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Men and Masculinity

Men's Liberation And The Critique Of Sex Roles

The new feminism in the 1970s did not abandon the concept of sex roles, but it reevaluated their meaning. It was argued that the female sex role was inherently oppressive and that role internalization was a means of fixing girls and women in a subordinate position. Almost immediately, a parallel analysis of the male sex role appeared. By the mid-1970s there was a small but much-discussed men's liberation movement in the United States, and a small network of men's consciousness-raising groups in other developed countries as well. A minor publishing boom developed in books about the "problem" of men and also in papers in counseling and social science journals. Their flavor is indicated by one title: "Warning: The Male Sex Role May Be Dangerous to Your Health."

The picture of the male sex role in most of this literature was conventional and typically middle class, emphasizing traits such as inexpressiveness, orientation to careers, and competitiveness. Authors pointed to the role of commercial sports, such as football, in creating popular images of competitive, aggressive masculinity. They pointed to highly stereotyped representations of men in film and television genres such as the western, the war movie, the gangster movie, and the cop serial, not to mention advertisements such as the famous "Marlboro Man" campaign.

There was some attempt to outline a process of change. The American psychologist Joseph Pleck, one of the most prolific writers in this field, contrasted a traditional with a modern male role. Much of the writing in the United States in the 1970s encouraged men toward the modern version, recommending therapy, consciousness-raising groups, political discussion, role-sharing in marriage, or self-help.

By the 1980s, intellectual weaknesses in the sex role concept were acknowledged, and political divisions in the men's movement had become wide. The antisexist and profeminist tendency of the early men's liberation groups were contested by men's rights groups who were antagonistic to feminism and by a therapeutic movement that took a very different view of masculinity, partly based on a late revival of Jung. Political ambivalence was inherent in the framework of sex roles. There is a basic tendency in sex role theory to understand men's and women's positions as consensual and complementary—a point made explicit by Parsons's theory of instrumental (masculine) Billboard advertising Marlboro cigarettes, 1988. In the United States during the 1970s, a small movement sprang up to protest stereotypical male role models in society. Marlboro's advertising campaign, which featured masculine, rugged cowboys was singled out as an offender. © CARL & ANN PURCELL/CORBIS and expressive (feminine) orientations. Attempts by Pleck and others to create a nonnormative sex role theory proved unsuccessful in the long run.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mathematics to Methanal trimerMen and Masculinity - Stories Of Men, Questioning Masculinity, Vaerting, Freud, Adler, Other Psychoanalysts, Sex Differences And Ethnography