Gender Conditioning in Webb’s "How Not to Be a Boy"

Seminar Paper, 2018

14 Pages, Grade: 2



1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Framework

3 Presentation of Gender in Webb

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

1 Introduction

“Our world is a deeply unequal one.” (Flood 1) No matter if we look at political power and authority, decision-making, family relations, or the media, gender inequalities are still prevalent (Flood 1). Flood explains that these inequalities are partly derived from the constructions of masculinity, which is why women’s movements and feminism have for a long time challenged global gender inequalities and emphasised the pervasiveness of women’s subordination (1). Especially in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a significant rise in economic activity of women (Scott 156). Since then, a lot has changed; there has been a “shift from male breadwinner and female carer model to double-income and single-parent households have transformed the established ways of distributing work between men and women.” (Scott 156) According to Scott, women are no longer seen as being mainly responsible for household and child care, but are still not fully ‘individualised’, at least not in the sense of being economically autonomous (156). For years, gender issues had been solely raised by women and had been an issue mainly limited to women; however, gender-conscious initiatives and interventions regarding men and boys have increased, for example in relation to violence prevention, sexual and reproductive health, parenting, or education (Flood 1-2). Bannon and Correia argue that “addressing gender issues, including those that disadvantage women […] requires understanding the perceptions and positions of both women and men.” (xix) Although men and gender have become more visible in various development forums in the last decades, and although there has been an increased interest in the gender conditioning of men, gender work still mainly focuses on women (Bannon and Correia xviii).

Drawing attention to gender issues and gender conditioning is crucial as “gender is one of the central organising principles around which social life revolves.” (Baker 4) Boudet et al. suggest that gender norms even rest upon other social norms which organise societies and community life (18). Besides, it can be said that gender is a component of a persons’ identity, along with other components like age, social class, or religion (Baker 8). In Robert Webb’s autobiography How Not to Be a Boy, gender is the main topic. Webb particularly draws attention to the gender conditioning of men and describes what it takes to be a man. Growing up in the 1970s, he shares his experiences of gender norms, roles, and attitudes from early childhood to adulthood. Webb himself has never been good at being a boy or man, as the title suggests. In How Not to Be a Boy, Webb addresses gender issues such as not fitting one’s gender role, which have influenced his own life and identity, and gives a clear message that addressing the gender conditioning of men will improve life for all. He emphasises that gender equality can only be achieved if we realise that men or boys are gendered, too, and are unavoidably involved in gender issues (Flood 4). In this paper, the gender conditioning of men is investigated. First, a theoretical framework is presented, which includes definitions of gender and explanations of how gender has developed, in the last decades. Then, gender in Webb’s autobiography is analysed by drawing on examples from the book, and finally, there is a summary of the main findings.

2 Theoretical Framework

Before discussing gender conditioning, it is necessary to define the term gender. Cleaver explains that “considerable debate occurs around definitions of ‘gender’.” (6) Similarly, Baker argues that “[the] words sex and gender are slippery terms”, have often been used interchangeably or to refer to the same concepts, and have also changed in meaning and usage over time (3). Additionally, he states that gender is “a set of arrangements by which biological raw material of human sex and procreation is shaped by human, social intervention.” (4) Generally, gender refers to differences between male and female behaviour – “it [signifies] all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or women, respectively.” (Baker 4) In addition, Cleaver explains that sex is biological whereas gender is psychological and cultural (6).

According to Baker, “by the 1980s most feminist writers in academia had agreed to use gender to refer to socially-constructed traits […]”. (4) There have been significant changes in gender roles and attitudes, and especially public debates around men and masculinities have become more visible, over the last years (Flood 2). Women’s movements and feminism have influenced those changes considerably as feminists have offered a wide-ranging critique of the attitudes and practices of men sustaining gender inequality (Flood 2). Flood explains that “[there] have been disruptions to and contestations of the social organisation of gender in at least four realms.” (2) First of all, there have been shifts in power relations as men’s domination has weakened under the influence of global feminism. Secondly, there have been shifts in production relations due to the decline of traditionally male areas of primary industry. Thirdly, there have been shifts in sexual relations because of the emergence of homosexual relationships as alternative for heterosexual ones. And lastly, in the wake of changes in sexual relations, other sexual identities and communities have increased while the homophobic construction of manhood has decreased – at least in some contexts (Flood 2). Boudet et al. explain that “it seems that change has come through modifications in the normative frameworks associated with gender.” (18) Things that were improbable years ago, for instance men helping with housework or taking care of children, are possible nowadays (Boudet et al. 18). Overall, it can be argued that sex could be characterised as immutable, whereas gender is now perceived as a much more fluid concept (Baker 5). Although there have been important changes, gender equality has not yet been fully achieved due to various reasons; Boudet et al. argue that failure to conform to a society’s gender norms can lead to severe social sanctions such as scorning women for being dressed inappropriately or ridiculing men for showing emotions (16). It is stated that “[gender] norms […] have not changed greatly partly because they are widely held and practiced in daily life, because they often represent the interests of power holders, and because they instill unconscious learned biases about gender differences that make it easier to conform to long-standing norms than to new ones.” (Boudet et al. 16) Consequently, “doing gender” – the constant reinforcement of differences – leads to accepting inequalities as the norm (Boudet et al. 17). In fact, men and women learn from early childhood on what it means to be a girl or a boy, which is why the beliefs that underpin gender norms become so entrenched (Boudet et al. 16).

For a long time, “gender has been seen to refer only to women, reflecting men’s position as the dominant, unmarked gender category” although both men and women are gendered (Flood 4). Cleaver criticises that men are seldom mentioned in gender policy documents, and if they are mentioned, they are mostly seen as obstacles to women’s development (1). He suggests that it is necessary that men give up power because “through empowerment processes both men and women can be liberated from confines of stereotyping, resulting in beneficial outcomes for both genders.” (2) Similarly, Flood argues that gender equality can only be achieved if gender is seen as the concerns of both men and women (4). Approaches to gender that argue for gender equality claim that both sexes may be disadvantaged by social and economic structures and that therefore both should have the right to a life free from poverty or oppression (Cleaver 2). Furthermore, Cleaver describes that new approaches of gender suggest that achieving equal power among men and women does not necessarily involve winners and losers (Cleaver 2). In fact, “[including] men in gender equality work is necessary because gender inequality is intimately tied to men’s practices and identities, men’s participation in complex and diverse gender relations, and masculine discourses and culture”; thus, “[fostering] gender equality requires change in these same arenas, of men’s lives and relations.” (Flood 4)

In contrast, Cleaver also claims that changes in divisions of labour, social practices, or concepts of masculinity can also disadvantage men (2). He states that “changes in the economy, in social structures and in household composition are resulting in ‘crisis of masculinity’ in many parts of the world.” (3) For instance, female-headed households or the increased incorporation of women in the labour force leads to men losing their assured role as breadwinner and provider of the family; as a consequence, men’s fundamental identity is questioned (Cleaver 3). Nowadays, they face a lack of alternative or meaningful roles, which can sometimes even result in dysfunctional and anti-social behaviour – in a crisis (Cleaver 3-4). Bannon and Correia describe the problem in a similar way: “[Globalization], economic change, poverty, and social change have eroded men’s traditional role as providers, causing men to seek affirmation of their masculinity in other ways (for example, unsafe sexual practices and domestic and social violence), which affects not only men but also their partners, families, and society at large.” (xix) Therefore, it has become more and more important to understand the male side of gender and the concept of masculinity (Bannon and Correia xix). Since the 1990s, countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States have risen concerns about increasing male unemployment, the declining proportion of men in higher education, and boy’s underperformance in school (Bannon and Correia xix). These findings show that it is necessary to draw greater attention to gender conditioning of men, which Webb does in his autobiography.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Gender Conditioning in Webb’s "How Not to Be a Boy"
University of Salzburg
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Robert Webb, Gender, Gender conditioning of men
Quote paper
Silvia Dreiling (Author), 2018, Gender Conditioning in Webb’s "How Not to Be a Boy", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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