How we understand gender, which includes concepts of masculinity, can be understood through two distinctly separate theories. Biological Determinism suggests that we are all born with a fixed gender. This suggests that the characteristics of being “male” or “female” are hard wired. And it proposes that we are biologically predisposed to the ”natural” personality aspects of masculinity and femininity that develop the same way as we develop testosterone or oestrogen.
An alternative to Biological Determinism is the Social Construction and Socialisation theories. Social Construction theory suggests that society creates the definitions and boundaries of gender. And it suggests that social interactions and social institutions provide the social control that “fits” us into these definitions and boundaries.
Social Construction refers to agents of socialisation which generally are large social institutions, for instance, education and religious institutions, and family. While socialising children to general social norms, may be shared by both parents. Socialising children to a gender is often gender-specific, father to son or mother to daughter. Research has indicated that fathers play an important role in socialising their sons in the ways of hegemonic masculinity.
Research has suggested that fathers engage in specific interactions to socialise their sons into standards of masculinity. Another aspect of the socialising process, is through the specific masculine behaviour the father models to his son. Social conditioning is then a two fold experience for the son. First, the father tells the son the social standards for masculinity. And second, the father models the standards of masculinity. In one sense the father becomes the standard of masculinity, which later serves as a reference point or archetype.
How is this situation relevant to same sex attracted men? Homophobia is normally considered the fear of homosexuality and the fear of being perceived as a homosexual. But in fact it is more linked to hegemonic masculinity. This can be clearly seen by the disproportionate level of homophobic beliefs held by men in comparison with women.
One of the clear messages from hegemonic masculinity is that to be a man, you must desire women, objectify women and to have sex with women. So to be a same sex attracted man places the individual clearly outside of the standard norms of masculinity. Heterosexuality is not only used to define masculinity but also used as a way to enforce masculinity. Thus homophobia is a way to control the gender performance of other men. And men who use homophobic terms in their daily language use them not only to demean same sex attracted men but to also to enforce their own masculinity over other men.
Christopher Swane - Relationship Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington New Zealand