From Typical Dudes to Sensitive Men: Gender Dilemmas in a Therapeutic Boarding School

By Jessica Pfaffendorf

Nearly twenty years ago, a special report appeared in The New York Times focusing on a surge in specialized residential schools and therapeutic programs that exist within a new, multi-billion dollar industry for America’s troubled youth. These programs – commonly called therapeutic boarding schools or “emotional growth” schools – target a variety of issues among teens today: substance abuse, depression, anxiety, anorexia, and other behavioral and psychological problems. Through intensive counseling, rigorous structure, and even wilderness or animal-assisted therapy, the programs promise support for out-of-control teens. Though the schools vary in terms of the issues they treat, what they typically have in common is cost. The New York Times special report called these programs a “desperate measure” for parents because they are prohibitively expensive: thousands of dollars per month and hundreds of thousands for the full (usually year-long) duration. At these costs, treatment in one of these programs is only available to a few very wealthy families. As Bloomsberg Businessweek states, it is “rehab for the young and rich.” Despite provocative media coverage and their rapid rise over the past few decades (from only a handful in the 1990s to almost 300 today), there has been virtually no sociological research on therapeutic boarding schools or young men and women within them.

Drawing on in-depth interviews and ethnographic fieldwork inside a Western, all-male therapeutic boarding school for substance abuse, this article explores how privileged young men navigate the unique therapeutic environment, particularly with respect to conflicting notions of masculinity. Young men in the program participate in a variety of intensive therapies, but the 12-step program and equine therapy involving horseback riding and horse care are the most central. Other scholars have noted that these therapies that rely on acceptance of powerlessness, open expression of emotion, humility, and relationship building are more consistent with the emotional and relational nature of well-being among women. Indeed, one equine therapist writes that “the experience allows one to move from the masculine postmodern world of logic, control, and outcome production to the feminine stance of intuition, experience, and process” (Porter-Wenzlaff 2007, 531). Put this way, these therapies actually operate to strip away masculine characteristics replacing them with qualities more commonly associated with femininities and subordinate masculinities.

JessicaFor the young, mostly white, upper-class men I observed, this presents a significant “gender dilemma.” In other words, the behavioral and expressive qualities emphasized in the therapeutic environment clash with dominant notions of masculinity – particularly privileged masculinities associated with control, competition, and toughness that students embodied prior to enrollment in the program. My study outlines the ways that privileged young men navigate this dilemma by constructing “hybrid masculinities.” The term “hybrid masculinity” refers to a masculine gender form that incorporates identity elements associated with femininities or subordinate masculinities. However, these “unmasculine” elements tend to be incorporated strategically in ways that reproduce and obscure privilege and gender inequality. Outwardly, young men in later stages of the program seemed to have fully embraced the humble, sensitive, and service-oriented dispositions promoted in the program (despite extreme resistance in earlier stages). In my interviews and informal conversations with students, they spoke at length about their feelings, expressed their emotions openly, and freely admitted past wrongdoings and feelings of guilt.

However, they also mobilized these new emotional dispositions to subtly (re)assert dominance vis-à-vis various “others.” Most frequently, they compared themselves to “other guys” who they deemed, by contrast, immature, entitled, and selfish. By communicating emotion and responding maturely in difficult situations, students made claims of being “better” by distancing themselves from some of the negative cultural perceptions associated with young men (Kimmel, 2008). In several cases, young men in the program gave examples of how their “sensitive” masculine styles marked them as unique and more desirable, particularly in fields like dating. They also mobilized their transformations to assert leadership positions in families and in more typical therapeutic contexts (off-site support groups, for instance).

This article uses a previously unexamined case to explore how privileged young men navigate ruptures in hegemonic masculinity by constructing hybrid masculinities. In doing so, it extends the burgeoning line of research showing that masculine styles that appear out of sync with hegemonic masculinity may still reproduce systems of power and inequality in new, “softer” ways (Bridges and Pascoe 2014). Although young men in therapeutic boarding schools adopt “feminized” dispositions, these dispositions are mobilized in ways that help them to maintain privileges associated with being young, white, upper-class, and male.

Jessica Pfaffendorf is a PhD candidate in the School of Sociology at the University of Arizona. Her research interests include culture, social psychology, inequality and stratification, and gender. Her most recent article “Sensitive Cowboys: Privileged Young Men and the Mobilization of Hybrid Masculinities” can be found in the April 31 (2) 2017 issue of Gender & Society.

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Thinking beyond gender: Why does sexuality and race matter in the tech industry?

By Lauren Alfrey  and France Winddance Twine

How do women negotiate male-dominated workplaces of the tech industry? In the February 2017 issue of Gender & Society, we address this question by building upon foundational work on occupational inequality. Inspired by Joan Acker’s concept of inequality regimes, we offer the first qualitative study and intersectional analysis of women tech workers from a wide range of backgrounds. We show how race, class privilege and gender expression shapes the occupational experiences of “geek girls.”alfrey_video_game

In our interviews with 50 men and women employed in a variety of positions in the San Francisco tech industry, we discovered that the gender-fluid, LGBTQ, White and Asian female workers reported a greater sense of belonging among male co-workers when compared to heterosexual women. In contrast to the gender conventional women in our sample, they were perceived as “one of the guys.” However, the gender-fluid Black LGBTQ women we interviewed did not experience the same inclusion or degree of belonging. Neither did conventionally heterosexual White and Asian women, who, like the Black women, also described routine micro-aggressions and sexist interactions that undermined their ability to be seen as competent equals in their workplace.

We argue that this represents a racialized and gendered spectrum of belonging—the dynamic forms of inclusion and exclusion that women experience according to their race, sexuality, and gender presentation. In occupational cultures where masculinity and hetero-normativity are the norm, fluid gender expression provides some women with conditional acceptance. Continue reading “Thinking beyond gender: Why does sexuality and race matter in the tech industry?”

The Gender Pray Gap

By Landon Schnabel 

Rosary
Picture from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosary

Despite men holding most religious leadership positions, on any given Sunday there are typically more women than men in U.S. churches. Twenty seven percent of women but only 19 percent of men say they attend religious services at least once a week. Women also pray more frequently than men, with 66 percent of women and only 43 percent of men reporting that they pray daily. The gender gap in religion is so strong that U.S. religious congregations are getting creative in their attempts to attract more men, from changing décor and musical styles to hosting mixed martial arts fights in churches as depicted in the 2014 “Fight Church” documentary.

Are There Gender Differences among U.S. Elites?

Some scholars have argued that hormones make females more religious than males. They used a 17th century theological argument, Pascal’s Wager, to claim that being irreligious is risky. Then they said that because males have more testosterone, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior—such as violent crime and not going to church. But feminist scholars have consistently demonstrated that most gender differences are the result of social (i.e., gender), rather than biological (i.e., sex), factors, and that all women and all men are not the same. In this article, I use the case of U.S. elites to consider how gendered social experiences can make people more or less religious. On average, women are more religious than men, but are high-earning women (those who make more than $100,000 a year) more religious than high-earning men?Schnabel_final color

Among high earners, women are no more religious than men. High-earning men are just as likely as high-earning women to be religiously affiliated, to pray daily, to identify as a strong member of their religion, and to attend religious services weekly. This convergence occurs because the relationship between earnings and religiosity operates differently for women and men. High-earning women are consistently less religious than low-earning women, and high-earning men are consistently more religious than low-earning men. Continue reading “The Gender Pray Gap”