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Male Gender Identity Devlopment


Male Gender Identity Development

Delilah Montecino

HD 300
November 25, 2014

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


“The most complex, demanding, and all-involving role that a member of society must
learn to play is that of female or male” (Eitzen, D., & Zinn, M. 2006, p.252). Lorber (2004) said,
gender is taken for granted by most people; gender is something many people assume to be
engrained in our genes (p.54). “By age 2, children already know their own sex and become more
aware of gender with every year of childhood” (Berger 2006, p.311). Gender is “an assignment
that will last one’s entire lifetime and affect virtually everything one ever does” (Eitzen, D., &
Zinn, M. 2006, p.252). I have an intrinsic understanding of what it means to be raised with a
feminine gender identity in the United States. I understand and have faced the stereotypes about
my gender and the expectations of what it means to be female form both sexes. I have a personal
understanding of many the effects on development of being socialized as a female. With that said
I realized how limited my insight into the opposite gender was and I became fascinated with
what it means to be a male in the modern day United States.
“Society molds boys and girls along different lines” (Eitzen, D., & Zinn, M. 2006, p.253).
“Sex/gender differences are pervasive, apparent to every observer and no single perspective can
explain them all” (Berger 2006, p. 312). Gender assignment begins at birth, with a quick look at
the infants’ genitals, many feel “uncomfortable until we have successfully place the other person
in a gender status”(Lorber 2004, p.54). “Identity as a male or female is an important feature of a
child’s self-concept, and major source of self-esteem” (Berger 2006, p. 311). I wanted to
understand the effects of the social construct of gender that begins moments after one emerges
from their mother’s womb. I became especially how males form their gender identity. I also
wanted to gain a deeper knowledge of the effects on self-esteem if a male does not fit into their
prescribed role.

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


Literature Review
“The self-esteem and self-concept that young children tend to develop lead to a cognitive
drive to categorize themselves as male or female and to behave in ways that fit the category”
(Berger 2006, p. 315). According to Kimmel (2004) the definition of manhood can be summed
up in four phrases: “no sissy stuff”, “be a big wheel”, “be a sturdy oak” and “give ‘em hell” (p.
86). Let’s look at “no sissy stuff”; by socialization males may not do anything that “remotely
suggest femininity” (Kimmel 2004, 87). “In Western societies…the underlying cultural images
for masculinity generally continue to mean being rational, protective, aggressive and dominating,
while those for femininity mean being emotional, nurturing, receptive and submissive”
(Diamond 2005, 1105). The family setting is “one of the strongest influences on gender role
development in children” and the traditional view of gender is often reinforced through father
and son relationships, “fathers have been found to reinforce gender stereotyping more often than
mothers” (Eitzen, D., & Zinn, M. 2006, p.253). “No father wants his son to grow up
being a pussy, sissy, punk or softy, terms commonly associated with boys
who fail to live up to the traditional standards of masculinities of America”
(Harris, F., & Harper, S. 2008, p. 27). “Fathers expectations are reinforced through
their daily interactions with their sons and reflected in the toys they
purchase, games they teach and the strategies they employ for punishing
and rewarding gender performance”(Harris, F., & Harper, S. 2008, p. 27). “Fathers
[tend] to rough-house more with their sons, who learn to do likewise” and
fathers praise boys when they don’t cry saying for instance, “he took it like a
man” (Berger 2006, p. 324).

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


Fathers are mostly responsible for getting son’s involved in sports and
martial arts as well as other stereotypically boy activities (Harris, F., & Harper, S.
2008, p. 27). Sports typically reinforce societal expectations of males and females, with the
dominant and aggressive role of the athlete being filled mostly by males and females filling the
more passive role of cheerleader/supporter (Eitzen, D., & Zinn, M. 2006 p.258). “Sports
provide context for boys to establish status by way of physical dominance
and competitiveness” (Harris, F., & Harper, S. 2008 p. 27). Part of being a male is to
participate in a sport, this idea in combination with the pressure from fathers and
other male adult figures to “perform gender along stereotypical norms leads
boys to internalize the masculine values of competitiveness, toughness and
aggressiveness” (Harris, F., & Harper, S. 2008, p. 27). “Boys who are not gifted
athletically and those who are uncomfortable interacting in male dominated
spaces struggle to gain the acceptance of their peer [and adult role models]
they are often the targets of teasing and bullying” (Harris, F., & Harper, S. 2008, p.
“Boys among boys are ashamed to be unmanly”, failure to embody the
social rules of manhood is a source of male confusion and pain (Kimmel
2004, p. 86). In adolescence, boys learn that their peer groups “are a kind of
gender police, constantly threatening to unmask us as feminine [so] our
efforts to maintain a manly front cover everything we do. What we wear. How
we talk. How we walk. What we eat.” (Kimmel 2004, p. 89) Gender is
something we all experience but for males “masculine identity is born in the
renunciation of the feminine, not the direct affirmation of the masculine,

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


which leave the masculine gender identity tenuous and fragile” (Kimmel
2004, p. 87). Insecurity about their manhood causes some males, especially
those in adolescence, to prove their musicality and it may manifest as
bullying a weaker male (Kimmel 2004, p. 87). “We test ourselves, perform
heroic feats, take enormous risks, all because we want other men to grant us
our manhood” (Kimmel 2006, p. 87), this embodies another one of Kimmel’s
(2004) four rules of manhood “give ‘em hell”, which is the idea that to be a
accepted as a male one must be wiling to take risk. With this statement
Kimmel (2004) also relates the importance of the peer group’s recognition of
one’s masculinity as a pretext for being accepted as one of the boys (p. 87).
Male gender identity is built on the idea of “not being a woman”
(Kimmel 2004, p. 86). This theory of male gender identity paints a portrait of
an identity built on being male in relation to women (Phillips 2006, p. 411).
“Terms used to refer to men who fail to invoke their power…appeal to images
of women as animals (i.e. pussy and bitch) and consequently emasculate
and thus dehumanize men” (Eitzen, D., & Zinn, M. 2006, p. 262). The
contemptuous term faggot is commonly used to demean a male that does
not fit the masculine gender stereotype. Calling a male a faggot usually has
less to do with implicating them as a homosexual and more to do with
comparing them to a woman, the ultimate insult to a man since their gender
identity is built on a foundation of being the antithesis of a female (Kimmel
2004, p. 88). “A male’s life is a project to demonstrate that he possesses
none of his mother’s feminine traits” (Kimmel 2004, p. 87).

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


Another commonly perceived feminine trait is being emotionally
expressive which leads us to back to Kimmel’s (2004) rules of manhood, “be
a sturdy oak” (p. 86). This is the idea that men must be calm and reliable in
a time of crisis and hold their emotions in check, being a man “depends on
never showing one’s emotions” (Kimmel 2004, p. 88). “Girls are encouraged
to be more nurturant an emotional” while “boy code restricts emotional
expression” (Harris, F., & Harper, S. 2008, p.27). Kimmel (2004) says, “Historically
and developmentally, masculinity as been defined as… the repudiation of
femininity” this refusal to even remotely exhibit female traits lead men to
push away their mothers along with their “traits of nurturance, compassion,
and other tenderness” as well as “suppress those traits in himself” (p. 87).
Starting in elementary school “boys are more likely to hide their negative
emotions, such as sadness” (Santrock, J. 2008, p. 365). Harris, F., & Harper, S.
(2008) refer to male gender role conflict (MGRC) which is characterized as the “negative
consequence of the discrepancies between men’s authentic selves and the
idealized socially constructed images that are culturally associated with
masculinity.” (Harris, F., & Harper, S. 2008, p.29). One of the behavioral patterns
that emerge as a result of MGRC is restricted emotionality, “this relates to
men’s difficulty or unwillingness to express their feelings, their refusal to
display emotional vulnerability, and their disdain for male femininity” (Harris,
F., & Harper, S. 2008, p.29). A result of restricted emotionality is that a male will not seek
support or help “through counseling and other means of emotional expressiveness” inability to
deal with their emotions can lead to depression (Harris, F., & Harper, S. 2008, p.29). “Men

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


who have internalized restricted emotionality can be overwhelmed by failure,
setbacks and frustrations” these feelings are instead internalized and
“surface through acts of aggressiveness and in extreme cases physical
violence.” (Harris, F. & Harper, S. 2008, p.29). “Male inexpressiveness can hinder
communication [in families and relationships]” (Eitzen, D., & Zinn, M. 2006, p. 279). Many men
turn to “exclusion and escape…[as] the dominant method…to keep their fears of humiliation at
bay”(Kimmel 2004, p.92)
Kimmel’s (2004) final rule for manhood is to “be the big wheel” this means that one of
the measures of masculinity is “power, success, wealth and status” (Santrock, J. 2008, p. 86).
“Men boast to one another of their accomplishments, from sexual conquest to the size of the fish
they caught…and parade the markers of manhood: wealth, power, status and sexy women” in a
desperate attempt to gain the approval of their male counterparts (Kimmel 2004, p. 87).
Interestingly enough “socialized control power and competition is a second pattern of MGRC…
[which] describes a man’s tendencies to compete with and show superiority over other men in
order to assert his masculinities” (Harris, F. & Harper, S. 2008, p.30). As a pattern of
MGRC when “men are unsuccessful in securing the power and control within
these and similar context they often rely on other, usually destructive
strategies for doing so” (Harris, F. & Harper, S. 2008, p.30). Another pattern
of MGRC is the male obsession with achievement and success that leads to
“fears of failure and intense pressure to succeed” if a man experiencing
MGRC does not perceive himself as successful the results [may] be physical
and emotional stress as well as substance abuse to help “sooth anxieties”

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


(Harris, F. & Harper, S. 2008, p.30). Men are often socialized to play “the
breadwinner role” (Harris, F., & Harper, S. 2008, 33).
According to Kimmel (2004) many American men tend to feel
powerless, that is partly due to the fact that the masculine norm in our
country is constructed so that “only the tiniest fraction of men come to
believe that they are the biggest wheel, sturdiest of oaks, the most virulent
of repudiators of femininity and the most daring and aggressive” (p. 91)
What many consider the “normal” male experience is really
“heteronormative masculinity” (Phillips, D. 2006, p. 417). Family and society help shape
our ideas of gender, as stated previously father and son interactions are “especially critical during
the process of gender socialization”, father’s shape son’s gender identity around the father’s
internalization of what it means to be masculine and quite often “fathers perceptions of
masculinity are heavily influenced by traditional and socially constructed expectations”(Harris,
F., & Harper, S. 2008, p. 27). For men “acts of a physical strength, aggression, competitiveness,
heterosexuality, risk taking and emotional stoicism signify an assumed essential masculine
identity” (Phillips, D. 2006, p. 417). Gender is developed over time by the “repetition of acts
within a rigid regulatory frame” that is culturally constructed, this repetition teaches individuals
as well as society the parameters for being categorized as masculine (Phillips, D. 2006, p. 418).
Adolescent boys are considered “normal males when they take up and repetitively perform
gestures and displays like athleticism, toughness, domination, bullying, heterosexuality and
violence” (Phillips, D. 2006, p. 418).

“Many men’s studies scholars reject the notion of a

universal masculinity [but] contemporary (and historically) writing on men and masculinity
implies and reproduces…a normative and masculine essence” (Phillips, D. 2006, p. 419). Gender

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


identity is not fixed in males or females, and the rigid view that they are does “little to improve
the mental and physical health of men or the safety of women and men from unhealthy practices
of masculinity” (Phillips, D. 2006, p. 420). Males who fail to meet the standards of manhood
“are likely to view [themselves] during moments at least as unworthy, incomplete and inferior”
(Phillips, D. 2006, p. 407). Violations of the masculine code lead to “cultural condemnation and
negative psychological consequences like poor self-esteem and negative self judgments”
(Phillips, D. 2006, p. 407). “Men who openly reject” the dominant culture’s view of masculinity
also risk being ostracized and having their manhood questioned by their peers, which has a
negative impact of self concept which also adversely effects self-esteem (Harris, F., & Harper, S.
2008, p. 29). Gender roles are stereotypes and norms that arise from the dominant culture, but
some of the norms can be “contradictory and inconsistent” and the strain of living up to gender
roles, especially for men, is negatively correlated with self-esteem (Rummell, C., & Levant, R. 
2014, p. 419).
Men are especially vulnerable to rigid gender expectations, Kimmel (2004) says, “fear
makes us ashamed, because the recognition of fear in ourselves is proof to ourselves that we are
not as manly as we pretend that we are” (p. 88). “Research has found that discrepancies between
actual and ideal self-perceptions have been associated with lower self-esteem (Rummell, C., & 
Levant, R. 2014, p. 419). “Adolescent boys were more likely to feel low self-esteem for not
conforming to their gender role, in contrast to girls, boys reported feeling greater social pressure
to conform”(Rummell, C., & Levant, R. 2014, p.419). Even at a young age “peers often reject
children who act in a manner that is considered more of the other gender (p. 284). Men’s studies
is a relatively new field and much research still needs to be done to solidify their theories but
from an early age boys are subjected to more rigid gender standards than females (Rummell, C., 

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


& Levant, R. 2014, p.419). Conformity to gender expectations is “still rewarded and punished
and modeled, especially for young children and especially for boys”, it is more acceptable for
girl to be a tomboy than a boy to be a sissy and as they get older women are more able to “aspire
to traditionally male occupations but boys cannot aspire to traditionally female occupations
without experiencing disapproval, especially from other males” (Berger 2006, p. 315). The
pressure for males to conform to rigid cultural views of gender identity can lead to a negative
self-concept if their real self does not fit the mold of the “ideal man” and subsequently lead to
numerous psychological and emotional difficulties including low self-esteem.
I began my research my handing out a simple survey that consisted of five questions
including age and gender. I also asked my participants to list qualities or characteristic the
consider masculine, qualities or characteristics they considered feminine and weather or not they
identified with the qualities of their gender. I handed the survey out to both females and males. I
collected 21 surveys, 8 of the participants were males and 13 of the survey participants were
females. My female participants ranged in age from their early twenties to late 50’s. My male
participants consisted of one fourteen year old (my nephew) and the rest ranged in age from their
mid 20’s to late 50’s. I handed the surveys out on a Sunday while I was at work, I work in a
hospital, my participants come from a mix of ethnic/cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds
and include American born as well naturalized citizens. Upon handing out the surveys I informed
the participants that they could take as much time as they needed but most participants
completed the survey in less than 5 minutes. After reviewing the surveys I chose a focus for my
gender topic and chose participants for my interviews.

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


I conducted five interviews that lasted 15 to 20 minutes each. I conducted 4 of my
interviews in person and one over the telephone. My interview participants were all American
born males, one is 14 years old, one is 25 years old, two are 30 years old (they are twins) and the
final participant is 31 years old. Three of my interview participants are of Mexican decent, one is
of Chinese decent and the other is of Japanese decent. My questions to them were very open; I
started by explaining that I understand the female experience and that I was interested in what
the male experience was like. I asked them to explain what it meant to them to be male, what are
the expectations of males and how did you learn what it means to be a male. I also asked all of
them about males who don’t fit the mold and how they are treated.
I conducted my survey about 2 weeks prior to my first interview. While reviewing my
surveys I noticed a handful of traits that both men and women identified as masculine. The
characteristics that most the males and females participating in my survey agreed to be masculine
were: being muscular, being strong, being a provider and being independent. Other traits that
were mentioned were having a deep voice, participating is sports, being tall, acting wild, being
stoic and being dominant/forceful. My survey participants seem to have a traditional view of
what it means to be male or female. All of my male participants replied that they do identify with
their gender. One of my survey participants answered that he identified with the qualities of his
gender “simply because I acknowledge I am [a man]”. Another of my participants answered the
same question by saying, “I try to [meet the standards of my gender], some things are hard to do,
but I still try”. A final participant replied to the question of identifying with their prescribed
gender traits by saying “ I do identify [with the traits of my gender] but I realize [that] those
qualities can apply to both genders”.

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


The first interview that I conducted was with my 14-year-old nephew, Manuel. When
asked how/where are you learning what it means to be a male his reply was “My grandpa and
Black (his step dad), they teach me how to act around other guys and how to treat women.”
When asked about males who don’t fit the male mold and how they are treated he simply said, “I
don’t know, we make fun of them, I don’t talk to guys like that”. He went on to talk about a
young man on his football team who seems a little slow mentally which has made him the butt of
the football team’s jokes. Manuel has not had a relationship with his biological father for a few
years; I asked him about a specific incident when his biological father drove by his football
practice, got out of his car and from the fence shouted “Manuel Diaz I love you!” and how that
made him feel. Manuel said it was embarrassing and that after that all the boys on the team
would shout, “I love you someone’s name” as a mocking reminder of the incident.
Another of my interviewees was Bobby Kang, American born of Chinese decent. He is a
25-year-old homosexual who did not come out of the closet until his early 20’s. He remembered
ridiculing his younger brother, who is also gay, for being too flamboyant in high school. “I used
to call him a fag and wouldn’t be seen in public with him when he would wear pink pleather and
what not”. In high school Bobby also recalled having lots of female friends but also remembers
having to keep up tough image so that he could keep his straight male friends. “I didn’t even feel
comfortable coming out to my close female friends until I was out of high school and able to
surround myself with a more open-minded crowd.”
Two of my interviewees are twins; they are 30 years old, American born of Mexican
decent. I conducted their interviews separately. The first twin that I interviewed was Carlos and
he said to be a man “You got to be in sports. It’s not a lot and it doesn’t sound intelligent but
that’s it sports”. He went on to give the example of his own life, in high school he was on the

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


football team until he was kicked off for fighting, “So I moved on to water polo, because you
have to be involved in some kind of sport”. I asked if there were sports that didn’t qualify as
manly and he said, “yeah but for the most part you can be involved in any sport, but you have to
know about sports”. When I asked his twin brother Emilio what it means to be/act like a man his
response was “I’ve never understood what it means to be a man”
My final interviewee was Tyler, a 31-year-old American born of Japanese decent. When
asked about the rules of his gender he said, “ I care less and less about it as I get older” but he
talked about being in boy scouts and that hazing was a big part of the tradition. He also talked
about in high school males often of picking on younger and weaker males for no real reason. He
mentioned that his dad is pretty easy going and attributes that to why he may not be so
aggressive in his own nature. When asked, other than your father who did you learn your about
your gender from he said, “My older brother definitely, he taught me how not to get called a girl
[by other boys]”. He also mentioned that being muscular and tall is essential to gaining respect as
a man from other men, and since Tyler is not tall (5ft 4in) he gave up on trying to be tough and
competition in certain sports. “Being tall gets you respect with other guys, I don’t know why but
it does”.

This was a fascinating topic for me to investigate. In the beginning of my research I
found it interesting how many of my survey participants had a very traditional view of what it
meant to be masculine or feminine. My male survey participant who admitted that it is difficult
to live up to the expectations of our assigned gender surprised me. The research I found on male
gender identity development echoed what I was hearing from my interviewees and survey

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


participants. When I was reading about male gender identity development Harris, F., & Harper,
S. (2008) wrote about a phenomenon call male gender role conflict, “the gender identity related
challenges men face”(p. 29). I drew a connection between MGRC and what my interviewee
Emilio mentioned about not ever understanding what it meant to be a man/male. I would like to
look deeper into the ramifications of that concept of not even knowing exactly what it is you are
modeling your self after.
All of Kimmel (2004) rules of manhood were represented in my surveys and a little bit in
my interviews (p. 86). My interviewee Bobby, who identifies as a homosexual male, talked about
having to be a tough gay man and embracing the word faggot, because it is used so prevalently.
My other interviewee, Manuel talked about learning specifically how to treat women, instead of
how to treat people. I believe this comes from the idea that men and women are polar opposites
and to be a male, in our society, is to not be female or display femininity. My interviewee Tyler
as well as many of my survey participants talked about the idea that a man at some point in his
life will have to be the provider.
The field of men’s studies is a relatively new one but as more research is done it will be
interesting to see the effects of a traditional view of male gender identity on in individual. There
are significant pressures that are unique to the male gender and no doubt affect their self-concept
and self-esteem. To further my own understanding of the subject I would conduct more
interviews with different generations of American born males to see how, if at all, the view of
what it means to be male has evolved or become less rigid. I would also interview more
teenagers and young adult males because as one of my interviewees mentioned, the pressure to
live up to gender expectations diminishes (for some) with age.

Male Gender Identity Devlopment


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