“Not surprisingly, the most popular boys at River High are heterosexual. Expressing heterosexual desire establishes a sort of baseline masculinity. Bradley, a charming blond, blue-eyed sophomore who could hardly contain his excitement about being interviewed, explained, “To be the coolest guy? If you’re just like a stud at sports and you’re a stud with the ladies.” If anyone at River High was a “stud at sports” and a “stud with the ladies,” it was Chad, a tall, well-muscled, strikingly good-looking senior football player of mixed white and Latino heritage. Chad spent much of his interviewing describes how he was “that guy” on campus: “I’m Chad Rodgers. I play football. I’m going to college. All that kind of shit. Badass, you know?” He said that because of this, other guys were envious of him. When I asked him why this was the case, he answered confidently, with a bit of a sneer, “Probably ‘cause they can’t get girls. I work out. I got muscles and a nice body.” In her interview, Cathy confirmed Chad’s view of himself, saying, with admiration, “Chad? He’s a big, cocky man. But he deserves the right to be cocky. He is really hot. But he knows it. That’s just Chad. He just thinks the world revolves around him.” Indeed, after interviewing him, I received the same impression of Chad.
Chad told me that he, along with some of his football teammates, frequently teased another teammate: “This dude, Dax Reynolds, he gets made fun of a lot ‘cause he’s always holding his girlfriend’s hand. To the other guys it’s funny. We just make fun of him.” According to Chad, a successful sex was more important than the public displays of affection. If a guy wasn’t having sex, “he’s no one. He’s nobody.” Chad explained that some guys tried to look cool by lying about sex, but they “look like a clown, [they get] made fun of.” He assured me, however, that he was not one of those “clowns” forced to lie about sex, bragging, “When I was growin’ up I started having sex in the eighth grade.” However, his description of these sexual adventures sounded scarily close to date rape. He told me, “The majority of the girls in eighth and ninth grade were just stupid. We already knew what we were doing. They didn’t know what they were doing, you know?” When I asked him to explain this, he continued, “Like say, comin’ over to our house like past 12:00. What else do you do past 12:00? Say we had a bottle of alcohol or something. I’m not saying we forced it upon them. I’m sayin’ . . .” He trailed off here as he tried to explain that he didn’t need to actually rape girls, though his friends did: “Kevin Goldsmith and uh, Calvin Johnson, they got charged with rape.” Chad assured me that in spite of his statement that he had used alcohol with underage girls he had never had to force a girl to have sex: “I’ll never [be in] that predicament, you know. I’ve never had a hard time, or had to, you know, alter their thinking.”
Other boys echoed Chad’s assertions about the importance of sex, saying that they felt the pressure to have sex, or at least act like they were having sex. Connor, a white junior who frequently wore Harley Davidson insignia T-shirts and a black leather jacket, suggested that sex was important to maintain one’s image:
If his friends are talking about it [sex] and they got some and this guy is like “oh man, they’re cool and I wanna be cool.” So they go and do whatever as far as prostitution or actually drugging a girl or whatever. As far as image goes–yeah, they think it’s [sex] important.
Angela told me that one of her male friends was so desperate to be seen as sexually experienced that he lied about it:
They brag about it. They lie about it. I noticed a lot of guys lie about it. Like that guy I like. He’s my best friend now, one of them. And he messed around with one of my friends before me and him started talking. He told people at football camp that they had sex. But he told me he was still a virgin. He was like, bragging about it. I asked him, “Are you still a virgin?” All of his other close friends were like, “Yeah. He’s still a virgin.” I said, “Why did you lie about it?” He was like, “I just wanted people to think I was cool.
Ben concurred with this analysis: “Of course they lie about it . . . It’s like, tell your friends, ‘Last night it was good.’ And then the girl walks up and they talk about something else. You know how it is.”
The way boys talked about heterosexual practices and orientations in their interviews reveals that their public was as much about securing a masculine social position as it was about expressions of desire or emotion. David explicitly talked about this “image” problem as one of “peer pressure,” saying, “If you haven’t scored with someone, then you are not adequate to anyone else, you know?”
In this sense, Chad was both an exemplar and an arbiter of heterosexuality. Like other boys, he recognized only specific expressions of heterosexuality as masculine. In groups boys act as a sort of “sexual police” (Hird and Jackson 2001[see bottom]), deriding each other’s expressions of love, romance, or emotional desire, such as Dax’s holding of his girlfriend’s hand. Chad also had the ability to discern whether other guys were lying about their sexual activities. It seems that lying about it might actually make one less masculine than simply not engaging in it! Finally, as noted by Cathy and Chad himself, Chad was the paragon of masculinity at River High. He was “really hot” and “muscular” and could “get girls” when other guys couldn’t.
If boys couldn’t actually bed a girl, they had to at least act as if they were sexually attracted to girls. Jace told me that guys who weren’t interested in girls were “all gay guys.” Indeed, Gary confirmed that having a girlfriend served as proof of heterosexuality. I asked Gary, a white senior with spiky burgundy hair and a smarty assembled Abercrombie and Fitch outfit who was involved in drama and choir, “Is it important that guys have girlfriends?” He explained,
Probably. Yeah. It shows you’re a man. I think it’s important. Let’s say the top actor guy who everybody thought was gay had a really nice girlfriend. That might happen just for a cover-up so that guy can be left alone from the stereotypes and the teasing. I think it may be important to some people just so they can go through high school without worrying about anybody talking about them.
Girlfriends both protected boys from the specter of the fag and bolstered their masculinity. In fact, in the “Revenge of the Nerds” skit discussed in the introduction, the deciding factor in the nerds’ ascendance to masculinity was the ability to reclaim “their” girlfriends.
Not surprisingly, given Chad’s comment that if a guy hadn’t had sex he was no one, boys felt pressured to make sure others knew that they thought about sex. In fact, thinking about sex was so important that boys often named it (much like homophobia) as a defining facet of adolescent masculinity. Connor explained this in response to my question “How would you describe teenage guys?”
I do think it’s true for 99.9 percent of the guys that they think about girls every 5.2 seconds . . . Every time they think of a girl they think of something sexually. Like every time they see a girl they look at her ass or whatever. Guys are into girls.
Connor’s comments reflected what many boys at River told me, that teenage guys think about sex all of the time. What Connor left out was that boys not only thought about girls “every 5.2 seconds” but constantly, compulsively expressed this thought process. Like Connor, Tal, a slim white underclassman, also positioned thinking about sex as a defining aspect of teen masculinity. As we walked out of the weight room one day, I asked if there was anything he’d like me to include in my notes. He replied, “I got something for you! All guys think about is eating pussy twenty-four-seven!”
At River High, sex, thinking about sex, and talking about sex were framed repeatedly as specifically masculine concerns, even in the classroom. In drama class Mr. McNally was walking the class through the different components of a story–the introduction, the buildup, and then the climax. A boy in the back of the class yelled out, “Climax! Every guy knows what that is!” The class laughed. While girls might have thought about it, enjoyed it, and even desired it, sex tended to be marked as a male domain.
Heath, a tall, white attractive junior involved in the drama program who was known for his unique clothing style, told me that this sort of behavior was expressed of boys; teenage guys were supposed to be “more outspoken about sexual stuff and hollering at girls and all that stuff.” Darren identified auto shop as a particular masculine arena rife with sexual discussions, explaining, “Auto shop class is a stereotype. Very typical teenage guys.. All they ever talk about is sex and cars . . . it seems like sex always comes up.” Jose told me something similar: “Most guys want a girl for a night and that’s it. That’s all it is over here. They’re just looking for a girl and then they’ll just forget about it the next day and then go onto something else.” He told me that his friend was one of those guys:
Some guys kind of put it in their [girls’] minds that they’re going to be with them and then the next day they won’t call them. Like I know a guy [who is] especially good at that. He’s one of my best friends. He can pull out a phone book and be like, “Who do I want to talk to tonight?” Then he’ll be with them for the night. He’s just a guy and he just wants as many girls as he can. Just wants girls, I guess.
For the most part boys seemed to be proud of this stereotypical “love ‘em and leave ‘em” behavior. While seemingly promiscuous girls were quickly and shamefully labeled slut, boys proudly donned the moniker of male whore. One of my interviewees, John, laughing described his friend as “a male whore. Guys just don’t care! Like my friend, Jeff–a male whore. I swear to God, that guy!” I asked, surprised, “He’s proud?” John answered, “Oh yeah! He’s proud!” Similarly Heath told me that “double standards” applied to girl and boy sexual behaviors: if a “guy sleeps around, he’s the man. Girl sleeps around, oh, she’s a slut. It’s weird. I don’t know why.”
Sadly it seems that for all the feminist activism of the past several decades little has changed in the day-to-day public sexual practices and discourses of adolescent boys. Boy still look to “score,” and girls’ bodies still serve as proof of masculinity. Girls who have sex are still labeled sluts, and boys who have sex are still vaulted to popularity.”
Pascoe, C. J. 2007. Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. [From Chapter 4, Compulsive Heterosexuality: Masculinity and Dominance, section “A Stud with the Ladies”, pp. 87-92.]
[Hird, Myra J., and Sue Jackson. 2001. “Where ‘Angels’ and ‘Wusses’ Fear to Tread: Sexual Coercion in Adolescent Dating Relationships.” Journal of Sociology 37, no. 1:27-43.]