Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

"But He Can't Be Gay": The Relationship between Masculinity and Homophobia in Father-Son Relationships

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

"But He Can't Be Gay": The Relationship between Masculinity and Homophobia in Father-Son Relationships

Article excerpt

The construction of homophobia in western cultures, especially among American men, is directly linked to the construction of hegemonic masculinity. As Kimmel (1994) posited, it is not only the very explicit fear and disapproval of gay men that links masculinity and homophobia, but also the various implicit constructions of masculinity that handcuff masculinity to fear and intolerance of homosexuality. This study will focus on this relationship between masculinity and homophobia through the specific relationship between fathers and sons. The role that fathers and sons play in each other's understandings of masculinity is an important one, and this research explores what happens to the understanding of masculinity when one of the members of the father-son relationship is gay.

REVIEW OF MASCULINITY AND HOMOPHOBIA

Constructing/Socializing Masculinity

Any discussion of gender, including masculinity, should first address the different theories attempting to explain it. Biological Determinism suggests that gender is something we are, something we are born with, something that is fixed (Fausto-Sterling, 1985). For example Biological Determinism argues that the characteristics of being "male" or "female" are genetically wired and biologically predisposed, therefore there are "natural" personality aspects of masculinity and femininity that we develop in the same way that we develop testosterone and estrogen.

In contrast to Biological Determinism, Social Construction and Socialization theories (combined here for the sake of argument) argue that gender may be something we are, but more importantly it is something we learn. The theory of Social Construction argues that we (society) create the definitions and boundaries of gender and then the norms of social interactions, and social institutions, provide the social control that "fits" us into these definitions and boundaries (West & Zimmerman, 1987).

As with all norms, we as members of society must learn what is expected of us, we must be socialized to these gender norms (Arnett, 1995; Maccoby, 1992). Socialization Theory focuses on explaining gender through the effects of learning about gender, learning how to "be a man" or "act like a lady". Social Construction and Socialization Theory lead to a concept called doing gender (West and Zimmerman, 1987) which describes the process of learning and performing gender expectations, again suggesting that gender is not something fixed or pre-determined, but something that is socially constructed and socialized.

Father-Son Relationship and Masculinity

Fathers to sons. When we talk of socialization (learning the norms of society), we must address the sources of socialization, often referred to as "agents of socialization". Typically these agents are generalized into large social institutions such as education, religion, and family. Regarding the family as an agent of socialization, while the responsibilities of socializing children to general social norms is often shared among parents, socializing children to specific gender norms is often gender-specific (fathers to sons, mothers to daughters) in a "normative" family structure of heterosexual married parents (Fagot, Leinbach, & O'Boyle, 1992; Maccoby, 1992; Ruble, 1988).

Most studies on the relationship between fatherhood and masculinity discuss whether fatherhood itself is an element of masculinity and/or examine the ways in which constructed notions of masculinity influence the ways in which men parent (Jordan, 2009; Troilo & Coleman, 2008; Johnson, 2007). There is an assumption among sociologists and psychologists, with a sufficient body of research that tests the assumption, that fathers play an instrumental role in socializing sons in the ways of hegemonic masculinity (Kane, 2006; Coltrane, 2004).

There are specific efforts and interactions fathers engage in to socialize their sons to standards of masculinity. …

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