Rhetorics of Virility

I found this article to be particularly interesting because it possessed many aspects that are similar or related to topics I have discussed in business classes. I recognized the first business characteristic in the following quote:

“…the decline of the aura can be attributed to the desire of the masses to bring things close to themselves and to their tendency to equate all things, to sense, as Benjamin puts it, the universal equality of things. This tendency is itself the effect of the mode of production, for what Benjamin seems to be describing is the effect of commodity fetishism on human perception. The abstraction makes exchange possible and that underlies what Marx calls the ‘mystery of money’ has led the masses to see things as equivalent.” (28)

This quote contains the idea that supports our entire economy and all economic transactions and activities across the world: the human ability to see material items as equivalent to a monetary value. This capability gives the ideas behind supply and demand the traction on which it can support its claims.

Secondly, the issue this article addresses of the inequality associated with gender. From the time that women made their first appearances in the workforce there have been obstacles created to limit their level of success to be much less than that of a man. This article describes many sexist ideologies that represent an aspect of society’s aversion to women in the workplace. Fascism and the idea of “virility” emphasis the positive aspects of a leader: strength, forcefulness, intelligence, and power. Virility identifies these characteristics as strictly “manly”, and emphasizes the identification of what were considered “feminized” characteristics as negative and harmful to the potential success and power of men. The chapter describes that “in fascist discourse, gender and sex are not to be mixed and matched: virility is the property of man, and femininity the property of women…The adjectives ‘masculine’ and ‘virile’ as applied to women were exclusively terms of abuse meant to deride the intellectual, ‘feminist,’ and hence sterile woman not properly devoted to her reproductive mission.” (17) Prejudices such as this are what contributed to developments of obstacles such as the glass ceiling effect, income disparities, and occupational segregation.

Rhetorics of Virility

What I found most interesting was the strong contrast between D’Annunzio’s idea of virility and Marinetti’s idea of virility. Of course, we can see D’Annunzio’s portrayed more in the fascist role of women in the regime but the comparison is none the less interesting. What stood out to me the most in Marinetti’s argument was that “marriage depresses and disheartens woman by cutting short youth and stunting her spiritual and physical forces.” It is also interesting to note that Marinetti thought that if young boys were exposed to women, then they would lose part of their virility. Both of these arguments, along with very many other things that he has to say about women, made me angry. I think that part that made me the angriest was his idea that the purpose of women was solely to allow men to prove their level of “virility”.

I thought it was interesting that D’Annunzio looked at the role of the mother and their relationship to virility.  The difference was though that for D’Annunzio, virility was created through the “mother” (or at least this was how I interpreted it).

All of this reminded me, like Joe, of the role of women in Germany during Nazi rule. It reminded me specifically of a class that I took in high school where we discussed this topic. A girl in my class brought in a medal that her great- great grandmother had received from the Nazi regime. The medal rewarded her great-great grandmother for having a certain amount of children at the time and it was a great honor to receive. It was a woman’s contribution to the regime, having children and then raising them to be the strong, Aryan children that Germany wanted at the time. D’Annunzio’s idea of the role of women reminded me of this the most.

( I tried to find a picture of the medal itself, however, I had not luck)

Defining “fascism”

by Laura

I was so excited that the article touched on this, because I wrote a paper about it for my seminar freshman year and I’ve always found it fascinating – Italian Fascism never actually defined itself in terms of its ideology. There are lots of characteristics that are usually attributed to fascism, such as the idea of virility, which is the subject of this particular essay, or nationalism and colonialism, as we discussed in class – but those don’t seem to explicate the actual central ideology (In my seminar, we were given this list as the closest thing available to a definition: http://www.rense.com/general37/char.htm)

I found it interesting that Spackman boiled this down to either a “refusal or incapacity” on the part of Italy to define fascism. I’m honestly not sure which I would attribute it to – I’m inclined to say that there might be a third option, which is that there was simply never a need to define fascism, or that, by defining fascism, the regime would have weakened itself.

Whatever the case, I do agree with his point that the lack of actual definition was compensated for by the fascist regime “overdefining itself rhetorically and semiotically,” and that fascism therefore consisted of more “verbal revolutionism… in the place of ‘authentic’ revolution” (6).

The Definition of Masculinity

While reading Rhetorics of Virility I found myself confused about the definition of masculinity and, therefore, virility. The article attempts to describe virility according to the “Italian” definition, claiming that it “may refer to ‘that which is proper or suitable to the strong, well-balanced, and self-confident person, aware of his role, duties, responsibilities, etc.'” where the “his” is as unimportant as the ambiguous use of “man” in English (2). Virility typically has a very masculine connotation, generally referring to male power and strength.

Throughout the article the fascist stance on gender powers is discussed. When femininity is discussed it is naturally and automatically  in contrast to masculinity. Marinetti’s second half of the manifesto he defends his argument that marriage and family should be eliminated (seemingly) for the following reasons:

  • Boys must develop separately from women in order to preserve their inherent masculinity
  • Girls disrupt the “formation of the male character” because boys “succumb to the charm and…seductiveness of the little female”
  • (later in life) women with power will overturn the family–when women take power, men lose it and men become womanly.

It is true that when boys and girls are raised together they adopt some traits of the other. For example, a boy who is raised among many girls may play with a dollhouse because it is the only toy available; a girl raised with only brothers may play with “manly” things or develop “manly” traits simply because that is what she exposed to and what she knows (and vice versa). But who is to say what constitutes as manly and what constitutes as effeminate?

Subject-predicate relationships are interesting in that the predicate makes the subject just as much as the subject is the predicate. Universally, a predicate is a property that the subject has or is characterized by (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predicate_%28grammar%29). So, in the example “A man is manly,” man is the subject and manly is the predicate. On surface value it may seem that man is a subset of masculinity, or by what is “manly”. In the same way, however, what is “manly” is defined by what man does. It is in man’s nature that his actions are manly because they are of him. So, if a boy is raised around women and therefore begins to display a “retarded formation of the male character,” his character is not actually disturbed at all, but in actuality perfectly manly. Anything that man does is inherently manly.

I found this article very interesting but in the end I realized that I don’t actually know what manly means and where the connotation of manliness originates from.



What I found most striking about this article (besides the complexity) was the usage of “virility” as a tactic to show a leader as a powerful and capable man. I thought it was interesting how perfectly virility fit in with the Fascist idea of a leader. He needs to be elevated and manly, kind of an imposing and intimidating man. I compared Mussolini’s idea of virility to Hitler’s idea of the aryan race. Hitler himself was not an example of his ideal aryan race, but in the same way that Mussolini shaved his head and only showed himself playing “virile” sports, Hitler showed the blond, blue-eyed, powerful, ideal aryan man. I really believe that a comparison could be done of different forms of government solely based on how leaders portrayed themselves, which I just may do for the next paper…..

Hitler Aryan Propaganda

Mussolini looking especially manly on his motorbike

BUT ANYWAY, I tried to think of times in American history when Presidents have done something similar. One I thought of was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Unable to walk/stand on his own Roosevelt still appeared to stand at his speeches, but if one looks closely at photos of his speeches you can see him leaning entirely on the podium or holding onto someone standing near him. He also tried to never appear with a cane. HE ALSO DROVE, this always boggles my mind. He had a special car built that had the gas and break pedals as levers next to the steering wheel so he could drive in parades or take photos while out with his family. Finally he had the desk of the Oval Office modified in order to block view of his wheelchair that he sat in while at the desk and was how he managed to travel around the White House. John F. Kennedy was also a president who managed to not show the public of his physical shortcomings due to Chrone’s Disease and his major back problems, he almost always was wearing a brace. Nixon during the 1960 Presidential comes to mind as well and the list really goes on forever, but none of the American presidents really ever tried to make themselves seem more manly. I believe that because American democracy focuses so much of individual power and rights, and because it was formed after the oppressive monarchy, the aim of American leadership propaganda focuses on lowering the president to the level of the people, rather than elevate him above the heads of the lower-classes. I could go on forever…..



Finally, the gender issue in facism is addressed!

Here, at the website posted, is an idea of what was the 1909 manifesto of futurism that Spackman references on page 12.  If you look at number 9 in particular, as well as the other numbers, there is a great degree of “virility rhetoric.”

What I found most interesting was the conflict between futurists and internationalists on the ideas pertaining to the elimination of feminism and its supposed impact on virility. (The futurists’ idea on feminism is also addressed on the website in number 10.) The internationalists’ never specifically address opposition to the elimination of feminism, yet its ideas on the elimination of boarders translated to the futurists as a means to  eliminate all separateness, thus ending the superiority of not only Italy but also man.  I guess what I thought was interestig was how a  lack of opposition or how the opposition to a seperate, yet not unrelated subject can influence an entire social movement.

Marinetti’s view of women and virility

Marinetti’s view of marriage and the family as threats to virility are in direct contrast to Mussolini’s demographic campaign promoting “fecundità” (birth rate).  In his Ascension Day Speech of 1927, Mussolini declared “that the most fundamental, essential element in the political, and therefore economic, and moral influence of a nation lies in its demographic strength”.  The campaign increased welfare benefits, tax breaks and gave recognition to women who bore many children. For Marinetti,”divorce, free love and destruction of the bourgeois family” would protect virility but this is in contrast to the family values present in rural societies.  Women are needed to make society work.  What I find fascinating is the fact that women were “fanatic” supporters of the regime. Macciocchi blames women’s masochism for their support of fascism. This “masochistic pleasure derived from the sacrifices requested of them” (p.26).  Sacrifices were always requested of women in rural societies, now at least they were being in some way recognized for these sacrifices.  A theory that relegated women to mere bearers of children, furnishing men to fight in war negated any idea of unity in society.

Margot’s Post on Rhetorics of Virility

The article was not as clear as it could have been in describing the various interpretations of virility. The one I found most interesting, or probably the one I understood best, was the section on Marinetti. I found a lot of contradictions, or what sounded like contradictions, in his description of marriage versus the power women have over men. For some context, Marinetti was the founder of the futurist movement, which called for a focus on the concepts of the future: speed, technology, youth, and violence.

It seemed like Marinetti was arguing that women and men should remain separate because women “produce a harmful effeminizing of the male.” This stance isn’t a new way of viewing a woman’s role, but this is normally paired with the idea that women should stay in the house and raise their children and serve her husband. Marinetti argues that “Marriage is an enemy of all boldness and all heroism,” and “marriage and the family are threats to virility.”

His reasoning for not wanting young boys to be raised with young girls is because he thinks the young men will “succumb to the charm and the willful seductiveness of the little female…like stupid little slaves.” In my opinion, this gives the impression that men aren’t powerful enough to avoid a woman’s tempting and therefore must be separated from them so that they can grow to be strong, masculine, and “virile.” Marinetti does give a “use” for women, because he argues that men “deserve” to have women in their lives, “since dispensing with women entirely would leave the male without means to prove his masculinity.”

So if we look at the progression of these few paragraphs of the article, we see that Marinetti argues for a total separation between women and men, and that marriage is useless. However, women can’t be disposed of completely because men need them around to “prove their masculinity.”

When reading about Marinetti I found this description of his view on women:

Machine + War  Woman = Futurism:
Marinetti’s Recreation of Creation

In his vision of a car-crash with the actress, Vaughan was obsessed by many wounds and impacts-by the dying chromium and collapsing bulkheads of their two cars meeting head-on in complex collisions endlessly repeated in slow-motion films, by the identical wounds inflicted on their bodies, by the image of windshield glass frosting around her face as she broke its tinted surface like a death-born Aphrodite, by the compound fractures of their thighs impacted against their handbrake mountings, and above all by the wounds to their genitalia, her uterus pierced by the heraldic beak of the manufacturer’s medallion, his semen emptying across the luminescent dials that registered for ever the last temperature and fuel levels of the engine.

J.G. Ballard, Crash[1]  http://thelibrary.hauntedink.com/ghostinthemachine/ch3.html#1