Jose Aviles on what boys need and the dangers ahead if we fail them.
What does it mean to be Hyper-Masculine and how does it develop? What does Hyper-Masculinity have to do with High School students and how does it influence school environments? How do we combat Hyper-Masculinity in our schools?
According to Wikipedia Hyper-masculinity is a psychological term for the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior. One of the first studies on hyper-masculinity was conducted by Donald L. Mosher and Mark Sirkin in 1984 where they developed what is called the Hyper-Masculinity Inventory (HMI). Their research has found that hyper-masculinity is associated with sexual and physical aggression towards women and that male prison populations have higher hyper-masculinity scores when compared to control groups.
One of the leading theories is that the absence of fathers lead to hyper-masculine views on manhood and without the appropriate guidance of a positive male role model leads to distorted views on manhood.
- 70% of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average. (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Sept. 1988)
- 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average. (Fulton Co. Georgia, Texas Dept. of Correction)
Fatherless boys look to others means of defining and developing their views on manhood. Their perspectives are heavily influenced by movies, television, comics, music, social media etc. Allowing these conduits to inform young boys’ perceptions of manhood is damaging and will continue to have a tremendous impact on generations of boys to come. Psychologists Megan Vokey, Bruce Tefft and Chris Tysiaczny at the University of Manitoba analyzed advertisements in men’s magazines to see what messages they were sending about what it means to be a man. They found that a significant number of the advertisements portrayed or promoted one or more of the following beliefs: Danger is exciting. Toughness is a form of emotional self-control. Violence is manly. It’s fine to be callous about women and sex.
These trends are persistent and show no signs of slowing down. What does hyper-masculinity have to do with high school students and how does it influence school environments? First, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of every three — live in biological father-absent homes. Nine in ten American parents agree this is a “crisis.” This would mean that one in three high school students grow up without a father this number nearly doubles in some urban areas. Second, hyper-masculinity is associated with high levels of testosterone. The average high school freshman is between fourteen and fifteen years old. According to Louann Brizendine a 9-year-old boy develops enough testosterone to fill an eight once cup a day. But by age 15 they produce the equivalent of nearly two gallons a day. These two factors alone make high schools one of the most ideal places for hyper-masculine behavior to thrive.
To make matters worse boys underperform in nearly every academic category when compared to their female counterparts. Boys also constitute higher suspension rates and dropout rates as well. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly a third of all students aged 12 – 18 reported having been bullied at school in 2007, some almost daily. Though research is mixed on who bullies more, girls or boys, it is commonly acknowledged that boys bullying behaviors are different from girls. One undeniable fact is that bullying has become one of the Nation’s most pervasive issues.
How do we combat hyper-masculinity in our schools?
We do this through education, but this concept goes far deeper. It is entirely dependent on who is educating our students. The power of example is what is needed. There is a shortage of male teachers in our schools in particular male teachers teaching core subjects like language arts, math and science. The trends are worst for minority male teachers. The way to combat hyper-masculinity is to surround young boys with as many “Masculine” men as possible.
Certain stereotypes have redeeming qualities, but being physically strong and mentally weak should not be one of them. I state masculine because we all fall victim to stereotypes such as Jocks are dumb, associating physical stature, with intelligence.
Masculinity is associated with poor behavior and negative connotations which in many ways are unfair. Physically masculine traits such as broad shoulders, deep voice, facial hair, etc. are inherent and cannot change. Psychological traits such as interests, points of view and preference can be over simplified and those associated with male behavior are connected to brutish stereotypes. Such as interests that are over generalized. These generalizations include but are not limited to interests in sports, cars, lifting weights, hunting etc. Though these concepts are masculine in nature they are neither bad or good but simply what is.
Connections between masculine behavior and poor treatment of women must be severed. Hyper-masculinity is the culprit and understanding that it is the exaggeration and distortion of masculinity that leads to negative views and treatment of women. Open discussions must take place to define and analyze hyper-masculine behaviors and masculine behaviors. Detailing what is appropriate and not appropriate. Modeling coupled with a renewed focus on gender based character education can help combat this issue in our schools.
In an article written by Dr. Sonna she states that Boys without positive father figures tend to become more aggressive seeking out hyper-masculine ways to relate… In the absence of a real-life role model, boys tend to model themselves after the men they see on television programs and commercials, where they are in most cases violent heroes that are power hungry and are highly sexual.
In a piece written by Father MaCrae called “In the Absence of Fathers: A Story of Elephants and Men” he references a story shared by Wade Horn, Ph.D. Officials at the Kruger National Park and game reserve in South Africa were faced with a growing elephant problem. The population of African elephants, once endangered, had grown larger than the park could sustain. So measures had to be taken to thin the ranks. A plan was devised to relocate some of the elephants to other African game reserves such as Pilanesburg.
Helicopters were used to relocate the elephants, but due to the capacity of the harnesses used they could only move the smaller juvenile and female elephants, the much larger bulls were left behind at Kruger…a few years later Rangers at Pilanesburg national park began finding the dead bodies of endangered white rhinoceros. ..The culprits turned out to be marauding bands of aggressive juvenile male elephants, the very elephants relocated from Kruger National Park. The young males were caught on camera chasing down the rhinos, knocking them over, and stomping and goring them to death with their tusks. The juvenile elephants were terrorizing other animals in the park as well. Such behavior was very rare among elephants. Something had gone terribly wrong.
Some of the park rangers theorized that the presence of large dominant bulls was missing and caused the unwanted behavior. In natural circumstances, the adult bulls provide modeling behaviors for younger elephants, keeping them in line. Juvenile male elephants, Dr. Horn pointed out, experience “musth,” a state of frenzy triggered by mating season and increases in testosterone. Normally, dominant bulls manage and contain the testosterone-induced frenzy in the younger males. Left without elephant modeling, the younger elephants were missing the civilizing influence of their elders as nature and pachyderm protocol intended. To test the theory, the rangers constructed a bigger and stronger harness, then flew in some of the older bulls left behind at Kruger. Within weeks, the bizarre and violent behavior of the juvenile elephants stopped completely. The older bulls let them know that their behaviors were not elephant-like at all. In a short time, the younger elephants were following the older and more dominant bulls around while learning how to be elephants.
Father MaCrae goes on to make several connections to this story with exploding prison populations in the United States where as high as 80 percent of male inmates have grown up without fathers. Another obvious connection is what Donald L. Mosher and Mark Sirkin found through their research that prison populations according to their Hyper-Masculine Inventory are also environments that encourage hyper-masculinity. High schools can also become breeding grounds for hyper-masculine behavior as well.
The next question that needs to be answered, how do we keep our educational institutions from meeting this destructive end? This deep seeded connection between our educational and correctional institutions is real. You see, a student not reading at his or her grade level by the end of the third grade is four times less likely to graduate high school on time–six times less likely for students from low-income families. Take that and add to it a 2009 study by researchers at Northwestern University who found that high school dropouts were 63 times (!) more likely to be incarcerated than college grads and you can start to see how many arrive at this conclusion. Couple this with the fact that Boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to flunk or drop out of school can paint a discouraging picture.
But measures can be taken and efforts can be made to divert this seemingly inevitable course our schools have taken. Combating hyper-masculinity with masculinity is key, modeling appropriate masculine behavior can be healthy and therapeutic, sending the message that you do not have to give up being a “Man” to be a good person. Analyzing hyper-masculine behaviors and masculine behaviors, detailing what is appropriate and not appropriate in a clear context is essential. Modeling synthesized with a renewed focus on gender based character education and differentiating instruction to meet the needs of boys can help combat this issue in our schools. Understanding that surrounding our young men with as many positive masculine male role models as possible is an indispensable component of a young boy’s development and encouraging healthy progression through a diverse curriculum that stimulates intellectual growth for years to come.