Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thoughts Toward a Developmental Model of Masculine Identity, Part Two

[In part one of this project, I outlined some developmental models that have been used to understandracial identity development, including the development of a non-racist white identity. Here I look at some of the basic, preliminary models for masculine identity development. In part three, I will present my own version of a model of masculine development.]

Initially, I did not find any real models of masculine development, but some further research turned up a couple of articles with various proposals. One of the authors who turned up most often in my search was Michael J. Diamond, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst practicing in Los Angeles, CA.

Diamond is proposing an essentially Freudian model, with all that system entails. I am not a fan of this approach, however Diamond makes a point that I think is quite important in understanding why we need a good, integrated model of masculine development:
Analysts influenced by Margaret Mahler (Mahler, Bergman, and Pine 1975) began to formulate a new way of understanding male psychology. Most significant were Ralph Greenson and Robert Stoller, two Los Angeles–based psychoanalysts who formulated what has become known as the disidentification hypothesis. This theory argues that in order to establish a normal, healthy sense of masculinity, the small boy must disidentify from his mother and counteridentify with his father. This supposition has been taken as the benchmark to explain the male’s struggle to experience his gendered identity as “masculine.” The theory happens to be congruent with a dubious, unconsciously held view, widespread in patriarchal cultures, that masculinity is defined by its not being feminine. In other words, the most significant thing about being a man is not being a woman. This view has been unfortunate for both sexes but perhaps especially so for men, since gender identity, so long as it is based on the disavowal of whatever is construed as feminine, remains an unstable psychological achievement. (Diamond, 2006, p. 1100)
For many men, masculinity is STILL defined as not being feminine. In establishing identity in such a narrow and confused way, men lose large parts of their possible expressions of self. One of the most commonly noted aspects lost for men, especially in prior generations, has been a full-ranged repertoire of emotions. We get to be angry, but any emotion associated with women (the stereotypically "softer" emotions) are forbidden. Forget about sadness, tenderness, or fear. Fortunately, this has been changing in recent years.

Diamond makes one other point that I feel is important:
In every culture, the individual internalizes a culturally shaped gender polarity that directs him or her to develop qualities attributed to his or her own sex and, in some measure, to suppress qualities of the other sex.1 In Western societies, despite efforts to reduce this gender splitting, the underlying cultural images for masculinity generally continue to mean being rational, protective, aggressive, and dominating, while those for femininity mean being emotional, nurturing, receptive, and submissive (Benjamin 1988). It becomes each individual’s burden to keep the other gender’s characteristics less developed within. (Diamond, 2006, p. 1124)
This is an important distinction. While masculinity is established to a certain extent by having a penis and larger quantities of testosterone in our bodies, there is an equally and perhaps more important contribution by the cultural introjects in how we come to define ourselves as men. Masculinity, in its early and middle stages (or types), is a culturally embedded construct.

In his article, "Male Reference Group Identity Dependence" (2003), Jay Wade looks at how men use "males like oneself and/or male peers with whom one identifies" (the "male reference group" of the title) as a means toward generating self-identity as a man. This is the cultural embeddedness to which I was referring.
According to male reference group identity dependence theory, one's gender role attitudes, standards, and attributes develop within a cultural context, and the cultural context may differ among individuals. The theory does not specify or define the cultural context, but proposes that a male's gender role attitudes, etc. will to some degree be dependent or not dependent on the male reference group. (Wade, 2003, p. 28)
Based on the degree to which a man identifies with masculine peers, Wade posits three status types in his model (as well as a measure to identify them in a clinical setting - see the references below):
There are three hypothesized male reference group identity statuses that are characterized by differences in feelings of psychological relatedness to other males. The No Reference Group status is characterized by a lack of psychological relatedness to other males; the Reference Group Dependent status by feelings of psychological relatedness to some males and not others; and the Reference Group Nondependent status by feelings of psychological relatedness to all males. These qualitative differences in feelings of psychological relatedness have implications for the gender role self concept and the quality of one's gender role experiences. (Wade, 2003, p. 28)
Wade's model essentially posits an undifferentiated stage, an in-group stage, and a universal stage (these might also be seen as pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional, to use Lawrence Kohlberg's terminology). These distinctions are useful, but there likely is more to the puzzle than these generalized stages.

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).

However, Farrell is also arguing that men are the target group now, not the agent group, which is patently absurd. Yet, this is his argument (and by extension, Wilber's as well):
Men are constantly being locked into a single option—to excel in the "public sphere", even to the point of breaking their own backs—with very little understanding or training around the "private sphere" options available to him. (Farrell & Wilber, 2010, para. 5)
Men have no training or status in the "private sphere" because they are (for the most part) firmly entrenched in the Acceptance stage (generally passive Acceptance by the time they are adults). Yes they are victims, but only by their own doing. To be fair, the culture in which we live has been comfortable with those traditional roles and only in the last 40 years or so has there been any push to redefine how men live both in the public and private spheres. However, for any white man to claim victimhood in to ignore the degree to which white, Christian, middle class, heterosexual males have defined the social roles available to men.

Anyway, as I mentioned, Quiñones-Rosado identifies Farrell as inhabiting the Resistance stage of Hardiman & Jackson's model:
We may enter the “resistance” stage when our social group identity, in this case as men, develops to where we are capable of realizing: “Hey! Just wait a minute here! I know that this is what I learned about being a man, and this is what is expected of me as such by family and friends and employers and community and institutions and society at large. But this is NOT really or totally who I am! No! I RESIST!” (Quiñones-Rosado, 2010, para. 4)
There are some problems with this stage, however, in how Resistance is expressed:
The resistance stage, however, presents some significant and difficult challenges. The first one is that this realization tends to get us men pissed off. And getting angry, a normal and healthy (neurophysiologic) reaction to perceived or imagined danger, causes us to contract emotionally, withdraw relationally and, too often, to prepare for battle (among other things). This emotional contraction also comes with its cognitive counterpart, which in gendered social contexts tends to be that we, as men, get stuck in the “me,” in our individual experience, and in our individualized perspective. (Quiñones-Rosado, para. 5)
There is also the issue of Farrell confusing the male sense of powerlessness with being oppressed - not even remotely the same thing, as Quiñones-Rosado acknowledges. Farrell & Wilber claim, "Power is not defined by the amount of control someone has over others, but the amount of control one has over his or her own life" (2010, Sidebar). However, there is no member of this society who has more" power" over their own lives than white, Christian, heterosexual, middle- and upper-class men - and they also have power over others.

The question, then, is how do men recreate the context for their lives - and create a new context, a Redefinition, that provides them with the internal freedom to oppose current dominant mores for what a man can and cannot do with his life?

Farrell suggests we look toward feminism, and we can do that, but men have never been in the dis-empowered place where feminism began. So, once again, we might benefit greatly from returning the white racial identity models, and while I really like Hardiman & Jackson's model, we will need to add some complexity to their model. For now, it's a good foundation for discussion.


Benjamin, J. (1988). The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, & the Problem of Domination. New York: Pantheon.

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

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.

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.

Wade, J.C. & Gelso, C.J. (1998). Reference Group Identity Dependence Scale: A measure of male identity. The Counseling Psychologist, 26, 384-412.

Wade, J. (2003, December). Male Reference Group Identity Dependence. Division 51 Newsletter, p. 4. Retrieved from PsycEXTRA database.


Unknown said...

When Warren Farrell suggested towards looking into feminism, he meant understanding the activities of men and women in the society. Warren Farrell believes that equality can be replaced by utmost understanding towards both sexes in almost all aspects of life. Besides, Warren Farrell viewed feminism during the 1960's as essential and then later on came to the rescue of his male counterparts. In that sense, he was just mindful of the reality that men and women are different in myriad aspects. As a woman, I felt the need to understand Warren Farrell since there is nothing wrong in looking into reality.

Benjamin Beauford said...

That's an excellent analysis Jane on Warren Farrell's ideas. It really is all about understanding, and Warren Farrell has been pointing out that these differences has been taking taking its toll not only in women, but on men as well. It really is refreshing to read a woman's point of view about Warren Farrell that isn't based on biased feminist ideologies.