Berliner Festspiele has just launched an interesting exhibition titled Masculinities: Liberation through Photography, which explores the diverse ways masculinity has been experienced, performed, coded and socially constructed in photography and film from the 1960s to the present day. You can access the exhibition guide and all the information here.
Simone de Beauvoir’s famous declaration that “one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one” provides a helpful springboard for considering what it means to be a male in today’s world, as well as the place of photography and film in shaping masculinity. What we have thought of as “masculine” has changed considerably throughout history and within different cultures. The traditional social dominance of the male has determined a gender hierarchy, which continues to underpin societies around the world.
In Europe and North America, the characteristics and power dynamics of the dominant masculine figure – historically defined by physical size and strength, assertiveness and aggression – though still pervasive today, began to be challenged and transformed in the 1960s. Amid a climate of sexual revolution, struggle for civil rights and raised class consciousness, the growth of the gay rights movement, the period’s counterculture and opposition to the Vietnam War, large sections of society argued for a loosening of the straitjacket of narrow gender definitions.
Set against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, when manhood is under increasing scrutiny and terms such as “toxic” and “fragile” masculinity fill endless column inches, an investigation of this expansive subject is particularly timely, especially given current global politics characterised by male world leaders shaping their image as “strong” men.
Touching on queer identity, race, power and patriarchy, men as seen by women, stereotypes of dominant masculinity as well as the family, the exhibition presents masculinity in all its myriad forms, rife with contradictions and complexities. Embracing the idea of multiple “masculinities” and rejecting the notion of a singular “ideal man”, the exhibition argues for an understanding of masculinity liberated from societal expectations and gender norms.