Adolescence is a difficult time for everyone. All young people struggle to find themselves and to define their identity. However, while adolescent females struggle to develop their sexuality and identity in a society where they are expected to sexy but not to have sexual feelings of their own, or rather they are supposed to be sexual objects but not sexual subjects (Tolman 153-158), males also face many difficulties because they are very restricted by a need to protect their masculinity by never appearing too feminine or weak. If boys lapse or deviate from the social standards, they risk becoming a target for unrelenting homophobic harassment. In order to avoid this, most young boys work very hard to convince others of their heterosexuality at all costs.
In “’Guys are just Homophobic’: Rethinking adolescent homophobia and heterosexuality,” Pascoe argues that boys are socialized to be homophobic (175-182). Apparently, they are taught, through a series of experiences including homophobic jokes and other discussion within the “fag discourse”, that being homophobic is part of affirming their masculinity. As a consequence, they use compulsive heterosexuality and correspondingly homophobic attitudes as a defense mechanism which thus reinforces compulsive heterosexuality in order to prove their masculinity.
Ultimately, adolescent male sexuality is created through the interactions of the “fag discourse”, which uses cruel jokes, taunts, and imitations to shame males who are not conforming well enough, and compulsive [defensive] heterosexuality to create an identity firmly rooted in not only male dominance but in the “right” kind of male dominance. For adolescent males, proving their masculinity is a major part of development. According to Pascoe, “the definition of masculinity entails displaying power, competence, a lack of emotions, heterosexuality, and dominance.”
This compulsive or defensive heterosexuality makes adolescent males believe that they must protect themselves from becoming labeled and harassed as homosexual. In order to do this, they engage in specific rituals wherein they prove their dominance over the bodies of their female peers. The three major ways to do this include getting and maintaining a girlfriend, touching girls to display their dominance in a variety of ways from flirtatious reciprocal touches to violent sexually aggressive touches, and finally by engaging in sex talk, or “locker room talk” wherein boys discuss their sexual prowess by telling stories, which may or may not have actually occurred, about what they have made a girl’s body do. For those who do not conform to the regional standards of heterosexual masculinity, the consequences can be dire. They will frequently be mocked, humiliated, or ostracized by their male peers who want to separate themselves in order to avoid a similar fate.
Pascoe makes a compelling argument that boys are socialized to be homophobic and engage in compulsive heterosexuality in order to protect their masculinity. She suggests that most adolescent males are privately more compassionate towards peers who are not heterosexual or who do not conform to the standards of masculinity and only engage in these defensive behaviors as a type of public show. However, she does not provide any suggestions to improve the current state of things or give any sort of future direction for research or anti-bullying programs. Additionally, she does not address any potential difference that the anti-bullying campaigns make in schools around the country which prevents us from determining if there is hope for change.
This Irish anti-homophobic bullying advertisement, created as part of BeLonG To Youth Services annual Up! LGBT Awareness Week, displays a pretty typical example of homophobic bullying but also provides hope for change. In this commercial, two teenage males are caught holding hands after school by a group of their male peers. They are immediately mocked and humiliated by their peers, causing one of the boys to run away in shame. The next day, the two boys feel forced to avoid each other to avoid being teased. However, when the group of boys who saw them holding hands walks into the cafeteria, the leader of the group immediately starts harassing one of the victims by saying “No one holding your hand today is there?” After a while of silence, one of the popular boys who is likely an athlete walks over to the boy being bullied and says “I’ll hold your hand” as a mark of solidarity. After a few moments, the rest of the students join in by grabbing the hands of their same-sex peers and standing up to support the two boys who are being bullied. Eventually, the entire cafeteria is standing except for the small group of boys who instigated the bullying.
Clearly this commercial does not encompass all of the many facets of bullying nor does it directly address the “fag discourse” when it does not relate to homosexuality. However, it does do a good job of providing a positive outlook on the future of homophobic bullying. It rejects the notion that this discourse has to continue just because it has been normalized in society. The commercial suggests that, if young people are taught to be confident, considerate, and to stand up to bullying that the status-quo can change and boys can eventually be free to express themselves.
Do you think this commercial is completely unrealistic? Are there any circumstances under which people actually become active bystanders and step in to defend a victim of bullying? Do you think programs and anti-bullying campaigns can actually make a difference in the ingrained culture surrounding adolescent male development and sexuality in which the “fag discourse” and compulsive heterosexuality prevail?