In “The Sexual Sociology of Adult Life” Nancy Chodorow explains that women’s roles and feminine behavior are more readily available to children of both sexes because of the mother’s place in the home. Conversely, it is the male role that is idealized in the home, in spite of and because of its physical absence. According to Chodorow, “Boys are taught to be masculine more consciously than girls are taught to be feminine” (323). Because a female role model is present, girls have the opportunity to learn femininity through interaction with and imitation of their mothers. Boys however, must compensate for their father’s absence and appropriate a male role model, and as a result, “Males tend to identify with a cultural stereotype of the masculine role” (323). Not only does a boy need to develop a basic gender identity without a male role model, he must learn to do so against the oppositional female roles presented to him, “he defines masculinity negatively as that which is not female” (322). Therefore, “Dependence on his mother, attachment to her, and identification with her represent that which is not masculine; a boy much reject dependence and deny attachment and identification” (325). This active repression of perceived feminine attributes ironically creates a negative view of feminine traits, and is compounded by the idealization of the absentee male figure. Learned masculinity, therefore, seems to be a constant struggle to detach oneself from the female role model in order to achieve the idea of what one imagines to be the male role in contrast to the female role.
Because the male role is less accessible and seemingly less attainable than the female role presented by the ever present mother figure, “masculinity is idealized, or accorded superiority,and thereby becomes even more desirable” (324). In reading this chapter, I thought of the superheroes we tried to emulate as children, the majority of which were male, and the fact that one of the reasons we wanted to be like them was that we had never seen or heard of anyone doing anything as fantastic as they had done. The effect is similar with an absentee parent, since the parent is not present, the child necessarily creates an idea of what they imagine that parent to be doing, however, as a result, the parent who is present seems only capable of doing what we see them doing everyday. Chodorow’s expresses the idea that, “mothers and children often idealize [fathers]and give them ideological primacy, precisely because of their absence and seeming inaccessibility, and because of the organization and ideology of male dominance in the larger society” (325). As a result, “Given that masculinity is so elusive, it becomes important for masculine identity that certain social activities are defined as masculine and superior, and that women are believed unable to do many of the things defined as socially important” (325). This idealization of the masculine role, not only affects the boy searching for a role model to identify with, but the girl also experiences a negative reaction to her prescribed roles by the realization that she cannot be like her father because she is too much like her mother. According to Chodorow, these feelings of hostility that manifest during the oedipal period, develop into self-depreciation. However, although the female role model is associated with “regression and lack of autonomy”, the girl’s “acceptance of her own femininity and identification with her mother” results from her hostility toward her mother while the boy develops a general devaluation of women.
Though Chodorow applies the idealized male roles and repressed female roles into the development of personality traits of workers in the capitalist world, the idea of the idealized male figure really resonated with me. The idea of young boys appropriating male role models of their own made me think of the media, and the “cultural stereotype of the male role” (323). This immediately led me to think of the male role models I saw growing up, which included Jean Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Sylvester Stallone and Steven Seagal. Like Chodorow claims in this chapter, I absolutely devaluated women’s roles, which were seemingly weak and unexciting in comparison those to a martial arts champion. This in turn made me emulate male roles, played “male” games, and favor male friend for fear the girls would “ruin the fun”.