Fact Sheet: Stereotypes of Manhood
December 1, 2000
A stereotype is defined as a standardized mental picture held in common by a group of people. They are found in all cultures and may have a negative impact on social interaction.
Stereotypes of men cross many cultural lines and drive male behavior, often inspiring risk taking that can be lethal in the face of AIDS. Such behaviors profoundly affect their loved ones. Around the world, young men die more often than young women from accidents, violence, sexually transmitted diseases and drug use -- factors often related to ideas of "manhood."
What are our cultural expectations of boys and men, based on stereotypes? What messages do we send them? In the U.S., as in most cultures, men are traditionally expected to be physically and emotionally strong, dominant, daring and virile.
While biological factors do contribute to the behavioral differences between men and women, men's conduct is determined at least in part by expectations of how men should act -- expectations often shared by women as much as by men.
Some Traditional Stereotypes of What "Real Men" Do . . .
Boys Will Be BoysThese cultural expectations of manliness are what our boys are trying to live up to. In the popular book Real Boys, author William Pollack talks about our tendency to treat boys as "little men."
Pollack states that, as a result of our expectations, our sons develop a "mask of masculinity" that fits our culture's boy code -- that unwritten but powerful code of conduct that puts boys and men into what he calls a "gender straightjacket" of rigidly accepted masculine behaviors.
Boys Learn the Stereotype of the "Real Man" . . .
Breaking the Boy CodeWe can redefine the boy code. Boys will become the kind of men we teach them to be. Talking openly about the negative aspects of our traditional expectations of manliness will ease boys' anxieties, debunk myths and misconceptions and reassure them that it is acceptable to talk about their concerns.
Failure to openly discuss such issues can be the start of lifelong difficulties in talking about sex and other sensitive issues. Openness will encourage our boys to learn the facts rather than believe the many myths that surround the subjects of sex and manliness.
[See the Fact Sheet "Successful Prevention Programs"]
This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication AIDS: All Men -- Make a Difference!.