Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thoughts Toward a Developmental Model of Masculine Identity, Part Nine: Multiplicity & Fluidity in Masculine Identity Development

This is part nine in an on-going explanation and exploration 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. 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. Part eight introduced my preliminary multiplicity model.]

I begin this piece with the work of Chris Blazina, whose new book, edited along with David Shen-Miller, An International Psychology of Men: Theoretical Advances, Case Studies, and Clinical Innovations (The Routledge Series on Counseling and Psychotherapy with Boys and Men), features Blazina's essay, "Multiplicity and the Masculine Self." This is an excellent look at the nature and origin of masculine multiplicity.

There was one brief citation that set me off on a search for more information, as the next pieces of this idea began to come together in my head.

Szymanski and Carr (2008) found empirical support for the notion that a man's masculine self is a separate but related construct in his overall identity; furthermore, they found that overly restricted gender roles lead to psychic fragility. (Blazina, p. 105)

A little digging turned up the original article he was citing here, "The Roles of Gender Role Conflict and Internalized Heterosexism in Gay and Bisexual Men’s Psychological Distress: Testing Two Mediation Models," published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity (Vol. 9, No. 1, 40–54). Their article looks at, in part, the impact of internalizing the traditional male gender role (including heterosexism and sexism), as this quote shows:

Given conceptualizations of sexism and heterosexism as central constructs within traditional masculine gender role ideology (Kilianski, 2003; O’Neil et al., 1986), it seems likely that sexual minority men’s experiences of gender role conflict can lead to IH [internalized heterosexism] or negative feelings and attitudes about being a gay or bisexual man. Homosexuality and bisexuality violate the gender role norms of traditional masculinity, in part, because male homosexuality is often erroneously equated with femininity (O’Neil, 1981). Boys and men are often shamed, ridiculed, and called derogatory names referring to gay men if they express signs of personal vulnerability or deviate from these masculine gender role norms (Good, Thomson, & Brathwaite, 2005). Thus, sexual minority men as well as their heterosexual counterparts receive strong messages that it is not okay to be gay/bisexual and that being gay or bisexual means you are “not a real man.” (Szymanski & Carr, 2008, p. 41)

Some of these same issues apply to heterosexual and/or bisexual men who step outside the accepted socialized male gender role. Whether we are hetero-, bi-, or homosexual, to step outside of the traditional role is to transgress acceptable modes of being.

The support of this research citation is slightly circular, in that Blazina cites it to support his thesis, which they have cited to support a small part of their own findings:

The findings of our study also suggest that internalizing restrictive messages about manhood and negative messages about being gay/bisexual are likely to diminish one’s self-esteem. This provides empirical support for Blazina’s (2001) assertions that a man’s masculine self is separate but related to his overall sense of self, and that traditional gender role socialization leaves men with a sense of psychic fragileness due to the prescription of overly restricted gender roles and emotional disconnection. (p. 50)

OK, so I went back to Blazina's 2001 article, "Analytic psychology and gender role conflict: The development of the fragile masculine self" (Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training; 38, 50–59), to get to the source (seriously, this is only the beginning of my search).

Here is the main point of Blazina's article from 2001, which gets explored and expanded in his contribution to An International Psychology of Men:

In this model, the concept of the masculine self is explored. It is suggested that a man's masculine self is separate but related to his overall sense of self. The masculine self, just as the overall sense of self, is built upon developmental experiences such as emotional attunement that facilitate its growth. This model draws heavily upon analytic psychology, especially self-psychology as a model, in that young men can develop a cohesive sense of masculine self through self-object experiences that include merging with an idealized other, being mirrored by a significant other, and developing a sense of twinship. It is also suggested that just as the overall self can be fragmented through lack of good self-object experiences, so can the masculine self experience fragmentation in the same way. (p. 50)

In his new essay from the book, Blazina gives a detailed account of how the Self-Other-Masculinity-Schema (SOMS) get internalized (based on the idea of internalized objects from Object Relations and Self Psychology). He offers the following definition:

This model stresses how individuals internalize important experiences/people and then apply them to issues of masculinity. These exchanges result in the development of SOMS which: (1) are defined as intrapsychic structures developed from the self-other images; (2) consist of emotions and cognitions; and (3) form a template that has the potential for guiding behavior. (Blazina, 2010, p. 106)

After laying out some of the evidence for this perspective, he then demonstrates how the SOMS are enacted from the perspective of the self-image, which is separate from but related to masculine gender identity. Although I am in general agreement, I might revise the general mechanisms slightly in light of my own bias toward the various parts theories - ego states (Watkins & Watkins), subpersonalities (Stone & Stone), Internal Family Systems (Schwartz), or Dialogic Self Theory (Hermans).

In the primary parts models mentioned, when the self-system is vulnerable or threatened, a specific response is generated (pleasing, aggression, hiding, perfectionism, and so on, depending on the person and the situation), and when this response is re-enforced by repeated activation, it begins to act autonomously to prevent similar situations from arising again. At this point, the response becomes a part of subpersonality – or maybe a schema in some models – and get activated by the recurrence of the interpersonal or environmental trigger they were created to defend.

Likewise, the SOMS are an adaptation to environmental and interpersonal experiences - and like those other parts, the SOMS remain largely unconscious until triggered by interpersonal and/or environmental events.

The internalized aspects of masculine schema can be experienced in a way akin to Fairbairn's (1952) notion of internalized objects. SOMS, when activated, can bring old struggles back to life.

Further . . .

Reactivation of internalized masculine schema can occur in three ways: (1) activating SOMS from the perspective of the self-image; (2) activating SOMS from the perspective of the other-image; and (3) self-care from the perspective of either the self- or other-image. (p. 108)

Again, while being in general agreement, I would specifically say that the SOMS (there are multiple SOMS) are each associated with a more general experience in which we internalized rules around how to be masculine. These may have come from our fathers (most of them), from teachers and coaches, and from peers and/or their older brothers, as well as from media (TV, film, and so on).

Any similar experience in our lives adds weight and proximity (bringing it closer to the proximate sense of self) to the SOMS and increases the likelihood of our acting from the perspective.

For example, my father never showed an emotion other than anger (and the occasional laughter/happiness). He never cried. When I was very young, I fell down or something, and I remember my mother telling me, "Big boys don't cry," while I was all of three or four years old. Later, my peers repeated similar values, as did coaches, and so on. I'm sure this experience is familiar to many men of my generation or older. This is a SOMS, one in which I internalized the object of my father, my mother’s words, my coaches, and my friends.

In Jungian terminology, this SOMS is a complex of sorts, but it is also a "part" who tries (tried) to protect the integrity of the self in general, and my nascent masculine self in particular, by managing my emotions. In the Internal Family Systems model, this SOMS would be known as a manager, and all of the tears that were never expressed, all of the pain, sadness, or whatever other emotion that was never released, comprises an exiled self-part. Until the exile is unburdened, the manager will never give up its role of protecting that vulnerable part.

Multiplicity of the Situated Masculine Self

In a section of his paper called "The Many Masculine Me's" (p. 113-116), Blazina introduces the idea of multiplicity that I have already touch upon above. The number of SOMS internalized over a lifetime is staggering. Many gender theorists have recognized the multiplicity of masculinities at the cultural level, but we also must recognize their multiplicity within each man.

The psychological task is to sort through these multiple internalizations potentially resolving conflicts that may exist and honing them to serve his sense of relating to himself and others in a healthy way. Recently, those within the psychodynamic community, cognitive-developmentalists, and postmodernists have also taken more notice of the self and its multidimensional nature (Harter, 2001). We build upon these notions as it applies to the masculine self. (Blazina, 2010, p. 114)

Blazina goes on to give a summary of the (mostly) psychoanalytically based thinking on multiplicity of the self. It's a good summary, but I would also suggest looking into Schwartz (1995), Hermans, et al (1992), Georgaca (2001), and Stemplewska-Żakowicz, Walecka, and Gabińska (2006) for starters. The postmoderns, in whichever model they use, tend to have a better sense of multiplicity than some of the older theories trying to expand their understanding to include multiplicity.

In this vein, I highly recommend Kenneth Gergen's Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community (2009, Oxford University Press) - "The word "I" does not index an origin of action, but a relational achievement" (p. 133). To be fair, Gergen sometimes is a bit strident in his anti-individualism, more than I am comfortable with – it's not either/or, it's both/and – but he is swimming upstream against a tremendous bias favoring individualist explanations.

And this brings me to one of my primary arguments, one that is only expressed indirectly in Blazina's essay - we are multiple selves, and those selves are situational and embodied. I want to rely here on Ciaran Benson's Cultural Psychology of the Self (Routledge, 2001), in which he offers this definition:

In a sentence, cultural psychology examines how people, working together, using a vast range of tools, both physical and symbolic – tools which have been developed over time and which carry with them the intelligence that solved specific problems – make meaningful the world they find, make meaningful worlds and, in the course of doing all these things, construct themselves as types of person and self who inhabit these worlds. (p. 11)

After reading his book, and then going to some of his sources (Jerome Bruner, Rom Harre, George Lackoff, Antonio Damasio, William James, and many others), my own definition of the self, and of consciousness in general, is as follows: a body-mind embedded in temporal space, interpersonal space, cultural context, and physical environment.

[A note on the term "body-mind" is useful here: In my view, the "mind" is the brain and the rest of the body in multi-directional communication, including the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), the peripheral nervous system, and the enteric nervous system (which is actually part of the peripheral nervous system, but deserves its own recognition).]

A recent article by May & Lieberman (2010) shows a more direct relationship between genetics and culture – suggesting that elements such as collectivism are related to genetic elements. Likewise, Sherman & Billing (1999) have shown that cultural preferences in taste (such as liking spices or consuming cow’s milk) are shaped by evolution and selection.

According to Gergen (2009) . . .

virtually all intelligible action is born, sustained, and/or extinguished within the ongoing process of relationship. From this standpoint there is no isolated self or fully private experience. Rather, we exist in a world of co-constitution. We are always already emerging from relationship; we cannot step out of relationship; even in our most private moments we are never alone.
This is the basic premise of social constructionism - and while it is certainly true that the self is at least in part socially constructed, it is even more true that gender roles are socialized and socially constructed.

In an older article, "Toward a Cultural Constructionist Psychology," Gergen (1997), along with Mary M. Gergen, proposed what they called cultural constructionist psychology, with the following foundations:

There is no one "theory of social construction," nor a set of prescribed "constructionist practices." However, while undergoing continuous debate, we can isolate a family of suppositions that has been uniquely generative in implication, and generally accepted by those calling themselves constructionists. These generative suppositions would include the following....
Following this statement, they provide the following guidelines, elaborating on each of these in at least a full paragraph:

  • There are no transcendentally privileged accounts of what we take to exist.
  • Whatever account we give of world or self finds its origins within relationships.
  • Language primarily functions as social action, constitutive of one or more traditions.
  • Discursively constituted traditions are both essential and perilous.
  • Through communicative relations we can generate new orders of meaning from which new forms of action can emerge.

Finally, Gergen & Gergen make the following qualifications:

Constructionism, in our view, does not attempt to establish the last word, a position beyond which dialogue is impossible. Rather, for us constructionism functions as an invitation to possibilities, to exploration, to creation, and possibly to material conditions in which there is greater tolerance, and the coordination of peoples toward what they may see as a more humane and life sustaining world.
The social constructionist model encourages a reflexive posture - allowing us to take a perspective on our perspectives - a metatheoretical model.

Benson (2001) makes the following statement regarding the cultural foundations of a postmodern self:

The post-linguistic autobiographical self requires a framework based on the idea of negotiated meaning-making within a context of pre-existing meanings. In short, it invites a cultural psychological approach. (p. 18)
This is a still-emerging perspective in contemporary psychology, and there are many people who still reject or who cannot comprehend this perspective. Anything that remotely sounds like cultural relativism or postmodernism is rejected out of hand by some people, and even some psychologists.

However, social constructionism and its associate therapies, such as dialogical self therapy and narrative therapy to name just two, are gaining adherents and are becoming the subjects of more research.

For the purposes of a model of masculine identity development, it is necessary that we account for stages that exceed the current center of gravity of the culture at large. For that reason, and many others, I have embraced this model in my work on multiple masculinities as a factor of development.

A Detour into Developmental Theory

So far what has been presented is a multiplicity model of masculine identity as seen from a social constructionist perspective - i.e., we each contain many masculine selves that have been created as a result of our interpersonal and cultural experiences. For the majority of people, these selves and their perspectives (their unique way of viewing the world) remain mostly or completely unconscious.

According to Robert Kegan, perhaps the leading theorist in adult development, there are five basic orders of consciousness. Kegan's model is a constructive-developmental subject/object approach based in the work of Piaget, but making it more interactive than a strict structural model. Of primary importance is the subject/object split - this is the source of all personal transformation.

Self as subject is the 'I' of awareness, our proximate sense of self, an invisible entity with which our subjectivity is fused. Self as object is the 'me' of awareness, the distal sense of self, that which we can describe as an object of awareness (which generally puts it slightly behind the proximate self in its development). According to Kegan: "We have object; we are subject" (1994, p.32).

Self-transformation occurs when the subjective self becomes an object of awareness, necessitating the emergence of a new subjective self. These transformations, once we enter adulthood, are pretty rare (although they seem to be happening more as people engage in transformational practices), and they can be very disorienting.

The internal experience of developmental change can be distressing. Because it involves the loss of how I am composed, it can also be accompanied by a loss of composure. This is so because in surrendering the balance between self and other through which I have "known" the world, I may experiences this as a loss of myself, my fundamental relatedness to the world, and meaning itself. (Kegan, 1980, p. 374)

So, then, what are the five orders of consciousness? The following summaries lay out the basics of the stages (these are based on the summaries of Terry Patten and Karen Eriksen).

Kegan's First Order - This early stage in our lives is composed of perceptions and movement, very basic, non-reflective experience. This is prior to theory-of-mind (the awareness that others have an interior experience similar to one's own experience).

Kegan’s Second Order - The emergence of "durable categories" in the physical and social worlds, and more importantly, the theory of mind: The individual becomes aware its own experiences and can infer the experiences of others. The individual is able to organize experiences over time and maintain coherence. The person develops a "perspective" or point of view, understanding for the first time that not everyone sees the world as s/he does. They become aware of how others see them, and can also begin to develop empathy with some direction.

Those first stages are largely childhood stages. The next three are adult developmental stages, although only a tiny percentage are at 4, and even fewer are at 5. Most of us exist in the transition between 2/3, in 3, in the transition between 3/4, or in 4 - some are in 4/5 and less than 1% (and maybe only 1/10th of 1% or less) are in 5.

Kegan's Third Order - (Traditionalism) People at this stage can identify drives, emotions, and internal conflict. They possess insight and prioritize values and beliefs. They are capable of empathy and can sometimes put aside their own perspective to maintain a relationship. They no longer operate on impulse (although a "part" might) and can plan for the future.

On the other hand, relationships at this stage are not true intimacy, the sharing of two unique selves with openness - they are more inclined toward emotional fusion, a reliance on "twinship" that rejects or avoids differences (see David Schnarch's The Passionate Marriage).

The Third Order is sometimes referred to by Kegan as the socialized mind. In this sense, people will do things because it's the "right thing to do" even if it's not in their self-interest to do so. This is also known as the traditionalist stage because it's important to those operating in this space to maintain the way things have always been done, and to be critical of, or to downright reject change. The tendency is to adopt values and ideals from one's family without examining them as a good fit, or even as ethical.

As people move from 3 into 4 (3/4), Kegan describes the difference as similar to moving from driving an automatic to driving a stick-shift. We can say nothing about who is the better driver, but we can say that the stick-shift is a higher degree of complexity, and the drivers of stick-shifts can exert greater control over their vehicle.

Kegan's Fourth Order - (Modernism) This is also known as the Self Authorship stage, in which understanding of systems, greater autonomy, and "self-authorship" become options in people's lives. People begin to manipulate their multiple roles (parts) and the expectations that friends, family, and others hold for them. They generate their own frameworks for maintaining and organizing relationships. While a person at Third Order might struggle with being a good provider and being a good husband/father, a Fourth Order person might will seek the balance between work and family.

At this stage, people are less bound by their environment and less willing to accept values and beliefs without examining them. This is where the self-authorship idea comes from - we have more choices in our lives because we take more things/experiences/ideas as objects of awareness rather than being their subject.

Where Third Order has self-awareness and self-consciousness, Fourth Order has self-regulation, self-formation identity, autonomy, and individuation. With this comes multiple role consciousness.

Kegan's Fifth Order - (Postmodern/Integral) At this highest stage, people become the directors and creators of systems, they can think in terms of meta-system and see how systems fit together to form meaning - they become Self-Transcending. According to Kegan, a very small percentage of people reach this stage, and only in mid-life or later.

According to Terry Patten:

At the Fourth Order, a person can take a perspective on externally imposed values and expectations but cannot see how his own personal system for mediating among these is limited by historical, cultural, psychological, personal, and other forces. Such a perspective on the constructed nature of one’s meaning-making system is gained at the Fifth Order. Conceptual frameworks in this view embrace contradiction and paradox. Social relationships are characterized by an integration of self and other—that is, “any aspect of what I used to see as ‘my’ identity is in part defined by the contrast and relationship with what I used to see as ‘yours.’” (p. 6)

Internal deliberations become dialectical, and there is comfort with paradox, contradiction, and oppositeness both in oneself and in interpersonal and inter-institutional experience. Awareness is post-ideological, and what Ken Wilber might call post-metaphysical.

Most importantly, self and other are no longer experienced as binary, but are now experienced as interpenetrating, a kind of yin/yang image comes to mind for me.

Relating All of this to Male Identity

In part two of this series, I offered two existing models of masculine development, 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, and as such, it focuses on race as an element of identity in a way 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, and 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 its 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 sketched out 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). This is not a binary in terms of how it is experienced, while it may look that way from the outside.

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

Gender Role: These 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 a 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 work in 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. Even more confusingly, each man will generally have different masculine selves for different situations, and those various selves can be at different stages of bio-psych-cultural development.

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 remains somewhat stable. The (b) stages are open systems, willing to accept new experience and/or information, and these men are 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 (which is seen as "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."

This stage can be an end point for many people, especially those who endorse fundamentalist religion and/or come from rural homogenous communities. This stage is represented in Kegan’s 2nd Order Consciousness, and many people (roughly 1/8 to 1/3, according to Patton) continue to make meaning from this perspective.

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 “other” or “evil” as it might in the previous stage.

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. This is a transitional space between 2nd Order and 3rd Order Consciousness – the person may not hate all “gays,” but he also has no desire to befriend a gay man.

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. This is the 3rd Order Consciousness and Kegan’s model. There is some understand that being gay, which often results in being beat up, denied jobs, and so on, is not a “lifestyle choice” and is, in fact, biologically determined.

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.

At this stage a man is pretty comfortable with 3rd Order Consciousness and has no real desire to be anything other than what he is, and most liberal, educated American men are near this position.

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.

For the first time, we see men entering the realm of Self-authoring, as Kegan termed it, the ability to make some choices about who we are as human beings and how we want to identify ourselves or shape our experiences. This is 4th Order Consciousness, either fully of in part (transitioning in).

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.

More than likely, this person is in the 3rd/4th transition of Kegan’s model – they felt the freedom to explore identities, but feel more comfortable in adopting a single perspective/experiences and calling that self an “I.”

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 is also true in women.

A man at this stage is pretty well centered in 4th Order Consciousness and may even be moving toward 5th Order Consciousness. There is no personal need to adopt a single form of masculine identity, but he has not yet reached that integrated, self-transforming model that Kegan offers as 5th Order Consciousness. This may look or feel like having a whole selection of masks from which to choose, depending on the interpersonal and cultural situation.

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.

This is the 5th Order Consciousness – self-transformative. According to Patten, the 5th Order is “where they come to see the Fourth Order’s personally created ideologies themselves as constructed objects from a ‘dialectical’ or ‘self-transformational’ perspective.” This stage is representative, in part, of Gergen’s relational self, not simply as a process of self-formulation, but as an awareness that you and I are constructed of relationship, with all the paradox and contradiction that may entail.

As far as we can tell, no one has yet reached this stage of consciousness and very few people even exhibit aspects of it, so we have a ways to go. Most men are at the stage of traditional masculinity, and some evolving men are at the stage of 5/6 transition in my model.

In a future post, I will try to include Jane Loevinger’s stage model, as well as the expansion of it created by Susanne Cook-Greuter.

I am very open to comments and criticisms - so drop me a note if you have any thoughts.

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Mark D. Forman, PhD said...

Hi William.

This has good stuff in here. Two thoughts in regards to your model.

1. If no one has ever achieved fluidity (stage 7), it probably doesn't exist. It's only 5th order, which is already about 5% of the population--so by that standard that person is definitely out there and breathing. IOW, I think you are setting the bar too high or imagining an abstract phenomena or exemplar rather than a real person.

Just to state my opinion: I know lots of men who fulfill that structural expectation. I think the barriers to an easier fit are in the environment and in the group. Even "internally" healthy men will look "unhealthy" in our current mileau.

2. On this point: I think your model here doesn't address the possibility of unequal biological starting points. That is, the amount of masculinization and feminization of the brain will flux from person to person and will be highly distinct based on genetics as well as in utero hormones in the womb. The amount of diversity that needs to be discovered or negotiated in the self will therefore differ from man to man, from person to person.

I am cautious about this, because I think--as I mentioned on the panel--that men interested in integral probably have a more differentiated neurological profile, a greater balance of masculine and feminine. It isn't all culture or simply development.

Therefore, perhaps unlike overall self development, discovering a truly multiple universe in regards to gender might not be a really necessary or desirable movement for some people. Or rather, we can end up with a simple idea that the more inner parts are named, the greater the masculine identity development. I don't think it works like that; there is probably a structural minimum that need to be named.

william harryman said...

Hey Mark,

Thanks for the excellent feedback - just the kind of stuff I need to hear.

Is there a study for the 5% at 5th order? I didn't realize it was thought to be that high.

Do you have any references for the neuroscience element of development? Specifically as it relates to gender development? I'm reading a couple of things right now, but more info is always useful.

In response to this: "Or rather, we can end up with a simple idea that the more inner parts are named, the greater the masculine identity development. I don't think it works like that; there is probably a structural minimum that need to be named."

I agree - I need to make it clear that simply naming or identifying the roles/parts is not enough - we must be able to live in them, inhabit them, comfortably and with fluidity. Or at least that is my goal.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts - much appreciated.


Mark D. Forman, PhD said...

Hi Bill.

The stats on 5th order can be found in Cook-Greuter and Soulen (2007, p. 188) in Counseling and Values. The stat comes from her aggregated research, listing 4.9% at Autonomous (early 5th order) and 2% at Construct-Aware (late 5th).

I don't have a direct reference about critical periods and various amounts of masculization and feminization in utero. It's mostly my extrapolation of everything I've read and is a point that I've heard experts theorize about. In terms of research, I have read a good deal of Simon Baron-Cohen who studies in utero exposure to testosterone. I haven't heard him discuss a critical periods theory that I recall, just a general exposure one.