Males and homophobia

This week there was an interesting discussion about nature vs nurture that suggests that there is some deep rooted fear and anxiety among males concerning issues pertaining to masculinity. During the discussion, it became obvious that most males believe that the environment in which one is raised is mainly responsible for causing a person to develop homo-sexual tendencies.

This could make a man act extremely ridiculous such as when one father suggested that should his son show such a sexual preference he could cure this tendency by slapping his son up-side his head.

It was interesting to note that almost all the males and females present at these discussions responded in a disparate manner, with the males suggesting that a change in environmental influences could prevent homo-sexuality from developing whereas most females felt that both biological and environmental influences played a vital role.

Actually, one male was so affected by the whole issue that he suggested that real males do not laugh a lot. So the article this week is about homophobia — the unseen fear of being homosexual.

Before I launch into this discourse, I tried hard to reflect on my teenage years to see if there were any indications that one person or the other was different. So I discussed the matter with a neighbour who said that when she was a girl it was okay for a girl to hug another girl and sit on each other’s lap and comb each other’s hair.

Later, when she became an adolescent, they suddenly started looking at boys even if he was the boy next door whom they previously all hated and felt that he was made of “puppy dog tails”. She mentioned how they all climbed trees, played with kites and rode bikes both boys and girls alike.

When I recounted that such was my childhood, one girl said: “That was then, but girls cannot play those games these days for fear of being called a lesbian.” So it appears that the girls also have an issue.

The youth of today appear to be very concerned about these matters and have suggested that high-school can be a very unhappy place for girls who prefer not to play stereotypical games and for boys who do not dress like rude-boys, all because of homophobia.

So what is homophobia? My research lead me to an article by Michael Kimmel (1994) who referred to homophobia as “… the fear that other men will unmask us, emasculate us, reveal to us and the world that we do not measure up, that we are not real men” (pp147).

He goes on to argue that this fear makes men feel ashamed to show that they are not manly. But Kimmel provides a deeper analysis than that, and further states that not being manly refers to the fear of being humiliated if they show emotions so it all seems to relate to the fear of being ashamed to be afraid.

So you may ask: Where did this fear originate? Well again Kimmel proposes that it relates to our childhood environment when at play. You see boys as young as age six have learnt to reject the label of sissy and are very often observed fighting with each other because of this label.

This show of aggression is believed to demonstrate to others around that he is all male. Woe is he who loses the fight and runs off home crying. The label of sissy may remain for some time. So when we as parents see our little male charges (children) rough housing on the playground do not be alarmed, this is the “little men’s” way of showing that they are all male.

Aside from this, there are some who believe that this form of aggression can develop into something sinister and can escalate into school bullying and homophobic harassment where self esteem can be shattered. You see according to Sharon Lamb, (2009) boys learn that to be cool means behaving in a violent manner towards others.

Lamb also argued that the media plays a vital role in the support of these cruel practices. Others have suggested that young males are practising behaviours referred to as hyper-masculinity. Now let me explain what this term means. Hyper-masculinity is a term originally used by Glass (1984) to describe a pathological behaviour observed among men.

He observed that some males portrayed a behaviour which he described as strong, dependable, rough, rigid, unemotional, powerful and dirty towards fellow men. Yet smooth, charming, stylish, sly, seductive, sexually predatory and knowledgeable about women’s needs although emotionally spurious. Here in lies the contradictions, no man can be all of these things, at least no one personality type that does not suffer some pathology.

Nevertheless, some 15 years later Burstyn, (1999) described the term (hyper-masculinity) as an exaggerated ideal of manhood that is linked to warrior practices for instance mystical beings from cartoons/movies like Skeletor (in the He-Man cartoon), and “the Joker” (in the Batman movies) etc. These descriptions not only portray the male as one who exercises force over others but also of one who uses violence and physical strength all in the name of demonstrating manhood. However, these extreme behaviours often cross over the line of common decency and lawful behaviour which should not be encouraged or tolerated by society.

You may ask why this behaviour occurs. Well, Lamb (2009) suggests that males are plagued with thoughts of whether they are cool enough, funny enough, strong enough or violent enough. In addition, the environment within which these young men exist appears to reward the image of males partying and drinking hard, smoking dope (or have tried it), bullying, while being generally indifferent.

So when at school, if a particular male appears disinclined to behave in this stereotypical manner, these bullies will react violently towards him and labels like homosexual would follow. Some subliminal message in the media also seems to be teaching boys that instead of being caring, respectful and polite they must show how well they can demonstrate physical power over others while demonstrating insolence towards authority figures.

To make matters worse there appears to be some parents who endorse this type of behaviour and may reward boys who participate in bullying. Likewise, they create excuses by making comments like “boys will be boys”. Nevertheless, this behaviour often escalates into harmful acts and misguided perceptions of those who refuse to participate in bullying behaviour. Moreover, those who decline are at the receiving end of social aggressive behaviour such as homophobic taunting, rumour and ostracism.

Finally, homophobia can result in criminal behaviour towards perceived victims or others gay or not. Males must be aware that this behaviour can undermine an individual’s right to feel safe even if they have a different sexual orientation.

In most cases, given the trivial imagery I was given, homophobic accusations are often faulty and hence may result in ruining an individual’s character, reputation or life. This is a serious matter since feeling unwelcome or ostracised can result in major psychological harm.

Therefore, parents and teachers alike must be vigilant about such occurrences and work together to prevent this problem from destroying our youth. They should be made aware that some behaviour is inherited while others are learnt. However, not everyone who appears different is gay and some who appear “normal” often aren’t. Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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