Getting Beyond the Binary:
Male Gender Role Socialization Among Fraternities and Its Negative Impact on Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Students 2 By Zach Nicolazzo
s is the case with the beginning of each spring semester, I recently attended an annual Executive Council Leadership Retreat. During one of the afternoon team builders, we engaged the students in a conversation related to gender and both the differences and similarities of men’s and women’s organizations. While two of my colleagues facilitated this activity, there were many times I tried not to furrow my brow, frown, or sigh audibly as a result of some of the comments students made related to stereotyped gender roles. As the retreat progressed, it became increasingly clear: We as a community had some work to do around how men and women are socialized to behave, as well as what we deem masculine and feminine. I have a sneaking suspicion that this experience is not all too dissimilar from what other colleagues who work with fraternity/sorority members experience when sex and gender are discussed. All too often the gender binary, in many ways a restrictive and archaic way of viewing who we are and how we can act as sexed and gendered beings, is reinforced throughout the fraternity/sorority community in damaging ways. One of the notable ways in which the gender binary has proven to be limiting is in relation to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) student population, a group that, whether implicitly or explicitly, largely continues to be marginalized, made to feel out of place, and, to a large extent, not welcome in the fraternal movement.
Male Gender Role Socialization In order to understand the depths to which male gender role socialization specifically impacts gay, bisexual, and transgender men, it is imperative to first get a sense of the research related to this topic. Dr. James O’Neil (1981) was a pioneer in the area of gender role socialization, finding through his research that male gender role socialization centered on what he defined as a fear of femininity and was manifested in four distinct ways: homophobia and restricted affectionate behavior; restricted emotionality; socialized control and competition; and an orientation toward success and power. Moreover, O’Neil’s definition of the fear of femininity was not simply the fear of female bodies, but what was perceived as feminine. Due to the exhibition of increased homophobia (1981), O’Neil’s research indicted male gender role socialization with the promulgation of a gender binary in which men are seen as either heterosexual or some form of “other,” which is then labeled as deviant, abhorrent, or abnormal. Therefore, to be something other than heterosexual means existing outside the realm of masculinity. In addition, to have a male-sexed body and exist outside the realm of masculinity is a dangerous proposition in a society predicated on assimilation to societal norms, as ours most certainly is. This danger is
both psychological (taunting, name calling, threatening, etc.) and physical (bullying, fights, rape, and other forms of physical torture and violence), and is experienced on a daily basis by those men who are deemed overly feminine. Indeed, the recent tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi in September 20103, a direct result of the homophobia displayed by his roommate who streamed a video online of him having a sexual encounter with another man, only goes to underscore this fact. The truth is, there are far too many examples like Clementi’s suicide for it to be viewed as just one tragic event. It is therefore important to give thought to how men, and the all-male groups many of us advise, are, at the very least, complicit in causing these tragedies, as well as not preventing more pain and suffering from occurring. Michael Messner (2004), Michael Kimmel (2004, 2008), Paul Kivel (1992), and Jackson Katz (2006), have all written eloquently about how all-male environments, like fraternities, continue to produce a form of hegemonic masculinity that threatens to destroy the lives of men and those they love. This brand of masculinity is viewed as how one signifies himself as a “real man,” and has deleterious effects, which manifest in higher levels of anxiety and a decreased ability for intimacy (Sharpe & Heppner, 1991), negative attitudes toward seeking help (Good & Wood, 1995), low self-esteem (Cournoyer & Mahalik, 1995), and depression (Good & Mintz, 1994). In addition, there are also higher rates of suicide among men, higher rates of highrisk drinking, and an overwhelming majority of sexual assaults, rapes, and violent crimes being committed by men (Katz, 2006). In fact, in a national study on sexual assault, fraternity houses were deemed to be the place with the third highest likelihood for women to be sexually assaulted or raped on a college campus (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000). Moreover, this brand of masculinity, witnessed in fraternities, threatens to further marginalize gay, bisexual, and transgender men due to the overwhelming sense of homophobia and transphobia that is manifested as a result. Hegemonic masculinity requires men to distance themselves from anything and anyone perceived as feminine. And, as gay, bisexual, and transgender men are deemed feminine, they are often ostracized within the fraternal community. As a result of this ostracism within the fraternal world, gay, bisexual, and transgender men/women began to create a space for themselves by establishing progressive organizations like Delta Lambda Phi, Sigma Phi Beta, and Gamma Rho Lambda, which are geared toward gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender communities as well as their allies. While these organizations create a sense of belonging for some, for the most part they continue to be marginalized within the broader fraternal context.
he term gender binary refers to the notion that there are two distinct and unrelated forms of gender, those being masculine and feminine, which relate to binary T of biological sex of men and women. A masculine gender is seen as linked to men, and a feminine gender is linked to women through the gender binary.
or the purpose of this article, the author looked specifically at male gender role socialization and its impact on gay, bisexual, and transgender student populations. F While there is indeed value that can come from looking at female gender role socialization, this is outside the scope of this article. Perspectives / Spring 2011
AFA Perspectives Spring 2011