When people think of the patriarchy, many people do not consider how encouraging highly masculine values in society can be destructive and oppressive of the male population. Men and boys are socialized into masculine behaviors and ways of thinking because people have preconceptions of what being masculine means. Then the internalization of masculine values and social behaviors can have detrimental mental and physical health repercussions on the male population.
Gender socialization is the process in which children, starting from birth, are socialized into masculine and feminine gender roles based on their sex. Furthermore, gender stereotypes are used as the basis for reinforcing traditional gender roles. For example, males are encouraged to be adventurous, assertive, aggressive, and independent, and females are taught to be sensitive, dependent, emotional, and people-oriented.
Research indicates that socialization into a hegemonic masculine ideology can be detrimental to emotional and relational development, and overall health. Hegemonic masculinity is a cultural dominant form of masculinity that emphasizes physical toughness, emotional stoicism, self-sufficiency, and heterosexual dominance over women. This form of masculinity is enforced and rewarded toward men and boys through various agencies including family, peer groups, school, and media. It is important to consider that individuals have varying degrees of masculinity which is evidenced by characteristics and social behaviors that are generally considered masculine. These varying degrees could indicate the extent to which individuals will internalize masculinity ideology, or the belief of the importance of accommodating culturally defined norms and expectations for male behavior. Lastly, ideals of masculinity are never fully attained, according to gender-role strain theory, because males tend to fall short of what is culturally expected of them which leads to men and boys engaging in behavior which “proves” their masculinity.
As previously mentioned, family, peer groups, and the media are the primary socializers of masculinity. Isabella Crespi discusses several theoretical approaches to gender socialization. She emphasizes social learning theory as one of the primary means in which children learn behaviors which are considered appropriate for their sex. In a family setting, which is the first stage of socialization, parents socialize children through toys, clothing, chores, and rules, all of which communicate the parents’ values and attitudes about what they believe is appropriate for a child. Children observe and internalize these messages which form the basis of their understanding of how they are supposed to behave. Furthermore, W. W. Meissner illustrates how a young boy’s gender identity solidifies after having built a firm sense of masculinity from the father and other male models. He argues that boys’ exposure and social interaction with peers and older men increases the likelihood of identification with male figures which stabilizes their gender identity.
In his 2008 book Guyland, Michael Kimmel explains the belief system of what it means to be masculine and a man. Through his research he asked young college men what it means to be a man. He lists the most common answers: “The first thing someone usually says is “don’t cry,” then other similar phrases and ideas---never show your feelings, never ask for directions, never give up, never give in, be strong, be aggressive, show no fear, show no mercy, get rich, get even, get laid, win---follow easily after that." In other words, they must present a façade to the world that one is in control and that everything is fine. Kimmel also describes the concept of “gender police” who enforce the boundary line between masculinity and femininity. According to Kimmel, if a man refuses or resists those boundaries, gender police and their followers will use put-downs as punishment. It's possible that gender police will also resort to other forms of punishing socialization techniques. Furthermore, these punishments could also serve to reinforce those boundaries to anyone else who might think of resisting. These examples illustrate how, through peer influence, men are pressured to internalize what is means to perform masculinity and to be a man.
The media is another socializing agent that reinforces gender roles and gender stereotypes. Male-oriented media, such as sports programming, video games, and men’s magazines, especially communicate themes associated with hegemonic masculinity. The themes focused on in S. Giaccardi's study include: aggression, power and dominance, status seeking, emotional restraint, heterosexuality, and risk taking. They utilize cultivation theory to explain how “frequent exposure to consistent media themes or stereotypes leads viewers, overtime, to cultivate or adopt beliefs about the real world that coincide with media content.” Moreover, research demonstrates a positive correlation between male-oriented media and men’s adherence to masculinity ideology.
J. Chu and M. Porche explain that boys are not inherently less capable of being emotionally attuned and relationally responsive than girls. Instead it is a socialization pattern enacted by parents who, as W. W. Meissner states, “are less prone to discuss emotions with boys and generally communicate less information about feelings to boys. Moreover, J. Chu and M. Porche reference how males become “alexithymic,” or unable to articulate emotions, as a result of their gender socialization. W. W. Meissner also explains that the lack of parents discussing emotions with sons may result in boys being unaware of emotional states in themselves and others.
The pursuit of fulfilling hegemonic masculinity standards often result in toxic practices such as violence, aggression, and competitiveness which can lead to risk-related social behaviors like drug abuse, delinquency, unprotected sex, and suicide. Furthermore, having to constantly prove one’s masculinity can lead to negative self-judgments and low self-esteem thus affecting psychological health.
Suicide is a specific form of violence connected to men’s gendered socialization behaviors toward violence and aggression. According to the World Health Organization, the suicide rate of males per 100,000 people in the United States was 19.4, compared to the female rate of 5.2, in 2012. Sarah Payne asserts that “In Western societies, masculinity is associated with the desire for power and dominance, and men are expected to display courage, independence, rationality and competitiveness, while concealing vulnerability and weakness." She also argues that males may participate in risk-taking behavior as a requirement for fulfilling a masculine gender. Lastly, males are also discouraged from help-seeking behavior because hegemonic masculinity prioritizes independence, and help-seeking behavior implies a loss of status and autonomy. Thus, research demonstrates that males are more likely to commit suicide.
As a feminist, I am constantly reminded of the systematic oppression against women, and how women experience oppression in their own way. However, it is important to remember that hegemonic masculine values promoted by the patriarchy are also highly oppressive of the male gender. This is why all genders must reflect on our own words and behaviors and consider if we too are gender policing. Encouraging men and masculine identifying individuals to be strong, independent, assertive, and completely "unfeminine," reinforces the hegemonic masculinity and limits them from sharing their experiences, concerns, and feelings, and thus making it difficult to connect with others on deeper levels.