Male Socialization and Masculinity

Read about important lessons in male socialization and the messages they send.

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Male Socialization and Masculinity

The social construction of masculinity begins as soon as we are born and continues for the rest of our life (Bem, 1993; Money & Tucker, 1975; Zilbergeld, 1992). Money and Tucker (1975, p.86) assert we learn gender identities and expected gender roles much the same way we attained speech. We are born hard-wired for speech, but not programmed. Programming for speech occurs as we are exposed to the language spoken to us by our parents and those around us in our society. From the moment the doctor pronounces "it's a boy" males begin to establish a sense of gender-identity. By the time we can speak, we can already identify our gender (Thompson, 1975). As we learn the language of our society, we also learn what the expected gender-roles are for us. According to Bem (1993), “male-female difference is superimposed on so many aspects of the social world that a cultural connection is thereby forged between sex and virtually every other aspect of human experience, including modes of dress and social roles and even ways of expressing emotion and experiencing sexual desire."

According to Zilbergeld (1992), by the age of six or seven most of the important lessons in male socialization have been learned. One of these messages is "don't be like a girl” (p. 23). Zilbergeld explains, "Since females of all ages are the softer ones--the people who express feelings, who cry, who are people oriented--not being like them is an effective way to suppress the softer side of males" (p. 23). Negative reinforcers such as name-calling--"sissy" "girl" or "fagot"--keep boys from straying too far from what is expected. They also send the message that to be masculine, you must be heterosexual (Herek, 1986).

Homophobic name-calling is used to keep boys in line (Linn, Stein & Young, 1992). Name-calling creates or reinforces hostility towards the gay and lesbian population and it forces all children to follow strict sex-role behaviors to avoid ridicule (Gordon, 1983). Homophobia, in this sense a fear of being perceived as gay, is said to be perhaps the greatest pressure boys face while growing up (Friedman, 1989) and is considered the ultimate weapon in reinforcing rigid sex-role conformity (1983). According to Friedman (1989), homophobia sparks male hatred of women and fear of closeness to other people. Rigid sex role stereotypes prevent heterosexual males from establishing meaningful and intimate relationships with other men and women and set up male-female relationships based on male superiority that preclude the possibility of true intimacy (Neisen, 1990).

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