Friday, May 28, 2010

Thoughts Toward a Developmental Model of Masculine Identity, Part Eight: The Multiplicity Model of Masculine Identity

This is the latest installment in my ongoing effort to create a comprehensive model of masculine identity development.

[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. Part Six looks at modern, postmodern, and integral versions of masculinity. Part Seven looked at why it is so challenging to transcend the existing traditionalist masculine stereotype.]

In part two of this series, I offered two existing models of masculine develop, one specific to men and one more general in nature. What follows is that part of the previous post, for use as reference in terms of what I want to present here.
David A. Scott and Tracy L. Robinson offer a more complex model - The Key Model - based on racial identity models: "White Male Identity Development: The Key Model" (2001).
Type I : Noncontact - Status quo; denies racism; seeks power and privilege
Type II: Claustrophobic - Other races are “closing in” on him; disillusionment with the American dream; feels power and privilege are going to other races
Type III: Conscious Identity - Dissonance between existing belief system and reality
Type IV: Empirical - Questioning their role in racism and oppression and their struggle for unrealistic power from oppression
Type V: Optimal - Person understands how his struggle for power and privilege has caused racism and oppression Component Description (Scott & Robinson, 2001, p. 418)
There is much to like in this model - but it is limited to white men, and as such, it focuses on race as an element of identity that a more comprehensive model of masculinity would not. On the other hand, it follows in the tradition of the various racial development models, and it does so from the position of the dominant population (in terms of power and status), white males.

A more general model (Social Identity Development Theory, 1992) proposed by Rita Hardiman and Bailey W. Jackson, is based on the race models I mentioned in part one. What follows is my summary of their model.

It's important to note that agents are generally white, male, Christian, heterosexual, abled, middle class, middle age; while targets are non-white, female, atheist or non-Christian, GLBT, disabled, poor and working class, and/or young or aged.
1. Naive/No social consciousness: Both agents and targets are essentially unconscious of their social role or status. They are egocentric, oblivious to others' needs or concerns. In the transition from naive to Acceptance, they become aware of differences between themselves and others. They discover that they are an agent or a target. Belief systems about one's in-group and various out-groups begin to develop.

2. Acceptance (passive and active): Internalization, either consciously or unconsciously, of the dominant culture's logic and values systems. Acceptance of cultural messages about agents and targets. Agents in passive acceptance have successfully internalized beliefs and behaviors and no longer require reinforcement. Agents in active acceptance still require direct instruction on why out-groups (targets) are inferior. Agents in the acceptance stage generally are not aware of their status as agents, and tend to believe, "This is just how things are done." Targets in passive acceptance are not aware that they have internalized the beliefs of the dominant culture about their supposed inferiority. There may be self-hate, and there may also be cognitive dissonance as their unconscious beliefs bump up against more positive messages from within their own in-group. Targets in active acceptance are more overt in their acceptance of derogatory images of their group. As an example, many black people oppose affirmative action or social programs because they believe people of color are unsuccessful due to their own laziness and pathology. Those leaving this stage have been exposed to the harm and damage these beliefs can produce for the target groups.

3. Resistance (passive and active): At this stage there is increased awareness of oppression and the harm it causes to both agents and targets. Agents in this stage begin to see their own group as oppressive and their worldview begins to shift. They will often begin to examine their own role in perpetuating the oppression. There is may be anger at this stage, and some will see themselves as an outsider in relation to their own previous in-group(s). Targets have begun to question the previously accepted truths about their group, and they begin to identify the oppressive premises that are part of the social fabric. As a result of anger, pain, hurt, and rage, they may develop an identity based on opposition to the agent group. In doing so, targets begin to regain some lost power. Both agents and targets can express these roles as active (requiring direction and education) or passive (internalized and unconscious).

4. Redefinition: The goal of this stage is to create an identity that is free from the hierarchical inferiority and superiority dynamic. Agents/men who create groups to examine their socialization and critically explore the definitions of masculinity they had previously accepted, seeking a more affirming model that is not based in oppression, are representative of this stage. Agents in this stage begin to develop pride in their identity and an acceptance of all groups as intrinsically valuable. Embracing diversity and relativism are essential. Targets focus more on their group and in defining it without the input of the agent group. Targets at this stage may prefer to avoid the agent group and spend time with their own in-group, mostly as a way to affirm their identity in positive ways. Support groups are one important tool, as is renaming to reframe the group identity. One example of renaming/reframing is to redefine being "disabled" as being "differently abled."

5. Internalization: At this point the task is to incorporate the progress made in the Redefinition stage into every facet of their lives. This is a context dependent stage (or fluid) in some ways, in that targets in particular may revisit earlier stages (especially redefinition) in some situations that are new or unfamiliar. Agents at this stage are aware of the past problems and want to create a better future, while simultaneously trying to integrate this new awareness into other areas of their lives. The new beliefs and behaviors are expressed spontaneously. Targets at this stage engage in a process of renegotiating social roles and contracts with others, asserting their new-found pride and identity outside of the safety of the in-group. Previously identified targets may now express sympathy with and for other targeted groups and work to help them begin their own process of identity formation. However, targets who are members or more than one group (ex: a Muslim, black lesbian) will still have work to do in other areas most times. (adapted from Hardiman & Jackson, 1997, p. 23-29)
This model comes closest to what I want to propose. In fact, Dr. Raúl Quiñones-Rosado has already used this model to deconstruct Warren Farrell's version of masculinity (as presented in a talk with Ken Wilber and, separately, with Corey W. deVos at Integral Life) in his recent article, A Developmental View of “Men’s Liberation” (February 27, 2010).

Quiñones-Rosado addresses Farrell's main agenda, which is to show how men have been victimized both by the messages about masculinity with which they have been raised and by the feminist movement and it's efforts in the Resistance and Redefinition stages from above. He rightly suggests that Farrell is mining the Resistance stage for men - although Farrell also seems to be arguing for men to enter the Redefinition stage (although with a very resistant tone).
I am grateful to these authors for their pioneering work in this realm (and also to Michael J. Diamond for his work on masculinity from a psychoanalytic perspective).

What I am about to present is a model I "created" this morning on a piece of scratch paper during a break at work, but the ideas have been percolating for several months now. I doubt that this will be the final version, so please consider this an in-process working model.

Let's begin with a few definitions for those who are not versed in the terminology of gender studies.
Sex: This is the basic biological sexual identity at birth, male, female, or intersex (many possible variations).

Gender: Often used interchangeably with "sex," this term is more often associated with social constructions of sexual identity. Often generalized into "gender roles," though gender studies tends to make the distinction.

Gender Role: These roles are socio-cultural constructs referring to a set of psycho-social and behavioral norms considered appropriate for a given gender. My contention is that an individual often assumes a variety of gender roles that are situationally determined - a form of multiplicity.

Gender Identity: A person's relative sense of his or her own masculine or feminine identity, was first used in 1965 by John Money (Money, 1965). Also, "a person's Gender identity is the combination of one's outer sex, as represented by one's genitalia, and one's inner sex, i.e. the inner sense of being a male or a female" (Wikipedia). This is psycho-social experience that may have little to do with one's biological sex.

Core Gender Identity: Robert Stoller (1968), a psychoanalytic theorist, wanted to distinguish differences between the psychological and biological dimensions of sex. He generated three qualities of one's core gender identity: "1) Biological and hormonal influences; 2) Sex assignment at birth; 3) Environmental and psychological influences with effects similar to imprinting" (Gelber, 2010). Essentially, the innermost experience of oneself as a male (or female), and this can be at odds with both biological sex, and outer sexual identity.
Clearly, this can be a confusing field for new-comers, and even among those who inhabit this field, there can be significant disagreement about definitions.

So, with that foundation, here is my preliminary stage model of masculine development.

I want to be clear here, many men never consciously look at their gender identity in any serious way. They are biological men, and that is enough. Furthermore, some men will move a step or two, or more, along the development ladder, but can stop at any point, regress a stage or two, or progress a stage or two at any time. The cultural and psychological conditions of a man's life will dictate if or when this happens.

For example, the rise of feminism and gay studies propelled the first exploration of masculinity studies. Now, thirty or forty years later, the same process is happening in a different way - women, the GLBT community, and cultural "others" are all working on understanding their identities separate from "hegemonic" masculinity - defining themselves rather than being defined by white, male, middle class, middle aged holders of power.

Finally, how these stages manifest will be different in an individualist society vs a communal society (see part four). The (a) stages are temporary or permanent "dead ends," the system is closed at that point and unless new information or experience creates dissonance, the stage is stable. The (b) stages are open systems, willing to accept new experience and/or information, still evolving as human beings.

No stage is static, of course, and men may regress or progress as situations change, although this is much less true of the (a) stages.

Stage 1: Pre-conscious or Non-differentiated. At this point there is no real awareness of one's gender roles or identity as an object of consciousness. It's fair to say one is embedded in their biological sex identity.

Stage 2: Sex Identity Awareness. "I am male, therefore I am a man." There is no consciousness of gender roles separate from sexual identity. Identity is boy vs. girl, man vs. woman, male vs. female. Because masculine identity is binary at this stage ("normal"), bisexuality, homosexuality, or transgendered are often seen as other, as "abnormal." While these people are "seen," in a very limited way, their enactment of masculinity is not seen as part of a set of options. Feminism - radical or otherwise - is "evil" to men at this stage because it undermines "traditional family values."

Stage 3: Primary Exposure. For the first time there is a conscious recognition that some men enact their masculinity in ways different than I do. Exposure comes from family members, community, culture, and media, to name a few sources. While the person may not embrace these roles, they are seen for the first time as different ways that men are in the world, and that the variations among male expression of "transgressive" masculinity does not make them un-male.

Stage 4a: Entrenchment. Primary exposure may challenge the person enough that he becomes entrenched in his biological sex role. This person is essentially a "closed system," and he is not open to accepting alternative ways of being masculine.

OR . . . following secondary exposure . . .

Stage 4b: Differentiation. On the other hand, this person is an open system, willing to allow that there is more than one way to be masculine. The person begins to think about what it is that constitutes masculinity or being a man, not from a simple biological level, but in terms of values and behaviors. A person at this stage may also come out as gay or bisexual.

Stage 5a: Conscious Traditional Masculinity. A man at this point accepts the dominant hegemonic masculine model as his gender identity. However, he accepts that others do it differently than he does - different but equal. Some men at this stage will see feminism as either harmful to women or destructive to men. Different cultures will embrace their own unique definition of what traditional masculinity looks like to them.

OR . . . following further exposure . . .

Stage 5b: Gender Styles: "I am a man, but I can be masculine, feminine, androgynous, or something else." Men at this stage can try out different styles until they find the one that fits for them. They may begin to read about masculinities, accepting that there are many ways to enact masculinity. Men at this stage may see feminist studies and/or queer studies as tools toward exploring their own identity.

Stage 6a: Adopted Gender Role: "I am . . . androgynous, a manly man, a metrosexual, a gay man, a feminine man, and on and on." There are many options, but the individual finds one role that feels comfortable internally and in social enactment. Any cognitive dissonance that existed previously has been resolved. There tends to be no further development at this stage, barring a change in life conditions.

OR . . . following further exposure to other perspectives . . .

Stage 6b: Pluralism. Recognition and acceptance of masculinities, that there are many ways to be masculine and that I can embody more than one style of masculinity. There may in fact be an understanding that each person contains various subpersonalities, each of which will enact a unique form of masculinity, or even be feminine or female. It is accepted that this is true in other men, and possibly even women.

Stage 7: Fluidity. "I have different parts/selves/roles and each one may manifest sex/gender role/gender identity in different ways at different times and in different situations.A person at this stage accepts his multiplicity and does not cling to any one manner of being in the world.

That is the model for now. I am very open to comments and criticisms - so drop me a note if you have any thoughts.


Diamond, M. J. (2006)Masculinity unraveled: the roots of male gender identity and the shifting of male ego ideals throughout life J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 2006 Fall;54(4):1131-8.

Farrell, W. & Wilber, K. (2010). The Need for Men's Liberation. Integral Life. Retrieved from

Gelber , C. (2010). Gender Identity. International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis.

Hardiman, R. & Jackson, B. W. (1997) Conceptual Foundations for Social Justice Courses. In L. A. Bell and P. Griffin, eds. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. (1st ed.) New York: Routledge.

Money, John (Ed.). (1965). Sex research: New developments. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Quiñones-Rosado, R. (2010). A Developmental View of “Men’s Liberation”. Consciousness in Action Blog. Retrieved from

Scott, D. A. & Robinson, T. L. (2001) White Male Identity Development: The Key Model. Journal of Counseling & Development. Fall; 79:4.

Stoller, Robert. (1968). Sex and gender: On the development of masculinity and femininity. New York: Science House.


Jewey Lama said...

Thank you for this site and this article/model.

I am a 27 year old male that has been going through a personal/spiritual transformation for the last six years or so. I have experienced the 7th stage you described at times, yet my own awareness reveals a regression to stage 2 at times, and this presents a serious cognitive dissonance for me.

Recently, I formed a men's group with some buddies of mine from a healing arts college I attended last year. Our core goal is to answer the very same question your site seeks to answer. "What does it mean to be a man?" The objective is to create a model of development for men that allows for the fluidity to describe.

I have developed a similar structure of development, slightly different in focus, and much more of a spontaneous "rough sketch":

"Maybe we can break down what it means to be a man in terms of dimensions or layers (to bring awareness to all the different factors involved in influencing your current view of what it means to be a man)...

1. "Biological" or "Physical" or "External" or "Surface" - What makes you a man organically? What are you made of organically? This answers the "what" part of the question. This is the most elementary and basic part of you that you must accept first. You have no conscious choice over your genetics.

2. "Social" or "Cultural" - This can be any male role model in your environment. Starting with your father (or father figure), on to siblings, male heroes, glorified males in your culture. Also, this can be ways in which the opposite gender has influenced your views on masculinity. Mothers, teachers, girlfriends, etc. You have no conscious choice over your parents and your culture (although you are simultaneously a part of your culture), so identifying and accepting these influences are the key to bringing awareness inwards, I believe. We can very easily break these down into hierarchical layers, since there are so many.

3. "Mind" or "Thoughts" or "Beliefs" - Mind is where we conceptualize ideas. For example, the first time we learned the world was round, we have to understand what the word "round" "looks like", then imagine looking at the world from the outside in, and accept this knowledge in our mind (belief) based on the evidence (proof) we are provided with, and assign what was once a thought, idea, or theory the characteristic of "fact" or "truth" or "reality". By becoming aware of the process our mind uses to form beliefs based on information, we begin to see where many of our beliefs about what it means to be a man are and, as you mentioned the other night, "reprogram" those beliefs to align with our true self.

4. "Feelings" or "Emotions" or "Instincts" - What does it FEEL like to be you? What does it feel like to be a man? Identify what feels natural and what does not for you (or at least that's the basic gist of it).

5. "Spiritual" or "Depth" - Experience beyond the above four layers. In essence, this is your essence - the part of you (your spirit) that words do not do justice. This is self evident. Your "knowing".

6. True Self - Discovering your essence and expressing it authentically. Realizing your multiple dimensions. Dissolving false identities and beliefs. Expanding your consciousness. Knowing yourself. Being yourself. THIS is what it means to be a man, in my opinion."

WH said...

Thanks for the comment, Jewey Lama.

Your model contains similar stages to those found in the "great chain of being," but the order is different. This could be closer (except that cultural is a missing part of the great chain - I'd guess that it might be its own chain, with different stages). I can see your point though, beyond the physical, it's our first idea of what a man is - the model we have most often is our father, or uncle, or teacher, etc.

These are the great chain stages:

1. physical
2. emotional
3. intellectual
4. spiritual
5. ideal (God in the Great Chain)

Another version might have it as: matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit.

Anyway, I like your idea - and that you have formed a group to work with these issues.