Monday, April 1, 2013

Blog Post #8: Masculinity and Teen Violence

Blog Post #8: Masculinity and Teen Violence
Extended Comments: Linette 

This week’s blog will be an extended comment on Linette’s post. Like Linette, I agree that socialization is more to blame than biology. Society’s construction of gender is extremely damaging to boys as well as girls, but in different ways. Boys are taught to be assertive (and often violent), fostered by a “boys will be boys” mentality; when they “play fight” as children, it is viewed as natural in a way that it wouldn’t were two little girls fighting instead. Further, from a young age they learn that stoicism and manliness are one in the same. As Linette notes, they are taught to keep their emotions bottled up, as “boys don’t cry.” In fact, when boys do cry, they are compared to girls (as “crybabies”), which, they learn, is a “bad” thing – and, thus, gender is even more securely rooted in their heads as “male” or “female,” with no in-between, rather than as something fluid and constructed by society. That they feel the need to protect their "manliness" in the event of the "gay-baiting" discussed in the article is the fault of society for purporting such homophobic, gender-rigid ideals.

(An aside: on Easter this year, I watched my cousin M (who’s my age, 21) play with my cousin B (who is five). Cousin M looked over at my uncle (B’s father) and commented on the blue smeared on B’s lips from a lollipop, noting that it looks like lipstick. He turned to B and told him that lipstick wasn’t something that boys wear. When I chimed in that anyone could wear lipstick, I heard him sigh (I could practically feel the eye-roll) and reiterate his point to B. Further arguing over the damaging nature of gender roles ensued, which ended in M’s counter of my “boys can wear makeup, too” (and something about gender being a construct of society): “of course it’s possible, anyone could wear makeup, but I could jump off a cliff, too, and I don’t.” And, of course, more debating occurred (not particularly intellectual on anyone’s end, because everyone except B -- the only under-aged person in the whole building -- was drinking). But I was struck by how sad it was. When we were five, M and I used to play dress up with my dance outfits and princess costumes (there is photographic evidence) and, other times, pretend we were adventurers or superheroes (“Puppy Boy and Kitten Girl”). Whatever I liked, I passed along to M, who also enjoyed it (regardless of whether it was “girly” or not). He didn’t start acting the way he does now until being ridiculed by my brother and his friends (around middle school age, I believe), who thought he was whiny; they wanted to “help” him (to “fix” him). M wasn’t born with the inherent mindset to be “tough” and “manly;” he was taught this. And, not only is it sad, in regards to my worry for B and the gender roles he’s seeing, it’s very telling of society in general).

Not my cousin. But messages on pictures like this (like "future embarrassment guaranteed") make me sad. Because, of course this little kid should feel embarrassed for dressing like a girl. So icky! Why would anyone want to be a girl? Ugh. I should stop before this turns into a full-blown rant....

Anecdote aside, Linette is correct about the gender divide of “boys” to be damaging for males, too. She notes that it implies that they cannot control their actions; in a way, this means that men are being infantilized, in a way, as we brush off their misbehavior as part of natural behavior (again, “boys will be boys”). This reminds me of rape culture, in the arguments that girls have to watch what they wear because boys can’t control themselves; this is damaging for both genders. Boys can control their actions (even if they were taught as children that it’s their natural disposition); when they rape, it’s a choice. They should be insulted by the argument that they are so out of control that they are incapable of decision making. Kimmel notes in his article that the one striking difference between the genders is a propensity for violence. Males (as noted by the school shootings) are far more likely to lash out violently than females. Fostering empathy in both boys and girls as children as well as allowing them to express their emotions and dismantling dominant ideas of "masculinity" would make the world a safer place.

Finally, I like that Linette points out that feminism is actually helps men.  I’ve heard the anti-girl argument before in regard to education (did you know in some Ivy schools boys are receiving “affirmative action” because the schools want to keep the gender balance equal? More girls are applying than boys – and more girls meet their standards than boys – but they want to keep things even… or so they say). Some people assert that girls excelling academics are damaging to boys in the classroom, and that classrooms are more suited to benefit girls than boys. Regardless, feminism does, in fact, promote equality for girls and boys, as well as the healthy expression of emotions.

Questions for class:

Out of curiosity, what do you think of boys receiving “affirmative action” to keep the gender structure in Ivy schools 50/50? Further, how do you think we could go about challenging this ideology of “boys will be boys?” Do you think that preventing this damaging hegemony of boys as naturally violent from reaching children will help to change things?


  1. Boys receiving affirmative action to keep the gender structure would just prove that that act of legislation has lost any of its potency and people who advocate for that are missing the point. Affirmative action is not just a numbers game, it's about EQUITY not equality so to speak. If the structure is still unbalanced in men's favor, even with more women attending school (in certain programs!) then there is no need for straight White men to take part in affirmative action (obviously men of color have reasons to take part, as well as men in the LGBT community). For affirmative action to be just about getting the numbers to be even then...well, that'd just be a very sad day and it would make me very pessimistic about their being any chance for us to have a true conversation and action on the macro/structural level.

    I like the picture that you chose ("future embarassment guaranteed") it works very well with the content of your post, particularly the anecdote. It's so interesting how exaggerated they had to be, they not only put him in pink but in a princess costume. Very interesting.

    I agree with you about the boys will be boys mentality. It's totally infantilizing and insulting to men. I think I may have posted it early on in the semester, but Perrault's version of little red ridinghood basically had the moral that states that all men are potential wolves to womenfolk need to constantly be careful, and that those men who seem really nice are most likely the worst wolves of all!! This is terrible to teach women AND men. Boys don't need to be taught that they have an inherently animalistic nature! It's false and it not only insults them but it gives them an excuse for bad behavior. It contributes directly into rape culture, I'm glad you brought that up.

    Great post, again.

  2. Hi Julie!
    I really liked your post so I'm going to link it in with my blog this week along with Linette's (:

    I agreed with both of you that socialization is more to blame than biology--I believe that people are products of both biology and their environment. Great job with incorporating your thoughts & Linette's!