Americanness, Masculinity, and Whiteness: How Michigan Militia Men Navigate Evolving Social Norms


Cooter, Amy. 2013. "Americanness, Masculinity, and Whiteness: How Michigan Militia Men Navigate Evolving Social Norms." PhD. Diss. University of Michigan. 

Author: Amy Cooter


This dissertation is based on three years of ethnographic fieldwork and 40 indepth interviews with members of the Michigan militia. Militia members are mostly white men who believe in an originalist interpretation of the Constitution. Armed with rifles, they practice paramilitary exercises and protest various government actions. Militia members see themselves as "super citizens" who embody national ideals of freedom and equality even as they face public criticism as being violent, socially regressive, and racist. My dissertation examines how members respond to changing ideas about equality and inclusion while belonging to a group that lauds a mythic vision of the nation where white men had exclusive social power. I find that most militia members genuinely try to be egalitarian, and the ways in which they fail are instructive regarding white men's conceptualizations of other groups. I argue that an idealized national identity, strongly influenced by mythical stories of the country's founding, shapes members' responses to a variety of issues. Specifically, I find that members use the militia space to test and expand constructions of what it means to be a man in contemporary U.S. society even as they reference themes of a traditional, hegemonic masculinity when explaining their militia participation. Regarding race, militia members tend to be accepting of African Americans, but make very little effort to accept Muslim Americans. I argue that members have largely integrated anti-racist norms about African Americans, but they fear physical harm and change to an idealized national identity from Muslims as a result of past violence and attendant political change. Militia members' relationship to authority, primarily embodied by law enforcement actors is similarly complex. Members are likely to comply with authoritative actions they understand to be legitimate and in accordance with Constitutional principles and defy those actions they understand to be illegitimate. This work challenges current understandings of masculinity and whiteness, particularly among lower-middle class, American men as it shows that men who strongly value a mythical American identity that is premised on the social power of white men nonetheless consciously grapple with issues of gendered and raced equality.

Topics: Civil Society, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militias, Non-State Armed Groups, Race, Religion, Rights, Violence, Weapons /Arms Regions: Americas, North America Countries: United States of America

Year: 2013

© 2024 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at