Homophobia Linked to Definition of Masculinity

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), May 24, 2017 | Go to article overview

Homophobia Linked to Definition of Masculinity


Byline: C.J. Pascoe For The Register-Guard

As someone who has spent years studying homophobic bullying in high schools, I am often asked whether the situation is getting better or worse.

The answer is more complicated than you might think.

On the one hand, we now have greater legal protections against discrimination aimed at sexual minorities - the legalization of same-sex marriage and the passage of anti-bullying laws by 14 states, for instance. Yet we continue to see homophobia in online spaces, on the schoolyard and in our legal system: Just witness the recent popularity of discriminatory "bathroom bill" legislation.

To understand the persistence of some kinds of homo phobia, we need to begin with discussions of masculinity and what it means to be a man. Here's why.

In my research, I have found that much homophobic bullying is directed not at boys who identify as gay - although, to be sure, they do suffer harassment - but at boys who identify as straight. This kind of bullying has as much to do with shoring up definitions of masculinity as it does with understandings of sexuality, although of course the two are deeply related.

Boys I've studied have told me that you could suffer this kind of harassment for doing "anything ... literally, anything. Like you were trying to turn a wrench the wrong way: 'Dude, you're such a fag.' "

Boys told me that homophobic epithets were directed at boys for exhibiting any sort of behavior defined as nonmasculine: being stupid, incompetent, dancing, caring too much about clothing, being too emotional or expressing interest (sexual or platonic) in other guys. Many of the young men I've studied told me they would not actually direct these insults at young people who identified as gay.

What these boys were doing was reinforcing their own masculinity by divesting another of it through jokes, taunts, imitations and threats. Grown-ups are caught up in their own version of the game and, not surprisingly, our recent presidential election and its aftermath, so steeped in masculinity, involved similar behavior.

This political moment exemplifies a contest over masculinity, over who qualifies as a "real man." Donald Trump's promise to "Make America great again" was, according to sociologist Arlie Hochschild, in many ways a promise to " 'Make men great again,' too - both fist-pounding, gun-toting guy-guys and high-flying entrepreneurs. To white, native-born, heterosexual men, Trump offered a solution to the dilemma they had long faced as the 'left-behinds' of the 1960s and 1970s celebration of other identities. …

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