Monday, March 9, 2009


So this is my topic proposal as it stands, sans preliminary bibliography. Unfortunately, I think that JLK is spot on about narrowing the focus even more. I have to keep reminding myself that I should stick well inside the parameters of the assignment. I have a lot of other things to deal with right now, making a huge production of this paper is really just a distraction.

Male Depression and the problem of feeling. Archetypal male social gender constructs are abusive to men and by extension, society as a whole. They create in men a certain inability to adequately recognize and express their feelings, most notably depression. This fosters a psychological environment that makes it difficult to diagnose and treat depression and other mental problems. It also fosters an environment in which men are less capable of adequately expressing their feelings in interpersonal relationships, which can feed back into feelings of depression and isolation.

Does biology dictate archetypal social gender constructs, or are they entirely social constructs by nature? / What is biology's role in said gender constructs?
Do/How do the archetypal male social gender constructs effect the ability of men to recognize and functionally deal with depression and other feelings?
Assuming that there is some biological contribution involved, how much of the problem of men and depression/feelings is biological imperative, as apposed to social imperative? / Can this even be discerned?
Can deconstructing/reconstructing male social gender constructs foster positive changes that will help solve the problems of depression and feeling?

The eighty-eight years since women achieved the right to vote in the United States have seen a great deal of progress in the realm of women's rights and equality. The forty-five years since Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was published have seen an explosion of women's studies that has led directly to the development of non-archetypal female gender constructs. These periods have also given rise to significant changes in social views of gender in relation to sex, sexuality and sexual orientation. It has opened the doors of acceptance of people who don't fit into archetypal gender or sexual constructs. The overall effect of these movements has been the creation of an environment that is far more equitable to women, transgendered people and non-heterosexuals. Yet for all of this progress, there still persists an underlying social misogyny.

In all of this progress, there has been a distinct lack of progress or focus on a large segment of society: heterosexual men. While heterosexual men have been told that they need to accept the new gender constructs of others, no significant changes have been made to archetypal male gender constructs. Yet the very nature of archetypal male gender constructs are in many ways, fundamentally at odds with the changing face of gender in society.

I have chosen depression and the problem of feeling as a focus for this paper, because I believe that this is the heart of the failure of archetypal male gender constructs. While this topic only tangentially relates to the underlying conflict of archetypal male gender constructs and post-modern society, I believe that it is the most important place to begin a fundamental reworking of hetero male gender constructs. The idea that men are autonomous of their emotions is the very core of the archetypal masculine paradigm. It is also the most abusive aspect of that paradigm, both to society and the men who attempt to exist within that ideal.

The fallacy of emotional autonomy leads men to suppress feelings that are natural and uncontrollable. People cannot help what they feel, they can only control their expression of those feelings or suppress their experience of those feelings. Males are taught at a very early age to bury their experience of feelings and emotions, until they come to no longer recognize any feelings or emotions excepting the very extremes. This often lends itself to an escalation of feelings that persist until they either become extreme enough to be noticed, or they cause a psychotic break. At best, this suppression causes isolation and alienation, an environment in which men have a difficult time honestly expressing their feelings for the loved ones most close to them.

Depression is a particularly solid focus. There is more research to draw conclusions from and there is a solid body of work on depression as a whole, from which to draw comparisons. While it was previously thought that women have a significantly higher incidence of depression than men, research is finding that men experience and express depression differently, not necessarily less frequently.


Michael said...

How are you even going to begin addressing the biological questions? I think it's obvious that biology plays a part in every individual's emotional states and emotional responses to stimuli and environment. Why wouldn't it? But leaping from there to determining how much biological imperatives influence archetypal social gender constructs seems well beyond the current capabilities of science or psychology, without making far too many baseless assumptions that would render any conclusions pretty meaningless.

I'm confused by why you seem to think that homosexual men and heterosexual men aren't subject to the same archetypes. You seem to be implying that homosexuality itself is something of a third gender construct, but really gay men and women are subject to the same gender constructs that heterosexual men and women are. There is, in many parts of the world, greater acceptance of homosexuality than ever before, and that acceptance has certainly had some influence on gender constructs, but it hasn't created "new" distinct constructs. (To use some obvious, probably fleeting, pop culture references: "metrosexual" and "bromance" are not ideas that would easily have fit with a more traditional male social gender construct were it not for greater awareness of homosexuality and homosexuals.) Gay men and women suffer from depression too, for much the same reasons that straight men and women do. To the extent that depression in males is a consequence of, or exacerbated by, or affected by, male social gender constructs, it is affected in the same manner for both gay and straight males.

You certainly are biting off a lot!

DuWayne Brayton said...

Michael -

I'm not actually going to address the biology question to a meaningful degree, except to make much the point you just did. I pose that as a research question because it's relevant to the points I want to make in my paper, even though a definitive answer isn't possible.

And while we can't differentiate the role that biology plays on an individual level, I think we can pretty well dispel the notion that biology needs to play any significant role in social gender constructs. Which is really the point of posing the question that way.

I'm confused by why you seem to think that homosexual men and heterosexual men aren't subject to the same archetypes.

That is not the result of my being as stupid as this proposal makes me sound, I swear! I really didn't explain that very clearly and will/would be making some serious adjustments to the language. But I am pretty certain that I am scrapping the whole thing, so it becomes largely irrelevant.

A big part of the problem with this as written, is that it implies that there is far more delineation between categories than there actually is. And, it is a topic proposal, so I don't really get the space to create the clarity that the paper would being. Certain generalities are just not plausibly able to be explained in detail.

But the implication that gays are a separate gender was definitely not intended. Rather, I am trying to imply that it is generally more socially acceptable for homosexuals to step out of archetypal male gender constructs. And this is not a cross-correlation of men and women - the same rules simply don't apply as generally to women.

While I recognize that there are many gay men who never set one foot outside archetypal male gender constructs, for a variety of reasons, including social pressures, in general, this is not a problem. And ultimately, where it is a problem, I believe that the issue of archetypal constructs being so pervasive is responsible.

How's that for convoluted???

I also recognize that there are women who are still languishing because of archetypal female gender constructs. But again, I suspect that this is largely due to the issue of archetypal male gender constructs.

I really appreciate your stopping by Michael. I am not sure where I am going to end up heading with this, but your input was greatly appreciated...

kehrsam said...

DuWayne: Interesting notion, but I'm in the camp that sees you as having way too broad a research question. In any case, here in your defense of things you make way too many conclusory statements without any support (although each seems reasonable enough). Further, any archetype is a summation of general social ideals and traits, and hence is going to vary widely even inside highly homogenic populations.

Good luck with this, I like the way its going. But you are introducing levels of complexity way beyond what is ever expected at the typical Liberal Arts college.

DuWayne Brayton said...

In any case, here in your defense of things you make way too many conclusory statements without any support (although each seems reasonable enough).

Oh, that's just because I didn't include the preliminary bibliography. There is actually a fair amount to support the actual assertions I made.

Good luck with this, I like the way its going. But you are introducing levels of complexity way beyond what is ever expected at the typical Liberal Arts college.

Yeah, but I'm shooting for Stanford.

Michael said...

First of all, I didn't think you sounded stupid, and I hope nothing I wrote implied that you did.

Leaving aside the biology issue, I guess I still have trouble with your assertion that "it is generally more acceptable for homosexuals to step out of archetypal male gender constructs." I think it's more accurate to say that the existence of male homosexuals (the wider societal recognition of the existence of sexual orientations other than the norm) has made it generally more socially acceptable for men to step out of these constructs. That says nothing about how easy or difficult it might be for any given individual male to divest himself of whatever restrictions he feels these constructs may place on him. Many factors play into an individual's capabilities, including socio-economic status, biological and psychological make-up, race or ethnicity, etc. But at this point, any male who doesn't realize there are options that lie somewhere between attending monster-truck rallies and becoming a gay flight attendant is either being willfully ignorant or has a vested interest in perpetuating these constructs, perhaps for religious or other reasons.

Did you see this? Yeah, it's a silly PR stunt, but it seems to me that the very existence of such a thing indicates the extent to which there is much greater awareness of both the limitations and the pervasiveness of archetypal male gender constructs. The first step is usually comedic or satirical representations, which we've had for decades, the next is more dramatic explorations, which are also common; then comes marketing ploys designed to exploit the heightened awareness. This is already pretty common in advertising.

These archetypes exert their most pernicious influence on young males, often before issues like sexual orientation are even a factor. (Another interesting avenue to explore might be the role archetypal male gender constructs play in influencing sexual behavior and repression of tendencies to bisexual behavior in individuals who's sexual proclivities might otherwise skew more toward the middle of the Kinsey scale than toward either end.) But the greater awareness of these archetypes means you have to be living in a cave (or maybe, like a caveman!) to be over 20 years old and remain unaware that these archetypes actually exert an influence. Of course, I live in the 47th least "manly" city, where men are generally okay with expressing emotions and therapy isn't viewed as emasculating, so what do I know?

Where the problem with men who have difficulty breaking out of these archetypes exists, I think it exists in equal measure and for the same reasons for both heterosexual and homosexual men. That's largely because these archetypes are most influential on young men and those influences carry over into adulthood for all men regardless of sexual orientation. That men are supposed to be self-reliant, independent, strong, competitive, unemotive, and so on, are attitudes that are hard for all men to abandon completely. Some homosexual men might react entirely differently to these pressures than some heterosexual men, but the pressures are there for both.

DuWayne Brayton said...

i don't have time to respond to the rest of it, but I wanted to tell you that I felt kind of stupid, you didn't imply that at all.

JLK said...

Stopping right here for a second to comment before continuing reading the rest...

DB, you said "Rather, I am trying to imply that it is generally more socially acceptable for homosexuals to step out of archetypal male gender constructs."

I think what you might want to say here instead is that homosexuality is generally the only social schema applied when males step out of archetypal gender constructs. In other words, if a man or boy acts "feminine," he must be gay. I would hesitate to say that it is more socially acceptable for gay men any more than I would say that it is socially acceptable for anyone to live up to stereotype images. It might validate expectations, but I don't think it renders it acceptable in the eyes of society.

Ok, reading the rest of the comments now....