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Masculinity, sexual identity, and the life experiences of American adolescent men Easterbrook, Adam


Demonstrating and defending one’s masculinity is an integral part of the adolescent male experience. Adolescent men earn their masculinity by engaging in performances of masculinity, which include concealing emotions, aggression, and athleticism. While men who give convincing performances of masculinity earn status and power, those who are unable to are victimized and ostracized. In this dissertation, I investigate the influence of masculinity on adolescent men’s lives through an analysis of the experiences of adolescents who participated in the National Adolescent Health study (ADD Health). My principle aim is to examine how performances of masculinity relate to important aspects of adolescents’ lives. I examine the relationship between men’s performances of masculinity and their sexual identity. Many scholars posit that heterosexuals are more masculine than non-heterosexuals. I argue that these scholars fail to take into account that men’s use of homophobia to police masculinity biases people to erroneously perceive non-heterosexuals as less masculine than heterosexuals. The analysis of the ADD Health data confirms my argument; there is no difference between heterosexual and non-heterosexual men’s masculinity. I also explore how adolescents’ performances of masculinity and sexual identity affect their relationships with peers, life satisfaction, and risk-taking. I examine these life experiences because they strongly influence adolescents’ development. The analyses indicate that concealing emotions does not strongly relate to adolescents’ life experiences. Athleticism, however, leads to better peer relationships and greater life satisfaction, while aggression has a deleterious effect on peer relationships and life satisfaction as well as increases risk-taking. Sexual identity has almost no influence on life experiences. These findings have implications for future research. First, adolescent men’s performances of masculinity entail several different sets of behaviours that each uniquely influences life experiences. Consequently, researchers need to consider masculinity as a multidimensional construct. Second, there is no evidence that non-heterosexuals are less masculine than heterosexuals. Scholars exploring sexuality and masculinity must take into account how assumptions about sexuality and masculinity might be impacting their research. Third, performances of masculinity effect several aspects of adolescent men’s lives. Future research must focus on masculinity, and not just biological sex, when attempting to understand men’s experiences.

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