Masculinity as Homophobia: Considering Michael S. Kimmel’s article and gender roles in society

I wrote this psychology paper for one of my psychology courses; it’s a reaction paper to course discussion and lecture. This particular reaction paper was based upon a class discussion of gender stereotypes for men and women. In responding to it, I considered Michael S. Kimmel’s article Masculinity as Homophobia.

Masculinity as Homophobia

The main subject of class last week was gender and sexuality. Gender identity is that which is culturally, socially and psychologically determined, whereas the sex itself is merely biological. In other words, what we exhibit as a person and the gender role we play, whether masculinity, femininity, or a combination of the two, is manifest in cultural expectations. This made me think of an article I read a year ago by Michael Kimmel called Masculinity as Homophobia. In the article, Kimmel spoke of man’s fear as a “fear of humiliation.” Men fear that which contradicts the boundaries designated as a manly from society. Thus, we enter an endless cycle of perpetuating an erroneous sense of security to mask our insecurity and bravado to negate our tenderness. I think such a contemplation of this idea is worth exploring.

In the aforementioned article, the author mentions that homophobia is the utter horror of being “unmasked, emasculated and shown to not be a real man.” The manifestation of violence guards man from the whims of would-be infringers to his masculinity. Violence becomes the vessel by which man escapes into a manly world and loses sight of who he is in order to accentuate who he should be. In fact, men constantly must be the purveyors of aggressiveness and toughness lest they be ousted by the “gender police” (peers).

In man’s effort to constantly be vigilant against the encroaching of his manliness, he becomes the slave to the whims of his own foolishness on a day-to-day basis from the way he talks, walks, dresses and even eats. This behavior translates into a misconstrued sense of power that dictates his actions over women and other men. Furthermore, this translates into racism, sexism, classism, and ageism. Power becomes the scapegoat on which to construct a sense of security to compensate for man’s insecurity within: his feeling of powerlessness. Men become the victims of an “oppressive male socialization,” according to the article. Men’s innate mentality of exclusiveness and elitism fosters domineering attitudes and creates a self-fulfilling victimization.

I think Kimmel’s article aligns well with what was discussed in class. The emotional and social behavior of a man is that a man is most likely to be more competitive, assertive, and risky; as such, more likely to be active in various types of crimes. On the other hand, women are more likely to be nurturing, friendly, and open, but in a more contrast to men, anxious and with a low self-esteem. Even in class when we did the attributes one most associates with a man and a woman, the pieces essentially fell into place per stereotypical cultural expectations. However, any list of eight characteristics of an ideal man should have included things like kindness, understanding, patience and open-mindedness. Those qualities would be apropos for women as well. I don’t really understand the conformity to the stereotypes, but at the same time, I understand the reluctance to likewise conform to the sweeping political correctness that somewhat curtails freedom of speech in public venues.

The problem arises because culturally, nobody can clearly define what masculinity is. So, instead everyone becomes drones to the subtle cultural expectations and never actually has a meaningful discourse. Society instead tip-toes around on the minefields of uncertainty hoping someone won’t step on the wrong social expectations of men. That’s where the fear Kimmel is talking about originates: the fear of doing something that goes against the arbitrary rules of society despite not knowing what those rules clearly are. Thus, in the primary socialization of children parents automatically treat the boy with a different standard to the girl. It almost becomes an axiom that boys should be treated tougher and girls more gentle. As learned in lecture, gender is merely a reflection of society with nothing set in stone. Therefore, to masquerade this false dichotomy of child-rearing is asinine and becomes detrimental to society.

Nonetheless, a solution exists, as briefly mentioned in the article. It is all about being inclusive. Men must stop living in the internal cages constructed by society mandating that they be something that they may not be able to live up to. They must not be homophobic in all aspects and learn acceptance and the virtues of equality and diversity. I think society would be better off for it.

4 thoughts

  1. “Men must stop living in the internal cages constructed by society mandating that they be something that they may not be able to live up to.”

    Agreed googolplex percent.

    A great example where men try living the “internal cages” is marriage in my opinion.

    I see it everywhere in people’s faces. The shear fear of being exposed and having their image vulnerable.

    They can’t handle it.

    So what do they do?

    They put on a front and rationalize their fakery thinking they are doing good deeds.

    And to escape this mask, they indulge in alcohol, drugs or silly risky behavior.

    This all compounds on itself till eventually a traumatic life situation develops.

    Now the person is forced to make changes.

    But here is where it gets interesting…

    Society has now even developed systems for treating these ailments.

    Take this magic pill or get this surgery and all your problems will be solved.

    True this can work in the short run, but since the person has not engrained better habits, they will inevitably fall victim to the same or similar problem down the road.

    Deep identity level change is what everyone should study and understand at some point or another in their lives. The universe perpetually creates signs for people to do so. But the sad thing is, most people have literally blinded their consciousness with rationalizations to take such a leap.

    Good article and post Ginger 😉


    1. I agree and well said. Also, thanks for the feedback!

      An unexpected source, but there’s a song from Kacey Musgraves, “Merry Go ‘Round,” that has the lyric, “We get bored so we get married. And just like dust we settle in this town. On this broken merry go ’round and ’round and ’round we go…” I find that such a great reflection of societal expectation surrounding marriage. That doesn’t mean there aren’t success stories of people marrying their high school sweethearts and staying together until literal “death do us part” or others marrying in their early twenties, but how many do it because they think that’s what you do? Or have kids because that’s what you do (and they’re not prepared)? It’s interesting to consider.


  2. Very interesting post and thougthful comments on gender identity. I raised two daughters and saw them struggle with the roles that society said they should conform to. Fortunately they were strong enought to keep to who they were and now have degrees in science.


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