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Ryan McFadden

CES 305 Final

Panopticon and its Connection to Masculinity

Foucault’s theory of the panopticon is a system based on the

idea of self-policing because someone could be watching.

Panopticon is a prison where the prisoners are in a building that

houses a central tower where all areas of the prison can be seen at

all times. The prisoners never know when exactly they are being

watched and when they are not. In this prison system one guard is

able to watch many prisoners at one time. This instills a sense of

fear that someone is always watching. Prisoners must then be able

to control their actions as to not be punished by conducting any

activities that may break the rules.

This theory of panopticon directly relates to Paul Kivel’s idea

of an “act-like-a-man box”. Kivel states the act-like-a-man box is a

“24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week box that society tells boys they

must fit themselves into” (148). This box is constructed to keep

boys from expressing themselves in any way different from the

heterosexual male masculine identity. Kivel goes on to say that “no one

is born into this box; it takes years of unhealthy reinforcement to get adolescent

males to accept the life inside the box” (150). Boys are taught at a young

age that straying from this identity can cause harm to them. If
they step outside the box they become subject to verbal and

physical abuse.

The theory of panopticon helps to construct the heterosexual

male masculine identity and enforce it on the boys at a young age.

The boys become programmed to believe that they always have to

be inside the box because someone could be watching to catch

them slip outside. They always have to worry about who is

watching and what the punishment may be.

The act-like-a-man box defines masculinity for many boys

and does not give them the opportunity to define it for

themselves. The construction of masculinity intersects gender and

sex. To identify as a male gender your behaviors must qualify in

the act-like-a-man box. Along with gender, being the male sex

requires you to not only fit inside the box but also want to strive to

fit inside.

The act-like-a-man box creates a binary of masculine and

non-masculine. Either you can be inside the box or outside. There

is no acceptance for someone that is only halfway inside the box.

This binary can cause harm to someone trying to find his or her

place in life. By not fitting in either side you question yourself and

your behaviors. The box ends up being a destructive system on

one’s self-image and identity.

The theory of panopticon implants fear and develops a set of

rules one must abide by. You need to have power over your

behaviors and control what comes naturally. The act-like-a-man

box takes over your ability to discover who you really are. Once we

are able to find away to exist outside the box we will truly be able to live as who

we are as a person without the outside influence of others.

Direct Correlation of Militarism and Masculine Violence

The military is an environment conducive to vigorous growth

of the development of a masculine culture. The military helps to

reinforce the masculine identity within its own soldiers. The

military also helps to support a masculine violent culture that can

mature into a rape culture.

Rape is an epidemic in the military. The sexual assaults on

women continue to be underreported due to fear of ridicule and

further violence. “This sexual violence persists in spite of strict

laws against rape in the military” (Benedict). The military fails to

support the eradication of the violence. “The Pentagon’s 2007

Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military found that 47

percent of the reported sexual assaults in 2007 were dismissed as

unworthy of investigation” (Benedict). This report helps to show

that the military has little care or empathy in regards to sexual

assault and further perpetuates the thought that women do not

hold substance in the military.

Sexual assault on females is widely seen as a common

practice in the military. The higher-ranking officers demeaning the

lower rank by emasculating them support violence in the military.

The military fails to promote or recognize any feminine qualities.

Sexist language by these higher-ranked officials emphasizes the

goal of being masculine and further drags down the notion of

femininity. By disregarding and disrespecting the feminine nature

of people the military is conducting masculine violence.

The use of such degrading and derogatory terms coincides

with Kivel’s act-like-a-man box. The thought that men are

supposed to be masculine beings fails to give freedom to behave

in a natural state. There are rules in the military that prohibit the

use of racial slurs however the use of slurs with negative feminine

or homosexual connotations is widely accepted.

As for the argument being deemed feminist hype, these

claims are more about civil liberties. By removing the ability to act

freely as one wish they remove their identity. The military’s goal is

to be one mind, one body, and one man. The military fails to

accept differences in opinion, gender and sexuality. This limits the

humanistic approach to life and interactions with people around

the world. Limitations put on ways to behave coincide with

violence against self and others. The military is already a

masculine violent culture but by degrading an implementation of

behaviors thought to be other than masculine they are creating an

environment conducive to perpetuating violence.

Annotated Bibliography

Benedict, Helen. “Why Soldiers Rape: Culture of Misogyny, illegal


Fuel Sexual Violence in Miltary.” The Lonely Soldier: The

Private War of Women Serving in Iraq . Beacon Press. Boston.


Kivel, Paul. “The Act-Like-a-Man Box.” Men’s Lives . Ed. Michael S. Kimmel and

Michael A. Messner. Pearson. Boston:2007 148-150 .