‘Crisis of Masculinity’ is a Manifestation of the General Crisis of Authorization — Işık Barış Fidaner

Those who answer the question “Does the crisis of masculinity exist?” positively and negatively can be both responded with “You’re right too!” as in the story in which Nasreddin Hodja plays the judge [1]. Hodja’s wife who says “How can they both be right at the same time?” is also right. Because the crisis of masculinity both exists and does not exist.

One cannot deny the reality of the crisis that the concept of ‘crisis of masculinity’ refers to, but this concept is a deceptive disguise. The real ‘problem’ that manifests in the form of ‘crisis of masculinity’ is a general crisis of authorization [2]. The crisis of authorization belongs to both men and women; all humans undergo this crisis. The greatest manifestation of the crisis is the migrant population without documents; it’s the abyss between ‘citizen rights’ and ‘human rights’. The neoliberal precarization that the ones who were able to become a citizen undergo is another manifestation of the same crisis [3]. The general authorization crisis is disguised as a ‘crisis of masculinity’ because the current gender regime ‘naturally’ assigns the role of authorization to men [4].

The crisis of authorization is essentially about the relativity of language. The famous linguist Ferdinand de Saussure said that the words in language do not match the concepts they signify in an absolute manner, they instead match them in an ‘arbitrary’ manner: The same concept is called ‘tree’ in English, ‘ağaç’ in Turkish, ‘dar’ in Kurdish; and there is no rule for this, the concept of ‘tree’ may be designated by any word in any other language. The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan insistently emphasized that this arbitrariness observed in these signifiers in language never implies ‘randomness’. According to him, there is a substance that determines this relation; he called this substance ‘enjoyment’ (jouissance). Enjoyment names the determining factor over the unconscious desires revealed by Sigmund Freud who is the founder of psychoanalysis.

The enjoyment in language prevents us from mastering the words by our conscious will. So one can say that we don’t ‘use’ the words, instead the words ‘use’ us:

The signifier’s displacement determines subjects’ acts, destiny, refusals, blindnesses, success, and fate, regardless of their innate gifts and instruction, and irregardless of their character or sex. (Jacques Lacan, Écrits)

Human does not speak language, language speaks the human. That’s why people are not only unable to master foreign languages, they cannot even master their own mother tongue. Since authorization always depends on linguistic performances, the inability to master the spoken language always implies a crisis of authorization. People devise tools like grammar rules and political correctness in order to bring the general crisis of authorization under control but these efforts cannot solve the crisis.

The concept that gives the best articulation to the manifestation of the crisis of authorization as a ‘crisis of masculinity’ is ‘masculine imposture’ [5]. The role assigned to men by the gender regime is to get authorized by linguistic performances. But as we said above, one cannot master the substance of enjoyment that determines the function of signifiers by one’s conscious will. This is the relativity in language; we find this relativity in practice when someone interprets another’s speech in a different way or ‘misunderstands’ it. That’s why we call the assumption of masculine identity by masculine performance an ‘imposture’.

The paradigm of imposture is the imposture of masculinity but it has other implications; the assumption of any particular identity via language is always ‘imposture’, because there is always a factor of relativity and enjoyment in language. The phenomenon of ‘imposter syndrome’ experienced by people who assume academic identities reflects this reality. Clinging to a particular ‘essence’ by posturing an identity is in fact essentialism. One alternative commonly used by women is known as the strategy of feminine masquerade. In contrast to the masculine imposture’s clinging to particular ‘essences’, the strategy of feminine masquerade clings to the universality of lack [6]. The daily reality consists of particular ‘essences’; the truth points to the absence and lack of these ‘essences’. That’s why masculinity and femininity relate to one another in the form of reality and truth [7].

The truth of the crisis of authorization is the exposure that the daily reality is merely an imposture of identity. But the exposure of this truth does not solve the crisis of authorization, instead it deepens the crisis. Unfortunately, deepening the crisis does not lead to a revolutionary solution either, instead it results in the vicious cycle of the accusatory Superego. The true solution becomes possible by distinguishing the desire to repair from the desire to decompose and thereby constituting the real will [8].


Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


[1] https://roguish.wordpress.com/2017/11/18/nasreddin-hodja-plays-the-judge/

[2] See “The Crisis of Authorization in Dark”, “The Coronavirus Crisis”

[3] See “Fütursuz Çağa Karşı Sütur”

[4] See “The Traversal of the Phallus”, “The Paradox of the Phallus”

[5] See pages 61-66 from Jennifer Friedlander’s Feminine Look (2008).

[6] For the political interpretation of this opposition, see Todd McGowan’s Universality and Identity Politics (2020).

[7] See “Masculine and Feminine: Truth, Reality and Semblances”

[8] See “Desire to Repair and Desire to Decompose”

Thanks to Zeynep Nur Ayanoğlu who opened the topic of this text.


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