“I Feel Proud Because I Made Them Stop Fighting”: How Do Adolescent Friendships Create and Constrain Masculinities?

Primary author: Emma McMain
Faculty sponsor: Zoe Higheagle Strong

Primary college/unit: College of Education
Campus: Pullman


The notion of “boyhood in crisis” circulates through educational spaces, perpetuating the ideas that boys are physically aggressive, “emotionally illiterate,” and lack intimate friendships. To complicate and challenge this crisis model, there is a need for more research that explores masculinities as complex, relational, and performative. This study, framed by feminist poststructural theory, considers how adolescent boys shape one another’s masculinities when discouraging physical fights. Critical discourse analysis techniques were applied to four interviews to highlight the “discourses” (repeated and dynamic patterns of words, thoughts, images, and actions, such as a discourse of men as instinctive fighters) that create and are created by performances of masculinity. I also considered the discourses that did not appear from these boys’ stories but could work as points of resistance to dominant forms of masculinity that uphold a binary of “reason” over “emotion” and individual “choice” over more collectivist beliefs.

This project complicates what counts as “progress” in studies of peer aggression: masculinities constrained the range of ways in which boys could resist fights, yet friendship emerged as an important shaper of identity. This research calls for moving beyond a discourse of “good choices” (which puts the responsibility of ceasing violence on boys alone) to explore how adolescents are simultaneously agentic and constrained by their social worlds.