Ben Quilty and his view on masculinity

Ben Quilty is an Australian contemporary Artist, at the height of his artistic career, having over 30 solo exhibitions in Australia and overseas as well as being the winner of various prizes such as, The Doug Moran Prize in 2009, the Archibald Prize in 2011 and the Redlands Westpac Art in 2012.  Quilty can be considered as one of the artists who explores the concept of masculinity in relation to “rituals” that best display the characteristics of male rebellion and anxiety. Quilty’s  work is usually autobiographical, often recalling his teenage years, full of no sense of authority, boldness, restlessness, spontaneity, pleasure seeking, alcohol, drugs, cars and recklessness, and he uses such events to explore how we define what is being a man, and how boys become men (Caddey, n.d, p.7).

In the painting “Self-Portrait Dead (Over the Hills and Far Away)”, 2007, the artist depicts himself heavily drunk after a whole night of drinking (Caddey, n.d, p.8). The paint is thick and heavy, composed of patches of dull colours that make up a blurry representation, portraying through medium the mood of being heavily intoxicated. The artist states “it’s a comment, about reckless masculinity rather than a celebration of drunkenness” which acknowledges the fact that he’s aware of how the idea of masculinity has affected him personally, which might be the reason why he heavily drinks. The artist then follows by stating “It’s me as a willing participant in the mayhem that is modern man, it’s quite critical the statement I’m making. I want people to see the vulnerability” acknowledging the fact that he’s consciously taking part in activities that make man today, himself included, chaotic, showing the viewer the state of vulnerability that ensues (Caddey, n.d, p.8).

hjk Ben Quilty, 2007, Self-Portrait Dead (Over the Hills and Far Away)

Quilty also tackles the aspect of guidance, or rather the lack of.  Teenage boys acquire from boyhood to manhood, in white Australian culture, “rites of passage”, such as getting legally drunk on their eighteenth birthday, which symbolize some kind of passage from boyhood to manhood. In the “Crash painting series” the artist choose to represent, with his bold application of paint, this issue the iconic powerful cars of the 1970s such as the Torana and the Falcon, cars that “reeked of rebellion”, as a metaphor for the idea of masculinity which consists of strength, power, swiftness and intimidation. In this series Quilty depicts the powerful cars after they all had crashed, to intentionally send a visual message that masculinity is just as vulnerable to self-destruction, such as the high injuries and death rates in males caused by reckless behaviors encouraged by this idea of masculinity (Caddey, n.d, p.9).

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Ben Quilty, 2012, Crash painting 1.

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Ben Quilty, 2012, Crash painting 2

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Did society make men afraid of touch?

Zoë Zimmerman is an American Photographer, with a Mexican background, skill in raging antique photographic processes such as platinum prints and albumen prints.  Smithson, the author of the article regarding the artist states, that in her series titled “Of Men” the artists analyses “touch and platonic intimacy” between males, that their boundaries and how these parameters have been established by society itself. Zimmerman believes that American society, has acquired a negative view of “platonic male affection” making touch between males only acceptable if it’s in an aggressive context and not in a nurturing context. With this series the artist is trying to question why this happens, questioning if it’s due to the idea that the male touch is considered as “inheritably sexual” therefore implying homosexual behaviour, and is it restricted due to homophobia? (Smithson, 2014)

The author Aline Smithson, states that Zoë Zimmerman challenges our perception of where such physical contact between men is socially allowed. In the first group of photos, Zimmerman takes inspiration from a 1930s Red Cross First Aid Manual in which it displays men aiding men in situations of physical vulnerability, but in her series, even though there is physical contact between the two males, the facial expression and body language that is not indicating any level of intimacy. This group is basically representing the type of physical contact that is allowed by society between males, to touch but keep isolated (Smithson, 2014).

Zoë Zimmerman, 2014, Group 1. [Photography].

In the second group of photographs, Zimmerman re-enacts photos from vintage medical texts with the difference that they are more focused on a more direct and intimate type of touch. The two images are now taken out of the context of medical examination, allowing the viewer to focus more on the act of touch between the two males. The aim of this group was to portray intimacy, without referring to any type of eroticism but just as a nurturing behaviour. It reflects on the modern fear that men have developed regarding physical intimacy when it doesn’t even relate to homosexuality or any form of sexual interaction. The images serve more as an idea of example of how men could act between themselves once overcoming such irrational fears (Smithson, 2014).

Zoë Zimmerman, 2014, Group 2. [Photography].

In the third group of the series, the artist shifts her focus onto society itself, the viewers included, and the preconceived judgment we have regarding fraternal physical intimacy. A simple act of two men holding each other’s hand which may cause a sense of awkwardness and in some individuals even irritation and disgust. With a simple but effective visual message, Zimmerman is pushing the viewers to question why that might be. The models themselves exhibit, such as the two teenage boys in sports gear, a form of struggle that might be caused by the same preconceived that dictates that such physical contact is unacceptable but the images, even if the models seem uncomfortable, still draws your attention to them. With this group of photographs the artist is not trying to create a fantasy that allows males to be comfortable physically, but rather question why males are uncomfortable displaying physical intimacy in the first place.

Zoë Zimmerman, 2014, Group 3. [Photography].

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Where my Interest in masculinity in Art Started

Before my current Interest in Ambiguity, which is now a theme I’m currently working with , the first ever theme that I was completely obsessed with was gender, specifically masculinity. In fact, masculinity was the first theme I explored through a fine art lens in my first year while reading for a Foundation Diploma in Fine Arts.

With so much talk about feminism, femininity and overcoming the boundaries set by society of what it means to be a woman, I couldn’t help but ask myself why masculinity doesn’t get the same coverage and exploration.  Back then, the way I tackled it was to look towards gender stereotypes and how female stereotypes are more tackled then male stereotypes, in turn this is what led me to find the artist Nir Arieli who, I dare use the words…Inspired me…. to continue looking into this subject.

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Nir Arieli, N.d (Image online). Matt. [Photoraph].

Nir Arieli is an Israeli New York based photographer whose concepts often related to challenging the norms of masculinity.  In the series “Men”, Nir Arieli questions and challenges masculinity by portraying these men in what society , over time,  has established as characteristics and poses which are feminine.  In the photograph above titled “Matt”, the Artist captured a moment while the male model is crying, with watery eyes and trails of fallen tears still present on his face. The image of a man being emotional, exposed and raw is not one that is very common or shown today. The Artist himself has stated that with this series he is trying to reveal the basis of a stereotypical masculinity, that has oppressed men in not  being emotionally uncensored, gentle and vulnerable, set by the  standard rules created by society, and titled unnatural when demonstrated by men (Frank. P, 2013).

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Nir Arieli, N.d (Image online). Taner. [Photoraph].

This other photograph  is taken from the other series that is titled “Inframen”.  For “Inframen” Arieli uses male dancers as his main subject matter as he believes that male dancers completely ignore the boundaries of gender in favor of art and their passion for dancing,  along with an infrared photography technique that makes visible all the bruises, scars, blemishes and stretchmarks that can’t be seen by the naked eye, to convey his concept. He uses the contrast of the strong male dancer body along with their delicate captured movements and the hidden marking on their skin that have been made visible, to challenge the norms of masculinity. It’s a unique representation of the fact that men have been restricted, not to show emotion or be emotional, keeping it hidden or repressed, but under the right light, like the markings on the dancers skin, their vulnerability becomes visible (Anon, 2014).

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In the long run what started as a question, resulted in my final project for the end of the year exhibition which was actually my first ever painting in oils. I titled the painting “Vulnerabilis” which stand for Vulnerable in Latin. Like Arieli, I wanted to show that vulnerability in men exists and that it’s completely normal for men to feel such emotions. To convey this I used a lot of symbolism composed of posture, shapes and Baroque motifs. I put a man with a strong physique in a fetal position, to show by contrast that even a man who looks strong can feel vulnerable. To continue to emphasis this, I surrounded the figure with a selection of three shapes; the circle, the triangle and the square. The circle is a symbol of protection and safety, while the square and triangle stability, to visually show that a man can also be in a state that he might need external help and protection. The shapes are then all decorated with Baroque motifs, as you might know Baroque was used as a way to show the power and strength the Catholic Church had against the Protestant Rebellion. Similar to the symbolic purpose of the shape, I surround the figure with Baroque decoration as to convey that, although a man can show physical strength through a good physique, it doesn’t mean that a male might not need other strength in a moment of difficulty.

Since that year, which was actually around 2013,  I have gained a passion for Gender Equality, especially when it comes to male social injustices, which sadly don’t get mentioned anywhere. On a bright side, we are starting to see a bit more awareness towards the topic of Masculinity and the Male Gender, a clear example of this is Grayson Perry series titled “All man” where the Artist tackles the male posterity and its effects, head on.

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I watched Moonlight and I feel inspired

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A24, 2016 (image Online). Moonlight (2016). [Digital Poster].

I usually don’t watch films during a busy week as I become crippled with anxiety surrounded by voices that shout “YOU’RE WASTING TIME !”, But I was in a mood where not even a collapsing ceiling would make me nudge, so I decided to watch Moonlight and I’m so happy I did.

First things first, let’s talk about the content of the movie which is already so powerful on its own. The story revolves around the main character who’s birth name is Chiron, divided between three chapters of his life, as a young boy, a teenager, and a young adult. As a young boy, Chiron (who is nicknamed Little) is shy and an introvert living in a bad neighborhood in Miami with his mother who is a drug addict and who eventually neglects him. As he becomes a teenager Chiron (who is still called Little) is still shy and struggling with constant bullying which doesn’t help his situation. As an adult, Chiron uses a given nickname “Black”,and has now somehow become more  comfortable with himself (Huggo, 2016).

One of the other overwhelming factors about this film is how masculinity, race and sexuality are tackled in one single film, and if you have read my previous blogs you know that I’m very passionate about these topics. Within the first chapter Chiron (Little) as a young boy, builds a beautiful relationship with Juan, who gains his trust by shows him support, love, care and patience. I also have to admit that I judged the character Juan a bit too quickly as someone who was going to act stereotypically macho, but I was caught off guard as he started showing, ever so naturally, a deep sense of care for Chiron (Little) and an open minded mentality. There are two scenes where Juan challenges toxic masculinity, the first scene is when Juan takes Chiron (Little) go to the beach to teach him how to swim. Juan is seen to hold Chiron (Little) ensuring him that he can trust him and who tells him “Give me your head, ok..let your head rest in my hand, relax, I got you, I promise..I’m not gonna let you go….Hey man I got you, there you go”. I found that scene a beautifully captured moment where a man is showing genuine love and care for a child, Chiron, promising that he will not let him go. I personally refuse to call Juan a father figure for Chiron, but simply a figure/role model that showed him unconditional love and compassion, which the role models gender has nothing to do with it.

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A24, 2016 (image Online). Moonlight. [Digital Image].

The second is when Teresa, Chiron and Juan are sitting at the dining table, then Chiron (Little) asks him “What’s a faggot ?” to which Juan replies “A faggot is..A word used to make gay people feel bad” which Chiron asks again “Am I a faggot ?” and Juan replies with “No, no..you could be gay but you ain’t gonna let nobody call you a faggot”. I found this piece of dialogue so refreshing, it was so beautiful to see Juan break a stereotype telling a little boy that he could be gay answering in a manner that Chiron (Little) could understand, it’s completely fine to be gay, but it’s not fine to be bullied and ridiculed about his sexuality.

The second topic I want to discuss is the film’s cinematography which is so unique. As an artist who is mostly interested translating image to painting and painting in general, I couldn’t stop thinking how every single second of this movie can be turned into a painting, as every single second had such a well thought out feel of compositional balance. Two examples of this are the scene when Chiron (Little) is preparing his own bath, followed by a zoom shot of Chiron (Little) in the centre of the bath, which can be seen in the youtube trailer attached below at around 0:51. The composition is balanced with Chiron sitting still in the middle of the tub, the colours all dull, which create a sense of harmony and quietness, this works well with the captured moment of melancholy that the little boy is going through. Another example of this is the scene present in the youtube trailer attached below, from 0:48 to 0:50 where Chiron’s mother is shouting at him, follow by a jump cut of Chiron lowering his head as he closes his eyes. Again if you stop at each second you achieve an image which can be translated into a painting. All the paused three seconds depict a balanced composition, with both characters in the centre of their frame. What I find striking is the neon colour behind his mother which emphasise her aggressiveness, while behind Chiron everything is out of focus emphasising his passiveness. I have also attached a great youtube video titled “Moonlight Explained: Symbols, Camera & More” by ScreenPrism, which explains better the thought behind this masterpiece that can help you understand and appreciate it more.

 

Moonlight YouTube Trailer:

Moonlight Explained: Symbols, Camera & More:

Bibliography:

I’m all in for equality! But let’s talk a bit about men rights

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This poster was inspired by an article I read online on nytimes.com dating back to 2011, in which it discusses a group of activists, which proposed banning circumcision in San Francisco. At first, many didn’t take them seriously, but they soon managed to gather 7,000 signatures to ban the “practice”. In agreement with the activists of this cause, they state that they want to implement measures to protect young boys from an unneeded surgery, calling it male genital mutilation (Medina. J, 2011).

From the poster you can already see what my opinions are, and as I stated before I’m in full agreement. I just find it funny that when it’s done on young girls it’s called mutilation, which I agree with that statement and find completely appalling…on that note watch the movie Desert Flower, but when it comes to young boys, it’s simply called circumcision. As Europeans (with most of us uncut) I find the way Americans are obsessed with circumcision strange, immediately stating that it’s for hygienic purposes, which let’s be honest, is simply a capitalist tool of making money out of parents who have been indoctrinated thinking it’s the right thing to do. I also find that statement a bit offensive, as it indicates men who are uncut are dirty….which I can assure you we are not.

Rather than focusing on that part of it, I want to bring forward the issue regarding circumcision…which is that, if it’s your body, shouldn’t you have the right to make decisions regarding it? Shouldn’t men be able to make that decision, rather than parents making it for them without their consent? I understand that due to some medical cases some young boys need to get the procedure done and with that, I see no issue, same goes too if a man is of a certain age and THEY decided that they would like to be circumcised. I have spoken to a few men, that have been circumcised as babies or young boys and all of them feel as if they had no part in a decision that regards their own body, most still feel some remorse about it and wish it actually never happened, especially when they can still remember getting the circumcision done……..Rant over.

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The Effects of the Stereotypical Ideology of Masculinity in the Twentieth Century

The idea of what “masculinity” is, is in reality a collection of ideologies that have been developed and passed throughout history. These ideologies have stuck with us to this day in  the form of stereotypes which act as socially enforced rules for men to follow or else face ridicule and judgment. It is currently evident that these stereotypes have affected men, as well as society, in a negative way resulting in problems such as violence, depression and addiction etc. As better explained by the American Playwright and activist Eve Ensler, who stated

“Well, the tyranny of masculinity and the tyranny of patriarchy I think has been much more deadly to men than it has to women. It hasn’t killed our hearts. It’s killed men’s hearts. It’s silenced them; it’s cut them off.” (Schnall, 2011)

As society progresses, we are starting to become more aware of such problems and injustices that men face and in turn, this realization becomes a catalyst for individuals to rebel against such prejudice through different fields, from psychology to the Arts.

To fully understand how masculinity developed one must trace it back to its origins, as the author George L. Mosse does within his book “The Image of Man” Mosse states that “modern masculinity” is a result of historical events which played a crucial part in forming these ideas into modern society. Mosse states that such events were shaped by a collection of what was considered to be normal patterns of morals and actions that were socially acceptable for males in relation to their century (Mosse, 1996, pp. 4-5). For example, in the medieval ages we see the chivalry ideology composed of noble honour and courage, along with the tradition of duels which were fought in order to acquire them, which would also imply that the competitor has courage to compete and defend his title. Honour was important as it also implied a manly ideal, as to be label a coward was deemed dishonourable, therefore unmanly (Mosse, 1996, pp. 17-18). The idea of chivalry later required that physical strength to be just as crucial due to the reason that physical strength and dexterity would be fundamental in defending ones honour (Mosse, 1996, p.23). Today it can be still evident that such stereotypical ideas of courage and strength are still expected in men.

In the eighteenth century we see an important step that is a crucial building block to modern masculinity, the idea shifted towards men acquiring the absolute necessity of a system of morals, as the conquest of a nobel lady became the new version of knighthood that was applied in the institution of marriage. Proper behaviour wasn’t the only important factor anymore as physical appearance took a more critical place unlike before. In turn this importance towards physical appearance paved the way for the formation of modern male stereotypes based on the perception of the physicality of men.  Such an all-rounder collective male stereotype created a structure of standard of masculine appearance and comportment. (Mosse, 1996, p.19).

Mosse also stresses stereotypes acquired a negative connotation in our modern age, due to their use to “provide justification for discrimination”. Even if negative stereotypes were part of the development of the modern idea of masculinity, positive stereotypes played an important role too as they acted as a motivator that pushed cultures, society and civilisations forward in their development (Mosse, 1996, p.6).

Today, these ideologies have become part of our socially constructed version of the stereotypical masculine, composed of similar and different behaviours that define how a man is supposed act. This socially constructed behaviour is not one that naturally occurs in young boys but, it’s rather taught as a set of rules to be followed in order to accommodate the masculine expectations of their given society or face ridicule if not followed. The boundaries of what masculinity is can differ from one man to another, due to the differences of their personal experiences, upbringing and their social environment, and  other factors such as class, ability, race, gender and sexual orientation but, the most dominant version of masculinity is known as “Hegemonic Masculinity”. “Hegemonic Masculinity” is constructed of key regulations, namely: have no relations with femininity, restrain emotions, act aggressively and tough, avoid any signs of vulnerability, be seen by other males as highly sexual with females and prove one’s heterosexuality buy acting in a  homophobic manner. (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016).

Young boys can easy learn these rigid rules of how to behave according to their gender from family and friends, just by being told simple phrases like “boys don’t cry” or “man up”. This “process” that young and adult males go through is known as socialization, and one version of this is the “Man Box”, illustrated below. Within the confined box one can see adjectives that are socially used as rules that set the standard of masculinity, such as being strong and emotionless while the words outside the box, which are usually “feminizing and homophobic slurs”, are used to ridicule males, usually by other males. This works as a policing system to reinforce the borderline of what is socially acceptable for males  restricting them  within the box of a “narrowly constructed definition of manhood” (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016).

man-box
Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016

During his talk on the TEDx platform in 2013, titled “Unmasking masculinity, helping boys become connected men”, psychologist Ryan McKelley tackled another type of socialization process which teaches young boys to mask their emotions as well as being separated for attachment. Mckelley states that this is a direct result for the stereotype of males being less emotional than female, but as a matter of fact a recent research suggests that new-born boys are actually more expressive in intensity and range than female new born, and even at the age of three both female and male children will equally display the whole spectrum of negative and positive emotions. At around age 6 a separation occurs between males and females regarding the type of emotions they exhibit and the reason for it can be explained with “the Male Emotional Funnel System” created by Long in 1987.  “The Male Emotional Funnel System” states that, humans, irrelevant of which gender we come into this world, have a whole range of vulnerable emotions such as embarrassment, fear, loneliness, anger etc, which can be seen on the left  below. With time, young males are taught to instead of displaying these emotions, because they are not considered to be masculine, suppress them, and in doing so only display anger and aggression, as can be seen in the diagram below, which are masculine associated emotions.  In the long run this creates negative effects such as, men becoming disconnected from their emotional state and well as losing the ability to detect others emotions, and also sequentially creating a difficulty in building strong relations with other members of society ,which usually rely on reciprocal vulnerability (TEDx Talks, 2013 .a).
                                                                                    mAnon, n.d.

Educator, author, activist, pastor and coach Joe Ehrmann, in his talk titled “Be A Man” on the TEDx  platform in 2013, also addresses how boys from a young age are told to “stop with the tears”, “don’t be some kind of “sissy” and “Be a man” and with such phrases young boys are taught to detach themselves emotionally and repress the very thing that makes them human. Ehrmann then progresses to explain the bigger picture of various stages along with their negative effects,  that come after the socialization process (TEDx Talks, 2013 .b).

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Joe Ehrmann, 2013

In the above version of the socialisation process that men go through, Ehrmann also states that it starts from social mandates, which translates to social instructions that boys are made to believe to be masculine, they have to follow them,  this is exactly the same as the “manbox” socialisation process just with a different title. The first negative effect is known as Alexithymia, Latin for a = without, lexus = words and Thymos = emotions, which mean the inability to put certain feeling or emotion in words and according to the American Psychological association up to 80% of American men have some form of Alexithymia (TEDx Talks, 2013 .b). Alexithymia was firstly used to explain the characteristics of an acute emotional construct displayed by psychosomatic, drug dependent and post-traumatic stress disorder male patients. The type of Alexithymia most commonly exhibited by men is the subclinical version, “normative male emotional restriction” which is a direct effect of boys who were brought up in a stereotypical version of masculinity, where the expression of emotion is restricted, a direct result of the “male emotional funneling system”. Along with the disability to build important relations, “Normative male emotional restriction” means men are detached from their vulnerable emotions as well as from recognizing, reasoning and discussing their state of emotion, in relation to trauma and stress, with close family members, instead dealing with stress and trauma with the only emotions that weren’t suppressed, subsequently resulting in males developing “abusive and violent behaviour, sexual compulsions, stress related conditions and even early death (Kimmel, Aranson, 2004).

Ehrmann then continues with the next step that is Covert depression. In this book, titled “I Don’t Want to Talk about It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression”, family therapist and author Terrance Real explains in detail the dynamics of Covert depression. Real states, that due to the different socialization path the females and males undertake in relation to emotional suppression, males express depression differently than female, as female internalize pain while males externalise it, relieving distress in a more physical manner. An example of this externalized pain can be seen from the higher rates of violent events in males while internalize pain can be seen in females in the form of self-mutilation which exceed that of males (Real, 1997. pp. 22-23). This again is due to the “male emotional funneling system” thus rendering males incapable of intimacy which is needed for strong relationships, which in turn causes the next step, that of isolation.

A symptom of covert depression is “substance abuse” and addiction. A covert depressed man will seek for stimulants raging from Alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex etc. to boost his damaged self-esteem as well as a means to deal with distress in the form of self-medication, but this sense of boosted self-esteem or relief act as an illusion. An example of this can be seen from the difference between normal and addictive use of substances and activities. Non-depressed males don’t rely on such external factors to feel good about themselves, but just for normal relaxation. At the beginning of such activities their baseline feeling about themselves is normal and positive and if we relate this to alcohol it just enhances the above mood. On the other hand suffers of covert depression start from a baseline of shame or internal pain, and if we relate this to an alcoholic male, after the effects of alcohol and the self-esteem boost that comes with it fade, he finds himself back on the same baseline, if not worse (Real, 1997. pp. 60-61). The “pott study” also examined around 23,000 volunteers, suggested that mental health professional also tend to over diagnose women with depression and under diagnose man with depression and this is simply due to the idea that males are not as prone to depression, ending with male suffers not properly  being treated (Real, 1997. P.40).

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Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016

The last step in Ehrmann diagram is violence and throughout this essay is has been mentioned a couple of times and this is because it’s the last manifestation of any socialization process and their rules that don’t allow men to process grief (TEDx Talks, 2013 .b).This can be seen as the reason why the larger number of acts of violence are perpetrated by males, such as murder, assault, domestic violence, dating violence, child sexual abuse and rape, not only towards women but toward males as well, as its estimated that one in six males under the age of 14 will be sexually assaulted, often and not only by another man (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016).

Today we are also experiencing the beginning of awareness regarding the effects of masculinity being aided further by the different men of the twenty-first century generation, who are choosing to live by the strict rules of hegemonic masculinity, proving that to be a male doesn’t need to be proven with violence, or homophobic behaviour, challenging masculinity in other male members and the suppression of vulnerable emotions (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016). As stated in the intro of the essay, this challenging puts into question what is masculinity? It has also started to make its way in the art scene where it being examined and manifested by artist.

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