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“I Wouldn’t Be a Man If…”

Real men don’t like dudes according to Josh Turner’s hit song. Songs like this and slurs like “you’re a fag” are often considered acceptable and unremarkable even. Sociologists view these expressions of homophobia as gender policing, which enforce the boundaries of sexuality and gender. Below is guest post by Alexa Megna from San Diego State University

Boy Flexing Muscles

“I wouldn’t be a man if I didn’t feel like this,” croons deep voiced Josh Turner in his country hit “I Wouldn’t be a Man.” He continues, “I wouldn’t be a man if a woman like you was anything I could resist; I’d have to be from another planet where love doesn’t exist.” I quickly shot a glance in my review mirror to see my little brother in the backseat quietly singing along with Turner, knowing every word to the song. Dumbfounded, I tried to decide what to say to him. Something along the lines of “uhhhh…” came out of my mouth. “Don’t listen to him, little brother. Gay men are real men too.” As I changed the radio station, he laughed and continued singing along to the next song that came on.

Is Turner saying “real” men are sexual savages who simply cannot control their urges?

After I dropped my little brother off at baseball practice, I was still questioning what exactly Turner was trying to say with this song. Does he think that all “real” men are sexually attracted to women? What does this mean for men who find other men attractive? What does this mean about men not being able to control their sexual desires? Is Turner saying “real” men are sexual savages who simply cannot control their urges; ‘Sup with that?

This song (and it’s popularity) raises a few important sociological questions about what and who defines masculinity. To begin with, the lyrics seem to imply that being a “real” man means not finding other men sexually attractive. This is homophobic. Homophobia can be simply defined as the fear or hatred of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender folks that often leads to prejudice and discrimination. Homophobic language not only has negative consequences on the victims but also on people who overhear anti gay comments and slurs. It seems that Turner is promoting homophobia through a love song to his wife. Interesting way to tell someone you love them, right?

Homophobia is, unfortunately, everywhere. On campus it’s an everyday occurrence to here students saying, “don’t be such a fag” or, “that’s so gay!” Even my own little brother who was singing right along with Turner has experienced someone on his baseball team calling him a fag (Ironic, no?). Most recently homophobia has been the explanation for numerous suicides committed by young LGBT individuals, like Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman whose homosexual encounter was broadcast via Internet without his consent. Clearly the prevalence of homophobia among youth is cause for concern.

Gender and sexuality researchers explain that homophobic phrases, like “that’s so gay”, “no homo”, and the words in Turner’s song, are examples of gender policing. When a young man violates one of the norms of masculinity, like crying in public, he can expect one of his peers to punish his non-conformity with a, “quite your crying sissy”. In this way society acts like gender police going around punishing any man who doesn’t follow the “laws” of masculinity. The punishment for not abiding by the laws of masculinity is you have your manliness taken away from you; this is what sociologists’ call being emasculated.
According to researchers like Pascoe (2007) and Kimmel (2006) the striking aspect about these types of homophobia is that they are less about the fear or hatred of gays and more about the fear that other men will emasculate them. Thus, “you’re a fag” and “that’s gay” have more to do with failing at masculine tasks then having an irrational fear of gay men. It should also be noted that these terms also have fluidity; there is always a chance a young man might be called gay which keeps men constantly policing themselves.

My little brother singing along to Turner’s song not only sent me into a brief panic but also showed the pervasiveness and acceptability of homophobic language in everyday life. So the next time you find your little brother (or yourself!) singing along to a hit song, think about the underlying message it is trying to send.

Dig Deeper:

  1. What is gender policing? Provide examples in your answer.
  2. Why do you think that saying “no homo” or “that’s gay” is still socially acceptable?
  3. Think of examples of gender policing you’ve seen in your community.
  4. Take a look at this interview with C.J. Pascoe who wrote about high school masculinity and homophobia in Dude, You’re a Fag. Do you agree that saying “fag” more about gender policing than actually calling someone gay? Why or why not? What else struck you from this interview?