Noir Definition | Emasculation

Noir Definition UPDATE: January 28th 2012

10. Emasculation

Noir Definition Mad Men

Roger Sterling, Peggy Olson, Don Draper, Joan Holloway, Pete Campbell (via

Only recently apparent to me is the frequent theme of emasculation in the noir genre. Emasculation in noir refers to robbing a male of his “manliness” in some degree; either through humiliation or through some means of impotence. Examples: A man can’t provide for his family, he’s beaten or humiliated by some thugs, he loses his livelihood, he can’t land the femme fatale, his health fails, or he literally has his “manhood” taken away (read Sin City: That Yellow Bastard). Often the driving theme of a noir piece is the fear of emasculation, even if it hasn’t occurred yet. In Night and The City, Harry Fabian becomes more and more desperate as he becomes more and more emasculated by his failures to succeed.

If you’re still failing to grasp what I’m referring to, look at Mad Men for example; Don Draper, Pete Campbell, Roger Sterling, and others each have a certain masculine ideal which they subscribe to. For Pete it’s success in the workplace without the aid of others, for Don it’s strength and privacy, for Roger it’s health and sexual conquest, for others it’s something else. Although each man may have a slightly different definition of masculinity, ALL of them fear its loss and panic when it’s endangered. Pete’s marriage suffers when he fails at work, when Don’s secret past rears itself he attempts to flee, and as Roger’s health plummets he weeps like a child; each of them are emasculated by their greatest fears. Thus our noir definition is expanded.

Got any ideas for the noir definition? email me: chad.delisle [at]


Filed under Noir Definition

4 responses to “Noir Definition | Emasculation

  1. Justinian Difo

    I understand and agree with the first paragraph and your description of noir masculinity; but I do not agree with your Mad Men example. Though the three characters you describe are worried about loosing their “glory”, I don’t specifically believe this is tied to their masculinity. This does not fit into what masculinity is for the noir area.

    • Thank you for the comment but I disagree. Having watched every available episode of Mad Men to date, I cannot part with what I’ve stated previously. The entirety of the show is built on the foundation of gender roles; specifically the domination of the masculine in the workplace following WWII and the Korean War. These men are constantly threatened by not only the situations I described, but by successful women and other men as well. You can see this in the rivalries that develop between Don and Henry Francis (his ex-wife’s new husband) and between Don and Stan Chaugh (a rival creative director). I stand by my analysis.

      • Justinian Difo

        Oh I thoroughly agree with that. But film noir constitutes emasculation, which is what i said above. Mad Men is a show about show about what it means to be a man in that time. Not the latter.

      • Thanks for the perspective and the rousing discussion. I truly appreciate thoughtful input and feedback. Well done sir!

Leave a Reply to Justinian Difo Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s