Summary: This CNN investigation looks at the controversial work of psychologist George Allan Rekers, whose 1970s "sissy boy" experiment sought to make a boy more masculine. It covers many sociological concerns including gender socialization, sexual orientation, and the ethics of research. First, in believing young boys who display behaviors thought of as feminine are more likely to be gay than supposedly masculine boys, Rekers exemplifies a common type of flawed thinking by conflating gender and sexual orientation. He attempted to "correct" supposedly feminine boys with severe sanctions (positive and negative) not only to compel boys to act in more masculine ways, but also to reduce the likelihood they would be gay as adults (and he is within a minority of people who think that is a bad thing). Second, because of the extremity of the sanctions that occurred under a psychologist’s recommendations, the “sissy boy experiment” raises many ethical concerns about applied social-psychological research—especially studies conducted on children (and also conversion therapy more generally) without consideration to the long term effects. Rekers, who is well-known in the anti-gay movement today, heralds the experiment as a success despite the fact that the boy committed suicide as an adult. As a third and final consideration about this video, we should keep in mind that everyone is subject to milder forms of sanctions on our gendered behaviors; boys (and even adult men) are often rewarded for supposedly masculine behavior while being shamed or even punished when they act ways deemed feminine (and of course, vice-versa for women). There is no doubt these experiences shape our gendered selves while reinforcing normative gendered behaviors more generally.
Submitted By: Jason Eastman