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The Pressure of Masculine Performance in Bechdel’s Fun Home

March 21, 2013

The next work from this course that I will be discussing in this blog is Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which was discussed during the March 14th lecture. Bechdel’s work tells the story of the author’s complex relationship with her late father. This work discusses at many instances the concept of masculine performance. Bechdel uses herself and the figure of her father to maintain a discourse of gender performance throughout her narrative. Throughout this narrative Bechdel gives the readers the impression that her father has been repressed in his masculine performance. While the character of herself wishes to perform in a masculine way, she gives the opposite impression of her father. The argument can be made that she wishes to perform in a masculine manner during several points during Fun Home. Most notably in chapter four,

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Fun Home, page 118

During this scene of Fun Home the character of Alison has somewhat of an epiphany, realizing that there are women who perform in a much more masculine manner, and not in the feminine way that her father had been pressuring her into performing like throughout her life. Another instance where it is very clear to the reader that Alison is eager to perform in a masculine way was when she told the character John to call her Albert, rather than Alison (Bechdel, 113). This scene being earlier in the narrative than the scene discussed above shows that Alison believed that the only way she could perform in a masculine way as she wished was to actually be perceived by others as a male.

While Alison is a female who wishes to perform in a masculine manner, her father Bruce is portrayed as the opposite in Fun Home. Throughout this narrative there is a lot of ambiguity in relation to Bruce, yet he is always pressuring Alison into performing how he feels is the ‘right way’ for females to perform, so he seems to have very strong beliefs when it comes to gender performance. Yet, near the end of Fun Home, Bruce seems to have a confession to Alison,

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Fun Home, page 221

Through this you can see that both Bruce and Alison have been repressed through gender performance, yet it opposite ways. While discussing this in class the question was brought up of what does this restraint of the performance that is natural to someone do to them? As discussed in Sedgwick’s How to Bring Your Kids up Gay, it seems that the acceptable homosexuals in society are the people who follow their supposed ‘proper’ gender performances (Sedgwick, 22). This concept seems to be very relevant to Bruce in Fun Home because it is presented by Bechdel that Bruce is not purely heterosexual, and works through his life to keep with the stereotypical masculine performance, even if it goes against who he is.

This issue that Bruce is presented to having dealt with through his life reminded me of an instance in Fox’s Glee with the character Kurt Hummel. Throughout season one of Glee, Kurt Hummel, an extremely effeminate character, is under constant pressure to be accepted by his father, Burt, a character who embodies the stereotypical masculine performance. In two particular episodes, four and eighteen, Kurt attempts through sports, clothing, interests, and the depth of his voice (Preggers, Laryngitis), to perform in a much more masculine way. While he remains a homosexual, he attempts to perform in a much more masculine way, to become accepted. Bruce’s story in Fun Home reminded me a great deal of Kurt Hummel because they both have a great pressure to perform in a strong and masculine way, while it may not be natural to them.

The pressure on people whether it is those expected to perform in a feminine way wishing to preform masculine, as is the case with Alison, or those who are expected to perform in a masculine way, like for Bruce or Kurt, there is great pressure upon them. And it seems to have a very negative effect on those with that pressure. For more on Fun Home check out this blog post.

Works Cited

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home. New York: Mariner Books, 2006. Print.

“Preggers.” Writ. Brad Falchuk. Glee. Fox. 23 September 2009. DVD.

“Laryngitis.” Writ. Ryan Murphy. Glee. Fox. 11 May 2010. DVD.

Sedgwick, Eve K. “How to Bring Your Kids up Gay.” Social Text 29 (1991): 18-27. Web. 16 Mar. 2013.

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7 Comments
  1. nicolemcnaught permalink

    Emily, I think you did a wonderful job at looking at Masculine Performance in “Fun Home”. I enjoyed how you brought “Glee” into this post as well, it helps to show how much hasn’t changed between pre-1980 to the 2010’s. I may want to reblog this (just have to figure out how I would work it into my topic, that is if I can at all). Would it be okay with you if I decide to reblog it?

    • emilydafoe permalink

      Thank you Nicole, and yes of course you’re welcome to reblog it!

  2. I think it’s really important that the performance of male gender is being discussed in your blog. So many times people focus on the performance of women and the role women play in society and men are left to fend for themselves. Great topic and idea! When I get to Fun Home this might be getting linked!

  3. nicolemcnaught permalink

    Reblogged this on Issues Involving Families with Homosexual Members and commented:
    As I come to a close with my blog, I wanted to highlight why Fun Home was the core text I focused on for this project. First off would be because I really enjoyed the book, and it is always best to write on what you enjoy as you spend so much time with that text. Secondly, going off why I enjoyed it is due to how rich with information in both sexuality and gender issues this book is. After taking this course, I could not image a literature-based course in sexuality and gender that did not have this book as required reading. As you can tell by my posts I focused on the sexuality of the Bechdels’. One of my peers has looked at masculine performance in Fun Home. Please check out her post as I think together we cover two of the major themes in Fun Home quite well.

  4. doctorsara permalink

    Emily – you have done a great job with this assignment. I can;t wait to read these posts in depth – you followed the assignment guidelines to a tee and as a result, you have offered a really interesting look at gender and sexual performativity in these texts.

  5. Reblogged this on What's My Role? and commented:
    While I discussed the issues Alison faced when having to hide her sexuality, I did not discuss Bruce. Luckily I didn’t need to as I have a classmate who wrote an excellent post on the pressures Bruce felt while trying to perform his role as male in Fun Home.

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