Men cannot change if there are no blueprints for change. Men cannot love if they are not taught the art of loving. - bell hooks1
I held the idea of the song “A Suitable Beast” in my mind for years before I could connect it to my heart. I didn’t want to write an ode or a critique, but an investigation cloaked in curiosity. As I dove deeper I dove into Ernest Hemingway’s life, the song quickly became a mirror where I confronted my own self-inflicted rage, Whiteness, and patriarchy. As noted by Carole Pateman and Charles Mills, this dominator culture is intertwined: “race is gendered and gender is raced.”2 Many authors have critiqued Hemingway on his white supremacy, masculinity, and upholding of colonial thought.3 Toni Morrison notes in Playing in the Dark how Whiteness often hides behind the term "American": “The act of enforcing racelessness in literary discourse is itself a racial act. Pouring rhetorical acid on the fingers of a black hand may indeed destroy the prints, but not the hand. Besides, what happens in that violent, self-serving act of erasure to the hands, the fingers, the fingerprints of the one who does the pouring? Do they remain acid-free? The literature itself suggests otherwise.”4
Reflecting on Judith Butler’s concept of gender being a performance I have a bar in the song, “It’s hard to live up to those lies that bloomed in you.”5 As a White male who grew up in a working-class setting, I learned to play the part of masculinity by holding in emotions, appearing stoic, and seeking to intimidate. The gift of art and hip-hop for me was encountering artists such as MC Lyte, Black Thought, Tupac, and Yasiin Bey, particularly Tupac’s song “Dear Mama,” which helped me unlock my emotions with the key of vulnerability. Tupac in “Dear Mama” rapped how he cried with his sister about their family being in poverty and how he made mistakes and opened up vulnerably about how he loved his mother. Along with vulnerability, Yasiin Bey’s song “Rock N Roll” showed my colonial mind a more honest history, exposing appropriation and exploitation of how many White musicians stole and profited from Black musicians. Revisiting Morrison’s extended metaphor, Tupac and Bey expose the crime scene of Whiteness and masculinity showing where and when the acid has been poured.
Masculinity’s Faustian bargain of domination for masking feelings, veiling emotions, and burying love is a deadly deal of disconnection. In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway profoundly writes, “If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.”6 Harkening back to A Farewell to Arms the last parts of my song say:
His dad shot himself with his father’s revolver
The world breaks everyone the cycle revolves
He was a big game hunter but the last beast was in his head
He piled up the dead animals but could never bury his dread
Did you hit the target or did the target hit you?
You were the bull and the matador that paradox split you
Even though Hemingway became more progressive on race and gender later in his life and had the courage to create and wrote with vulnerability, he too battled with his avatar of masculinity intersecting with traumas and ghosts. Commenting on Hemingway and masculinity, Diane Herndi writes how “masculinity itself becomes a self-inflicted wound.”7 Art has the ability to communicate on multiple levels, convey massive amounts of information, and make us reflect, beautiful art is gauze for self-inflicted wounds. These paragraphs aren’t panaceas, but if cis men work to break down hierarchies and collaborate to destroy patriarchy by “being disloyal to the dominator model,” countless lives could be saved.8
Reflecting on the extended metaphor I used in the song--that the last beast he had to hunt was in his head--turned the topic into an autopsy on patriarchy. Unfortunately, patriarchy is alive and well in myself, people, culture, and society. My hope is that we can continue to support subcultures where boys, men, and people can continue to diagnose where patriarchy animates them and silences them into a rage so we can stop doing singular autopsies on people (mainly women) who died too soon from patriarchy, and we can one day do a universal autopsy on patriarchy and speak of it in terms of fossils and the past tense.
The song “A Suitable Beast,” performed by time (the author of this blog post), can be listened to here
chris time steele is a writer, poet, and rapper, and part of the group Calm. with AwareNess. Time has worked with Common, Kool Keith, Xiu Xiu, Ron Miles, Mick Jenkins, Psalm One, Che Noir, Extra Kool, namebuddha, scott crow and more. Time is host of the Time Talks podcast. He has chapters with Noam Chomsky and Joy James, and in the books Building Power While the Lights Are Out and Trust Kids. He also has a forthcoming book with Dr. Gerald Horne titled Acknowledging Radical Histories.
1 bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men Masculinity and Love (New York: Washington Square Press, 2004), xvii.
2 Carole Pateman and Charles Mills, Contract and Domination (New York: Polity, 2007), 4
3 Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage, 1993): Josep M. Armengol, “Performing Manhood through Animal Killings? Revisions of Hunting as a Performance of Masculinity in Ernest Hemingway’s Late Writings,” Men & Masculinities 23, no. 5 (December 2020): 833–51, doi:10.1177/1097184X20965454.: Margaret E. Wright-Cleveland, “Hemingway’s Dialectic with American Whiteness: Oak Park, Edward Said, and the Location of Authority.” Hemingway Review 39, no. 1 (Fall 2019): 40–61. doi:10.1353/hem.2019.0016.
4 Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) 9, 46
5 Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990)
6 Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957)
7 Diane Price Herndl, “Invalid Masculinity: Silence, Hospitals, and Anesthesia in ‘A Farewell to Arms.’” Hemingway Review 21, no. 1 (Fall 2001): 38–52. doi:10.1353/hem.2001.0003.
8 bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men Masculinity and Love (New York: Washington Square Press, 2004), 59.