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Book Reviews   |    
Masculinities, Violence, and Culture
Reviewed by David Seil, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2001; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.52.9.1261-a
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by Suzanne E. Hatty; Thousand Oaks, California, Sage Publications, 2000, 223 pages, $32 softcover

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In this book, a volume of the Sage Series on Violence Against Women, Suzanne Hatty examines violence in Western society from a postmodernist point of view. In a multidisciplinary trip from the thought of Spinoza and Foucault through New Guinea to Hollywood, she supports the thesis that violence in our society is institutionally sanctioned and glorified to maintain hegemonic masculinity (meaning white heterosexual masculinity).

Hatty begins with a broad definition of violence as a forced crossing of boundaries, be they boundaries of the body, the mind, or society. She states that traditional Western culture is under pressure from subordinate masculinities (gay, nonwhite, non-Western) and women to blur dichotomous gender boundaries. In response to this crisis, violence becomes the means by which white men who have a "failing sense of masculinity" try to preserve the traditional masculine control of society. Any being or group that does not subscribe to the traditional Western gender roles is perceived as "other." Thus "others" are already in boundary violation and therefore violent. This perceived potential violence is then averted by violence on the part of the "hegemonic masculinities." In fact, the book is not so much about violence toward women as it is about violence toward any individual or group that has been perceived as "other."

Hatty demonstrates that these gender attitudes have roots extending far back into Western thinking, in which the "rational"—and thereby predictable—masculine was highly valued over the "emotional"—and thereby incomprehensible—feminine. Going further, she describes the body as a metaphor, in which the externalized male body is safer than the internalized female body.

She devotes much attention to the serial killer, a "monster hybrid" male, and she examines sports, military, media, entertainment, and law as areas in which the traditional gender dichotomy is not only perpetuated but under attack.

In the context of postmodernist thought, Hatty believes that the solution to the problem of violence involves a change in our cultural institutions away from the perception of nonwhite, nonheterosexual, and nonmale individuals as threatening "others." A less rigid, more flexible, inclusive, and nurturing attitude on the part of our institutions should take its place.

With its wide range of sources and topics, this book may not explore any single area in depth, but its breadth may appeal to a wider readership. The absence of discussion about transgendered people, the most "other" of the "others," is notable, as this group is frequently subject to physical, legal, and social attack. After all, what could be more clearly a break in the gender rules than to leave one gender entirely for the other?

Masculinities, Violence, and Culture is well researched and includes an extensive bibliography. It will be of great interest to clinicians and others who deal with violence and gender issues, to students of postmodernist thought and feminist issues, and to readers who are involved in the legal arenas in which such issues are contested.

Dr. Seil is a psychiatrist in private practice in Boston.




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