Double Standard of Masculinity in Gender Role Socialization


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 1990).

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