Male Socialization Essay, Research Paper
While there are many competing theories surrounding the development of gender roles, this one fact is incontestable and unavoidable: men and women are socialized differently. There is not yet enough conclusive evidence to determine how large of a role biology plays in creating the gendered psyches, but, whilst scientists continue to explore the intricacies of neurology, we can draw conclusions about how social mores assist in instilling masculinity and femininity into our culture. The following pages will explore how U.S. culture affects the socialization of its males.
The male infant born in the United States of America is born into a legacy of masculine expectations. From pre-industrial times until the 1960?s, the ?good provider? role of fathers dominated family ideology. Although all family members contributed to subsistence activities during pre-industrial times, men provided the dominant source of authority within the household. When the economy of the U.S. moved outside of the household during the industrial revolution, men?s family roles became primarily concerned with economic support. Due to the nature of this necessary absence of the father from his family, sons (and daughters) viewed their fathers? role within the family to be primarily that of the provider. While the mother?s ?job? was to provide emotional support and nurturing, the father?s ?job? was to provide security in the form of finances.
During the 1960?s, women began to elbow their way into the work force in larger numbers while men simultaneously began a retreat from their instrumental role in financial security. This retreat manifested itself in two ways: men either increased their activity in child rearing and household duties, or turned away from those roles entirely. Within a household that has a father present, a son identifies his father as being akin to himself. If, as is the pattern with most families living within the U.S., the father remains the primary breadwinner of the family, the son internalizes the idea that a man is someone who is depended upon for stability and practicality. If, as many men have noted of their childhoods, their father is emotionally unavailable, then boys are taught that the mysterious thing that is masculinity is about stoicism, silence, and a willingness to bear things out on one?s own.
When a boy is brought up apart from any real-life male role models, he is forced to turn to the men he sees in books, magazines, and film for guidance along the path to manhood. Even young men with father figures in their lives are beleaguered by these caricatures of masculinity. Often what boys encounter when turning on the television or flipping through pages of books and magazines is our society?s love affair with ?the lone gun man.? He is romanticized in all forms of media. He is physically strong, stoic, quiet, aloof, and untouchable. He is John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway, and Indiana Jones. This, boys often infer, is what real manhood is all about, for these are the sort of men that women desire and other men emulate.
When boys reach school age, they encounter further socialization in the form of peer groups, as well as difficulties within the learning environment. For every one girl that has ADD, there are six boys with the dysfunction. For better control of the class, teachers most often punish rowdy behavior while praising those students that possess the ability to sit quietly and listen. Boys have more difficulty with this ?quiet-time? mentality, as well as the language and reading skills that are focused on at an early age. As a result, they often feel inadequate or hostile to the learning environment. The need to ?prove? themself usually results in dominating behavior. Dominating behavior is linked to viewing others as a threat, and viewing others as a threat leads to emotional isolation. Herein lies the key to male depression.
Ever since depression was labeled a disease, society has thought of it primarily as a woman?s disease. The common visual symptoms of depression involve characteristics more often attributed to women, such as the displaying of emotions and letting one?s emotions visibly affect one?s life. These characteristics counteract our society?s stereotypical definition of a man, so we often support the idea that a man shouldn?t, or even can?t become depressed. Although depression itself is a disease that will probably always affect human kind, and cannot always be blamed on society, the fact that so many cases of depression go untreated, especially in men, can be blamed on society. As a direct cause of man?s socially learned detachment from emotion, male depression becomes viewed as shameful and goes ignored, denied, and untreated.
The phenomenon of untreated male depression is rooted in two of society?s most damaging ideas about men and emotion. One idea is that men ought not talk about or express their emotions. Psychologist Larry Ettkin hypothesizes that while growing up males have a hard time finding people with whom they can share their emotions. Growing up, boys often do not view their mother, usually the ?nurturing,? ?comforting? parent, as someone they can share their feelings involving sexuality, anger, and aggression with. They often see their fathers as distant, emotionally unavailable, and the people who ?dish out? punishments. Although this can lead to some amount of healthy bonding with other adult role models and with male peers, often it leads to men growing up with an underdeveloped sense of their own emotions.
On the level of personal preservation, it is almost necessary that men do not disclose their emotions, for society will often chastise them for it. Researchers Hammen and Peters conducted a study on this issue. They had hundreds of college students, male and female, go to their roommates for help with their own depression. A distinct pattern developed in which females were met with nurturing support and genuine concern, and males were more often confronted with distancing and even blatant hostility.
Another contributor to male depression is the prevalent idea that men, if they should have the audacity to possess emotions, should at least have the good courtesy to be unaffected by them. Long-standing traditional male heroes are often ?men of steel? (Superman, Robocop, the Terminator). This illustrates the social stigma that to be a ?real man,? one cannot be vulnerable. Our society rewards a man who ignores and endures pain before it awards a man who is affected by pain and strives to change it. This reality teaches depressed men to hide their emotional pain by becoming workaholics, alcoholics, emotionally distant and/or physically abusive with their families. These problems are more often thought of as being male problems, but not often thought of as being caused by male depression.
Psychologist Terrence Real has found that ?men tend to manifest depression differently than women.? He believes that this is a large reason why men do not get diagnosed with depression as often as they should. Therapists are looking for certain characteristics of depression that are more common in depressed women than in depressed men. More often than not, women tend to internalize their depression, whereas men externalize it. For example, in mental hospitals women rank much higher in incidents of self-mutilation, and men rank much higher in incidents of outward violence. Unfortunately, even when men do go to therapy for their externalized symptoms, such as alcoholism or abusive tendencies, the underlying cause–their depression–is never treated. Frighteningly, many psychologists are now theorizing that the shorter life span of men is not due to biology, but due to men?s socialized roles of stoicism and their denial of mental or physical pain. Ironically, the stigma that portrays males as invincible is exactly what is making them vulnerable.
Although the power of society that works against a man?s relationship with his emotions is strong, there are some things he can do to help himself. One step that many men have taken that has changed their entire outlook on life is joining a men?s support group, also known as a ?consciousness-raising group.? Typically, a men?s support group is a casual but organized group in which men get together on a regular basis for a set amount of time to discuss certain personal issues that are central to being a man. The topics discussed are usually chosen by the members of the group, and include such issues as women, relationships, child rearing, work, and personal body images. People can discuss personal issues that they are going through in their lives at the time, or they can simply sit and listen until they are comfortable enough to talk.
The main goal of men?s groups is to give men a chance to break some of the social barriers of masculinity that keep them from experiencing or sharing male intimacy and their emotions. Many men report having been able to share their feelings, but only with their women friends. They?ve always felt their women friends would be more receptive of their emotions and more able to help them deal with emotional distress. There is nothing wrong with a man wanting to share his emotions with a woman friend. What is wrong is men going to women because they feel they can?t be emotionally free enough to confide in their male friends. It is wrong that men should always have the fear that other males can?t or won?t accept their emotions as a legitimate part of who they are. A man?s doubt of other men?s ability to accept his emotions inevitably reflects his doubt of his own ability to deal with emotions. Perhaps many men regularly choosing their female friends over their male friends to discuss emotional issues with is a result of and a perpetuating cause of the idea that a male?s intimate abilities are inferior to those of females.
Men?s groups strive to instill a true feeling of intimacy between men, not under the assertion that women are evil and should be avoided, but because men cannot have an intimate relationship with themselves if they cannot have intimate relationships with other men. Through this intimacy, men learn the universality of their problems. They can stop believing that they are the only ones going through pain, and they see how other men are affected by their own failures and insecurities. The idea that they are the only ones experiencing their problems pressures them to believe that the only appropriate role for them in society is that of the silent stoic. Finding that there are other men who feel pain similar to theirs helps many men to break away from that role.
One of the most eminent problems facing American society today is violence. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 9 out of 10 murderers are committed by males, and an estimated 50% of those males are under the age of twenty-five. In fact, the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four year olds is murder. What factors contribute to male violence? And why is the violent criminal becoming increasingly younger?
Throughout the past few decades, there has been much controversy surrounding violence in males ? specifically in regard to biological and sociological contributions. While most Americans are distinctly aware of the biological differences between boys and girls and the effects of testosterone vs. estrogen, most Americans are still largely unaware of the true impact society has on their child?s development.
From the moment of birth, boys are treated very different from girls. Even before birth, most parents know the sex of the baby and prepare accordingly ? such as wallpaper with pictures of balls, bats, gloves, etc. Mothers and Fathers also hold their sons further away from their bodies, and usually talk louder and less often to their sons. During play, fathers are more aggressive with boys than with girls. These actions, sociologists believe, create the foundation in which boys become aggressive, more easily aroused, and desensitized.
During adolescence, boys receive further clues pertaining to their roles as boys. Parents purchase and encourage toys that are made for boys, while discouraging toys usually reserved for girls. A majority of these toys, such as guns and action figures, promote an environment conducive to ?killing the bad guy.? On the playground, boys from an early age form social hierarchies and taunt each other toward greater and greater risk-taking activities.
Of all the activities employed to prove masculinity, none is more powerful than sports, specifically football. Starting in high school, boys who are good enough to make the varsity football teams tend to be highly admired. For many of their peers, male and female, they represent the essence of masculinity. When it comes to music or film stars, there is often a generation gap in the taste of adolescents and their parents. But athletes get parents?, especially fathers?, stamp of approval. In fact, for many American fathers having a son who is neither interested in sports nor athletically inclined is little short of a tragedy.
While nothing is intrinsically wrong with organized sports in school, there can be detrimental affects when there is an inordinate emphasis on competition and winning. When ?60 Minutes? did a program in youth football they found that the emphasis was very much on winning. This emphasis in winning encourages boys to do whatever it takes to take home the trophy ? including violence. As on high school football player states, ?You?re afraid of getting hit in the knees, of having the wind knocked out of you, but you don?t tell your buddies, only you know. You come through the crises, and you feel good about yourself, that you conquered your own fear.?
Life is filled with difficulty, danger, and suffering. Many parents wonder what is wrong with teaching boys and men to overcome their fears, to be courageous, to withstand pain. But when a high school football player is drugged up with painkillers in order to play, when he plays with injuries that, if aggravated, could lead to permanent damage, he is learning much more than to withstand pain. He is learning to sacrifice his body unnecessarily and to hide all feelings of fear and vulnerability, however warranted they might be. He is also being taught to sacrifice the bodies of others. If he is willing to risk serious injury to himself, then why shouldn?t he be willing to risk injuring others seriously? If he is not allowed to feel sympathy for himself when he is injured or justifiably frightened, why should he feel empathy for anyone else? Their willingness to sacrifice themselves has everything to do with proving their manhood.
Another tactic used to decrease empathy and thus increase the propensity for violence in players is initiated by the coach. The tactic is language. While at a superficial level language appears to be harmless, an in-depth analysis reveals otherwise. The language of sport is filled with insults suggesting that a boy who is not tough enough, who does not live up to the masculine mystique, is really a girl or homosexual. Football player David Kopay states that his high school coach ?like many other coaches, used sexual slurs ? ?fag,? ?queer,? ?sissy,? ?*censored*? to motivate or intimidate his young athletes.?
?60 Minutes? reports the frequent use of this kind of language even among eight-year-old boys in Little League. Boys use expressions like ?You?re a faggot? or ?God, he?s gay.? Each insult means that the target has not lived up to expectations of appropriate male behavior, and is being sanctioned.
The significance of this type of thinking, talking, and acting on the psyche of young boys can be illustrated if we reverse the situation. Imagine girls from age six on involved in an activity so highly respected, like football, that the women who are most proficient at this activity are regularly invited to the White House for celebrations and serve as role models for other children throughout the country. When they are involved in this activity, little girls and later women constantly use terms and expressions like ?dyke,? ?mock? (combination of ?man? and ?cock? similar to ?wuss?), or ?You wear a jockstrap,? to embarrass and insult each other. Imagine a respected and admired female leader of these activities putting a jockstrap in a girl?s closet or locker in order to insult her.
We are so accustomed to women and homosexuals being denigrated that we must do this reversal in order to appreciate fully how much such attitudes encourage disrespect and contempt for women and homosexual men. How many fathers would allow their daughters talking like this? But many mothers accept their son?s denigration of women as part of being a ?real boy.? Surely it is no accident that Bobby Knight, who puts sanitary napkins in basketball players? lockers in order to insult them, has also commented on TV that if a woman can?t do anything about rape, she may as well lay back and enjoy it. Fortunately, Bobby Knight?s career has come to an abrupt end recently due to excessive violence.
As we have seen, it starts much earlier, but from high school on, the concern with dominance, winning, and manhood rather than just enjoying the sport becomes all to apparent. Football in particular affords boys a legitimate opportunity to deal with the self-doubts and insecurities of adolescence by asserting their physical dominance over others. If once combines this early reinforcement of physical dominance with the ongoing expression of contempt for girls and women, it is easy to see how the end product, for some of the more angry or disturbed players, may be rape. A June 3, 1990, New York Times article states ?interviews with rape-crises counselors as well as results of studies of assaults on college campuses indicate that athletes are involved in a disproportionate number of rapes and other sexual assaults.?
The key to alleviating these incidents of male violence and depression is to be found within the study of gender socialization paired with biological findings regarding the human brain.
Fivush, Robyn & Golombok, Susan. Gender Development. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, NY, 1994.
Kelley, Gary F. Sexuality Today. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, NY, NY, 2001.
Lewis, Robert A., ed. Men in Difficult Times. Prentice Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1981.
Real, Terrence. I Don?t Want to Talk About It. Scribners, NY, NY, 1997.
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