Monday, February 6, 2012

Normative Masculinity

I found a very interesting academic research article titled, "Searching for the Gay Masculinity" (Full text here) which says, in part:

[There are] three types of masculinity. The first type is normative, or hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is the dominant form in a given society. In a Western context hegomonic masculinity is defined as a white, straight, upper middle class, college educated, gainfully employed, Protestant, father, of good complexion, weight, and height, and a recent record in sports. Although this is the ultimate goal, and the standard by which most men measure their own sense of masculinity, very few men actually fit all of these categories. Thus, most men feel like failures with respect to their gender. This sense of failure, leads to an unstable masculine gender identity.

The second type of masculinity discussed in the piece is subversive masculinity. Certain groups of men are in complete opposition to the hegemonic form. These men include those in ethnic minority groups, gay men, and men whoose religion is marginalized, such as Jewish men. These men are forced to develop a gender identity that is completely separate from that of the hegemonic form, this identity is known as subversive masculinity.
The article gives a number of things to think about. Over the next few blog posts, I will explore some of these issues.

Much research, both quoted in this article and in many other academic studies, states that "masculinity is inherently linked with the institution of heterosexuality. The concept of gender implicitly refers to sexuality and the roles one assumes within that sexuality." Further, much research has stated, "gender is a construct of our interactions with society." What I have said in simpler words is that boys are taught from a very young age what are considered "appropriate" gender roles and behaviors. As much as we think that today we are a much more "open" and "flexible" society, the "role training" is so ingrained in adult behavior, that while a father might say that "he doesn't mind" if his young son helps his mother make cookies, that same father is playing sports with his son and encouraging his daughter to play with dolls. Face it; it's reality.

Human sexuality can also refer to the way someone is sexually attracted to another. Boys are taught that they should be attracted to the opposite sex. Interactions of boys with other boys are restricted to play -- usually sports -- which are considered appropriately normative masculine behaviors.

Physical closeness of boys with other boys is restricted or reduced by direct intervention and sometimes by comments from respected elders (parents, family, teachers, and so forth.) It is common to hear a parent say things to a boy about what is considered "correct" behavior when they interact with other boys. Thousands and thousands of these comments and actions are demonstrated by parents and respected elders during the years of a boy's development. No wonder when a boy becomes a man and realizes that he has a same-sex sexual orientation, he naturally becomes very confused about his personal identity. His gender identity has been applied to him over many years, and changing his own perception of his sexual identity through self-realization is a slow and difficult process unto itself -- not to mention the huge external pressures applied by ongoing interaction with other adults important to a guy's personal perceptions and growth.

This is why "coming out" is so hard for gay men. They are taught, expected, and essentially forced by society to repress thoughts, fantasies, and actions that indicate a same-sex preference. When a male identifies his sexual orientation as being male-male, he is challenging the world-view imposed upon him.

How does a gay guy reconcile these challenges, especially when confronted with stereotyped masculinity?

Check back for a future blog post about that, or comment here with your thoughts for me to consider for a future post.

Life is short: understand all of the dynamics that compose what makes you, "you."

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