American Psycho, American Masculinity

by Alexandra Guye

Abstract:

What does it mean to be masculine? Does it mean wearing lots of plaid, having a thick beard, drinking lots of beer, and throwing axes? Does it mean wearing a suit and having a job in order to be able to provide for a wife and 2.5 children who live in a house with a white picket fence? What if a man does not fit cultural narratives such as those listed above? Is he still masculine? Can he lose his masculinity because he lives a different lifestyle? This is where the mind becomes a more important tool than the body. This paper argues that it’s the mind and its struggles through societal changes over time that bring about interpretations that are the cause of neo-masculinity movements.

This paper examines forms of neo-masculinity and the most recent version of and old problem, a crisis of masculinity, through the lens of the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' novel American Psycho.

 

Article:

The movie American Psycho offers an extremely interesting opportunity to get a look at an extreme version of the masculine interpretation in a physical form. Importantly, the relationships the main character has with the people around him varies depending on whether they are a man or a woman. He approaches almost all these relationships in a way that will yield either monetary or personal advantages. Everyone is a commodity and are therefore a means to an end. No matter who it is. The term ‘alt-right’ will not show up often, in the following paragraphs, though it is clear that alt-right ideology and neo-masculinity are directly bound up with each other. Still, the term alt-right is an umbrella term, and as such it is not precise enough for a topic of this kind. To determine the underlying ideologies that determines definitions of masculinity today, we need to be more specific and investigate some of the concepts and ideas attached to the alt-right instead.

To support the claims of this paper, the movie will be analyzed as a work of satire. If examined in this way, we are able to better understand why the protagonist can be used as a character who, in an extreme manner, perfectly embodies everything wrong with the threatened masculinity movement of today. By using satire, both the author, Bret Easton Ellis and director Mary Harron have seized an opportunity to lay bare the stereotypical definition of masculinity that still sheds light on a lot of existing issues today. The traditional male body does not follow today’s philosophy of being the only way masculinity can be interpreted. This is a view of the neo-masculine narrative that improperly defines what it means to be a male in the 21st century. In response the following paragraphs will attempt to flesh out what exactly it means in be masculine in the contemporary moment.

From studies that were conducted on the behaviours of men, “masculinity is operationalized as responses to self-report questionnaires measuring gender roles, conformity to gender norms, gender ideologies, or related constructs (e.g., “I try to keep my feelings to myself,” “Men should be strong,” etc.).”[1] This is a description from a section about social experiments that were completed. Men filled out questionnaires and completed activities that contained traditionally accepted masculine traits and roles and were designed to show them how masculine they were. These tests that were conducted by many psychologists, show that masculinity can also be a state of mind as well as a physical part of a mans genetic makeup. The question at this point becomes whether this social construct is determined by the way a man approaches situations or the way he looks physically. “Traditional masculinity, typically demonstrated through aggressive and violent behaviour, is currently undergoing cultural and social revisions due to various contemporary ideas.”[2] Things are changing in our contemporary moment. Hopefully, this is for the better, and things can be properly analyzed through new lenses that can create a better and more thoroughly well-rounded definition of what it means to be a masculine in 2018.

Patrick Bateman shows throughout the movie that he is the embodiment of extreme masculinity. He is physically fit, carries himself with confidence and is therefore seen as attractive to most women. However, he is almost so obsessed with his appearance, that to the contemporary moment some would see this as effeminate. When explaining his morning routine, we are shown an extremely long process that is narrated by Bateman himself. He begins with his morning workout where he boasts about being able to do a thousand push-ups a day, showing us that his definition of masculinity runs along with the older definition.[3] You must be physically fit and muscular to attract women. Looking at his bathing process though, we see how exactly he could be looked at as an effeminate male. He is not the guy that buys a two-in-one shampoo and one body wash for all his hygienic needs. He has several different containers in his bathroom, all for a different purpose. Bateman even explains how he remoisturizes his face once it becomes dried out.

“There are no girls with good personalities!”[4]

-All the men in unison, except Bateman

Pushing the murder scenes to the side and looking at Bateman’s behaviours, we can observe exactly what the director was trying to accomplish with this film. It is entirely satirical to the point where a lot of it is completely ridiculous. The main characters name is Patrick Bateman. By day he is a business man who works in the city of New York in a company called “Pierce & Pierce” where he spends most of his time. By night, he is a serial killer whose murders get more and more outlandish as the film continues. Narrowing everything down, we can focus on his relationships with the various people in the film. Now, we are initially introduced to the men Bateman works with. In fact, the movie opens to a scene with them all sitting around a table discussing nothing that furthers the plot, but it does show us a glimpse into what they are like.

One man constantly talks in anti-semantic remarks almost constantly. This is shut down by Bateman, if for no other reason then to make himself look better than the rest of them. He is constantly competing with them and strives to be the best. All the men can be easily ignored though, because Bateman sees himself as someone who is superior to all the people around him. He describes this in a scene where he mentions the only emotions he is capable of feeling are “greed and disgust.”[5] However, Paul Allen is seen as a direct threat to Bateman’s wellbeing and psychological state. Whenever he appears on screen, Bateman is on edge and feels threatened by the other mans calm, cool demeanour. During a scene in the company where they all work, Allen hands over his card to another man in the room telling him to contact him later.[6] This starts a trend of all the guys taking out their business cards and setting them on the table. Bateman shows everyone his, stating all kinds of facts about its perfection. Then after seeing a few others, he asks to see Paul Allen’s. It is of course the best, Bateman begins to have an internal meltdown and his complexion begins to get shiny. His competitive by nature and cannot handle being second to anyone, especially not someone he believes he is superior to. Instead of simply becoming the better man and earning his self-given title of intellectual prowess, he resorts to killing Allen.

“‘Why do you have that job?’, ‘Because I want to fit in.’”.[7]

-Dialogue between Evelyn Williams and Patrick Bateman

In every interaction he has with a woman, Bateman asserts a level of dominance over her. In some instances, he just simply ignores everything she says. This is a little difficult to judge, because the way the female characters are written and portrayed in the movie is extremely stereotypical. They are meek, quiet, emotional, and submissive. Some of the movies most difficult to watch scenes revolve around the women of the story. At every opportunity Bateman speaks down to and give orders to the women he is interacting with. He must remain in control of the women because he already feels inferior in his everyday life. When he is beyond reasoning inside the dry cleaners, a lady walks in and he immediately assumes a persona of authority and control. Even though a moment before he was having an entire meltdown. He then manages to pawn off his laundry to this woman, who asks if in return he would go out for dinner with her. He says he has no time and rushes out, despite her repeated attempts to make any sort of plans. This leaves Bateman in a position of domineering control where he believes he can have anything he wants. To this point, he is right. There is no really opposing force to his exertion of control. Except Paul Allen, who does not last long.

Courtney, you’re going to have the…”[8]

-Patrick Bateman

We have allowed ourselves to be to consumed by this neo-masculine narrative that wants to bring us back to an idealized version of the 1950s.

He treats everyone around him like objects, especially the two prostitutes he brings back to his room. He begins telling them useless Phil Collins, and by extension Genesis facts that he somehow believes are proof of his superior intellect. That’s his rationale to prove to himself that if he’s teaching someone something, he must indeed be the more intelligent one. Bateman than changes both of the girls’ names, calling them Christy and Sabrina. This is a direct reflection into an insecurity in his own life. By almost every character in the movie, he is mistaken for someone else. Even his lawyer at the end of the movie does not recognize his face or voice and proceeds to discredit his confession of his murders. So, he is then dehumanizing them the same way he is everyday. By taking away their identities so its easier for him to control them.

They believe they’re supposed to compete with other men and dominate feminine folks by being aggressive, worldly, sexually experienced, insensitive, physically imposing, ambitious and demanding.”[9]

-Planned Parenthood

 “Hypermasculinity is the exaggeration of stereotyped behavior that’s believed to be masculine. Hypermasculine folks exaggerate the qualities they believe to be masculine.”[10] Essentially this is a genderized example of over compensation. The opposite of hypermasculinity is of course, hyperfemininity, a more soft and compliant individual who can be ordered around. The movie also touches on quite a few key aspects of what it ‘means to be a man’. Being physically fit is a major point. The body must have a physique that shows you’ve worked hard to earn it, which goes back to the idea brought up above about the ‘good old times’. People get nostalgic for instances and experiences they’ve never had because they believe that these perspectives are what it means to be a ‘true male’. However, this isn’t a true narrative of the males of today. There is no time in todays work environment to go to the gym to acquire a physique that is an imitation of something that never existed. This body being the perfect example of what it means to be male only exists in the hypermasculine narrative, not the collective narrative.

This entire following article discussion makes it extremely easy to view Bateman’s interactions with the women in the film proof of the mindset of the “neo-masculine” male. That women will never be equal to men. Neo-masculinity can be described as a combination of old traditional aspects of what is mean to be male, like aggression, dominance and independence, and mashing them together with new age ideas that women are now threatening this masculinity. Proving this point, the article quoted here written by a blogger named Roosh mentions that, “Forcing men to cooperate, share, and nurture like a woman is as unusual as training a house cat to bark like a dog.”[11] This notion is completely absurd. To say that to be a part of this movement towards bettering masculinity is fine. There is nothing wrong with wanting to support yourself and those around you. This comment however, and other comments made on this post are the opposite of what it means to move forward. The article later goes on to mention that, “The idea of “gender equality” is a myth that has no scientific basis.”[12] But if gender is a social construct created by humans, it cannot be a way of gauging equality. Equity could instead be used as a way of making sure everyone is given exactly want they need to function in the world. Gender should have no place in this conversation.

“Men and women should have some degree of free will to live a life compatible in their respective societies, but there should not be coordination between the media, government, and academia to program citizens to abandon their innate strengths for imagined ideas of utopia.”[13] If this statement is true, than we as a society have failed and there is no way we can possibly hope to imagine a positive future. We have succumbed to past ideologies and allowed them to consume us in this neo-masculine narrative that wants to bring us back to an idealized version of the 1950s, a society in which women stay at home and men do all the work because they are apparently better designed to accomplish these tasks.

It’s not only males who place themselves in these masculine roles with specific ideologies and boundaries, it is also women.

This movie American Psycho takes place in 1987, it was filmed in 2000, and 18 years later the movie's topics are still relevant. It's not only males who place themselves in these masculine roles with specific ideologies and boundaries, it is also women. There are many blogs and pages out there that mention the effeminate man as a being who is therefore less of a man because he partakes in activities that are looked at as being more feminine. This is completely ridiculous if one simply takes the time to understand gender as a social construct that was made up by humanity and should have no real place in our everyday activities. Yet, it creates boundaries and causes people to become ignorant and intolerant of those around them. People like labels, and when you do not fit into these labels perfectly, society will alienate you and say that you are different than the norm and are therefore wrong. Assuming now we were to go along with the idea that the way the effeminate man is described in the article called, “Feminine Guys: 50 Typical Characteristics that Make You One”, we would now be labeling without cause.[14]

 

“#16 You do your dishes Johnny on the spot.”[15]

                           -Julie Keating

 

Up to this point, there is no scientific evidence or proof of any kind other than the opinion of a select group of individuals what makes a specific gender. Wearing the colour pink should not have any affect on gender, and it physically should not have an effect either. The wearer is now looked at as more feminine. This is only because humanity has assigned gender to a colour. Not all females like pink, not all males like blue. Everyone else that would like to label themselves differently doesn’t have a colour assigned to them based on gender because they now are beyond societies “accepting norms”. This is something a lot of intolerant people still do not agree with. People like labels, and boxes they can place individuals in. Which is why articles like this one are created. Attempting to amplify the age old and now out of place definition of what it means to be a male, automatically every trait that is apparently female that is shown in a male makes that male effeminate. This article at its most basic level shows that any male figure that allows his female partner to have some sort of control is effeminate. If he does his dishes immediately and does not leave them for his partner to clean, he is also seen as a more feminine person.[16] She does the cooking and the cleaning, and he goes to work. This is a completely backwards way of thinking for the year 2018. It brings back entirely worn out expectations of the woman as a homemaker who therefore has nothing better to do than the take care of those who dwell within her home. Its as if she has no other purpose other than to fill a maternal role.

 

[He] “#10 Isn’t wrapped up in gender roles”[17]

                                    -Natasha Ivanovic

 

There are people out there today who are completely caught up in gender. They believe everyone has their space and they need to stick to it. These lines should not be crossed, and if they are, you become effeminate. The article is chalked full of other sources to click on that takes you to other articles such as, “Defining True Masculinity: What Does it Mean to be a Man?”.[18] This one is written by an entirely different author who mentions some things that directly contradict what the original writer sites her for. In this article, its mentioned that your man should not be “wrapped up in gender roles”.[19] This is true because as stated above, gender is a social construct. You should be free to be whatever you want to be. The writer limits herself here by only stating specific female and male gender roles, like the working man and the stay at home mom. It could have been broadened a bit to say that a man should not get caught up in the gender constructs created by society today. In doing so he is limiting himself and falling prey to the insecurity he tried so hard to hide from the world.

Connecting this back to ‘American Psycho’, Bateman was truly a bigot in many ways. One of them specifically being his homophobic language and tendencies. The book was published in 1991, so the fear he has and the way you can tell he’s uncomfortable with how he lashes out in these situations was most likely felt by a large majority of the heterosexual population. People, males specifically, saw men that were interested in other men as less masculine. The way the talk, carry themselves and dress is automatically more feminine. We have the moment where Bateman attempts to murder his co-worker in the bathroom of a restaurant to look at for a further analysis. In this scene Bateman follows Luis Carruthers into the bathroom and when his back is turned, he wraps his fingers around his neck. Instead of reacting in fear Carruthers instead kisses the back of Bateman’s hand and begins telling him how he has, “Seen how you look at me.”[20] Bateman has a look of disgust on his face and rushes to the sink to wash his gloved hands aggressively. This reaction stems from Bateman’s insecurity. He has been faced with an ‘other’ he is uncomfortable with and is unwilling to accept.

In this moment, Bateman saw Carruthers as less of a man and was therefore not worth killing. Having an interest in men is something that women are supposed to be all about. That is why men must be and have to have that traditional masculine form and ideology. If they are then attracting men, by this definition they must be more feminine. This is not true. Femininity and masculinity do not exist outside humanity. Everything on the planet was genderized or sexualized by humanity without any real understanding of how things work. “It’s clear President Obama is more interested in appeasing America’s homosexuals than honoring America’s heroes.”[21] Apparently to this mans standards being of another sexuality further removes you being a person, let alone being masculine. As if a person’s sexual orientation prevents them from being an American hero. People like to give names to things to give them meaning and to define them, but no other being on earth does this and animals seem to function fine without these barriers. The way things are now can be explained by understanding that men like their women feminine and women like their men masculine. If you do not fit this description society will unfortunately see you as less of either.

Obviously, not all males in society today are murderous, domineering serial killers. That is not the point of the comparison of this paper. His behaviours and his interactions, however, are a good starting point at the top of the scale to try to understanding the neo-masculine male through a satirical lens. Masculinity has a different definition to each person that wishes to attach themselves to it. It should not have anything to do with race, class, or sexual orientation. A masculine figure should not let themselves be threatened by outside sources that occasionally challenge their perceptions and ideologies. They should accept these as opportunities of growth from their experiences and learn from perspectives that are different from their own. If anything, running into other people, learning what their definition of masculinity is, and being able to either take that into consideration, or you can more easily reaffirm who you are. To be a man today should be more about a move towards equity, acceptance and less about intolerance and the incessant need to point fingers at the ‘other’ to blame for all the wrong of the world.

 

 

 

[1] Addis, Michael E., et al. "Is 'Masculinity' a Problem?: Framing the Effects of Gendered Social Learning in Men." Psychology of Men & Masculinity, vol. 11, no. 2, Apr. 2010, pp. 77-90. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/a0018602.

[2] McCray, Sean, "Masculinity and the Postmodern in American Psycho and Fight Club". Masters Theses & Specialist Projects, 2006. Paper 297. http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/theses/297

[3] American Psycho. Directed by Mary Harron, performances by Christian Bale and Reese Witherspoon, Lions Gate Films, 2000.

[4] American Psycho. Mary Harron, 2000.

[5] American Psycho. Mary Harron, 2000.

[6] American Psycho. Mary Harron, 2000.

[7] American Psycho. Mary Harron, 2000.

[8] American Psycho. Mary Harron, 2000.

[9] Parenthood, Planned. “Gender Identity & Roles | Feminine Traits & Stereotypes.” Planned Parenthood, www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity/what-are-gender-roles-and-stereotypes.

[10] Planned Parenthood “Gender Identity”

[11] Roosh, “What Is Masculinity.” Roosh V, 6 May 2015, www.rooshv.com/what-is-neomasculinity.

[12] Roosh, “Masculinity”

[13] Roosh, “Masculinity”

[14] Keating, Julie. “Feminine Guys: 50 Typical Characteristics That Make You One.” LovePanky - Your Guide to Better Love and Relationships, 17 Apr. 2017, www.lovepanky.com/men/essentials-for-men/feminine-guys-characteristics.

[15] Keating “Feminine Guys”

[16] Keating “Feminine Guys:”

[17] Ivanovic, Natasha. “Defining True Masculinity: What Does It Mean to Be a Man?” LovePanky - Your Guide to Better Love and Relationships, 30 Aug. 2016, www.lovepanky.com/men/essentials-for-men/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-man.

[18] Ivanovic “Defining True Masculinity”

[19] Ivanovic “Defining True Masculinity”

[20] American Psycho. Mary Harron, 2000.

[21] Foust, Joshua. “What It's Like to Be Gay in the Ultra-Masculine NatSec Community.” Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy, 30 Sept. 2015, foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/30/what-its-like-to-be-gay-in-the-ultra-masculine-natsec-community/.