The Atlantic Crossword
That's what sociologist C. Pascoe found when she spent a year and a half at a California high school doing research for her book, Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Homophobic slurs were tossed around constantly, but the students insisted they weren't really about sexual orientation. That's just mean,'" she told me. Instead, boys labeled their peers "fags" for things like dancing, being too emotional, caring about clothing, being incompetent, or not have success with girls.
While actually being gay wasn't exactly accepted, Pascoe discovered that it wasn't nearly as bad as being considered an unmasculine guy. As one student told her , "Well, being gay is just a lifestyle. You can still throw a football around and be gay. But the third boy, who broke both the norms of sexuality and gender, faced such severe tormenting that he eventually dropped out of school. Some scholars see cause for optimism, though. For example, Eric Anderson , an American professor of sociology at the University of Winchester, England, argues that declining homophobia is already starting to create "inclusive masculinities.
As anti-gay attitudes decline and "the stigma of being called gay doesn't sting" anymore, Anderson explained to me, the boundaries of acceptable masculinity expand. If being feminine is no longer considered incontrovertible "evidence" that you're gay, who cares if you bend gender norms? Anderson's research backs up his theory. He's found that the male college athletes and fraternity members he studied in the U. But others aren't convinced of such a large-scale transformation.
Anderson argues that since sports have historically been highly homophobic spaces, other male groups are likely to be moreinclusive than the primarily white, straight, middle-upper class college athletes he has researched. But studies suggest that, paradoxically, those are the guys who may actually have the most freedom to bend the rules of masculinity. Pascoe describes it as "jock insurance. But I would say that that is the case for a very select group of men.
Research on LGBT students' experiences in K schools also suggests that anti-gay harassment may be driven as much by gender anxiety as by homophobia. For starters, the growing acceptance of homosexuality has been slow to translate into a change for LGBT youth, according to GLSEN's national school climate survey , which has been conducted every two years since There has been some improvement: The frequency of anti-gay comments has slowly but steadily decreased over the last decade.
The most recent report from found the percentage of students who reported hearing slurs like "faggot" or "dyke" was about 70 percent, a drop from over 80 percent in Even the pervasive use of the expression "that's so gay" seems to have slightly declined in recent years though "no homo" may have risen to take its place. Yet LGBT students' reports of being harassed or assaulted held steady from to , before finally dropping somewhat in And there has been no change at all in incidence of negative comments about gender expression. Of course, some of that may be because bending gender norms is conflated with being gay in a culture that still hasn't let go of the idea that gender and sexuality are linked.
But the high rates of harassment and violence faced by transgender people—who most radically reject the gender binary—suggest that gender policing is playing a role over and above the role of homophobia. A whopping 80 percent of transgender students reported that they felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression.
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And it doesn't get much better for adults: Ninety percent of the trans and gender non-conforming people surveyed by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination on the job, or hid their identities to avoid it. A report on anti-LGBT violence from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that trans people were 28 percent more likely to be physically assaulted, and trans women specifically made up 40 percent of hate murder victims.
It's not just boys who are punished for breaking gender norms, of course. Take Griner for example. In an op-ed in the New York Times , she recalled that in seventh grade "the teasing about my height, appearance and sexuality went on nonstop, every day. Some even wanted me to prove it to them. Still, at this moment in history, it is easier to be a gender non-conforming girl. So while girls also hold each other to rigid standards, and are vicious when someone doesn't conform one word: slut-shaming , they're far less likely to be homophobic.
The GLSEN report, for example, found that over half of students reported hearing remarks about students not acting "masculine enough," but just over a third heard comments about students' "femininity" as often. Up to a certain age, girls can usually get away with being tomboys, while "sissy" boys are discouraged from very early on—and not just by their peers.
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Studies have shown that parents—especially fathers—are more uncomfortable with their young sons playing with dolls or dresses than with their daughters doing stereotypically "boy" activities. And though stepping too far outside of acceptable gender norms is seen as a problem for everyone, to a degree, women may even be rewarded for distancing themselves from femininity at times.
This is not to say that declining homophobia doesn't have the potential to lead to a serious reimagining of masculinity more broadly. And obviously this isn't the kind of change that happens overnight. If aggression of pair-reared males depends on social density, this may explain why we found low aggression when testing males in dyads. In previous studies, pair-reared males were also more aggressive than group-reared males when later tested in dyads [ 99 ], but this may have been a consequence of winner-loser effects during the first tests.
Our study shows that the social environment during adolescence affects social interactions, plumage maturation and song development of male zebra finches with long-lasting consequences for adult courtship and aggressive behaviour. Contrary to our initial hypotheses, we do not find elevated T and CORT levels in groups as described for guinea pigs.
The difference seen in T levels between males in juvenile groups and mixed-age groups may be linked to differences in song development, but not in plumage maturation or to the long-lasting effects on behaviour, and CORT is unlikely to play any role. The effect of the social environment during adolescence on other hormones should therefore be considered.
The intriguing differences between our study and previous ones point to the multitude of factors shaping development. Future studies should therefore investigate how social factors interact with ecological conditions. Facultative development of courtship and communication in juvenile male cowbirds Molothrus ater. Behav Ecol. Adaptive modulation of behavioural profiles by social stress during early phases of life and adolescence.
Neurosci Biobehav Rev. Juvenile social experience affects pairing success at adulthood: congruence with the loser effect? Proc R Soc B. Stress and the development of agonistic behavior in golden hamsters. Horm Behav. Arnold C, Taborsky B. Social experience in early ontogeny has lasting effects on social skills in cooperatively breeding cichlids. Anim Behav. Investment in territorial defence depends on rearing environment in brown trout. Behav Ecol Sociobiol. The social environment during pregnancy and lactation shapes the behavioral and hormonal profile of male offspring in wild cavies.
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Dev Psychobiol. Adkins-Regan E, Krakauer A. Removal of adult males from the rearing environment increases preference for same-sex partners in the zebra finch. Absence of female conspecifics induces homosexual behaviour in male guppies. Lorenz K. Der Kumpan in der Umwelt des Vogels. J Ornithol. Immelmann K, Suomi SJ.
Sensitive phases in development. Behavioural development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Google Scholar. Branchi I. The mouse communal nest: investigating the epigenetic influences of the early social environment on brain and behavior development. Social influences on neurobiology and behavior: epigenetic effects during development. Behavioural profiles are shaped by social experience: when, how and why. Philos Trans R Soc B. Spear LP. The adolescent brain and age-related behavioral manifestations.
Pubertal hormones organize the adolescent brain and behavior. Front Neuroendocrinol. Blakemore SJ. The social brain in adolescence. Nat Rev Neurosci. Social behaviour and social stress in adolescence: a focus on animal models. Steroid hormones, stress and the adolescent brain: a comparative perspective. Developmental processes in early adolescence. Relations among chronologic age, pubertal stage, height, weight, and serum levels of gonadotropins, sex steroids, and adrenal androgens.
J Adolesc Health. The neural basis of puberty and adolescence.
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Nat Neurosci. Sex steroids modulate changes in social and sexual preference during juvenile development in zebra finches.
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Back to the future: the organizational-activational hypothesis adapted to puberty and adolescence. Cortisol responses and social buffering: a study throughout the life span. Stress and adrenal function.