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Shame, Masculinity and Desire of Belonging

Reading Contemporary Male Writers

Aneta Stępień

This study considers male shame in contemporary writing by men, examining why shame is often considered a female emotion and therefore denied in men. The author’s comparative approach to the private experience of shame in novels by Hanif Kureishi, Philip Roth and Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki demonstrates the extent to which shame conditions male behaviour, protecting the powerful hierarchies existing between different kinds of masculinities. Using different conceptual analyses, the author exposes the damaging nature of the culturally sanctioned demand that men be «real men», which is often simply a call for violence. The book also examines shame more broadly as a means of social control, whether of women in patriarchal cultures or of people of different ethnic, sexual and class identities. Treating shame as both an individual and a social emotion, the author draws on perspectives from scholarship on shame in postcolonial, gender and feminist studies.

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Chapter 2: Social and Historical Conditions of Shame


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Social and Historical Conditions of Shame

Development of Shame Studies

The emergence of the first studies on shame – in anthropology, for instance Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946), a comparative study of shame’s role in Japanese and American society; in sociology, for instance Helen Merrell Lynd, On Shame and the Search for Identity (1958); in psychology, for instance Silvan Tomkin’s affect theory developed in his study published at the beginning of the 1960s – coincided with the development of colonial and patriarchal critique.1 Coming to terms with the colonial past meant coming to terms with the trauma, guilt and shame, not only of those victimised and subjugated by various regimes, but also facing the shame of the coloniser. Sally Munt argues that behind dynamics of shame one finds ‘histories of violent domination and occupation’ and although, as she stresses, shame is directly aimed at the minority group, it ‘implicates the bestower’.2 What could be viewed as the scholars’ ← 31 | 32 → fascination with shame, or perhaps a greater awareness of the emotion’s implications, in the second half of the twentieth century, was most likely triggered by the knowledge of the crimes committed during the Second World War, particularly the Holocaust, with which the Western world began to come to terms with in the decades following the war. The scale and horrific nature of those crimes could not be explained only in terms of guilt, often recalled with reference...

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