December 28, 2007

Interesting post on masculinity

H/t to Ubub for one of the links from Jon Swift's best of the year posts. This series examines the masculinity issues behind school shootings and finds that many of them include young boys who don't fit into their friend's assumed proper masculine identity. Many of them, in fact, are derided with homophobic taunts.
“We found a striking pattern [while analyzing news] stories about the boys who committed the violence: nearly all had stories of being constantly bullied, beat up, and … ‘gay-baited,’” Kimmel wrote.

“And most strikingly, it was not because they were gay — at least there is no evidence to suggest that any of them were gay — but because they were different from the other boys: shy, bookish, honor students, artistic, musical, theatrical, non-athletic, ‘geekish,’ or weird,” he continued.
Nothing excuses their decision to use violence, but it does suggest that this issue of masculinity is complicated and especially difficult for many young men.

43 comments:

steves said...

This is one of the better articles to look at the people behind mass shootings. Following Columbine, there was a great deal of interest in the causes. Unfortunately, most of it was politically or financially motivated. There was talk about psychotropic medication, video games, access to firearms, and Marilyn Manson. IMO, there is no causal link between these factors and the shootings. Another valid theory I remember reading about was that many of these kids were sexually abused. This can be especially traumatic to boys, since they are almost always abused by men and can cause all sorts of gender identity issues. This may make they hyper sensitive to 'gay-baiting.'

Obviously, I never worked with any of the people that committed these crimes, but I did see plenty of kids that were bullied and treated the way that was described in the article. From what I have seen, schools do the best they can to curb this kind of behavior, but much of it happens outside of the school and on the internet. Frankly, I think many parents are doing a lousy job to prevent this kind of bullying, as they don't discourage their children from doing it or they excuse the behavior.

I think the issue of masculinity is especially complicated in high school. That is such a strange, almost artficial environment. Athletics are overvalued. There is nothing wrong with sports (I was an athlete, though not an elite one). This doesn't seem as bad at college, though Streak, you are in a better position to judge this than I am. I went to a school with an enrollment of over 40,000. The vast majority of students were no longer participating in sports.

Rob said...

I think Goldman wrote "Lord of the Flies" about pubescent boys for a reason. 'Cause we're freakin' baby Nazis, that's why. Because we despise difference and want to hammer down the nail that stands up. Because at that point in our development we're all learning how to form our primitive hunting parties. We're experimenting with the finer points of enforcing loyalty. Expelling the weak is part of that, IMO. So is tamping down the individual.

ubub said...

Good morning, gentlemen -

Steve, thanks for weighing in on this. I knew our resident former therapist-firearms instructor- attorney would have something interesting to contribute.

Many of you know I work with schools in various capacities. It seems to me that its students who are initiating the kinds of strategies and programs to create inclusive environments. They are out front on creating things like Gay-Straight Alliances and other clubs. This is not to promote the "homosexual agenda" (whatever that might be) but to promote equal protection for their peers. See the Nabozny case (Nabozny v. Pdlesny, 1996) out of northern WI for case law on equal protection.

Rob, I agree with your assessment, at least in terms of the majority culture in the US. Do you think that the "baby Nazi" mindset is innate? That would suggest its universal and part of the human condition. I'm not sure.

This linked article, btw, is the second in a four part series where the author elaborates on these points with additional examples. Good stuff.

Enjoy your day all.

fightingpreacher said...

What is gay-baiting...I have never heard of this before adn my children are still to young to even mention this.

leighton said...

It seems to me that children everywhere tend to go through a phase starting somewhere around 9 or 10 and lasting several years (or in some cases, a lifetime) where obeying authority for its own sake seems like a good thing to do. This isn't always understood in such abstract terms, though; sometimes it's just tribalism or nationalism or gang affiliations or fanatical adherence to their cliques, or what have you.

But what seems newer and less universal to me (and I haven't read studies on this, nor do I have any relevant statistics to offer) is the level of viciousness and predation in our high school environments. For a great many kids, their clique is the difference between social survival and a complete psychological breakdown--nobody these days can handle high school alone.

Fear and anger greatly enhance authoritarian mindsets, so my sense is that when a lot of these teens reach that vulnerable age where they're naturally tending toward tribalism to help them absorb some of the more sophisticated cultural norms that children can't pick up on, they're having that insular, exclusionary mindset enhanced by psychological and physical torments that people who've been away from high school for years frankly can't see clearly; and furthermore, unlike adults, who can pack up and find a new job or neighborhood or city, teens often can't leave their schools.

That's my uneducated guess, anyway. Tribalism is a natural part of human development, but it's hard to grow out of it when your tribe is the key to your survival.

steves said...

Lord of the Flies is fiction, but it certainly contains an element of truth, IMO. ubub, I think that Gay/Straight Alliance is a good thing and that things are improving in some ways. There are some studies that suggest that tolerence among young people is rising.

OTOH, there does seem to be a fair number of incidents involving kids taunting others over the internet. Locally, there was a kid that killed himself following a series of harassing events.

From the urban dictionary:

"gay bait--
Attempting to lure a suspected homosexual into revealing himself or herself by giving off indications that one might be gay as well. Generally used by homophobes to establish grounds for verbally or physically attacking a homosexual."

fightingpreacher said...

really? That is horrible.

Streak said...

Yeah, and in other cases, boys who might not be athletic or masculine (in whatever way that is popularly defined) can be derided with homophobic slurs. They may not be gay, but are treated as less than because they don't fit in.

fightingpreacher said...

This in no way is an approval but I would suspect that this isnt a new problem. I would bet that this has been the sitution for centuries.

You know I totally disagree with homosexuality, but they are still people and need the love, encouragement, and help of other men. I think gay-baiting...is an atrocity.

Streak said...

Well, not every culture has treated gays this way, but I am sure you are correct that it isn't new.

we are agreed it is an atrocity.

fightingpreacher said...

Just out of curosity...what do you guys as feminist believe in and do?

For example do you watch movies like Braveheart, Gladiator, 300, or the Matrix or do you not have anything to do with how did you say hyper-masculinity?

fightingpreacher said...

For example, I guess this guy got my information from your blog. He says he is a feminist and an athetist and wants to debate me. Says he doesnt watch sports because they are violent.

So are you guys like that?

steves said...

"It seems to me that children everywhere tend to go through a phase starting somewhere around 9 or 10 and lasting several years (or in some cases, a lifetime) where obeying authority for its own sake seems like a good thing to do."

I am trying to remember my developmental psych class from 15+ years ago, but I think kids go through this a little bit earlier. They also become fixated on rules and structure. The next 'phase' deals with higher morals and allows some violation of rules if the 'rule' goes against some basic right or is inherently wrong. Some people never reach this point, nor do all cultures value this.

"Just out of curosity...what do you guys as feminist believe in and do?"

I am not a feminist, so I can't really answer your question, but then again, I don't really think I am any kind of '-ist'. Frankly, I enjoy a wide variety of activities.

Streak said...

I am not sure what you think about feminists. I love football and basketball, and enjoy watching some women's sports as well. I don't like overly-violent films, but that is more me, perhaps, than many of the feminist men I know.

My feminism comes out of believing in equality--and that equality comes without qualifications. I don't say, "equal, but different." The different is implied in that there are differences between genders, but as I have suggested elsewhere, so many of those supposed differences have turned out to be cultural and socially driven. I believe my nieces can be whatever they want to be--from doctor to President to professor to repair-person to housewife to single fulfilled person to ....

leighton said...

Steve,

I am trying to remember my developmental psych class from 15+ years ago, but I think kids go through this a little bit earlier.

I'm sure you're right. I'm going from my memories of being that age, which is hardly the most objective source to be working from.

Dallas (Yes, that one) Tim said...

I used to want to home-school my kids because I didn't want anti-Christian teachers influencing them. I'm not worried about that as much anymore as I am much more concerned with (as Leighton mentioned) the other KIDS. Parental involvement is so dismal and the familial structure so fractured by the lack thereof that other kids just terrify me.

Streak said...

DT, I certainly understand that. Not having kids, it is a purely theoretical view for me, but I can see that other kids would be a cause for concern.

leighton said...

For what it's worth, I think public high schools can be a great experience for kids whose parents have the time, energy, and inclination to take an active interest in how their district conducts its education--get to know the teachers, administrators, go to board meetings or serve on the board themselves, etc. But for parents who don't have this kind of time, it's kind of a crap shoot unless you know and trust a representative sample of your children's classmates' families.

For selfish reasons, I'm glad that these issues won't affect me personally for somewhere between six and an infinite number of years.

fightingpreacher said...

Only what I have seen. Remember some guy emailed me (which I am assuming is coming from your blog) about feminism. Telling me all sports are violent and evil. That men and women are exactly the same with the exception of their parts.

So that is why I was asking.

steves said...

Leighton and DT, you are both correct. My daughter is in kindergarten and my wife teaches in public school. Parental involvement is important and so is picking a district with decent faculty, administrators, and policies. Like DT, the other kids worry me more than any other factor.

From what I remember of my psych classes, Streak is correct. Many gender differences are heavily influenced by our environment, rahter than being innate. It is the nature versus nurture debate. I am way out of the loop, in terms of being up on the research, but from what I remember, the debate has not been won by either side.

I don't believe it is possible to prove that gender differences are 100% biological or 100% cultural or environmental. It is most likely a complex interaction of both factors.

For example, there is plenty of research that shows that men are more aggressive than women. How much of this is due to a difference in brain structure and how much is due to social factors? If you go to Youtube and do a search under "girl fight" you will find that aggression is on the rise among females. This supports that notion that social factors have a powerful influence.

Streak said...

For example, there is plenty of research that shows that men are more aggressive than women.

I remember an author ten years ago who argued that much of that was skewed by assumptions. for example, the studies that examined the aggression of young boys only focussed on young boys. The conclusion was already there that boys and testosterone were more violent and that is where they focussed. I think the book was "When she was Bad" and it examined different ways that women displayed aggression.

steves said...

True. I am also aware of another study that says women also display aggression by exclusion and other techniques.

fightingpreacher said...

So streak once again. You are saying there are absolutely no differences bewteeen males and females except for their parts?

leighton said...

Pick any man and any woman and there will be many more differences between them than just their parts; but these differences are accounted for by discrepancies in personality, cultural upbringing, societal expectations, socialized gendered communication styles, and so forth. It's not anything innate that you could point to as how men or women should be.

Streak said...

I think Leighton said it better than I could (again).

fightingpreacher said...

So leighton you believe as well, that there are no differences betweens the sexes other than what culture and other external influences make?

steves said...

Leighton, I don't believe that you can completely remove biology from the mix. Males have much higher instances of Asperger's Disorder and Autism. One theory is that these disorders are an extreme form of systematizing, which males often score higher. These disorders can manifest before the age of two, which tends to lend credence to the nature argument.

Again, I am not arguing that culture and environment don't play ahuge role, but just that you can't rule out biology. I am certainly not saying that men or women 'should be' any certain way.

leighton said...

Steve, I agree--I made my comment above in the context of a conversation about how men and women should behave, what roles are appropriate for them, etc.

FP, I think that whatever biological differences there are between men and women don't lend themselves to prescribing different societal roles for men and women. As such, being very precise about the demarcation between men and women doesn't seem very important to me, since I don't work in a medical or mental health profession.

Streak said...

I agree. I am sure there are more biological differences, but am not sure they are terribly useful in our discussions of how we act.

FP, beyond the belief that men are more visually stimulated, how do you see biologically determined behavior that actually impacts the way we act--or should act?

fightingpreacher said...

Women utilize both sides of their brain, therefore the communicate differently and until late it was argued that they actually used more words in their day to day affairs.

Streak said...

You know for a fact that they use both sides of their brain more than men? And are you sure they communicate differently based on biology?

Bootleg Blogger said...

Hey- I think I may have forgotten the original point of this subthread BUT I'll chime in anyway. From what I'm reading I don't think anyone is refuting that biology plays a part in how we behave. The main point I would echo, however, is that most of our behavior that is attributed to biology is much more complicated than whether you have one or two x chromosomes. Chemically, our endocrinology is an incredible cocktail of which testosterone and estrogen are only a small part. I think the original post regarding masculinity issues and school shootings had much more to do with the cultural aspects of masculinity than the biological/physiological. Gender generalizations are helpful for epidemiological studies, but fairly worthless, in my opinion, in generalizing what role a person should play in life.
Later- BB

steves said...

"Gender generalizations are helpful for epidemiological studies, but fairly worthless, in my opinion, in generalizing what role a person should play in life."

I believe this is correct. The biological studies may explain why things happen the way they do, but that is it.

fightingpreacher said...

I am just sick of the feminist teaching that other than parts there are no difference between men and women. That men can do what women do and women can do what men do.

leighton said...

Um, okay. Still not following here. Can you give an example of something a man can do that a woman can't, or vice versa, besides the obvious giving birth/fertilizing an egg?

fightingpreacher said...

Lets start with that the hormone test, changes everything. Of course women have the hormone as well, but in very small amounts.

1. Because of a flood of this hormone it severs the link between the left and right side of the brain. Which is why they argue that women can communicate better than men (more words, better descriptive abilities ect)
2. Because of this hormone men are typically stronger physcially than women

Next, if you would read the highly used and often times worshiped wikipedia on gender differences it tells us that these are gender differences

1. men are prone to taking more risk
2. In the big five personality traits, women score higher in Agreeableness (tendency to be compassionate and cooperative) and Neuroticism (tendency to feel anxiety, anger, and depression).
Demographics of MBTI surveys indicate that 60-75% of women prefer feeling and 55-80% of men prefer thinking
3. Men are more prone to aggression and quicker to be aggressive
4. Women score higher in empathy
5. Obviously communication
6. Men are more likely to be imprisoned
7. Men are more likely to murder
8. Men are more likely to committ suicide


Your serve

leighton said...

What?

Seriously. What?

Let me repeat my last post:

Can you give an example of something a man can do that a woman can't, or vice versa, besides the obvious giving birth/fertilizing an egg?

leighton said...

To make my position perfectly clear, I read your post where you said that you were sick of hearing that

...men can do what women do and women can do what men do.

So I think, hey, you must have some examples in mind of things that women can't do that men can do, or that women can do that men can't do. So I ask.

Am I wrong? Do you agree with the last several commenters that men and women can do the same things (other than obvious biological activities), but you're just tired of hearing it?

steves said...

FP, those traits you listed are accurate, but what people have been saying is that those differences could be due to social and cultural factors, as opposed to biological differences. In other words, certain traits are reinforced and encouraged in certain genders by 'society'.

Streak said...

Yes, I am still confused as well. On half or more of those supposed traits, I am not as masculine as I should, I guess. I am more emotional, use a hell of a lot of words (just ask my friends), score very high on empathy, etc. Oh, and I like to shop for shoes.

I think Steve reiterates where we are. Not sure any of those "traits" are biologically determined. And I still, frankly, don't understand your antipathy to feminism.

Bootleg Blogger said...

I think there's actually a fair concensus (how often does that happen on this blog?) that gender is a contributing factor to behavior. However, it is only one of many. Studies certainly allow generalizations e.g. more men commit murder than do women. However, that tells you nothing about the next male you meet. Similar situation for females.

Webster's defines feminism as: "The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." Sounds like a label to wear with pride.

Later- BB

Streak said...

Studies certainly allow generalizations e.g. more men commit murder than do women. However, that tells you nothing about the next male you meet. Similar situation for females.

True. But those studies don't really explain why those men are more willing to murder, right? Is it because of their biology or socialization? Or a combination of both?

And like you said, what does it ultimately tell us? My own experience is that the generalizations often crumble in the personal experience. As I have noted often, I cook more than my spouse, enjoy shoes more, and hate working on cars. I am more verbal and at times as emotional, just as she is more logical and pragmatic at times.

BB, thanks for posting the definition of feminism. That is where I start with it. Feminism is the radical notion that women are equal, but also that men and women can make different choices. I know men who stay home with their kids while their wife works as the primary bread winner. And I know women who stay home with the kids as well. But in all of those cases, they have chosen those roles, not had them forced upon them.

Bootleg Blogger said...

"True. But those studies don't really explain why those men are more willing to murder, right?"

I think I referred to that previously- NO they don't explain why. Raw data does not say anything about the why. You could as a researcher compare the murder rates between blue eyed and brown eyed males of european descent. That would give you raw data, but no information as to why. It could stimulate further study into the why and possibly allow intervention if some correctable cause is found.

At the risk of endless repetition, Absolutely- individual freedom to choose is the goal rather than broad generalizations locking people into roles.
Later-BB