Double Standard Of Masculinity In Gender Role

Socialization 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 subjective term. After all, shouldn’t one’s own

perception be the determinant of what constitutes masculinity? This self-construction

would be the ideal in our society, but unfortunately, it represents a false

belief. Masculinity has certain characteristics assigned to it by our culture.

In this paper I will explore the many facets of masculinity and demonstrate

how certain beliefs pertaining to it are perpetuated in our society. I

will also uncover many of the contradictions between society’s assigned

definition of masculinity and the expectation that males will somehow learn

how to act contrary to that assigned and learned meaning.

Definition of Masculinity

Men are primarily and secondarily socialized

into believing certain characteristics are definitive in determining their

manliness and masculinity. These characteristics range from not crying

when they get hurt to being and playing violently. The socialization of

masculinity in our society begins as early as the first stages of infancy.

A child’s burgeoning sense of self or self-concept is a result of the multitude

of ideas, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs to which he is exposed (Witt

1997). Later in this paper the question of whether there are genetic factors

will be discussed. However, to further my argument at this point, I will

discuss masculinity as it is socially defined. From the outset of a boy’s

life he is socialized into the belief that he should be ‘tough’. Often

when boys get hurt, ’scrape their knee’, or come whimpering to their mother

or father, the fated words, “Little boys don’t cry”, issue forth. 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 a 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 1997). This

legitimization 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,

etc., and not ’sissy women’s work’ such as cooking and cleaning, etc. Other

factors help to perpetuate certain standards expected of men and boys (Stearns


The violence boy’s witness on television

further legitimates this belief. 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 1995). 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. There was no cross?gender display of

aggressive behavior. Interestingly, not one single-sex commercial featuring

girls shows any act of aggression (Bowker 1998). This research helps explain

that it is not just the reinforcement of close caretakers to the child

that legitimate masculinity but society as a whole (using the television

as a symbol of society and it’s desires).

Another example of how this can be reinforced

even by women who may or may not be trying to promulgate such a 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 pant leg, my first inclination was to break out

crying. However, at that moment my teacher told me what a brave 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. Boys watch how their

fathers dote and fawn over ‘the game’, whether it is football, basketball,

or any other sport that epitomizes masculinity. Children notice that the

‘men’ on TV impress dad and they want to be like that. This initial reinforcer

is a major impetus for boys wanting to learn athletics (Thompson 1995).

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 of these factors serve as primary socializers 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. 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. Often young boys can be found taunting and even

motivating each other with phrases like “Don’t be 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. William Betcher

reports 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 the nose.

The bleeding is a counterpart of menstruation and semen is ingested instead

of mother’s milk” (Betcher 1993). 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 boy’s life to reaffirm society’s beliefs about masculinity.

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

prowess and largess are the ideal. 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 prowess, but the true legitimator

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

swoon over the masculine ‘hunks’.

As young boys move into adulthood they

are told to “be men” when confronted with a formidable 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 a sign of weakness and society would view them as abnormal or inferior

(Pollack 1995).

I have covered the socialization process

showing how physical prowess is objectified and legitimated in males. 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 copy of Men’s Health. Invariably you will find on the cover,

men flaunting their toned, muscular bodies, and often you will find them

with a seductively beautiful and toned woman by their side. These toned

and muscled men are seen and depicted by society as the ideal. 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. How

often are men asked “Did you see the game last night?” or “How about them

Jazz?” In the work place and social groupings, men often turn the topic

of conversation to athletic events, enthralled and enraptured by the topic.

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.

Is this all that society (and women) want

in men? Do they want simple-minded ‘hunks’ of musculature that are ‘tough’.

It is no longer sufficient for men to just be ‘tough’ physically. They

must also demonstrate competence intellectually, spiritually and emotionally.

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. William Pollack, a Harvard clinical psychologist, talks about

how males have been put in a “gender straightjacket” that leads to anger,

despair and often violence. Pollack states, “We ask them (men) to take

a whole range of feelings and emotions and put those behind a mask . .

. We tell them they have to stand on their own two feet and we shame them

if they show any emotion.” Pollack says that boys are shame phobics and

“some will [even] kill to avoid shame”(Gwartney 1998). It appears that

the standard defined by society allows men to express their emotion only

through anger. With such strict conflicting expectations, a male often

doesn’t know how to act. Rigid stereotypes have been emphasized to them

from an early age of what it means to really be a man. However, men are

often criticized for being one dimensional in their behavior and emotions.

They are expected by society to be sensitive

and show their emotions. “Men are so insensitive!”‘ Are they? Why do women

think men are so insensitive? Do they realize that insensitivity is what

men have been taught their whole lives? Realistically, men are in a no?win

situation. If they don’t show their emotions, they are berated for being

detached from the essence of what really constitutes a human being. On

the other hand, if a male decides to expose his emotions, he is labeled

as a “sissy” and not viewed as equal to other males who demonstrate more

valor and bravery.

Genetics vs. Socialization

Why do we choose blue for boys and pink

for girls? Why do we have girls take dance and boys play baseball? There

is no genetic difference as to why women would do laundry and a man would

mow the lawn. This is a result of externalization (Bowker 1998). But are

males more prone to ‘toughness’ and masculinity than women? Could it be

said that genetics play a factor in what is so often considered to be a

socially defined aspect of male masculinity?

In general, males are much more aggressive

than females. Biologists and anthropologists would propose that this is

because humans have evolved from a polygamous society. In that society

males competed hard to procreate, and females worked to raise and support

the young. These roles demanded aggression in males, and promoted rules

such as hierarchy, competition and dominance.

A theory promulgated by David Buss takes

into consideration the social side of aggression while maintaining that

biological instincts are the underlying cause. He suggests in his book

The Evolution of Desire that the existence of large numbers of men who

cannot attract a mate may increase sexual aggression and rape. He states

that “violence is often the recourse of people who lack resources that

would otherwise elicit voluntary compliance with their wishes.” Rape occurs

more often by men who lack the status and resources that women want in

mates (Buss 1994).

Richard Wrangham and Dale Petersen take

another perspective with their insightful article about primates. From

their research they conclude that a high percentage of matings were forced

copulations. These findings were mostly with the orangutan species, but

there is also evidence that chimpanzees and ducks participate in what appears

to be rape. The theories suggest that natural selection has favored rape

as a way for smaller males to impregnate females. This theory has also

been argued with humans. Thus it could be said that males are genetically

prone to violence and aggression (Wrangham 1997).


Is there a double standard in masculinity?

It is apparent through my arguments that society 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?


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