Friday, April 29, 2011

Social Construction (Part 1)

(I may add to this post later)

Many of us get it into our heads that there is a strict, non-obtrusive way of doing things. Where does this come from? Perhaps intuition, parental dictation, peer influence and pressure, divine intervention...the list certainly could go on. In actuality, much of the way in which we behave comes from societal pressure. My students in my Interpersonal Class have heard my thoughts on this and many agree according to their reflection papers. I am not delusional by the way as many of them write that the agree because they figure that they'll get more points if I hear what I what to hear (read what I want to read). However, some part of me hopes that they do take it to heart...that they don't have to adhere to popular culture to be happy. It might not be for ten years after college partying ways have waned to some decree but hey, better late than never. The simple true is that many people behave, react, engage, emulate, and perpetuate certain behaviorisms because they believe it will bring them social acceptance. Unfortunately, they're least for now. One of my final lectures in my Interpersonal Communications class is entitled "Growing Up Masculine, Growing Up Feminine" based on an article rooted in research and written by renowned gender communication specialist Julia T. Wood. Five themes of masculinity and femininity are offered reflecting on how modern assertions explicitly state what makes a man and a woman. While the article stresses caution against such paradigms, I indulge some unfettered passion in order to convince my students that these themes are absolute bullshit.

For the purpose of time and because, once again, I am under the poetic and exhaustive influence of alcohol, I will break this rant into two parts beginning with masculinity.
All hail the great men of modern society who drink, screw, and make others to seem inferior by comparison. I am of course being intentionally sarcastic speaking as someone who can drink a lot, has enjoyed a number of sexual occasions, and has made something of himself in the professional realm. Make no mistake, this is not vanity. Vanity is not self-propelled...its inception comes from trying to impress other people. By no means am I trying to impress you, I am simply making a point. Many men see it as their purpose in life to be the envy of all other men. Certainly this will bring about disappointment as there will always be at least one other person in your immediate surroundings who is better or more "laudable" in a particular category. Men have been convinced since they were boys that in order to be "successful" that cannot only be good at what they do, they must be the best. Therefore, for many men success becomes a comparison issue. If someone else is "above you" or "on top" you are less-than and thus weak. "Weakness" represents the worst fear of masculinity whether it is exuding ANY types of femininity, not being successful, not being aggressive and taking what "yours," not being sexual, and not being self-reliant. If any of these things is self-propelled, that is a virtue a man believes necessary for his survival and the survival of those whom he cares about, then so be it. All power, glory, etc. However, if any of these things is the result of a socially-constructed unspoken mandate of what masculinity is supposed to be, then he has mis-stepped. The idea that a man has to be an aggressive, high-paid, sexuality explicit cowboy is not only lunacy, it's dangerous. There are a number of men, some of whom are people I know, who consider themselves not worthy of attention (especially from women) and have to endure lowered self-esteem. The irony is that men who behave in the way described, often times are doing so in order to compensate for lower self-esteem. I always chuckle a little when some remarks "He must be making up for something" when a guy in a big truck revs his engine. It's true he is making up for something, but I don't think it has anything to do with his physiology. A guy who insists on driving a big truck which in practicality would result in metallurgy or lumber work, needs for people to give him attention. It's the same reason why frat guys wear pink's not people they think they look good in that color, it's because they feel the need to prove something. In this case, they're trying to prove their comfort in their sexuality and "masculinity." A real man has nothing to prove. A real man doesn't need the validity from popular culture. A real man is the unsung figure that does what is best for him, his family, and his friends...and that's the water's edge. Masculinity is self-propelled and does not have a socially constructed factor. 

Both men and women spend so much time (often with futility) to impress everyone else. We all spend a lot of time and effort trying to prove to others that we are worthy when most of them are not paying attention because they're trying to do the same thing. I, for one, do not want to look back on my efforts and chalk them up to frivolity.

In my humble opinion, the virtues to which a man should adhere are strength, integrity, respect, and honor. These are the values that my father instilled in me. They are the values that I will instill in my sons assuming I am lucky enough to have them. If you want the expanded version of my opinions in this matter, I welcome you to take my Interpersonal Communications class (but you'll have to wait until the end of the semester for this particular part). I will welcome your agreement as well as your dissent. Keep in mind I've prepared for it....make sure you do too.


  1. Have you ever met someone who was gender-confused? I don't mean homosexual, or a cross-dresser, but who truly and deeply did not what it meant to be their gender?

    I had two students whose parents did way too good a job raising their daughters without gender-bias. It was both weird and heartbreaking. I always wondered what happened to them.

    Did they become male? Or remain in their isolated limbo, not male but not understanding what it was to be female, truly connecting to no one?

  2. My point is that I do not feel like we should allow ourselves to feel pressured from society to raise children in a certain way. In essence, we put way to much thought and concern into what everyone else thinking about us. Whether it's adhering to social norms explicitly or directly violating all of them in parental strategies, we're not letting children be who they want to be. If a son wants to learn ballet, so be it. If a daughter wants to play sports, then by all means. I have a hard time believing that those two students are isolated to a "limbo" for their entire lives. Furthermore, if they've not been held down to gender-specific norms, I'd think that would free them to communicate with more people, not less. This is a pretty diverse country and certainly a diverse world...there's a place for everyone. It would be somewhat freeing with perspective to realize that you don't have to look, feel, behave, or BE a certain person and sacrifice what you might want for yourself in order to accommodate the norms set from the outside.

  3. Okay, damn it! I have posted a reply to this FOUR TIMES, and EACH TIME something has gone wrong. So consider that I wrote something pithy and thought-provoking which totally changed your point of view and made my point with mind-blowing clarity. Because that was there. But I've given up trying to share it.