Term Paper: Are Men Stuck in a Perpetual State of Adolescence a Cross-Cultural Comparison?

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Men and Adolescence

Anthropological inquiry into male-female relations has somewhat evolved around debates concerning sexual inequality. Gender roles are complex and clearly vary by culture and time-period, and are often misunderstood based on individual societal bias. Modern contemporary research shows that there were so many contradictions and odd conflicts within the data that the idea of gender role responsibility has been confusing even for scholars. (Stasburger, 2008). Since culture is so abstract, and based on so many individual and fleeting factors, many scholars now believe the relationship of the sexes to each other is best discussed in terms of the conflicts, tensions, and paradoxes that are at the heart of daily life in many societies (Sanday, et.al., 1990).

Gender roles are the way that male and female individuals perceive their differences, similarities, and norms. An early definition of the gender/role system calls it, "The set of arrangements by which a society transforms biological sexuality into products of human activity, and in which these transformed needs are satisfied" (Reiter, 1975, p. 159). Gender is not as simple, though, as defining masculine and feminine -- those are physiological terms; instead, gender can best be expressed by differences in attitudes, behaviors, and place that form an individual's identity within their own cultural group -- one orients or associates oneself with either masculine or feminine, or a combination of the two depending on internal and external stimuli. Modern scholarship, however, admits that an individual's expressed behavior is a consequence of two primary factors: 1) socially enforced rules and values and, 2) innate behavior, be that genetic, unconscious, or conscious. Moreover, cultural values are dynamic and change over time and place, and so does the perception of gender. For modern scholars, even those with a feminist perspective, the study of gender is, by necessity, multidisciplinary and dynamic (Connell, 2009).

It is also important to understand the process by which individuals form their roles, or the concept of socialization. Socialization is the scientific study of human behavior and activities. It is concerned with how human beings think and act as social creatures. Socialization is the process through which we become human and then male or female. It is through our interaction with society that we learn what is necessary to live in each society. In the modern world, there are four main agents of socialization: family, school, peers, and mass media. This is especially true in the contemporary world -- media influences gender and culture more than ever (Witt, 2000).

Family, however, is one of the most continual modifiers or Gender roles within society. Different cultures have different organizations for family: some are mother/father/children, others more extended. For the purposes of socialization, though, most sociologists believe that children are socialized into their gender roles and hence in their gender identities by the family as a whole using manipulation and canalization. Manipulation consists of encouraging behaviors that are viewed as normative by the family, at the same time discouraging behaviors seen as aberrant. Canalization is an ongoing process, somewhat an offshoot of manipulation holds that the family channels the child's interests into activities that are considered by them to be gender appropriate -- be that colors of dress, activities, language use, or other behaviors (Brewer, 2001).

Once the child leaves home, though, other factors, often utilizing the same structures of manipulation and canalization, begin to appear within peer groups. Oddly enough, this whole rubric is not simply limited to the developed world. As soon as most children are old enough to interact with their peers, they are immediately pressured to conform to the dominant culture- and adapt to a hierarchical status quo (Hartup, 1999). Add to this the tremendous power of the media in all but the most primitive societies, and the fluctuation within the socialization model becomes as complex as string theory -- pervasive, definable in some ways, yet enigmatic in others (Stasburger, 2008).

Human Development- Human development is quite complex in nature. We are one of the only species who takes almost two decades to move from a child to what we term as an "adult." -- After spending approximately 9 months in a warm, softly lit environment where all needs were handled, sounds muted, and warmth assured, the infant is now born into the world. The newborn is completely vulnerable and dependent upon care in order to survive this new, seemingly hostile environment. Like a seedling slowly pushing its way to the light, so the infant spends time learning to breath, to digest food, and to react to stimuli. The toddler moves from being completely helpless and dependent upon the caregiver to being 90% dependent. This is the stage between infancy and childhood in which there are rapid physiological and psychological changes, typically between 8-12 months and 24-30 months. During this stage, the child learns to crawl, then walk. Also during the toddler stage, the child learns about social roles and expectations, develops motor skills, and begins the grounding of language communication. Usually between 2-6, depending on how rapidly the individual matures, there is a rapid period of socialization, combined with self-accountability. While certain parts of the body grow faster than others, genetic characteristics become apparent and there is an increase in cognitive activity. This group experiences life more holistically than at any other stage, and learning is rapid and ongoing. Children learn cooperative play, develop imaginary companions, and glean enough sense of self that they begin to "own" their own things and activities (e.g. dressing, etc. What is known as the "school aged child," roughly age 6 to the beginnings of puberty, is both a lengthy and complex stage. So much happens during this time, so much individual difference and expression, we can liken this to a bud beginning on a flower and even some individual flowers. Creativity improves the cognitive ability to hold multiple thoughts, make comparisons, judgements, moral and ethnical decisions, and the process of amassing language, numerical skills, improved eye-hand coordination and self-actualization of interests (art, music, and sports). Early in this period genders separate, but closer to puberty they are able to work together. Strong personality traits become more apparent (stubbornness, kindness, etc.), and the ability to learn empathy. Toward the end of this stage there are again rapid spurts of physical growth, especially in the bones and teeth. The world becomes important, social groupings develop and change, and ideological development moves from pure imitation to actual creative composition. Varying in time, but increasingly early, adolescence is the time in which children begin to develop adult sexual characteristics, body shape, and increased hormonal activities that turns the child into the adult. A very difficult, yet rewarding period of time, numerous changes become apparent that allow one, at the beginning of the stage (11-13 years of age) to the later part (late teens) to see flowers bloom, and finally form into a mature set of blossoms -- at once individual and integrated. This transitional stage has numerous physical, emotional, and intellectual / psychological bursts within development -- most not happening to the same individual on a regular or patterned basis. Instead, the wonderful variation of humanity acknowledges and begins to celebrate individual differences in sexual preference, cognitive and physical tastes and preferences, and the chemicals necessary for the survival of the species (sexual hormones, muscle development, problem solving). Because the prefrontal lobes are still underdeveloped, though, judgement is often impaired and the adolescent vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction. Mood changes, often for no reason, are the result of hormones, particularly during mid-adolescence, with most of the issues finding some resolution toward ages 17-19. It is during this period that a unique identity is established, and the basis for the individual solidified. Changes, of course, continue to occur, but the basic template of the "person" is defined during this period (Kail and Cavanaugh, 2008; LeDoux, 2003).

Perpetual Adolescence- Therein lies the crux of the social dilemma now facing contemporary culture -- that men in general seem to be "stuck" in perpetual adolescence, the stage in which 50% of the population continues to act as if their pre-frontal lobes had not fused, their hormones continue to rage, they seek to consistently gratify themselves with food, liquor, gambling, and sex, and they postpone any semblance of responsibility and acumen for as long as possible. And to what does society owe this newfound reversal in maturation? According to Manhattan Institute for Policy Research's Kay Hymowitz, it is a combination of the cultural and societal changes brought about by femininism and the 20-somethinger mentality of instant gratification and a displaced view of what adulthood really means (Clark-Flory, 2011).

Hymowitz sees such drastic changes in culture as part of the evolution of women's roles, on the job and at home, changing expectations and definitions of roles and responsibilities. What does it mean to be an "adult" in late-20th and early 21st century society? Are we measuring roles based on Ward and June Cleaver; that after High School or College one simply changes their life to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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