Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Thoughts Toward a Developmental Model of Masculine Identity, Part Six - Modern, Postmodern, and Integral Views on Masculinity

[Part one looked at some racial identity models as a foundation for how to construct a gender identity model, part two looked at the existing literature of male development (and the lack of anything comprehensive), and part three looked at how attachment styles might impact masculine identity. Most recently, part four looked at horizontal and vertical dimensions of individualism and collectivism. Part five looked at development and nature.]

I recently read an excellent article that examined the modern and postmodern perspectives on masculinity - interestingly enough, it was main a nursing journal. I don't have enough time right now to write the long version of this post, so I simply want to make some quick points and then come back to this when I have less homework to do for school (damn school keeps getting in the way of my education).

This is the article (she cites a lot of research, so I will include her references at the end):
Phillips, D.A. (2006). Masculinity, Male Development, Gender, and Identity: Modern and Postmodern Meanings. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 27:403–423. DOI: 10.1080/01612840600569666
Debby A. Phillips, PhD, ARNP, offers a valuable distinction between these two worldviews, one that provides a foundation for my own sense of an integral perspective. Here is the abstract:
Modern and postmodern scholars are addressing the crisis in masculinity by questioning the meaning of masculinity and by rethinking masculinity, male development, gender, and identity. This article explicates current modern humanist positions and postmodern positions on these topics. The first section summarizes contemporary theories advanced by scholars in the relatively new discipline of men’s studies. The second section presents postmodern positions exploring sex as a biological given, the emerging critiques of differentiating sex and gender, and poststructural psychoanalytic positions on simultaneous production of individual subjectivity (sense of self), masculine identity, and society. Implications of these perspectives are identified.
Phillips begins by pointing out that one of the biggest issues with the basic models of masculinity in Western psychology is that they are based on "a white, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle class masculinity norm (Bergman, 1995; Gilligan, 1982/1993; Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991; Pollack, 1995)" and, therefore, are not very useful for most men. These models are based on Erickson (whom she singles out in particular), Piaget, Freud, and a host of other early theorists.

From here she offers quick definitions of the modern and postmodern views of masculinity.

The modernist view, in her view, sees masculinity as a manifestation of the biological state of being sexually male by birth (sex is biological and physical, gender is intrapersonally subjective and interpersonally constructed - I am leaving out intersex and intergender for the purposes of this discussion):
Plainly stated, modern positions such as Erikson’s and, to some extent, the men’s studies development frameworks, assume that boys and men are born with some amount of innate maleness or masculinity that is fixed and will evolve or develop in a biologically predetermined manner, identified as male, within a relatively narrow range of normality.

Key positions underlying modern humanist theories of the individual are an assumed separation between mind and body, and between the individual and the social (society). They also assume that individuals have a “free will” and a pre-given biological body that, in the last instance, govern choices and behaviors. (p. 404)
And the postmodernist view, she argues, is that masculinity is a social constructed concept, more of a gender identity than a sexual identity:
Postmodern positions posit that babies are born into a culture that begins creating or defining them as male or female from “in utero” (if biological sex is known or assumed) or from birth. They come to know themselves and others come to know them, as “male” or “female,” through the gender norms that proliferate in every aspect of cultural context, including the visual and auditory “air we breathe.” (p. 404)

This perspective points to practices of masculinity, like heterosexuality, high risk behaviors, dominance, and physical and sexual violence, not as innate characteristics of men or simply social norms, but as necessary productions for achievement of normative masculine identity (or manhood) in a particular social context affirming those practices as normal. That is, these productions occur within an already created social context continuously reproducing a dominant, white, heterosexual, able bodied, superior, tough, masculine norm and unhealthy practices of masculinity in support of this norm. (p. 405)
These quick definitions are useful in that point to the very different ways each perspective sees the development of and nature of masculinity. The problem, which is obvious to fans of integral theory, is that each one is partial and, in being partial, is limiting for men and limiting in the ways and roles by which they can express themselves.

Phillips sites Kimmel's concept (1996) of a crisis in masculinity, and summarizes his view that these crises . . .
usually involve radical questioning of the meaning of masculinity, and they occur during periods of significant ideological, economic, and social tensions. It is during periods of upheaval and changes in social values that “old definitions [of masculinity] no longer work, and new definitions are yet to be firmly established” (p. 5). He argues that at these transition points, the search for a timeless and eternal inner essence of manhood becomes most urgent. (p. 405)
We are experiencing such a "crisis in masculinity" right now in Western culture. Feminism has made substantial strides in creating equality in many areas of the culture* and men, for the most part, have not changed their own definitions of masculinity accordingly.

From my perspective - excluding more rural areas of the country where "traditional" gender roles are still expected and respected - feminism has helped to evolve new possibilities for women in their self concept and their cultural roles. On the other hand, men have at first resisted these changes, then struggled to deal with them, and now are rebelling against them.

Rather than evolve their own sense of self and cultural roles, a lot of men have simply felt lost and confused, no longer sure of how to relate to women who are independent and self-sufficient, women who know what they want and expect men to meet them as equals. Most of what passes for men's groups are efforts to help men find meaning within the modernist perspectives of what constitutes masculinity. At the same time, cultural expectations of men are moving away from the John Wayne, stiff upper lip approach to life and asking men to be emotionally intelligent, accessible, and more actively involved in their relationships, their children's lives, and their friendships. Men are now expected to lead "meaningful lives of integrity, accountability, responsibility, and emotional intelligence" (The Mankind Project).

Phillips asserts that men's studies are founded in this struggle:
Men’s studies is one area of current, visible, changing discourses on men and masculinity. Available in popular and professional literature, much of the recent scholarship from this field suggests that traditional theories of development are risky to male physical and mental health, as well as dangerous to others. Some of this work questions the normative referent status of traditional male norms for men, and examines masculinity as a complex and problematic psychological construct (Bergman, 1995; Brooks & Silverstein, 1995; Lazur & Majors, 1995; Pleck, 1995; Pollack, 1995, 1998; Real, 1997).

Within this framework, the mind and assumed innate cognitive capacities are separate from the body. The individual is separate from the social but connected through a socialization interaction. Male development, violence, and health-risk behaviors are understood as consequences of socialization to prevalent norms of masculinity.

A brief description of three leading theories under the rubric, “a new psychology of men,” follows. These are gender role strain theory, put forward by Joseph Pleck (1995), a psychoanalytic object relations perspective theorized by William Pollack (1995, 1998), and a relational approach to men’s development put forward by Stephen Bergman (1995) and based on the Stone Center self-in-relation theory of psychological development.

A critical examination of these three theories reveals that biological sex and male/female sexual difference is their assumed and pregiven starting place. Eurocentric heterosexual masculinity forms the ground of their developmental models. Cultural differences due to ethnicity, race, sexuality, or economic privilege are not mentioned (Bergman, 1995; Pollack, 1995) or are mentioned as an aside (Pleck, 1995). (p. 406)
In these models, biology is destiny, at least as understood by the culture.

On the other hand, postmodern, "transgressive" masculinity has sought to deconstruct the modernist ideas of masculinity within a relativistic, culturally constructed perspective. Even within the metrosexual subculture, men are willing to adopt behaviors and body-care techniques traditionally associated with women.
Postmodern scholars seek to reassess the usefulness of these central concepts (of modernism, ed.) by critiquing the deeply embedded assumption of an innately predetermined individual and the resultant presumption of the sex-gender binary or sex as innate, fixed, and dominant over gender as social, and of a “free” will.

In poststructural psychoanalytic accounts of “individual” subjectivity, the separation between mind and body and between individual and social are dissolved. That is, an individual, the mind, and the body are understood as dynamic social creations. An individual can not “know” his or herself or be “known” by others outside of the language used for that knowing. And, language in all its forms (visual representation, verbal, text, computer, video, educational resources, etc.) is social (created and constructed). This position on language is central to postmodern accounts of individuals, identity, and experience (Henriques et al., 1984/1998; Hollway, 1989; Phillips, 2000a, 2000b, 2001; Venn, 1984/1998). (p. 413-414)
While Phillips cites the poststructural psychoanalytic model as exemplary of the postmodern vision of masculinity, there are also social constructivist models and the whole field of cultural psychology.

In line with the variety of theoretical approaches, Phillips offers this generalization about the nature of postmodern cultural theories:
Most contemporary cultural conversations about men and masculinity are preceded by deeply embedded societal understandings that take as given the separation between nature (innate body/inborn traits) and social/society, and between the individual and the social/society. These assumed separations are mutually reinforcing of the sex (biology)–gender (social) and the body (innate)–mind (social, consciousness) binaries (Butler, 1990/1999; Butler, 1993; Petersen, 1998). Sex corresponds with the inherited body, nature, and biology. It is usually assumed to provide a solid, natural, and stable base for acquired gender identity and behavior. Gender identity corresponds with social learning, which is assumed to be learned by a blank slate kind of mind and fit with the biologically “pre-inscribed” body. Unlike nature and biology, gender is assumed to be changeable, in which case the mind can be re-educated or re-gendered to facilitate or control natural masculinity or femininity emerging from the biological core. (p. 414)

Rejecting theoretical differentiation between sex and gender, and between mind and body makes possible the reconfiguring of the male sexed body as one that is created in cultural discourses and made to signify or communicate masculine gender and identity in particular ways (Butler, 1990/1999, 1993; Collier, 1998). (p. 416)
The article goes on to detail the conflict between these two worldviews, which we might see as a rational/multiplistic/achieving self perspective vs. a pluralistic/relativist/sensitive self perspective. Modern vs. postmodern.

Or in Phillips words:
Cultural reification of an essential masculinity is one hegemonic effect of the use of the category male or men as a common analytic strategy (Petersen, 1998). That is, “the constant and uncritical use of the category ‘men’ . . . reflects a tendency towards universalism. . . . The unstated assumption is that there exists a universal category of human subject [man] defined by biology and/or common experience [male]” (p. 6). This assumption has consequences, depending on how one is positioned in relation to this assumed universal man.

Poststructural and deconstructionist analytical perspectives question the epistemology of masculinity and work to show how constitutive categories seek to keep gender in its binary place (male/female, normal male/abnormal male) by positing as foundational, assumptions of binary gender identity (male/female) (Butler, 1990/1999; Petersen, 1998). (p. 420)
Finally, her assumption is that the postmodern perspective is "better" than the modern viewpoint. And I have to agree that it has its merits, especially as she states it here:
From this perspective, male identity, development, and experience is not fixed, stable, or singular. How men understand themselves and their lived experience depends on the societal discourses they are participating in, and how they are produced by and positioned in those discourses as men relative to the norm in a cultural context. (p. 421)
However, this viewpoint, as useful and convincing as it seems, is only partial. And it's important to remember that all perspectives on which we can hold a conversation are also partial.

Despite all the issues with the modernist perspective of masculinity, that it has "done little to improve the mental and physical health of men or the safety of women and men from unhealthy practices of masculinity" (p. 412), there are mounting piles of studies showing that much of what we consider masculine behavior in male children is innate (Brizendine, 2010) - little boys acts like boys, they prefer boy toys, and they think and learn like boys.

Many of these same differences, as Brizendine shows her book, The Male Brain, persist into adulthood for men, and are represented in brain structures, as well as hormones and neurotransmitters. The following material is from the front matter of her book, prior to the Introduction.
The Male Brain
Scientists think of brain areas like the ACC, TPJ, and RCZ as being “hubs” of brain activation, sending electrical signals to other areas of the brain, causing behaviors to occur or not occur.

1. MEDIAL PREOPTIC AREA (MPOA): This is the area for sexual pursuit, found in the hypothalamus, and it is 2.5 times larger in the male. Men need it to start an erection.

2. TEMPORAL PARIETAL JUNCTION (TPJ): The solution seeker, this “cognitive empathy” brain hub rallies the brain’s resources to solve distressing problems while taking into account the perspective of the other person or people involved. During interpersonal emotional exchanges, it’s more active in the male brain, comes on-line more quickly, and races toward a “fix-it-fast” solution.

3. DORSAL PREMAMMILLARY NUCLEUS (DPN): The defend-your-turf area, it lies deep inside the hypothalamus and contains the circuitry for a male’s instinctive one-upmanship, territorial defense, fear, and aggression. It’s larger in males than in females and contains special circuits to detect territorial challenges by other males, making men more sensitive to potential turf threats.

4. AMYGDALA: The alarm system for threats, fear, and danger. Drives emotional impulses. It gets fired up to fight by testosterone, vasopressin, and cortisol and is calmed by oxytocin. This area is larger in men than in women.

5. ROSTRAL CINGULATE ZONE (RCZ): The brain’s barometer for registering social approval or disapproval. This “I am accepted or not” area keeps humans from making the most fundamental social mistake: being too different from others. The RCZ is the brain center for processing social errors. It alerts us when we’re not hitting the mark in our relationship or job. During puberty, it may help males reset their facial responses to hide their emotions.

6. VENTRAL TEGMENTAL AREA (VTA): It’s the motivation center—an area deep in the center of the brain that manufactures dopamine, a neurotransmitter required for initiating movement, motivation, and reward. It is more active in the male brain.

7. PERIAQUEDUCTAL GRAY (PAG): The PAG is part of the brain’s pain circuit, helping to control involuntary pleasure and pain. During sexual intercourse, it is the center for pain suppression, intense pleasure, and moaning. It is more active during sex in the male brain.

8. MIRROR-NEURON SYSTEM (MNS): The “I feel what you feel” emotional empathy system. Gets in sync with others’ emotions by reading facial expressions and interpreting tone of voice and other nonverbal emotional cues. It is larger and more active in the female brain.

9. ANTERIOR CINGULATE CORTEX (ACC): It’s the worry-wart, fear-of-punishment area and center of sexual performance anxiety. It’s smaller in men than in women. It weighs options, detects conflicts, motivates decisions. Testosterone decreases worries about punishment. The ACC is also the area for self-consciousness.

10. PREFRONTAL CORTEX (PFC): The CEO of the brain, the PFC focuses on the matter at hand and makes good judgments. This “pay total attention to this now” area also works as an inhibiting system to put the brakes on impulses. It’s larger in women and matures faster in females than in males by one to two years.
From here she goes on to list and describe the basic neurotransmitters and hormones that shape the male brain differently than the female brain.
(how hormones affect a man’s brain)

TESTOSTERONE—Zeus. King of the male hormones, he is dominant, aggressive, and all-powerful. Focused and goal-oriented, he feverishly builds all that is male, including the compulsion to outrank other males in the pecking order. He drives the masculine sweat glands to produce the come-hither smell of manhood—androstenedione. He activates the sex and aggression circuits, and he’s single-minded in his dogged pursuit of his desired mate. Prized for his confidence and bravery, he can be a convincing seducer, but when he’s irritable, he can be the grouchiest of bears.

VASOPRESSIN—The White Knight. Vasopressin is the hormone of gallantry and monogamy, aggressively protecting and defending turf, mate, and children. Along with testosterone, he runs the male brain circuits and enhances masculinity.

M√úLLERIAN INHIBITING SUBSTANCE (MIS)—Hercules. He’s strong, tough, and fearless. Also known as the Defeminizer, he ruthlessly strips away all that is feminine from the male. MIS builds brain circuits for exploratory behavior, suppresses brain circuits for female-type behaviors, destroys the female reproductive organs, and helps build the male reproductive organs and brain circuits.

OXYTOCIN—The Lion Tamer. With just a few cuddles and strokes, this “down, boy” hormone settles and calms even the fiercest of beasts. He increases empathic ability and builds trust circuits, romantic-love circuits, and attachment circuits in the brain. He reduces stress hormones, lowers men’s blood pressure, and plays a major role in fathers’ bonding with their infants. He promotes feelings of safety and security and is to blame for a man’s “postcoital narcolepsy.”

PROLACTIN—Mr. Mom. He causes sympathetic pregnancy (couvade syndrome) in fathers-to-be and increases dads’ ability to hear their babies cry. He stimulates connections in the male brain for paternal behavior and decreases sex drive.

CORTISOL—The Gladiator. When threatened, he is angry, fired up, and willing to fight for life and limb.

ANDROSTENEDIONE—Romeo. The charming seducer of women. When released by the skin as a pheromone he does more for a man’s sex appeal than any aftershave or cologne.

DOPAMINE—The Energizer. The intoxicating life of the party, he’s all about feeling good, having fun, and going for the gusto. Excited and highly motivated, he’s pumped up to win and driven to hit the jackpot again and again. But watch out—he is addictively rewarding, particularly in the rough-and-tumble play of boyhood and the sexual play of manhood, where dopamine increases ecstasy during orgasm.

ESTROGEN—The Queen. Although she doesn’t have the same power over a man as Zeus, she may be the true force behind the throne, running most of the male brain circuits. She has the ability to increase his desire to cuddle and relate by stimulating his oxytocin.
These basic differences set the stage for the rest of the her book. I think one of the real strengths in her book is that she acknowledges and does not pathologize the essential differences in male brains, especially in boys where there are some real innate differences in how boys play, relate to others, and so on. And she also acknowledges that culture and interpersonal experience also plays a role in shaping the male brain.

Thoughts Toward an Integral Model

In order to develop an integral model of masculinity, we must include both the modern and postmodern perspectives outlined in Phillip's article. Yet it is much more complex than even that union.

We must include all of the following in our integral model of masculinity:

1. The Biological - Brain and body, hormones, the whole fleshy mess that comes with the male sex and the y chromosome (see David Page). We can also look at behavior in this category, since it is an external "thing" that can be observed. Behavioral learning models can be a part of this experiential realm (boys are taught not to cry or show emotions as children, to the point that adult male faces lose the expression of some emotions).

2. The Psychological - Ego stages, typologies, self models (horizontal vs. vertical and individual vs. collective), emotional intelligence, and so on, including ideas of multiplicity of self (first suggested by William James and expanded on since then in multiple ways). Dialogical self theory bridges the gap, a bit, into the cultural.

3. The Cultural - Cultural self models, social constructivism, shared cultural values, and the evolution of worldviews as suggested by Jean Gebser. This includes things like media and television, where cultural values are widely distributed (one study shows that kids who watch a lot of TV have serious behavior and psychological issues). This realm also deals with parental attachment and interpersonal relationships.

4. The Environmental - This includes the socio-political environment, the means of production (traditional definitions of masculinity adhere in agricultural communities, while modern and postmodern adhere in urban and technological environments, in general), the physical environment (trees, water, and other forms of nature shown to have a positive impact on human functioning), as well laws and regulations (for example, being gay is still illegal in some countries and gay men are denied full rights even in America).

There can be much more added here, including a developmental model of masculine identity, similar to that of David Scott and Tracy Robinson's Key Model:
Scott, D. & Robinson, T. (2001). White Male Identity Development: The Key Model. Journal of Counseling and Development; Fall: Vol. 79; 415-421.
However, we need a model that is multiracial, not just white. And we need a model that incorporates some of these other ideas from the integral approach.

If you have any thoughts on this preliminary outline, please drop me a note.

* This is not to suggest that women have achieved equality (there is still much to do), nor am I unaware that, in some respects, the feminist agenda has confused patriarchy for masculinity and diminished male rights and masculine identity while seeking to subdue patriarchy.

Brizendine, L. (2010). The Male Brain: A Breakthrough Understanding of How Men and Boys Think. New York: Broadway Books.
Kimmel, M. (1996). Manhood in America. New York: The Free Press.

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