Close bonding in male friendship groups in adolescence (ages 12–28) provides the foundation for altruistic behavior in the group, from routine selflessness to the ultimate sacrifice of life for the others. This article draws on ethnographic evidence from two settings—troops of Boy Scouts in California and US military units living and fighting together in the Middle East. In both settings, close bonding of the male adolescents has significant homoerotic elements, which suggests that there are significant erotic elements in male adolescent altruism, including the eroticization of pain and suffering (non-pathological masochism). If these links prove true, this has policy implications for the integration of adolescent girls and young women into previously all-male organizations, such as the Boy Scouts and the military.
Despite a nearly two decades’ long war on high school and college hazing, the traditional practice of paddling male pledges on the buttocks persists as a physical and psychological test of worthiness for membership in certain all-male organizations. In its elements of nudity, homoeroticim, and stylized sadomasochism, this ritual condenses a great many of the psychological processes essential to male bonding in groups. An application of Freud’s insights in his 1919 essay, “A Child Is Being Beaten,” to the puzzle of posterior paddling reveals a complex psychological process by which the pledge is feminized by the paddling, represses the feminine part of his self, and is initiated into the status of a brother among other heterosexual males.
Andrea Mei-Ying Wu and Jay Mechling
Boys in children’s literature and popular culture: Masculinity, abjection, and the fictional child by Annette Wannamaker. New York: Routledge Falmer, 2007, 200 pp.
We Boys Together: Teenagers in Love before Girl-Craziness by Jeffrey P. Dennis. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2007, x + 283 pp.