Boyhood is a battlefield: The dangerous expectations of early masculinity

Judy Y. Chu in Salon:

Boy_dumbbellI conducted my study against a backdrop of literature that highlighted ways in which pressures for boys to conform to conventions of masculinity could negatively impact boys’ development. Research on girls’ development conducted by the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development during the 1980s and early 1990s had inspired a resurgence of interest in boys’ development during the late 1990s. Specifically, revelations regarding the centrality of relationships in girls’ lives and the relational nature of girls’ development called into question traditional models of human development that promote individuation and separation in the name of growth, health, and, for boys, manhood. Following the studies of girls, a number of books focused on how boys’ socialization — towards masculine ideals that emphasize, for example, physical toughness, emotional stoicism, and projected self-sufficiency — may lead boys to devalue and disconnect from their emotions and relationships.

While this popular discourse on boys has been helpful in drawing attention to possible problems pertaining to boys’ gender socialization, it has been limited by its tendency to pathologize boys and problematize boys’ development. For example, most of these books are based on clinical populations of boys and adopt a diagnostic approach to understanding boys’ development. Starting from the assumption that there is something wrong with boys, these books emphasize their alleged emotional and relational deficiencies (as compared to girls) and aim to identify what is wrong and who or what is to blame. Boys’ emotional capacities and relational strengths are rarely mentioned, much less addressed. Furthermore, these books do not account for group and individual differences in boys’ socialization experiences and outcomes, including how some boys manage to thrive, and not merely survive, within the same contexts that can be debilitating for other boys.

More here.