As students, we face the choice of companionship or ostracization. Accepting (or not accepting) social norms alters people’s perception of us and, consequently, the interactions we have with them. For men, abiding by these norms is complicated by masculinity. Known informally as “guy code”, these unwritten rules are “carefully monitored by the self-appointed gender police, ensuring that everyone constantly complies with … [it] – even if they don’t want to” (Kimmel 98).
Because of this, boys are socialized through masculinity; that is, masculinity outlines the ideal characteristics and specific behaviors that boys must learn, adapt to, and embody to become “ideal men”. The sex-role identity and role strains perspectives outline the negative effects of socialization by masculinity. This paper discusses the four tenets of masculinity, examines current perspectives, and details the consequences of using masculinity as a tool for socialization. Andrew Smiler defines masculinity using the “Big Four”.
The first two principles – “don’t be a sissy” and “be a big wheel” – center around male value in society and the categorical rejection of the feminine. “Don’t be a sissy” is an umbrella phrase for masculinity’s dictation of aesthetic, taste, and body language that paints masculinity as the opposition to femininity. The second principle of masculinity details male value and states that men exist to become valuable and useful members of their society. However, this category places more importance on perception than reality. The third principle – “sturdy oak” – defines ideal male characteristics.
Smiler discusses that “masculinity was operationalized as ‘powerful, strenuous, active, steady, strong, self-confident… ” (17). This principle of masculinity crafts men into predictable and unmoved individuals. In addition, the “sturdy oak” principle encourages cynicism: motivation by self-interest. “Give ’em hell”, the final principle of masculinity, calls for men to be leaders. Smiler asserts that “masculinity is nonfeminine (or ‘antifeminine’), independent, status-oriented, heterosexual (or ‘antihomosexual’), tough, and takes risks” (18). The “give ’em hell” principle focuses on masculinity’s priorities of independence and status.
More specifically, this principle details that masculinity is men’s motivation to challenge others, establish authority, and stray away from being controlled. This all leads to a narrow perspective where men can be nothing but the masters of their own fate. Understanding these four tenets is essential to analyzing the negative effects of masculinity on socialization. The problems of socialization by masculinity are outlined by Joseph Pleck through four views that are categorized into two groups, the “sex-role identity” and “role strains” perspectives.
With the precondition that traditional male roles are socially desirable, the “sex-role identity perspectives” target the difficulty men have upholding the standards of masculinity. On the other hand, role strain views are neutral to the desirability of masculinity; instead, role strain theorists target the disconnect between traditional and modern male roles. Despite these differences, however, proponents from both perspectives argue that socialization by masculinity is harmful for boys. The rest of the paper discuss these perspectives on masculinity and argues against the way masculinity influences the socialization of boys.
The “individual-level” and “cultural-level” views are “sex-role identity” perspectives that dominate literature as the primary methods of socialization-analysis. Pleck explains that men fear and try to control women because they fear the feminine part of their own identity generated by their early attachment to the mother and more generally because boys are socialized to be masculine by avoiding femininity rather than by directly imitating male models” (Pleck 159) in the “individual-level perspective. Put simply, because boys learn to be anti feminine at a young age, they struggle with identity.
With near-exclusive care by the mother during infancy, boys experience an identity crisis that leads to hypermasculinity as boys over-conform to masculine standards. In addition, the individual-level perspective summarizes men’s treatment of women: men control women to separate themselves from their earlymotherhood attachment. The “cultural-level” perspective discusses the problematic nature of attaining masculinity with respect to time period. Pleck discusses that “the shift from the traditional to the modern male role has left men without activities and experiences which validate their masculinity” (Pleck 159).
In other words, the modern-day world does not offer men the same opportunity to validate their masculinity. Because men were accustomed to the dominant role in relationships, today’s movement towards relationship equality is unsettling. Through these factors, we see that traditional masculinity is an unachievable standard given the means provided by modern masculinity. Masculinity’s consequences are uncovered by the sex-role identity theorists who ascribe men’s treatment of women to their conformity to rigid masculine norms and attribute the male identity crisis to the inability to validate their masculinity.
These consequences offer insight into the negative effects of masculinity, which are further evinced by the “role strain” perspectives. Joseph Pleck continues to discuss masculinity’s negative effects on socialization through the “role strain” perspectives. The first “role-strain” perspective, “contradictory-demands”, highlights the disconnect between male-childhood socialization and maleadult expectations. Pleck writes “Where childhood socialization valued physical strength and athletic ability and taught boys to shun girls, adulthood confronts males with expectations for ntellectual and social skills and for the capacity to relate to females as work peers and emotional intimates” (160). “Contradictory-demands” proponents argue that the instrumental-expectations men are accustomed to, have been replaced by expressive ideals. Thus a contradiction arises. During childhood, boys learn to value physicality, athleticism, and anti-femininity through masculinity.
As adults, however, these boys (now men) are expected to be intellectual, social, and emotionally intimate with all genders. Inherent role strain”, the final perspective, summarizes that despite modern, masculine socialization, men will still experience role strain. Pleck analyzes that “This role strain would not be between different features of the role or between norms internalized at different periods in development, but between modern male role demands and more fundamental personality needs” (Pleck 161). Proponents of “inherent role strain” study the limitations of masculinity and conclude that the anachronistic traditional masculinity is dysfunctional and therefore obsolete.
Inherent role strain also examines modern masculinity, but is cautious in its analysis as this perspective is fairly new. Whether it is the socialization of boys into anti-feminine men who don’t meet society’s equality-focused expectations or masculinity’s inability to fulfill men’s needs, role strains perspectives exhibit the consequences of masculinity through the disparities between childhood socialization, the expectations of men, and men’ needs. The specific consequences of masculinity are studied by professors Michael Addis and Anne Moller-Leimkuhler.
Whether they are direct or indirect, masculinity leads to emotionlessness and behavioral changes which, in many cases, induces “lack of help-seeking, aggressiveness, risk-taking behaviour, violence, alcohol and drug abuse” (Moller-Leimkuhler 7). This said, masculinity’s reach across nearly every aspect of a man’s life results in consequences that can impact men in any context. Although the consequences Moller-Leimkuhler discusses focus on the sex-role identity perspectives, Addis’ work leans towards the role strain perspectives.
He concludes “that adherence to traditionally masculine norms is associated with higher levels of depression on measures that include primarily internalizing symptoms” (Addis 163). That is, when men are not able to adhere to male roles, the depression that ensues is not expressed to avoid embarrassment. As such, men are left to internalize their depression which can lead to suicide. These specific consequences of masculinity offer just a peak into realm of masculinity’s problematic effects. The sex-role identity and role strain perspectives differentiate the effects of masculinity on socialization.
Masculinity can be described through the “big four” tenets: don’t be a sissy, be a big wheel, be a sturdy oak, and give ’em hell. “Sex-role identity” proponents argue against masculinity on the basis that socializing boys with masculinity creates unachievable, rigid standards for men that lead to the poor treatment of women and a lack of self-validation. “Role strain” theorists work to abolish masculinity because of the disconnect between traditional and modern masculinity and inability to fulfill men’s fundamental needs. These perspectives allow us to understand the consequences of masculinity as a vehicle for socialization.
Masculinity manifests a lack of emotion and behavioral changes within boys that ultimately leads to depression, violence, and internalization during adulthood. With this said, choosing between companionship and ostracization is not a simple decision. For men, this is impacted by the ever-present masculinity whose consequences men cannot escape. In conclusion, there are many lenses through which we can study masculinity, but not matter what lens we look through, the consequences of socializing with masculinity are always present.