“Boys don’t cry” stereotypes harm masculinity
By Ashley Altus
“Man up” is a phrase some men, and even some women, have heard in their lifetime.
The Baylor Lariat sat down with Dr. Mark Morman, director of graduate studies, who researches male/male friendships to identify how masculinity affects men and women.
Q: How is masculinity a social construct and what does it mean to be masculine in today’s culture?
A: Masculinity and femininity are both social constructs. The way I sort of separate them is sex is biology. Sex is categorical, it’s either male or female. For the vast majority, people are born one or the other. Gender is social. Gender is continuous that it’s fluid, that it’s not a check the box, that its more or less, both masculine and feminine traits. By social construction, masculinity and femininity are through our social interaction. We created what it meant to be masculine; we created what it meant to be feminine. By “we,” I mean cultures. In some cultures masculinity means different things. We have an American sense of masculinity. That’s why we can say it is socially constructed, because each culture gets to sort of define what it is. Even in the United States we have different social constructions of masculinity and femininity deepening on where you live. It’s very cultural and that’s why we say it’s a social construction. People living in a particular culture get to define what it means, shape what it means and then the most important, they get to police it, or enforce it, through rewards and punishments. Rewarding people for being socially the way we want people to be and in some cases, punishing people for being out of the norm, out of the box, for being so far out from what we think and being so far out from what we think a masculine or a feminine person.
For example, a lot of masculine women often don’t get a fair shake in our culture because we expect women to be more feminine. I’m not saying this is right but it is clearly a bias for sexism. Fairly masculine women often aren’t seen as following the rules, in the same way that feminine men aren’t seen as following the rules for the social construction of masculinity. So often they are sanctioned and face criticism, judgment, maybe some cases even violence, hate crimes and things like that. That’s why it’s all grounded in social. It’s not about male or female chromosomes, it’s about what we have created and defined and constructed socially.
Q: What are some gender stereotypes?
A: Those tend to be the basis for sexist types of beliefs and reactions. I’m not saying these are good or right but like one gender stereotype I deal with a lot in my own research is that men don’t know how to be close friends, that men don’t know how to do friendship, that men are afraid of intimacy or afraid of closeness, or afraid of being a little vulnerable or afraid of emotion, that damages or hurts our ability to be close with other men. I think that’s a big stereotype.
My research shows that men do have very emotional friendships with one another. It may not look the same way that women do, but that men do in fact have strong, intense bonds of friendship. From the feminine side, women aren’t supposed to do certain
They tend to be very hard to change because they tend to be grounded in our families and for you to do something different, then what your mom or dad taught you or roll-modeled for you or expectancies that they created for you, it’s very hard for a lot of kids, a lot of young adult children to do something different then from what mom and dad expect. In a sense, you are confronting your parents, and what they taught you and you are having to say to them that “I don’t necessarily believe that” or “I don’t think you’re right I think women can do these things, I think men can do these things. I think what you’ve taught me or roll modeled for me is one outcome, one path but not the only one. It takes a lot of guts, especially when you come from a very strong a very tight-knit, traditional kind of family.
Q: What feelings do stereotypical masculinity not value?
Stereotypically, masculinity doesn’t value vulnerability. It doesn’t value emotionality, except for like anger. Men can be angry and that’s okay, but men can’t be really anything else. I think that masculinity wouldn’t value things like self-disclosure, revealing yourself to other people, telling about yourself to others, different constricts of intimacy, men are supposed to be independent. I don’t necessarily believe that, I do think that masculinity does encompass a lot of those things and I think that to be truly masculine is a range of characteristics, its sort of like a latitude of characteristics in that men can sort of float back in forth, it’s fluid, it’s in flux. As a man I need to be tough and independent and all that kind of stuff but other times I’m a Dad. I need to be sensitive, and nurturing and caring and loving, and I’m married, and my wife wants me to be open and disclosed and things like that. So I think one way to talk about that is that masculinity encompasses all those different things, it’s just that we don’t necessarily access them, or again back to my original statement that we kind of have both masculinity and femininity characteristics. At times I can be more masculine and at times I can be more feminine. I think we really have both. It’s the clash between the stereotype and the reality of what most of live day to day.
Q: How does masculinity affect men and boys?
A: In pragmatic ways, I think masculinity dictates activities that men and boys engage, making some acceptable and other activities not acceptable. I think masculinity affects career path. Masculinity makes certain career paths for men acceptable and other career options not necessarily acceptable. I think even in my career of teaching, you don’t see a whole lot of men teaching kindergarten and first grade, but you see lots of men teaching on the college level, so for men that want to be teachers, often you have to confront that masculine stereotype. Well if you want to be a teacher, you’re going to have to teach high school or you’re going to have to teach college. What happens to the guy who wants to teach kindergarten? What happens to the guy who wants to teach first grade? I think masculinity effects the career paths that we take. I think it affects the activities that we engage. I guess third I would say masculinity effects men and boys in terms of how we deal with our relationships, whether they are our friendships, or even our romantic relationships. I think there are certain expectations for men and boys grounded in masculine expectations that sort of dictate how we’re supposed to act.
Evolutionary psychology argues that men are supposed to be the providers and the protectors. So to the extent that we are sort of hard-wired to do that as men, then masculinity influences how we do that. How we protect, how we provide, which again goes back to the notion of career and things like that and how we approach and interact with women.
Honestly, I would say that a lot of guys are responding to women based on what they think she wants and what she expects. I think a lot of men have expectations based on what they think women think that were supposed to be. So that men avoid certain behaviors because we think women won’t like that, that it won’t make them look appealing or attractive. And they engage in other behaviors that they think women do like and that women will find attractive and appealing. Again, a lot of it is not based on male or female; a lot of it is based on gender based on social constructions. It’s not the same for everyone.
Q: Does masculinity shame the expression of emotion?
A: I would say it depends on context. I think Sunday night after the Super bowl, you saw a lot of very sad, upset, embarrassed, disappointed men, highly emotional. And yet, there’s sort of a respect for that. A lot of times when a lot of big time athletes, get a little emotional people sort of like that. So I don’t know if shame is the right word, but I certainly think context is the right word. Sometimes in politics you’ll see that. I remember President Bush on a couple of occasions kind of got a little teary-eyed and everyone thought, “Oh that’s great, what a man he is, how strong he is and he can show us that.” But if Hilary Clinton did that, it’d be, “See, see, that’s why we can’t have a women president.” So there’s such a double standard and there’s such hypocrisy and there’s all these stereotypes. I don’t think that shame is the right word, in certain contexts, absolutely. Men are ashamed to show emotion through name-calling through other types of social situations, definitely, but in other contexts, not so much.
Q: How are women treated through masculinity? And how is it affecting women?
A: It depends on the context. Through certain evolutionary standpoint, through survival of the species, I think men look at women as it is our job, it’s our duty, it’s our expectation that men are going to provide and protect women. So from that species survival kind of position that psychologists call evolutionary psychology that notion that the prime objective is survival. And there are certain things that women have to do to make sure we survive. So from that perspective I think a lot of men look at women that’s it’s our job to provide and protect.
Today for the first time perhaps in American history, women don’t really need men anymore. You don’t need us to provide and protect you anymore. You can go get your own job, and have your own money, and have your own house, and have your own food, and you don’t even need men to have babies anymore. That’s the more interesting question to me. Not how men are looking at women, but to me it’s the flip, how to women deal with men and our masculinity.. Now that you don’t really need us anymore, we still need you,. Men still need women for emotional support, for reproduction and all that kind of stuff but you don’t really need us anymore. Those two huge factors for most of our history, provision and protection, aren’t really the case anymore. Masculinity has been framed around that notion of protection and provision. How will women in now and in the future socially interact with men when the equation is changed substantially? That’s what gave men all of our power, to control, because we provided and we protected. And somehow we morphed that into the source of our control of women. Now that’s not the case anymore. What’s going to happen when men need women for the same reasons we’ve always needed women, but women don’t necessarily need men in those same kinds of ways.
Q: Does masculinity contribute to violence against women?
A: Definitely, extreme forms of hyper-masculinity would. The stereotypes, there are some thinking that is a source, but not the only source of a lot of anger directed at women from men, that we’ve lost the sense of control and power and equality has sort of leveled the playing field, that men aren’t in control anymore, and don’t have control and power over women. And for some men, that really is problematic. It drives anger, misogyny and those kinds of issues. They have to be granted in some things. To the extent that men believe that to be masculine is to provide and protect and take care of the women in our lives when women don’t want us to do that or women reject that or women want to negotiate that in a different way. It ramps up their feelings of trying to stay in control and often times that may result in violence or anger or confrontation.
Q: What does it mean to “man up” or “be a man” in today’s society? And how do phrases like these effect young boys?
A: That continuous educational stream from family and as we get older from friends as well reinforcing these notions of manhood and reinforced notions of masculinity in a time when a lot of those don’t really apply anymore. A lot of men see this as bad. I think it’s sort of emancipating. It frees men from this sort of straightjacket that we’ve been in for most of history that we have to act, “this way,” and by letting go of a lot of these things and by reaching sort of an equality of these sort of issues it frees men up to have more options. But as long as we’re saying things like, “man up,” and, “boys don’t cry,” and all of that, we sort of miss or delay the opportunities that are being provided to shake up those definitions of what it means. It’s not so black and white anymore. There’s so much more of a latitude for people to let go of these sort of things.
Biology says it’s the difference between an X and a Y chromosome, but nobody thinks that. Most people think of manhood grounded in masculinity just like most people think of womanhood grounded in femininity. It doesn’t have to be. It can be a combination of both, and most of us are a combination of both, but we allow the context of our day to sort of dictate how we interact with one another, how we communicate with one another, how we treat each other and how we treat ourselves grounded in these notions of masculinity and femininity.
Q: How are boys forced to prove their masculinity in today’s society?
A: The obvious is control your emotions, don’t be seen as emotional, don’t be seen as open, vulnerable, keep it under control. Again, I think it goes back to the activities and jobs we pursue as men as a way to reinforce and identity with those kind of masculine things. I’m doing a study of firefighters right now, and 98 percent of firefighters in America are men. So, “I want to show my manhood, there’s an occupation that will prove it to everyone.” What’s more manly then these firefighter guys that go into burning buildings and save people and rescue and do CPR and it’s an incredibly manly, masculine sort of job. That’s how people are forced, or I would say allowed.
Playing football, even with all this stuff about concussions and how violent the sport is, men are still going to play football. It doesn’t mean girls can’t play football and that girls can’t engage, but I don’t think that it’s the same. I don’t think women play football to prove that their manly. But I think men do play football to prove that their manly. I think that sometimes men do feel forced by other women to act and behave and interact and operate in very kind of masculine ways based on his perception of what she wants. After they get closer and know each other better then she can tell him. It’s on men to react to that.
Q: How can men challenge gender stereotypes of masculinity?
A: They’ve got to be brave, because a lot of times there is a lot of social sanction for challenging for trying something different. I think creating a circle of friends and family who are okay with that, but the problem is finding those people who are going to be supportive in your attempts to do something different. Often times it’s not about challenging the norm, but it’s about reinforcing them. A lot of times we see with our friends and certainly with our family someone who is doing something outside of those expectations and norms and our reactions isn’t, “Oh great, go ahead,” it’s “ You’re going to get in trouble. You’re going to get a lot of negative reactions, so don’t,” it’s like a protective function. If I see my friends acting in a way, my natural reaction may be to pull you back, and say, “You’re about to get in trouble here. You’re about to get hurt. You’re about to get criticized and judged,” that’s the reaction as opposed to promoting.
Q: How and in what ways can masculinity be redefined?
A: I think it’s redefined every time we see somebody that appears to be doing something a little different with some success. That doesn’t happen very often. I hate to turn to actors, musicians, and athletes, but often times those are some of the best case examples of men and women who challenge masculinity and try to redefine it a little bit.
Q: How are gender stereotypes impacting young boys?
A: It’s certainly not as stereotypically as they once did. I think a lot of men, 18, 20 they’ve grown up in our culture and a lot of guys see men and women as equals. Girls can do whatever they want; boys can do whatever they want. They can pursue what they want, so I think attitudes towards all sorts of stuff as changed significantly with your generation. There’s a lot more options. There’s a lot more options for pursuing conceptions of masculinity or femininity of your parents or grandparents. There used to be one sort of one image of masculinity. There’s a lot of different conceptions now of what that can be.