Masculinity is something most boys conform to, in their own ways, at one time or another. During adolescence, boys form their beliefs relating to masculinity in large part due to influences such as family, peers, society, media, and mentors. African-American youths’ perceptions of masculinity have been studied at length, particularly socioeconomically disadvantaged boys. Some of these individuals do not have the presence of a stable and secure father figure in their lives and could be at risk for adopting negative masculine ideals such as being in a gang, promiscuity, or financial and academic irresponsibility. To better understand how African-American boys from varying economic backgrounds conceptualize and adopt masculinity during their teen years, Karisman Roberts-Douglass of San Jose State University’s Counseling Services Department recently surveyed 15 African-American young adult men and asked them about the events that influenced their masculine identity formation.
The men recalled events and influences throughout their lives and reported that family members had the biggest impact on their conformity to positive or negative masculine ideals. The most significant predictor of masculinity was the presence of a role model in the form of a father or grandfather. Even participants who had no father figure present embraced the ideals of a deceased family member if he was cast in a positive light. This was true regardless of economic status. One surprising result was that the most privileged participants felt more pressure to conform to negative masculine ideals during adolescence than economically disadvantaged participants. This could be due to the fact that to compensate for their wealth, they needed to assert their cultural conformity through their behaviors, including sports, being sexually promiscuous, or engaging in other risky behaviors.
Roberts-Douglass found that even in circumstances where teens felt pressured to conform to negative African-American masculine ideals, positive family influences protected them from acting on those impulses. Parents and family members who stressed the importance of education and financial responsibility were cited as being significantly responsible for the choices the participants made. “In the case of this study, family was the most important variable,” Roberts-Douglass said.
Roberts-Douglass, K., Curtis-Boles, H. (2012). Exploring positive masculinity development in African American men: A retrospective study. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029662
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