Male bonding refers to the homosocial, and largely heterosexual, connections that are forged between two or more men. These homosocial connections are usually considered in terms of friendship, but male bonding can be conceptualized in a wider scope to encompass all beneficial relationships between men that exclude women. In an effort to emphasize the importance of male bonding to all social interactions, it has been categorized as an evolutionary imperative. As such male bonding has been theorized to have biological origins and to be the primary interaction of society.
From the 1970s on some psychologists and lay observers have envisioned a masculine crisis. For these writers male bonding is a largely empty act that does not allow men to relate to each other in a meaningful way.
Attempts to conceive of male bonding as a biological inheritance find suggestive evidence of male bonding in other primates. Male bonding is known to occur in baboons and chimpanzees, where, particularly in the latter, groups of males show overtly aggressive tendencies. Male chimpanzees have been known to form groups for the express purpose of attacking other chimpanzees. In addition to these acts of aggression, male-bonded primates prove to be of mutual benefit to all the members of the group. Male bonding allows for a social hierarchy to develop within a group, it provides a more effective means for a group to defend itself, and it provides the opportunity for a group to serve as a hunting party. In Men in Groups, Lionel Tiger (1969) finds the possible connection between male bonding and hunting of particular significance to human male bonding. According to Tiger's evolutionary argument, the transformation of human society into hunting societies made male bonding necessary and created a division of labor on sociosexual grounds.
Tiger is not the only researcher who has suggested an anthropological basis for male bonding. In The Elementary Structures of Kinship, Claude Lévi-Strauss (1969) suggests that male bonding is a primary means by which society perpetuates itself. According to Lévi-Strauss, marriage is, at foundation, a relationship based on male bonding. In marriage one man (or group of men) forges a relationship with another man (or group of men). In such a dynamic women are the objects of exchange that bring men closer together and allow communities to prosper. This idea illuminates a seeming contradiction in male bonding. Whereas male bonding is ostensibly the homosocial activity of men organizing in groups to the exclusion of women, it has been suggested that this homosocial bond is always, to some degree, about women. In Between Men, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1985) suggests that male homosocial relationships always reflect on the relationship between genders and the role of women in society. Many writers in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s on the topic of male bonding reflect on the importance of women to the male bond. These researchers point to men sharing drinks in a bar and talking about women as one of the most clichéd images of male bonding.
In addition to her emphasis on the importance of women in all male-bonding interactions, Sedgwick illuminates the troubled relationship between male homo-social and homosexual bonds. Whereas the word homosocial is entomologically linked to homosexuality, homosocial male bonds are notoriously characterized by intense feelings of homophobia. In his 1985 book, In a Man's World, Perry Garfinkel also recognizes the homophobia that characterizes so much male bonding. Garfinkel hypothesizes that homophobia may be part of the reason that so many male homosocial relationships are characterized by men refusing to talk about their feelings and that men feel uncomfortable in situations requiring physical contact with other men.
The characterization of the male homosocial bond as men getting together for companionship and understanding yet afraid to talk about their feelings is related to the socialization of men. In literature of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s men are frequently portrayed as competitive with each other and afraid to confide feelings because that is what they have been taught from their fathers and because men are afraid of being betrayed or made fun of. Yet men group together because of a desire for companionship. In addition male bonding provides initiation rites from childhood to manhood and a sense of belonging. These homosocial initiation rites can vary from culture to culture—from the Gahuku boys of Papua New Guinea who are taken from their village for 6 weeks by some of the men in the village only to return as men (Schechner 1985), to circumcision, and to fraternity hazing. The segregation of women from men, as in Muslim cultures, can also increase the importance of both male bonding and homosociality.
Garfinkel, Perry. 1985. In a Man's World: Father, Son, Brother, Friend, and Other Roles Men Play. New York: New American Library.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1969. The Elementary Structures of Kinship, trans. James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer; ed. Rodney Needham. Rev. edition. Boston: Beacon Press.
Schechner, Richard. 1985. Between Theater and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Tiger, Lionel. 1969. Men in Groups. New York: Random House.
Wrangham, Richard, and Dale Peterson. 1996. Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.