over nature: “He had shot an eagle...[and he was] infatuated with the rodeo life,” and Ennis “possessed a muscular and supple body made for the horse and for fighting” (3). Proulx describes both gay men through normative views on heterosexual men. Piontek refers to Damon Romine’s comment on straight people understanding the character’s struggles with their masculinity: ““Of all gay-themed films I’ve watched, this is the first one I’ve seen about two men in love, told in a way that straight people can relate to”” (128). Proulx uses typical representations of heterosexual masculinity to suggest that even if a...

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