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Gender roles have some generally acknowledged boundaries that tend to shift over time. Social acceptance of masculinity and femininity is expressed through everyday behavior, fashions, and ascribed or achieved qualities associated with each gender group. The distinction between heterosexuals and homosexuals or bisexuals is generally made based on how blatantly the latter individuals deviate from the expectations of mainstream individuals. Some individuals can pass for heterosexual, while others embrace a homosexual identity. In the case of masculinity, males and females can overemphasize masculine values to a point where such behavior defines their personality and everyday behavior. In addition, this over exaggeration of male traits can be generalized into patterns that result in the stereotyping of individuals based upon their outward appearance.
Hypermasculinity is the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior. Those who are hypermasculine embrace male physical and/or behavioral stereotypes that define the primary nature of their everyday interaction with others. Body hair, strength, aggression, and outward appearance are expressed as male traits. Oppressed groups can focus on these traits as their way of fighting control by other individuals or competing interests. The dominant traits become associated with the person or group identity.
Hypermasculinity and Violence
Hypermasculinity is based on behavioral choices. The ascribed male behavior is thought to focus on strength and assertiveness. Males are more often associated with violence and killing than are females. Some individuals claim that there is a genetic or biological source to hypermasculinity. For example, it has been argued that having an extra Y chromosome, known as XYY chromosome syndrome, produces hypermasculine behavior and a greater likelihood of assertiveness because the additional Y chromosome is responsible for overproduction of the male hormone testosterone. However, there is little to no empirical support for this position. Others locate the source of hypermasculinity in culture and socialization. For instance, boys are taught to be aggressive and are rewarded for such behavior, whereas girls learn more nurturing roles.
Thus hypermasculine behavior may be partially explained by the creation of social stereotypes. Social stereotypes are created in many different ways, such as when individuals overemphasize their own gender characteristics. Males may strive for the development of a more muscular appearance or think that a beard makes them more masculine. In addition, such outward appearances will reinforce their assertiveness toward others. This assertiveness can lead to violence against women, child abuse and molestation, and a greater likelihood of embracing violence as a way of life.
Hypermasculinity has also been associated with the ambiguity of gender roles in contemporary society. Traditional gender roles accepted by men and women often converge when women compete alongside men in the workplace and everyday life. Hypermasculinity may emerge when men feel they must be more masculine as women embrace the aggressive behavior more commonly associated with males. In addition, hyper-femininity is often referred to as the flip side of this problem, wherein women overemphasize their emotional tendencies and physical appearance for the sake of control over men. Both conditions create an imbalance within relationships that can produce misunderstandings between the sexes.
The consequences of hypermasculinity include the occurrence of males overemphasizing their physical strength and aggressiveness in interpersonal relationships. The utilization of strength in dominating interaction results in strained relationships between males and females. Lack of emotional understanding and physical dominance can ultimately weaken men’s interpersonal relationships. Men exhibiting hypermasculinity and boys growing into hypermasculine roles will seek out ultimate fighting, wrestling, and other contact sports that embody their perceived hypermasculine gender identities. The message is that force or violence is instrumental in dealing with the many aspects of social life. In one example, exaggeration of these traits can be seen in prison inmates who embrace hypermasculine values for everyday survival in a captive situation. Violence is a notable constant in how relationships are formed and sustained in such an environment.
Kindlon, D., & Thompson, M. (2000). Raising Cain: Protecting the emotional life of boys. New York: Ballantine.
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