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Being the Tough Man in Modern America: Consequences and Conclusions Introduction Most social scientists distinguish gender from sex. Gender roles are not biologically determined, but vary according to culture and era, and even for individuals during the course of their lives. Gender roles are consequently described by social scientists as socially built. Most of the behavior associated with gender is learned rather than inherited. People learn what sorts of behavior and personality are regarded in their cultural context as appropriate for males or females. Even within a culture masculinity and femininity may be defined differently by various groups, in particular according to ethnicity, age, social class and sexuality (Barbee et al. 176). In this sense there is no single masculinity or femininity, but rather multiple masculinity and femininities. Not all men are leaders, aggressive, confident, independent, risk-taking; and not all women are affectionate, elegant, sympathetic, dependent, emotional, nurturing (Barefoot and Lipkus 44). Such qualities are found in varying degrees in most people. But all men and all women are aware of the cultural commonness of traditional gender stereotypes, and society, cultural norms or values, along with television and other types of media contribute to this consciousness. Sex roles involve cultural expectations, such as “men will try achievement and dominance, and women will be respectful and understanding” (Barbee et al 176). The relationship of individuals to these expectations often involves tensions. This paper depicts traditional views on what modern men in America should behave like and what negative effects such stereotypical concepts may cause to those men trying to live up to these masculinity standards. Stereotypical Issues regarding Masculinity There are a number of issues that may play an important role in creating the masculinity stereotype in modern America. First, biology can have a role in the effects of stereotypes. The male’s role as being a dominant is apparent before birth. There is a prenatal process that is responsible for this. Testosterone, the predominant male hormone, is rooted before birth and is responsible for the maturing of the areas of the brain that are related too. The fact that men are more willing to endure pain to understand what they must do for dominance is an example of something that could be more biologically inclined (Barbee et al. 185). When it comes to different levels of control in different situations, it is still assumed that men have the upper hand. Research done over the years has shown that men and women have different means of researching decisions and achieving organization (Barefoot and Lipkus 49). Males like to dominate a situation, whereas females would rather resort to consensus. Cooperation is among many of the fundamental female traits. An example of this would be the way that a woman deals with a confrontation. Females would rather settle arguments and rely on negotiation, rather than physical violence. When it comes to stereotypes in the workplace, genders play a major role in this. Occupations are segregated by sex today, but were far more segregated in the early centuries when married women were just starting to enter the work force in large numbers. Today, occupations that are more segregated by sex, for both men and women, contain individuals that simply have more knowledge and experience. A study by the Ministry of Education is 1999 found that “females still tended to be more interested in being trained for jobs in office work, secretarial work, teaching or hospitality” (Mayne 27). Males were discovered to favor training in plumbing, electrical work, automobile mechanics and similar fields. There is still little crossover to occupations considered to be gender ruled. Furthermore, the media has a great affect on the stereotypes that we have as a society. Males are often presented as being the strong moneymakers. They are the ones that are given guns and other weapons that are used as means of power (Notarius and Herrick 101). Women are most often portrayed as the warm, loving mother and wife. To be concise, America has determined that there are just two kinds of people; men and women. This society has decided that all people fit into these two groups, and has set forth rules that members of each group must follow. It has been dictated that all women are soft, caring, weak, and sensitive (Barbee et al. 188). Men are expected to be strong and dominant. The stereotypical male must be in control, especially over his woman. He is expected to be closed and dispassionate. He should put himself first and never express how he feels. Everything he feels is expected to stay bottled up inside. However, this has caused many ill effects. The stereotypical man is also likely to be aggressive and prone to violence (Pontius 876). He is drawn to media images of violence and dominance. He desires his entertainment to contain violence and competition. And the emotions he holds inside can burst out in unhealthy spurts of aggression, violence, verbal attacks, and hostility towards others.
The stereotypical man’s lack of communication can cause his interpersonal relationships to suffer (Pontius 877). This lack of communication can lead to fights with his friends and an inability to relate his significant other, or to women as a hole. However this stereotype and attitude is not his fault. This is how men are told they must act. When the media portrays the man who gets the beautiful woman, they portray a stereotypical man. The concept of what is manly, as defined by the media, has had a greater negative than positive impact on society. Culture’s Influence on Men The dissimilar expression of emotions by males and females is actually adaptive for maintaining distinct cultural gender roles. By requiring males and females to express different emotions, cultures maintain power and status imbalances and gender-based divisions of labor (Hooven et al. 244). For example, if women can’t express anger and aggression, and are further expected to express positive emotions in the face of being defeated, this serves them well in their subordinate role as caretakers and makes it unlikely that they will place themselves in a competitive role. If men are discouraged from expressing vulnerability and warmth, they will be less likely to exhibit weaknesses leading to their own defeat, thus making them more likely to succeed in a competitive role (Siegman and Smith 83). However, they will also be less likely to be successful at care-taking and intimate relationships. In other words, the expression of particular emotions leads to carrying out particular social functions more easily. The so called display rules (rules of certain types of that are imposed by society) are powerful forces in socializing gender differences in emotional expression and that the function of these rules is to maintain cultural gender roles as well as their accompanying status and power imbalances. First, display rules are widely known and shared in a particular culture, affecting social interactions, parent socialization processes, and media portrayals of males and females (Siegman and Smith 92). The violation of display rules in each of these social arenas leads to severe negative social consequences. Second, display rules tend to be different across different cultures, depending on the values of the particular culture. And third, historical analyses have linked shifts in cultural values over time with corresponding shifts in display rules over the same time periods (Siegman and Smith 95). Effects of childhood on Masculinity Stereotype emergence in the adult life How children are raised in the context of families and peers, how men and women are portrayed and idealized in the media, and how adults respond to each other all reflect the workings of both stereotypes and display rules about emotional expressiveness (Greenberg 321). The reverse is also true: Parents, peers, the media, and the workplace not only transmit display rules, they also play an active role in influencing them. For example, by creating films with male stars who cry, film producers may initiate new cultural norms about the acceptability of male crying. In American culture, males who express sadness, depression, fear, and a number of self-conscious emotions such as shame and embarrassment are viewed as unmanly and are evaluated more negatively than females (Stoppard and Gruchy 150). People are inclined to feel angry and hostile when men are depressed, because they believe that men should be able to control their lives (Barbee et al. 190). High-school boys, in particular, tend to be intolerant of other boys who express feelings. Men do not anticipate that they will receive comfort if they express sadness or helplessness (Timmers et al. 976). For instance, even school-aged boys believe that their parents would ignore them if they expressed sad feelings to them, or would fail to understand and accept their feelings. Eleven to sixteen-year-old boys also reported that they were not supposed to express their feelings more than girls (Rottenberg and Elsenberg 528). It is natural for girls to anticipate that they would receive an understanding response for showing their feelings more often than boys do. In fact, men’s expectation that they will receive less comfort when sad is justified- in actuality, they do receive less comfort when sad. When boyfriends are sad in response to task failure, their girlfriends do not often attempt to cheer them up. Some are actually cold and critical toward their boyfriends, making them feel worse (Barbee et al. 189). The stereotype, or expectation that men should have few feelings in response to task failure, may dictate against being comforted. Men are supposed to be hardened to such situations. It is more acceptable for men to express sadness at a task not related to gender roles; namely, a depressing movie. In this situation, girlfriends do attempt to cheer up their boyfriends (Barbee et al. 185). Although males are discouraged from expressing sadness and depression, they are encouraged by peers to be aggressive.
School-aged boys who are aggressive in their playground behavior are better liked and are judged to be more socially competent than boys who are less aggressive (Serbin et al. 162). Effects of Holding Feeling Inside on Males’ Health Is expressing emotions in gender-role stereotypic ways good or bad for each sex? Women tend to express more intense and frequent emotions across many different situations than men do, especially those conveying distress and fear. In many studies, expressing emotions is seen as beneficial. For example, expressing negative feelings (especially those related to traumatic experiences) has been found to relate to better immune functioning. It should follow that women’s immune functioning would be bolstered more frequently than men’s (Pennebaker 540). On the other hand, expressing negative feelings does not benefit people’s health in all situations. For example, the negative emotions expressed during marital conflict, including criticizing, disagreeing, interrupting, disapproving, and expressing negative affect, compromise the immune functioning of both sexes, but especially women’s (Pennebaker 545). In opposite conclusions, men’s minimized expression of anger has been linked to hypertension and coronary heart disease (Siegman and Smith 14). The Positive Consequences of Emotional Expression in Males Accumulating evidence indicates that expressing feelings associated with traumatic experiences, including fear, anxiety, sadness, and depression relates to better mental and physical health. For example, when male and female college students write or record descriptions of traumatic events, including descriptions of murder, rape, abuse, and parental divorce, their health and immune functioning show long-term positive benefits. At 3 months following their disclosure, they “differ significantly from college students who have not disclosed their experiences, including being significantly happier and less distressed, reporting higher self-esteem, visiting the student health center less frequently, and evidencing greater immune reaction” (Pennebaker 865). Some research has indicated that the positive health benefits of expressing feelings in males appear to be due to expressing a moderate level of negative feelings associated with trauma (Pennebaker 868). One reason that the expression of negative emotions benefits health is that negative emotions are associated with attempts to understand and integrate the situation that influenced the feelings. The health consequences of expressing emotions in males are also apparent in studies of cancer patients and bereaved individuals. Having a confiding relationship in which one can express feelings puts people at lower risk for physical symptoms, “increases the rate of recovery from illness and injury, and decreases the chances of dying” (Mayne 22). Without an intimate partner to whom they can confide feelings, males report more physical symptoms such as breathlessness and pulsation. Interestingly, when helpers respond with supportive listening and emotional expressions of empathy to distressed confederates, they themselves feel less depressed than when they try to give advice or try to distract the confederate from focusing on their negative mood (Notarius and Herrick 99). Why would expressing feelings be associated with better health? One idea is that when males express their feelings, they communicate to others what their needs are, and they are more likely to get those needs met. Some researchers argue that expressing emotions provides people with important information about themselves and their relationships, which helps them to adapt to their environments. Once emotions are expressed, changes in behavior and relationships may result. For example, expressing fear and vulnerability may result in less aggressive behaviors on both your own part as well as on the part of your opponents, which may be adaptive for survival (Greenberg 325). By expressing emotions, males may also find new meaning in upsetting events and be able to assimilate or integrate them in better ways. Pennebaker discusses evidence for this, in that some of the male participants in his study who wrote daily accounts of their memories of assault gradually changed their perspectives about their experience (870). Their feelings changed from embarrassment and guilt to anger, and finally, to acceptance. In particular, research converges to indicate that for men, the higher their levels of emotional expression, the better their marital relationships are, even if their expression takes the form of demands and criticism (Pennebaker 871). Further, in non-distressed marriages, when husbands showed involvement and were demanding, rather than being distancing or withdrawing, their wives were more satisfied with their marriages one year later (Pennebaker 868). And wives whose husbands expressed affection and caring in an interaction rated themselves to be happier, which in turn related to decreased depression in the wives.
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Pennebaker also shows that the husbands also rated themselves to be happier when their wives expressed caring and affection, although their happiness (as well as their other feelings) were not found to be related to their depressive symptoms (865). Further reasons for Need of Expression in Males Perhaps another reason that emotional expressiveness, social competence, and health are related is that being emotionally expressive may enable males to influence the mood and behaviors of other people. In small groups comprised of both expressive and non-expressive individuals, the expressive males’ feelings influenced the non-expressive people’s reported fear, anger, and anxiety. In contrast, the expressive males’ feelings were not influenced by those of the non-expressive males (Friedman and Riggio 101). Expressive males may also influence other people’s physiological reactivity. For example, being at the receiving end of negative emotions, such as criticism, anxiety, impatience, or anger was found to be related to increased heart rate and muscle tension. At the same time, being able to receive positive emotions, such as praise was found related to decreased speech muscle tension (Barefoot and Lipkus 50). Being emotionally expressive may provide a certain influence and power over other people, perhaps partly accounting for the relationship between emotional expressiveness and health. In other words, when males fail to express emotions, they may expend energy in the process of inhibition, which may take a toll on health through short-term increases in autonomic activity. Effects of Inhibition The stress of short-term activity associated with inhibition may accumulate over time, leading to long-term stress-related disease (Pennebaker 546). Holding feelings may also associate with other negative consequences. It is worth noting males who are inhibiting their feelings of disgust in response to the particular events usually regard themselves as feeling more contemptuous than those who do not. This result leads to the interesting speculation that the higher levels of contempt expressed by men than by women in some cases are due to their greater tendency to suppress feelings. Suppression may serve to distance people from the immediacy of interpersonal relationships, and such distancing may be accompanied by feelings of superiority. Moreover, distancing from interpersonal relationships is not good for males’ health. A great deal of research suggests that social supports and relationships can buffer the effects of disease and trauma and increase longevity (Mayne 30). More extreme biological as well as behavioral consequences for inhibiting feelings have been hypothesized by the Harvard Medical School psychiatrist A. Pontius. She speculates that not expressing the feelings that accompany extreme early traumatic experiences, such as the death of a parent, can result in a syndrome termed the “limbic psychotic trigger reaction”, involving motiveless homicide (875). One patient with this hypothesized syndrome murdered a man for no apparent reason. The patient was picnicking with a friend and happened to see his future victim fishing nearby. He experienced strange feelings and hallucinations about this person that culminated in murder. Later, in expressing remorse for the crime, the patient remembered that his father, who had died when he was five, had taken him fishing frequently He had never mourned his father or discussed him subsequent to his death. Pontius hypothesizes that repressing feelings of grief and anger does not allow for the appropriate development of links between cortical and limbic structures that regulate the expression of aggression (878). In later life, an event that reminds the individual of a previously unexpressed trauma kindles a seizure of the limbic system, inducing a severe distortion of emotion and behavior. More work is needed to confirm these intriguing ideas, which were based on case studies of 12 men who committed motiveless homicide (Pontius 890). At the same time, there is much research to indicate that expressing feelings in males relates to better physical health, more adaptive social relationships, and more positive mood. Since women tend to have closer and more confiding relationships than men have, and also tend to express a wider range of feelings than men express, women may derive health benefits to a greater extent than men. Yet, gender differences in emotional functioning, and in this case, the relationships between gender-specific ways of expressing emotion and adaptation, are never simple (Barbee et al. 176). They vary a great deal depending on which emotion is expressed, in which situation and modality, and using which coping strategies. Fathers who are not stereotypical When fathers are involved in child care-taking, thus violating traditional masculine gender roles, their children become less sex-role stereotypic in their emotional expression (Stoppard and Grunchy 152). Some argue that involved fathers provide boys with a model of male emotional expression- a deeper view of masculinity than merely one that is not feminine.
Another hypothesis is that involved fathers enable girls, especially young girls, to develop an identity separate from their mothers so that the expression of intense emotions is no longer needed. A third hypothesis is that involved fathers may stereotype their children’s emotional “expressiveness along gendered lines to a lesser extent than do noninvolved fathers” (Serbin et al. 170). And yet another hypothesis is that involved fathers change the quality of interactions among all members of the family system, leading to different socialization patterns for girls and boys. Having an involved father may also change the nature of power and status differences between the two sexes, at least within the family context. Shifts in power and status between husbands and wives may be powerful messages initiated by children. These views may affect children’s views of their own power and status and ultimately influence the quality of the emotions they express. For example, mothers who made fewer compromises with their husbands had daughters who tended to accept or admire forceful women with strong goals. The equalization of power between mothers and fathers may dramatically alter traditional patterns of gender development in the family. Recent research also indicates that parents with nontraditional gender roles promote better adjustment on the part of their children. For example, parents who are more accepting of emotions typically associated with the opposite sex (e.g fathers who are more aware of sadness and mothers who are more aware of anger) have children with more positive peer relationships, fewer behavioral problems, and lower levels of stress than children who come from more traditional families (Hooven et al. 242). In sum, when the traditional roles played by the two sexes are changed (including those depicted in the media), patterns of gender differences in emotional expressiveness also shift. Although biological differences between males and females do exist, social and cultural forces have the power to shape them in other directions. Given the power of emotional expressiveness in influencing males’ health and well-being, it would do them well to re-examine the cultural values surrounding gender roles and the structure of the family that we now largely take for granted.
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