Male Socialization

Male Socialization While there are many competing theories surrounding the development of gender roles, this one fact is incontestable and unavoidable: men and women are socialized differently. There is not yet enough conclusive evidence to determine how large of a role biology plays in creating the gendered psyches, but, whilst scientists continue to explore the intricacies of neurology, we can draw conclusions about how social mores assist in instilling masculinity and femininity into our culture. The following pages will explore how U.S. culture affects the socialization of its males. The male infant born in the United States of America is born into a legacy of masculine expectations.

From pre-industrial times until the 1960s, the good provider role of fathers dominated family ideology. Although all family members contributed to subsistence activities during pre-industrial times, men provided the dominant source of authority within the household. When the economy of the U.S. moved outside of the household during the industrial revolution, mens family roles became primarily concerned with economic support. Due to the nature of this necessary absence of the father from his family, sons (and daughters) viewed their fathers role within the family to be primarily that of the provider. While the mothers job was to provide emotional support and nurturing, the fathers job was to provide security in the form of finances.

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During the 1960s, women began to elbow their way into the work force in larger numbers while men simultaneously began a retreat from their instrumental role in financial security. This retreat manifested itself in two ways: men either increased their activity in child rearing and household duties, or turned away from those roles entirely. Within a household that has a father present, a son identifies his father as being akin to himself. If, as is the pattern with most families living within the U.S., the father remains the primary breadwinner of the family, the son internalizes the idea that a man is someone who is depended upon for stability and practicality. If, as many men have noted of their childhoods, their father is emotionally unavailable, then boys are taught that the mysterious thing that is masculinity is about stoicism, silence, and a willingness to bear things out on ones own.

When a boy is brought up apart from any real-life male role models, he is forced to turn to the men he sees in books, magazines, and film for guidance along the path to manhood. Even young men with father figures in their lives are beleaguered by these caricatures of masculinity. Often what boys encounter when turning on the television or flipping through pages of books and magazines is our societys love affair with the lone gun man. He is romanticized in all forms of media. He is physically strong, stoic, quiet, aloof, and untouchable.

He is John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway, and Indiana Jones. This, boys often infer, is what real manhood is all about, for these are the sort of men that women desire and other men emulate. When boys reach school age, they encounter further socialization in the form of peer groups, as well as difficulties within the learning environment. For every one girl that has ADD, there are six boys with the dysfunction. For better control of the class, teachers most often punish rowdy behavior while praising those students that possess the ability to sit quietly and listen.

Boys have more difficulty with this quiet-time mentality, as well as the language and reading skills that are focused on at an early age. As a result, they often feel inadequate or hostile to the learning environment. The need to prove themself usually results in dominating behavior. Dominating behavior is linked to viewing others as a threat, and viewing others as a threat leads to emotional isolation. Herein lies the key to male depression. Ever since depression was labeled a disease, society has thought of it primarily as a womans disease.

The common visual symptoms of depression involve characteristics more often attributed to women, such as the displaying of emotions and letting ones emotions visibly affect ones life. These characteristics counteract our societys stereotypical definition of a man, so we often support the idea that a man shouldnt, or even cant become depressed. Although depression itself is a disease that will probably always affect human kind, and cannot always be blamed on society, the fact that so many cases of depression go untreated, especially in men, can be blamed on society. As a direct cause of mans socially learned detachment from emotion, male depression becomes viewed as shameful and goes ignored, denied, and untreated. The phenomenon of untreated male depression is rooted in two of societys most damaging ideas about men and emotion. One idea is that men ought not talk about or express their emotions.

Psychologist Larry Ettkin hypothesizes that while growing up males have a hard time finding people with whom they can share their emotions. Growing up, boys often do not view their mother, usually the nurturing, comforting parent, as someone they can share their feelings involving sexuality, anger, and aggression with. They often see their fathers as distant, emotionally unavailable, and the people who dish out punishments. Although this can lead to some amount of healthy bonding with other adult role models and with male peers, often it leads to men growing up with an underdeveloped sense of their own emotions. On the level of personal preservation, it is almost necessary that men do not disclose their emotions, for society will often chastise them for it.

Researchers Hammen and Peters conducted a study on this issue. They had hundreds of college students, male and female, go to their roommates for help with their own depression. A distinct pattern developed in which females were met with nurturing support and genuine concern, and males were more often confronted with distancing and even blatant hostility. Another contributor to male depression is the prevalent idea that men, if they should have the audacity to possess emotions, should at least have the good courtesy to be unaffected by them. Long-standing traditional male heroes are often men of steel (Superman, Robocop, the Terminator).

This illustrates the social stigma that to be a real man, one cannot be vulnerable. Our society rewards a man who ignores and endures pain before it awards a man who is affected by pain and strives to change it. This reality teaches depressed men to hide their emotional pain by becoming workaholics, alcoholics, emotionally distant and/or physically abusive with their families. These problems are more often thought of as being male problems, but not often thought of as being caused by male depression. Psychologist Terrence Real has found that men tend to manifest depression differently than women. He believes that this is a large reason why men do not get diagnosed with depression as often as they should. Therapists are looking for certain characteristics of depression that are more common in depressed women than in depressed men.

More often than not, women tend to internalize their depression, whereas men externalize it. For example, in mental hospitals women rank much higher in incidents of self-mutilation, and men rank much higher in incidents of outward violence. Unfortunately, even when men do go to therapy for their externalized symptoms, such as alcoholism or abusive tendencies, the underlying cause–their depression–is never treated. Frighteningly, many psychologists are now theorizing that the shorter life span of men is not due to biology, but due to mens socialized roles of stoicism and their denial of mental or physical pain. Ironically, the stigma that portrays males as invincible is exactly what is making them vulnerable.

Although the power of society that works against a mans relationship with his emotions is strong, there are some things he can do to help himself. One step that many men have taken that has changed their entire outlook on life is joining a mens support group, also known as a consciousness-raising group. Typically, a mens support group is a casual but organized group in which men get together on a regular basis for a set amount of time to discuss certain personal issues that are central to being a man. The topics discussed are usually chosen by the members of the group, and include such issues as women, relationships, child rearing, work, and personal body images. People can discuss personal issues that they are going through in their lives at the time, or they can simply sit and listen until they are comfortable enough to talk. The main goal of mens groups is to give men a chance to break some of the social barriers of masculinity that keep them from experiencing or sharing male intimacy and their emotions.

Many men report having been able to share their feelings, but only with their women friends. Theyve always felt their women friends woul …


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