“Studs, Tools and the Family Jewels: Metaphors Men Live By”– undermining male bonding

Murphy, Peter F. “Studs, Tools, and the Family Jewels: Metaphors Men Live By”, The University of Wisconsin Press, 2001.

Undermining Male Bonding

Amos Lassen

The way, we, as men, say things can possibly alter the way we live as men maintains Peter Murphy in “Studs, Tools, and the Family Jewels”. He looks at “gendered imagery” used to describe us as men, women, sex and sexuality. He concentrates on words used as sexual slurs and euphemisms and examines the influence of the language of sex upon our relationships with each other and with the larger society. His purpose is one of education, cause discussion and bring about change. He chooses sexual metaphors because they are so pervasive and many times demeaning—to others and to ourselves. Murphy claims that as men we are trapped and hurt by using a language that mixes sexuality and amity with images provided by work, war, machinery and sports. The metaphors that men use show that our relationships are nothing more than tactile encounters that we must win and if we do not, we lose our manhood. Macho language is used to cover fear of weakness and is a way of bringing men together, Many times verbal attacks on women and gay men can be activated into violence. On the same wave of thought is the idea that if we are knowledgeable about the metaphors we use, we can then bring about changes in behavior.

Murphy provides a provocative look into the metaphors of masculinity and shows that sexual innuendos and slang are more concerned about fear rather than power and about a lack of trust as opposed to control, more about being soft rather than being hard. Likewise he shows that the heterosexual/masculine assumptions that we see and use every day are not always factual. It seems to me that what Murphy is trying to do in this study of male language is to prod us into rethinking what we believe ad thereby change the way that we, as men, use language.

In looking at male discourse, Murphy looks at the way men live. Instead of just looking at the way we speak he goes one step further and examines the influence of such language  on our and society’s view of what manhood is. In separate chapters he addresses the use of metaphors in all aspects of male life. The chapter that appeals to us is “Sex as Exclusively Heterosexual”, in which he carefully looks at the way straight male society looks at sex and homosexuality. It is quite an eye-opener to see this put into print and on the page. Some men use a divisive defense of heterosexuality that is exclusive.

Some of the metaphors are used in politics to show the difference between masculinity of privilege from inferior groups (whatever that means). He maintains that these metaphors show fear and detachment, distrust and feelings of anxiety.

Murphy does offer an alternative by presenting an alternate meaning to manhood and calling for new metaphorical structures by which men can both encourage and influence their own language and bring about a sensitive and humane way of life.

Of course everything that Murphy says is up for discussion and argument. Many may find the book to be disturbing as he challenges our present language which engenders male dominance and by doing so widens the gap between gay men and straight men. I think that this is a challenge worth pursuing. If language undermines male bonding and separates us, then perhaps it is time to restructure the way we speak. But that is not enough—we must also restructure the way we act.

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