The Male Bond: Defining the Object
This section turns my research over to fraternity members. I ask them to explain their own definition about what male bonding is. Their answers may surprise you.
I almost forgot about male bonding itself. Males can also have – you know how females have pride when they are female bonding, you know – it is like pride and exclusive. Well I haven’t been like that. I haven’t ever said to a woman, “Male bonding – you can never come close” … I was thinking how strong that male bonding is. I was thinking male bonding is just as strong as the female’s is. (Hugh G. Rection)
The individual is trying to justify being male and the ideals that supposedly surround that, like violence – the justification of violence. One person feels justified to commit violence because he is with these other people. A lot of it is based upon games… everything is like a test to see what everybody is made of.
(Jack B. Dalton)
The common denominator shared among fraternity houses is that they each bring a group of men together in self-governance for a common purpose, interest, or pleasure. The unifying object among fraternity members is their male bond which usually gets reinforced by the day-to-day interactions that take place inside the shared fraternity house. The fraternity house is the prime focus of their bond because it is where they live, eat, socialize, and build a structured relationship among themselves.
An individual’s self-identity is shaped through his fraternity membership. In fact, participants commonly introduced themselves using their fraternity name. I am a “Sigma Chi” or I am “Delta Upsilon.” With this in mind, it crucial to understand the process by which identity gets shaped. This chapter attempts to decipher how fraternity members define, describe, and attach meaning to their male bond.
I began by asking fraternity members straight-forward questions such as “what is your definition of male bonding?”, “what are some theories that you have heard about male bonding?”, and “what are positive and negative aspects of male bonding?” I also sought to determine if there are different kinds of male bonding in fraternities. This was not as easy a task as I had anticipated. The interviews were, perhaps, the first times that most participants articulated personal theories about male bonding and, at times, participants answered questions with difficulty. Participant responses often illustrated hesitancy, confusion, and the desire to refer to my being male also. The general idea was that since I am male I would automatically understand:
The bond that only males achieve together without females. It’s hard to say, I can’t explain, it is tempting to just say, “you know what I am talking about.” (Hugh G. Reaction)
That is hard because I think it is something more like a feeling as well. It is just like a personal feeling you have for other males in a positive way. I have never tried to define it, but I think I know what it is. I think I have bonded with other males. It centers around friendship. (Bob)
It is kind of hard to define…it might be kind of a stereotyped term. (White Sail)
Other participants defined male bonding either by focusing on stereotypes of it, making comparisons with female bonding, or even denying its existence:
I don’t know…female bonding, whatever – how they go to bathroom together and whatever, little things like that. I don’t know an actual definition, just little things that guys do as guys together. Maybe it is macho things, wrestling or whatever, but that is male bonding. It is a kind of term – I haven’t thought about it much. (John Deere)
I think the classical stereotype of the term is just like a feeling of masculinity between each other, and being together, and acting in the same way, kind of helps each other reaffirm each other’s masculinity. You know what I am talking about? (Aaron)
A kind of ritual where men socialize with each other, adapt to each other’s behavior. That is what I would think. But truthfully, I do not think that it exists. It is more of a clinical definition of it…I don’t think there are any special factors that make two men bond. (Chris)
As mentioned in Chapter One, male bonding can take place at different levels, e.g., one-on-one, group-to-group, institution-to-institution. When participants spoke of male bonding, it was most likely to be placed in context of a small group (the fraternity house) rather than a larger community (The Greek Letter system). Therefore the feminist concept of patriarchy is not likely to occur to fraternity members as a type of male bonding. Likewise, many fraternity members would disagree with my classification of alumni, the national charter, and rival fraternities as part of their bond. For participants, male bonding exists in small and even temporary forms of fraternity interactions and intimate experiences:
[Male bonding is] a relationship between two guys. They have an understanding and might come to respect each other through the experience that they share. (John Blutarski)
Basically, when a bunch of guys go out and do something together, share an experience…play football or something, just without the competition…a friendship building type of thing. (Fishkiller)
Male bonding to me is when you get together with males. For some reason there is an idea that everyone relates, and you can say or do anything you want and it will be accepted because you are male. IT could be good. It could be bad. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to attempt to justify your actions. (Jack B. Dalton)
What I have experienced of male bonding is just living with a core group of guys, and you know each other so well that you could almost speak for the other person. You have been around them so long, and having them be there with you is what I consider male bonding. Going through hard times, good times, and such. (White Sail)
I think it just involves experiences between each other, building trust, and building kind of a sense of altruism. You know, like I am going to stand by you; you are going to stand by me. We trust each other on this issue…we represent at least on common interest. IT that common interest is watching football on Sunday, or if that common interest is overthrowing the government, I think it all pretty much applies. It is just kind of a feeling of belonging to a similar group and having similar interests. (Aaron)
An obstacle to my research is that participants lacked the language to communicate and describe male bonding to me. Few members had any theoretical background that could place fraternity male bonding into context. When I asked participants if they had heard of any theories about male bonding, only two had expressed familiarity with some. One participant disagreed with the theory that hazing makes the male bond stronger and the other spoke about a feminist theory promoted by Naomi Wolf (1991) in The Beauty Myth. In Wolf’s theory, men are bonded in a type of conspiracy to oppress women by emphasizing specific standards of beauty. The participant disagreed with Wolf’s theory noting that men could not coordinate and enforce one common beauty standard among themselves.
Given the lack of theoretical background, it was difficult for members to accurately portray their own definition of male bonding. However, participants were able to describe different kinds of male bonding and its positive and negative elements. Some participants distinguished different kinds of male bonding by making comparisons:
I think there is a difference between brotherhood and friendship…although you might be bonded, you might know a lot about that person, but you might not consider them as a friend. (The Owl)
Stealing signs that is a great college pastime, but is it positive or negative? I think it is probably positive for the guys who do it, I mean, it is something where they do some things together. But obviously that is wrong. I think that definitely that is a negative, because the same group togetherness can be achieved without that kind of thing. It is possible to do obviously, so it can be positive or negative. It just depends on the individuals. (Aaron)
Others defined male bonding by discussing its preferred forms which are most often placed into the context of intimacy, acceptance, support, and the honest representation of it self:
[T]he best male bonding is when nobody even brings up women, and you can laugh about something for house. If a woman was in the room it would change everything and the moment would be lost. That is wt male bonding is…maybe it is a more rawer form of yourself, less refined. (Hugh G. Rection)
In my personal opinion, if I was to male bond with someone, it would be the kind of guy who would put up with my bullshit the way I was…we could go out and not worry about things like what is going to happen, or opinions, or stuff like that. (The World is Mine)
If it is a good group of males that have the same ideals, if they don’t have the violence, and they don’t have to justify things, it is good because if you have problems it is like group therapy. You can depend on these people to pull you through, and you can ask them, you feel like you can relate, that these people are like you. (Jack B. Dalton)
No matter what I do, all people associated with my fraternity will care just the same. You don’t have to play roles or games to try and impress people. (Lance)
Getting to know other males and forming bonds of love and trust…[creating] friendship bonds and something stronger than that. Men getting to know each other on a more intimate basis. (Lance)
An important part of this research has been to seek different definitions of male bonding. However, as I interacted with fraternity members I soon realized that most participants lacked the academic framework to discuss their own male bonds. By trial and error, I struggled to design questions that would enable participants to analyze the “male bond” in their fraternity membership. However, my impression is that it would have been beneficial if participants were also more acquainted with academic theories about male bonding, and the historical background of fraternities.
My belief is that by becoming acquainted with this historical background and academic theories, fraternity members can place their own male bonding experiences into context. Education would make it easier to discuss their male bonds in future research. In the absence of dialogue, fraternity members are likely to conduct themselves using traditional patterns, which, as the following sections demonstrate, might not be in their best interest.