Cultural Constructs Of Masculinity Culture Cultural Studies Essay

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The concept of masculinity is evident in many aspects of American society from its capitalistic economic system to its ideal representation of family roles. However, a different sense of masculinity is evident in the behavior of gangs; particularly in large urban areas with considerable minority populations. From Los Angeles to New York, a gang culture is prevalent in every major city in the United States. Although many theorists and sociologists hypothesize the cause of this phenomenon, few of them incorporate the concept of masculinity in the development of this gang culture. By idealizing certain masculine mentalities and traits through politics, entertainment, and family values, American society has constructed a generalized archetype of the ideal male persona. However, in the United States, it is evident that a larger portion of the minority population affiliates itself with gangs in comparison to that of the white American population and thus implies that the minority demographic possesses a distinctive construction of masculinity. Urban gang culture is prevalent today due to the unique cultural values of the prevalent urban populace-Latinos and African Americans; an aspect that has altered the construction of masculinity in a more destructive manner.

As previously stated, there is a large contrast between the cultural beliefs of the Hispanic population and that of the widespread American public. This notion is reaffirmed by Jose M. Arcaya who presents in the journal Men in Groups: Insights, Interventions, Pschyoeducational Work a list of four Hispanic cultural qualities that diversifies the culture from the American counterpart (Ureño 21). Arcaya first claims that Hispanics are more proper in their societal interactions in comparison to "assimilated Americans" (Ureño 21). This idea portrays the notion that respect towards others plays a major role within the Hispanic community. This coincides with the second quality Arcaya presents; the incorporation of personal reputation within a community and its extreme cherishment amongst the male populace. As stated by Arcaya, "this characteristic compels the Hispanic man to act in a strong, definite, and physically intimidating manner to resolve disputes if diplomatic tact fails to achieve his goals or objectives" (Arcaya 153). This goes to show that males will stand up for themselves in order to gain respect and valuation from their communities and peers. Furthermore, Arcaya states that the Hispanic culture supports "family and group solidarity" in the face of hardship and "external attacks" (22). Last of all, he explains that "the Hispanic culture tends to emphasize group cohesion and conformity rather than individualism" (22). It is these four overarching qualities that define the majority of members within the Latino community and contrasts this demographic in comparison to white American society. They are taught to adhere to certain major values, such as respect for others and family cohesion, and are taught to always strive to help the greater good such as their family or community. It is these cooperative ideals that influence and determine many of the masculine values within the Latino population.

By possessing more family-orientated societal beliefs, there is any expectation for Hispanic men to become the "breadwinners" and support their families while the women care for the children. This notion is reinforced by Man Keung Ho in his publication Minority Children and Adolescent in Therapy where he states, "The husband assumes the instrumental role of provider and protector of the family and the wife the expressive role of homemaker and caretaker. The Hispanic man is expected to be dignified, hardworking, and macho" (Ho 110). Ho supports the ideology that men are supposed to be these decisive warrior-like characters that are responsible for ensuring the safety and prosperity of their domains. The expectation on men to provide for their families coincides with the traditional masculine quality within the white American public.

However, it is this constant pressure on Hispanic men to provide for the families and communities that leads to the rise in gang violence and gang culture. As the ideal man as determined by the Hispanic culture, these men are expected to obtain employment. This constant pressure results in various detrimental consequences due to the fact that a majority of these men do not possess any sufficient means to actually obtain work. Since these men cannot fully support their families and cannot fulfill the masculine family role, they turn to gangs in order to express their manhood. This idea of turning to gangs in order to fulfill society's construct of the men is fortified by Gary T. Barker in his publication Dying to Be Men: Youth, Masculinity, and Social Exclusion in which he states:

Urban young men, particularly those from racial and ethnic minority groups within their societies, define manhood as the ability to work hard and provide material goods and financial stability for mates and eventually for their own families. Excluded from the economy as a result of their social marginality and poor education, many young men turn to the brutal world of gangs as means of gaining power and access to manhood. With violent masculinity as an available option and a means by which to attain manhood, an exceedingly high number of socially marginalized, low-income young men throughout the world die each year at the hands of other excluded young men. (Barker 264)

Barker portrays the notion that due to the lack of educational and financial resources, these individuals who wish to affirm their manhood are forced to resort the gangs in order to do so. These beings do not have practical methods of supporting themselves or their families and must turn to crime and violence in order to survive and function. Consequently, this coerces these individuals into expressing their masculinities in a more violent and detrimental manner; a common occurrence in many impoverished areas within in the United States. They believe that by meaning more violent, they portray a more masculine image. This pressure to fulfill the ideal construct of masculinity within their culture and community is not only shared by Latino men but also by African-American men with different cultural values.

African Americans adhere to a different set of cultural ideals in comparison to Hispanics and whites in America. Latino Americans have more family-oriented values and diminish individualistic mentalities. On the contrary, African American culture focuses greatly on the individual and reduces the impact the community as a whole plays on its cultural values. More and more African American males nowadays are adopting a "cool pose" culture; a lifestyle, as defined by Annette John-Hall of The Philadelphia Inquirer, "that focuses on the latest clothes and shoes, sexual conquests, hip-hop music, and which, above all, demands the respect of peers" (Hall D01). This culture became so prevalent due to the lack of resources within many African American communities. Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson reinforce this perception in "Cool Pose : The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America" stating , "the "cool pose" of African American youth is designed to both render the black male visible and to empower him; it eases the worry and pain of blocked opportunities" (Billson and Majors PG #). By creating this culture, this populace has minimized the impact of poverty and minimal education on their lives. They function through a distinct set of motives and ambitions. Although there is a possibility that members of this community do not have to adhere to this culture, it is not feasible in many urban neighborhoods. This is due to the fact that most African American men do not possess sufficient means to adhere to the traditional model of manhood by providing for their families, thus they are inclined to follow the "cool prose culture." Furthermore, Ronald E. Hall and Jesenia M. Pizarro reveal in their publication "Cool Pose: Black Male Homicide and the Social Implications of Manhood" that any non-conformists "who do not subscribe to the Cool Pose tradition are immediately victimized by the peer group or by encounters with a nonpeer group member" as revealed by (Hall and Pizzaro 88). This exemplifies the notion that "cool pose" culture is strongly supported in becoming the most prevalent and adopted culture within the African American demographic; especially amongst the males.

Unlike Latino males, African Americans men have a choice of deciding between two distinct models of masculinity. In the first model, the African American man rejects his surrounding culture to adhere to the standard construction of masculinity within the white demographic. However, in the second model, the African American man chooses to "value his African-American culture and understand his relationship to the race and racism as a Black man" (Monteiro and Fuqua 26). As portrayed by Kenneth P. Monteiro and Vincent Fuqua in The High School Journal, the African American male is left with two choices. In one model, he accepts the idea of getting an education and attempts to attend college in order to adhere to the traditional ideal of manhood; to provide for one's family. In the latter, he accepts the aforementioned "cool pose" culture and tries to maintain an image of toughness and manliness despite the consequences associated with the lifestyle.

The second construction of masculinity is the key aspect in the development of gang culture within the African American community. By accepting to be a part of the "cool pose" culture, the individual chooses to expose himself to detrimental aspects of urban society. Through his desire to maintain a tough image, an advocate of this culture is inclined to affiliate himself with a gang and to engage in acts of violence. As Hall and Pizarro fortify in their publication, "studies suggest that African American male homicides are more likely than those of other racial groups to be motivated by trivial issues over perceived disrespect," a direct violation of the overarching "cool pose" cultural desire; respect from all peers (Hall and Pizarro 87). Furthermore, James W. Messerschmidt, a criminology professor at the University of Southern Maine, hypothesizes:

Criminal behavior can be used as a resource when other resources are not available for accomplishing masculinity. For example, if a person does not have a steady, reliable job, a stable family life, or other traditional indicators of successful masculinity, violent behavior may be considered an acceptable way to convey the "toughness" that is linked with masculine traits. ADD CITATION!

This is especially true considering most African American males cannot follow the traditional outlets of successful masculinity that Messerschmidt by being successful in school as well as in both marriage and children and occupational achievement. This unique cultural construction of masculinity has lasting impacts on the surrounding demographic and community, especially due to the strong correlation between this culture, violence, and gang affiliation. Hall and Pizzaro coincide with this conception, stating this "behavior is a [cultural] tradition that has violent implications that threaten the well-being and quality of life potential of the entire group and its succeeding generations" (88). This reinforces the notion that certain cultural aspects and values create a unique depiction of masculinity, and these deviations from the traditional model of masculinity are the primary causes that lead to gang culture and gang violence.

COUNTER ARGUMENT AND REBUTTAL There are, however, who believe that masculinity and its cultural construction have no impact on the development of gang culture and crime, especially in urban America.


REFERENCE in conclusion



Both lead to gangs, strong similarity


Arcaya, J. (1996). The Hispanic male in group psychotherapy. In M.P. Andronico (Ed.), Men in Groups: Insights, interventions, and psychoeducational work (pp. 151-161). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Ho, M.K. (1992). Minority:children and adolescents in therapy. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Monteiro, K.P., Fuqua, V. (1993-94). African American Gay Youth: One form of Manhood. High School Journal. 77(1-2), 20-36.

Maybe add to 1st paragraph

The cause of such association between manhood and this detrimental behavior is triggered by idealized portrayals of masculinity in the music industry (music large part of minorities lives) and through unique cultural values that establish certain masculine characteristics within a community, especially within Latino and African American neighborhoods. (Latin-tight family bonds, Africans cool pose culture)