Societal Norms of Masculinity 1Large-scale school violence in U.S. schools receives an abundance of media and academic attention.

These events show a complete disregard for human life and are shocking to the public. School shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech still raise emotions in people who had no direct connection to the tragedies. While shootings are attractive problems to tackle because they’re instant, easy to see the results, and have vast political support, they are rare in occurrence and are a result of a larger societal problem. Young boys and men are (by and large) the main perpetrators of school violence and delinquent activity. These activities, particularly those that appear small and normal, can be extremely detrimental to the development of a child and a school’s environment. Social standards and stereotypes have allowed these type of activities to continue until it is too late. A change in the societal norms of masculinity would aid in healthy male development and improve safety within schools. “Masculinity” is a socially constructed concept that defines (although it doesn’t have to) what being a man is, just as femininity defines a woman. While it is easy to say that one hasn’t been affected by this dichotomy, it is inescapable. Society’s definition of masculinity is an inseparable part of how men view themselves and the world around them. Society and its educational institutions re-enforce this ambiguous thing called “masculinity” that focuses around violence and power. These standards “diminish [boys’] genuine emotional voices . . . too many boys self-critically judge themselves (and are judged) as immature, undeveloped, or deficient in intellectual-emotional skills and as failing the impossible test of masculinity” (Pollack “Male” 190). Given the emphasis placed on masculinity, to have one’s manhood be questioned or scrutinized can be devastating, if not dehumanizing. This leaves boys who don’t fall into traditional stereotypes searching for recognition in a world where masculine reactions are the only means to seek acceptance and cope with anger.

Society must remain responsible for the culture and expectations that have lead to rampant bullying and high levels of violence. School boys don’t define masculinity for themselves, but learn from what they observe. The current cultural norms of “what is” masculinity root itself in violence, egotism, and invulnerability. In such a society, compromise, mediation, and dialogue are seen as modalities of the weak. The feminine, with its implications of vulnerability; humility; and shared communication, becomes the embodiment of all that is held in disgust--the wimp, the pussy, and the cry baby. (Shapiro 3) This dichotomy of what is feminine and what is masculine puts unreasonable pressures on children to conform to society’s standards, and illogical limitations on the individual. The simple existence of such cultural perceptions of masculinity is dangerous enough, but the social hierarchies in schools act to re-enforce it. Jessie Klein, in her article “Cultural Capital and High School Bullies” says, “[t]raditional value structures reward boys for being strong, defiant, aggressive, dominant, and violent” (53). These reward structures create and maintain what Klein calls “social hierarchies” from a very early age. Cultural capital is required to reach higher levels in the social hierarchy. According to Klein, such cultural capital is achieved through the following: 1. The ability to prove a burgeoning manhood by demonstrating a victorious fighting record and distance from femininity and homosexuality; 2. Competitive athletic prowess; 3. Social savoir faire and dominant relationships with girls; 4. An emphasis on sports over academics; and

5. Higher socioeconomic status. (55) This type of social ranking inherently places some boys at the top for meeting the “masculine image” and others at the bottom of the social ranks, due to failures in meeting the male standards dictated for them. Those at the bottom of the ranks have an unfortunate role; they act as ego boosts to those at the top. Those at the top, in an order to affirm their masculinity and gain cultural capital, act to further de-maculate those at the bottom through repeated psychological or physical bullying (Klein 61). The school allows such a system to exist because it appears innocent and even normal: society still has the “boys will be boys” mentality (Pollack “War” 142). The school environment allows divisions to be easily created and a social hierarchy that embraces the masculine ideal. “These hierarchies . . . represent the ranking of individuals on a scale of human worth and value. Indeed, from kindergarten on, educational institutions claim to assess and award the deepest of human attributes--our dignity and inherent worth” (Shapiro 4). Another way the education system contributes to re-enforcing the traditional norms of masculinity is through school textbooks. Sexism is demonstrated through the school literature children read. In “No Sissy Boys Here”, Kimberly Davies and Lorraine Evans study how masculinity is represented in elementary school reading texts. The analysis looked at several different studies in the 1990’s targeting sexism in schoolbook publishers’ texts. The results of the analysis found that “[m]ales are overwhelmingly more often portrayed as aggressive, argumentative, and competitive, whereas females are more likely to be characterized as affectionate, emotionally expressive, and passive” (Evans and Davies 268). This helps to understand why such a definition of masculinity is so widely accepted within our culture. These ideas of what being a “man” is have been ingrained in children every day through the educational institutions. This is a dangerous and deep-rooted stereotype that is accepted as the norm.

In the status quo there are strict guidelines for what is accepted as masculine. These guidelines force some boys to the bottom of the social hierarchy, and others to the top. If the theory of cultural capital is endorsed, boys are constantly struggling to gain more capital than their male peers. This struggle can escalate as boys compete to gain cultural capital. By ostracizing and demeaning that which is feminine, boys feel accepted by society, because they are embracing the masculine ideal they have been taught. In Glen Ridge, New Jersey such violence escalated to the gang rape of a mentally handicapped girl. “If I think back about that period. I can see the group getting stronger, closer, everytime they got together and humiliated a girl . . . For them this was what being a man among men was” (qtd. in Klien 58). While societal norms do not directly cause this type of violence, they create an environment that fosters it. Not only the boys who embrace this stereotype are dangerous, but those who are victims of masculinity can be the most destructive of all. Those at the bottom of masculinity are stuck in a perpetual system that dehumanizes them. This system doesn’t just exist within their school, but one that is re-enforced by their educational institutions, and accepted by society at large. When these children even attempt to reach out or express themselves (whether it is to parents, teachers, or peers), they face scrutiny and humiliation. This pain is felt most by those at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This pain (without an appropriate outlet) could lead to fists or bullets if action isn't taken to relieve these social pressures (Pollack “Male” 144). Boys are shamed away from exhibiting their species-normative characteristics of vulnerability, and thereby disconnected from healthy relations with each other, with potentially supportive adults, and from a full range of emotions within our own selves. And attempts to resist are met with cruel and endless additional

shaming, a later predictor for violent behavior in adolescence. (Pollack “War” 144) Many of the boys who are de-masculated and dehumanized seek a way to find worth in the world we live in: some choose the ultimate masculine act of violence, murder. These boys are stuck in a system that doesn’t value them as human beings; ergo they turn to different ideologies that make them feel accepted (Klein 64). Victims of this bullying and peer victimization may develop a wide array of psychological problems (Gini and Pozzoli 585). The male stereotype is often overlooked, and its impacts on psychological and social develop rarely acknowledged. “The masculine emphasis on self-affirmation and social dominance may lead some children to bully their peers in order to reach their goals” (Gini and Pozzoli 586). This system of cultural capital causes cyclical violence and long-term harm as victims of the system are forced into adopting violent ideologies of masculinity to seek acceptance. The perpetrators and the victims suffer: both bullies and victims report higher levels of depression and correlate with “being aggressive and holding attitudes that promote violence as the primary method of conflict resolution” (Seals and Young 744). Society needs to redefine masculinity or, more appropriately (however, utopian) eliminate gender constructs and identity completely. But that’s another argument. In the short term, schools need to make an effort to create peer-to-peer, as well as child-adult bonds. Boys need to feel cared for, and only then will they be more open to communication. We can’t allow rewards to be built around masculine constructs. “Although we cannot eliminate the pain from boyhood or from adolescence, we can lessen it and make it more tolerable by giving boys in consulting rooms, school clinics, and so forth the chance to voice it without being shamed” (Pollack “War” ). The current constructs allow violence as a solution to pain or difficult situations. Administrators can't ignore simple

bullying or psychological abuse; this simply fuels the social hierarchy. There needs to be an overall change or shift in the mindset of society. Whether it starts with gender equality in textbooks, or simple parenting, there is a problem. A change in the societal norms of masculinity would aid in healthy male development and improve safety in schools. WORD COUNT: 1604

Works Cited Davies, Kimberly and Evans, Lorraine. “No Sissy Boys Here: A Content Analysis of the jkg ety Representation of Masculinity in Elementary School Reading Textbooks.” Sex Roles 42.¾ (2000): 255-270.

Gini, Gianluca and Pozzoli, Tiziana. “The Role of Masculinity in Children’s Bullying.” Sex fghj Roles 54 (2006): 585-588.

Klein, Jessie. “Cultural Capital and High School Bullies: How Social Inequality Impacts School hj Violence.” Men and Masculinities 52.9 (2006): 53-75. I

Pollack, S. William. “Male Adolescent Rites of Passage: Positive Visions of Multiple ui jhy Development Pathways.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1036 (2004): 141-150.

---. “The ‘War’ For Boys: Hearing ‘Real Boys’ Voices, Healing Their Pain.” Professional hjkgh hfjfg Psychology: Research and Practice 37.2 (2006): 190-195.

Seals, Dorothy and Young, Jerry. “Bullying and Victimization: Prevalence and Relationship to ety rty Gender, Grade Level, Ethnicity, Self-esteem, and Depression”. Adolescence 38.152 (2003): 735-747.

Shapiro, Svi. “Virginia Tech Education and a Culture of Death.” Tikkun 22.4 (2007): 56-59.

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