Reconstructing Masculinity: Role Models in the Life Stories of Men's Peer Mutual Support Group Members
Eric S. Mankowski
Feminism and changing economic conditions have challenged the viability of dominant, hegemonic definitions of masculinity as a basis for men's identity ( Connell, 1990; Segal, 1990). Increasingly, a masculinity based on expectations of physical strength, toughness, aggression, emotional suppression (with the exception of anger), and dominance in relation to women ( Pleck, 1981) is untenable. In response to these threats to the structural sources of hegemonic masculinity, some men are attempting to "re-create" ( Betcher & Pollack, 1993), "re-vision" ( Kupers, 1993), and "reconstruct" ( Levant, 1995) healthier and less conflicted forms of masculine identity.
Men's peer mutual support (MPMS) groups are one setting in which these reconstructions are occurring ( Andronico, 1996; Sternbach, 1990). Men who participate in such groups are taking an active step in understanding and changing how gender affects their lives. In the groups, men exchange stories about their experiences of growing up male and offer each other emotional support and encouragement in their efforts to redefine the imprint of masculinity on their lives and lessen gender role conflict ( O'Neil, 1991).
The social processes in these groups include several forms of discourse and interaction that may facilitate redefinitions of masculinity ( Gilbert, 1992; Schwalbe, 1996): the exchange of personal stories, histories, and instructive myths and participation in ritualized forms of physical and social interaction. By exchanging stories in a supportive context, men can develop a shared understanding of what it means to be male that differs from oppressive and self- destructive meanings that typify traditional forms of masculinity ( Brannon, 1976; Eisler, 1995).