Double Standard Essay, Research Paper
Masculinity is a topic that has been debated in our society extensively, through research as well as in informal settings. Many wonder what it means to be masculine, and if we can really assign a definition to such a term. After all, shouldn’t ones own perception determine what is masculine. This would be ideal in our society, but unfortunately, it isn’t. Masculinity has certain characteristics assigned to it by our culture. In this paper I will explore masculinity and demonstrate how certain beliefs pertaining to it are in our society.
Men are primarily and secondarily socialized into believing certain characteristics are definitive in determining their manliness and masculinity (Witt, 76). These characteristics range from not crying when they get hurt to playing violently. The idea of masculinity in our society begins as early as the first stages of infancy. A child’s sense of self or self-concept is a result of the multitude of ideas, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs to which he is exposed (Witt, 76).
From the start of a boys life he is socialized into the belief that he should be “tough”. Often when boys get hurt or come whimpering to their mother or father, the fated words, ” Little boys don’t cry” , are said. Children internalize parental messages regarding gender at an early age, with awareness of adult sex role differences being found in two-year-old children. One study found that children at two and half years of age use gender stereotypes in negotiating their world and are likely to generalize gender stereotypes to a variety of activities, objects, and occupations (Witt, 76). This teaches males that boys and men are not allowed to cry. There also exists the belief that boys are often required to do men’s work outside of the home such as mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage, ect., and not sissy women’s work such as cooking and cleaning, etc. Other factors help to create certain standards expected of men and boys.
The violence boy’s witness on television further legitimates this. Katz explains that advertising imagery equates masculinity with violence. For boys this means aggression is instrumental in that it enables them to establish their masculinity (Katz, 91). Lee Bowker researched the influence advertisements have on youth. He asserts that toy advertisements featuring only boys depict aggressive behavior. Strangely, the aggressive behavior generally results in positive consequences more often than negative. Bowker also looked at commercials with boys that contain references to domination. The results of all the commercials indicate that 68.6% of the commercials positioned toward boys contain incidents of verbal and physical aggression (Bowker, 119). There was no cross gender display of aggressive behavior. Interestingly, not one single-sex commercial featuring girls showing any act of aggression. This research helps explain that it is not just the reinforcement of parents to the child that legitimate masculinity but society as a whole. Another example of how this can be reinforce even by women who may or may not be trying to promote such belief is with an experience I had growing up. When I would get a cut or a bruise, I would muster up all the strength I had to not cry. I feared that if I cried I wouldn’t be worthy of being a tough kid. On one occasion I had a severe cut in my knee that required several stitches. When I took a look at the wound after rolling up my pants., my first thought was to break out crying. However, at that moment my teacher told me what a brace boy I was and how amazed she was that I was not crying. She probably did not realize that she was sending a message to me that if I cried I would not be tough enough, and therefore I would not become a real man.
Athletics is another type of legitimation that reinforces society’s definition of masculinity (Stearns, 211). Boys watch how their fathers get so interested in the game whether it is football, basketball, or any other sport that enforces masculinity. Children notice that the men on TV impress dad and they want to be like that. This initial reinforcer is a major influence for boys wanting to learn athletics (Stearns, 211). It may not be just that dad watches athletics on TV, but also in speaking with his son, he may encourage him to develop his athletic prowess. He can do this in ways such as buying him a baseball glove so they can spend time playing catch, or buying him other masculine athletic equipment such as guns. All these factors serve as primary socializs in instilling within boys the desire to excel physically. Similarly, how often are young boys seen competing with each other in bike races, acts of physical strength or even in something as simple as “my dad can beat up your dad.” Little boys are taught to see physical prowess as the ideal form of masculinity (Stearns, 212).
An interesting aspect of masculinity is that we are not taught so much to be manly but rather to not be feminine. Most of what a young boy learns about what it means to be masculine is presented to him at such an early stage that he accepts it as an inevitable truth (Buss, 45). Often young boys can be found taunting and even motivating each other with phrases like “don’t e a sissy girl” or ” only girls do that.” It seems that there is a pervasive fear among all males that the worst possible insult is to be labeled a female. David Buss says that some societies take this concept to an extreme. He talks of the initiation rites of the Sambia of New Guinea saying, “Initiation rites begin when boys are seven to ten years old and include oral ingestion of older boys semen and painful bleeding by sticking grass reeds up their nose. The bleeding is a counterpart of menstruation and semen is ingested instead of mothers mild” (Buss, 213). Although these actions seek to mark the boy as “not a woman”, ironically they incorporate basic feminine biologic functions that men lack. Secondary socialization then acts in the later stages of a boys life to reaffirm society’s beliefs about masculinity (Buss, 213).
As boys grow older, their bodies develop and they enter junior high and high school. At this point they begin to really understand that physical power and largeness are the ideal needs for masculinity. To see how this is done, we can simply look at the emphasis given to athletics versus the emphasis given to academics in public schools. Understandably, how schools emphasize athletics over academics is going to have some influence over the way young men think and visualize the importance of physical strength, but the true factor is how athletes are seen by the student body of the school. Pep rallies are thrown to support the athletes, the stars of the school. Girls swarm over the masculine hunks. As young boys move into adulthood they are told to be men when confronted with a challenge or when they face some sort of agony. The implication in this phrase is that men should be immune to pain and not show any emotion. To show emotion would be sign of weakness and society would view them as abnormal or inferior (Gwartney, 23).
This process, however, does not end in high school. As men move into their twenties and thirties, health and fitness become issues of concern. To see how health and fitness are socially defined as overly muscular men, one need only pick up a comp of Men’s Health. You will find on the cover, men flaunting their toned, muscular bodies, and often you will find them with a deductively beautiful and toned woman by their side. These toned and muscled men are seen and depicted by society as the ideal masculine object. They may not be the healthiest individuals and probably are not. Nevertheless, they are deemed as the ideal men of our society. Along with the emphasis on health and fitness comes the continued advent of athletic prowess (Gwartney, 24). How often are men asked “did you see the game last night?” or “How about them Rams?” In the work place and social groupings, men often turn the topic of conversation to athletic events. From the beginning of male life to the very end, society has determined that men must be strong, tough, aloof, and powerful to be considered masculine and not weak or effeminate (Gwartney, 24). Is this all that society (and women) want in men? Do they want simple-minded hunks of muscle that are tough. IT is no longer sufficient for men to just be tough physically. They must also demonstrate competence intellectually, spiritually and emotionally ( Gwartney, 25). This argument is not to say that being physically fit and healthy is a negative characteristic, but rather it is only trying to point out that what society is defining as the ideal is later revoked by that same society, or at the very least discarded and seen as secondary to the truly important mental prowess, sensitivity and intelligence. This is where the double standard becomes evident.
Is there a double standard in masculinity? It is apparent through my arguments that sociey expects men to be both tough and gentle while some might argue that genetics, instincts and their animalistic nature for men to act more tough than gentle. The paradox is evident, the source ambiguous. Regardless, masculinity is an unrealistic expectation of men. Who or what are they supposed to be?
Bowker, Lee H. Masculinities and Violence. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications Inc., 1998.
Buss, David. The Evolution of Desire. New York, NY. St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
Gwartney, Debra. “Double bind of boys concerns psychologists.” Oregon Times, October 17, 1998.
Katz, Jackson. “Advertising and the construction of violent white masculinity.” Newsweek,
Stearns, Peter N. Be a Man! Males in Modern Society. New York, NY. Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc. 1990.
Witt, Susan D. “Parental influence on children’s socialization to gender roles.” Adolescence. 1997.