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The Declining Significance of Homophobia: How Teenage Boys are Redefining Masculinity and Heterosexuality (Sexuality, Identity, and Society) [Hardcover]

Mark McCormack
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 April 2012 0199778248 978-0199778249 1
Research has traditionally shown high schools to be hostile environments for LGBT youth. Boys have used homophobia to prove their masculinity and distance themselves from homosexuality. Despite these findings over the last three decades, The Declining Significance of Homophobia tells a different story. Drawing on fieldwork and interviews of young men in three British high schools, Dr. Mark McCormack shows how heterosexual male students are inclusive of their gay peers and proud of their pro-gay attitudes. He finds that being gay does not negatively affect a boy's popularity, but being homophobic does.

Yet this accessible book goes beyond documenting this important shift in attitudes towards homosexuality: McCormack examines how decreased homophobia results in the expansion of gendered behaviors available to young men. In the schools he examines, boys are able to develop meaningful and loving friendships across many social groups. They replace toughness and aggression with emotional intimacy and displays of affection for their male friends.Free from the constant threat of social marginalization, boys are able to speak about once feminized activities without censure. The Declining Significance of Homophobia is essential reading for all those interested in masculinities, education, and the decline of homophobia.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA; 1 edition (19 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199778248
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199778249
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 2.3 x 16 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 604,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

I am a sociologist interested in understanding the effects of decreasing homophobia in Western cultures. Empirically documenting the erosion of homophobia in educational and sporting settings, as well as in the wider culture, my research explores how this has resulted in an expansion of gendered behaviours for male youth and documents the improvement in life experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth.

I completed my Ph.D at the University of Bath under the supervision of Professor Eric Anderson, and I have worked at Brunel University, London as a Lecturer since October 2010. My research has garnered considerable media attention, and I have appeared on shows including The Surgery on BBC Radio 1, Woman's Hour and Thinking Allowed on BBC Radio 4 and Q with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC Radio 1. My research has been covered in newspapers including The Observer and The Daily Mail, as well as in multiple print and on-line magazines, including The Economist, New Internationalist and Open Democracy. I also have a blog, Man 2.0, at Psychology Today.

My website is

Product Description


Despite the remarkable changes in attitudes towards homosexuality in recent years, a continuing stream of homophobia has often been detected, especially among young men. This important book demonstrates vividly that this need not be the case. Based on a close study of three contrasting schools, Mark McCormack documents the ways in which full acceptance of homosexuality not only makes life better for gay young people, but also transforms heterosexual masculinity. No longer dependent on affirming their masculinity through homophobia, heterosexual young men are freed to explore a more open and flexible masculinity. This is a heartening book that charts the profound and positive transformation now taking place in young people's culture, and makes one optimistic for the future. (Jeffrey Weeks, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, London South Bank University, and author of The Languages of Sexuality (2011) Incisive, accessible and essential reading.)

One of the best books on male adolescents I've ever read, The Declining Significance of Homophobia documents a revolution, one in which gay youth are accepted and integrated alongside their heterosexual brethren, gay bullying is unacceptable, and heterosexual boys experience little fear about being emotional, soft, or non-violent. What has caused this revolution? McCormack argues it is the result of broader social changes regarding sexuality and gender, particularly among young people-the success of the gay rights movement, the declining significance of religion, and the reach of social media. Now the big question: Can this possibly cross the Atlantic? (Ritch C. Savin-Williams, Chair and Professor of Human Development, and Director, Sex and Gender Lab, Cornell University)

Through deep, careful study, McCormack unveils new possibilities for contemporary youth. His work challenges the longstanding assumption about contemporary masculinities that homophobia is a given. Learning from young people, his book foreshadows a new era in which youth lead the way in defining gender and masculinity in ways that aren't fundamentally exclusionary. It is important scholarship and offers a hopeful vision of the future. (Stephen T. Russell, Distinguished Professor and Fitch Nesbitt Endowed Chair and Director, Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families, University of Arizona)

The real value of this book isn't the way is rescues gay teens from victimhood, but in the revolution in masculinity it documents, about which many oldies are still in denial. (Mark Simpson, The Independent)

The term 'groundbreaking' is often bestowed too lightly, but it is richly deserved in the case of this book. Mark McCormack offers a pioneering and remarkably inspiring account of the declining significance of homophobia, and how teenage boys are redefining masculinity and heterosexuality (and homosexuality). (Philip Kemp, Times Higher Education Supplement)

Rather than giving way to confirmation bias and retaining a belief that homophobia exists and continues to blight the experience of many straight, gay, bisexual and/or transgender young peoplemuch as it did in his own school days as well as in countless books on the subject McCormack has dared to tell it how it is. And if, as the introduction outlines, the broad intention of this book is to provide a pathway towards developing a more intelligent discussion about sex, sexuality and relationships in schools, this is something for which he should be highly commended. Moving beyond cherished and celebrated theoretical positions, McCormack shows that we need to recognise social change as it occurs and be ready to adequately theorise its implications for adolescence. (J Youth Adolescence)

This book has probably the greatest interest to people researching sex or gay situation, but it is also relevant for child and adolescent psychiatrists, teachers and others who work with youth for the socially committed human it will be an interesting input about how society is changing and how we understand ourselves ... For me the book was current and gives useful knowledge of the situation regarding gender roles and the situation of homosexuals among youth of today. I also like the author's arguments that the classification based on sexual identity is useful, and he emphasizes that one no longer needs to look at gays as victims. (Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association, April 2013)

About the Author

Mark McCormack is a Lecturer in Sociology at Durham University in England. His research focuses on the changing nature of masculinities among British youth. In this book, he examines how decreased homophobia has positively influenced the way in which young men bond emotionally and interact in school settings.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Not so gay 16 July 2014
It behoves us to look at the evidence in social science rather than come with preconceived opinions. So I looked very seriously at this research suggesting that in three British sixth form college male homophobia was pretty much non-existent. Instead masculinity was expressed in ways that did not conflict with intimacy. It is in accord with some trends but I could not help thinking findings from predominantly white town-based communities might not reflect the complexities of inner city living. However one of the other reviews on amamzon is by a subject of the book, endorsing its message and “outing” the faith of the unnamed faith school. I am inclined to wait until someone else replicates this pioneering ethnographic study.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A landmark study and a beacon of hope. 5 Jun 2012
By Steve
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a book which will make many of us, who have lived with homophobia, at the least rethink our perspective. It is based on research among boys aged between 16 and 18 in three quite different schools in one area. It does not claim that that age group is representative of all age groups or that there may not be geographical variations elsewhere in the UK. What it does demonstrate is that the image of generalised homophobia in schools is no longer accurate and that there is a generational change in which masculinity does not have to be demonstrated by showing how un-gay one is. The book refers to, but does not analyse in detail, the influence of social media and, more especially, of television portrayals of gay people (notably in Skins).
For the non-expert reader there is quite a lot of sociological jargon to be got through and, as usual with jargon, the technicalities often disguise what would be much more familiar ideas and findings if expressed in plain English. I also found the fact that source references are included in the text, rather than as footnotes, a real barrier to easy reading. Fortunately, these diminish when tha author comes onto his own research and findings. All in all, let us hope that this book is as much of a landmark study as I think it is.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly depressing 'Good News Story' 27 April 2012
The Declining Significance of Homophobia, by Mark McCormack, is, according to its author, a `good news story'. The good news being that homophobia amongst young people is on the wane. His research with mainly young men students in three English sixth forms reaches very different conclusions to that of the more sobering surveys by LGBT organisations such as Stonewall.

McCormack tells us that the young people he studied do not marginalize and discriminate against each other on the basis of sexual orientation, or even perceived orientation. This is because homophobia has declined in our culture, since the `homohysteria' that characterised the 1980s and 1990s. He also looks at language, and argues convincingly that in many contexts, young people's use of the term `gay' to mean `lame' or `rubbish' is not homophobic, but merely a sign of changing times, and linguistic shifts.

I agree with McCormack that attitudes are changing and expanding, to accommodate a more accepting approach, both towards homosexuality, and towards `feminine' behaviours amongst men, (think David Beckham in a sarong, or Alex Reid in women's lingerie). However I have a few problems with his reasoning, and with the identity politics he uses to explain and celebrate this change.

One weakness of the book is a lack of depth of understanding on the part of McCormack about the history of homophobia. He relies almost solely on the work of his `mentor' Eric Anderson to explain how homophobic attitudes gripped the (western) world during the 1980s and 1990s, when AIDS was seen by many as a `gay plague'. And when the age of consent was higher for homosexual men than for heterosexuals.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The End of Homophobia? 22 May 2012
I can't really give a hands-off 'objective' review of this book because I happen to know the author. In fact, I was one of the subjects of his research! (Turn to page 77, there's a picture of me). All I can say is this, Dr. McCormack's study captures the experiences of young men, both gay and straight, better than anything else I have read. His insightful sociological perspective sheds new light on the experiences of youth today. His style is engaging and informative, making the complex social world he documents easy to understand. For anyone interested in contemporary issues related to masculinity and sexuality, I would highly recommend this book.

For me, being gay (even in a Catholic college) presented no difficulties whatsoever. If anything, being gay made me more popular, not less. In fact, as you will find out if you read the book, I was popular enough to be elected student president at my college! This challenges what traditional research has said about the experiences of gay youth. This book also challenges what many masculinities scholars have said about young heterosexual men. Dr. McCormack finds that straight boys today are more affectionate, tactile with one another, and socially progressive on issues of gay rights and women's rights. He explains why these changes have occurred, and what they mean for the young people involved.

After the book was published, I had the opportunity to read what Dr. McCormack had written about me and my peers. In my view, he has captured the inclusive, welcoming, and gay-friendly environment I grew up in perfectly. To find out that students in other schools had had exactly the same positive experiences, if not better ones, gave me real optimism for the future.
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