Teresa Potina—Professor Gingiss; Professor Archer—English 4315, 16 April 2007
My culture bump occurred the night I went to my cousin Shelby’s sixteenth birthday party. She had invited many of her friends from her high school and her church youth group, including many boys around her same age. The precise moment of the bump was when the boys saw each other at the party and they hugged. This was not a solitary event, but happened many more times throughout the night.
As the boys hugged, I was quite shocked by it. My behavior for the rest of the night as they hugged was much the same state of shock and alarm. I cannot remember being as bothered before in my life by something as simple as a hug!
The relationship between the participants is something crucial. The boys would have ranged from 15–17, in my opinion. They looked to be boys who were involved in sports, made good grades, wore preppy clothes, and came from upper middle class suburban families. There was no trace of anything homosexual about them, and the fact that I was bothered by their hugging definitely did not come from my personal views on homosexuality, which does not bother me. The other participant would have to be me, a 22 year old female who makes good grades, wears preppy clothes and comes from a middle class family.
The context of the bump occurred when the boys were hugging at a party. In my life, I have never ever known teenage boys to hug. Later I talked to my best friend, whom I have known since high school, and she asked if they were involved in a church group. At the time, I did not know, and she went on to say that in her experience, boys more involved in church groups were more likely to hug than boys not involved in that. I had a chance to talk to Shelby about the boys who were doing all the hugging, and she confirmed what my best friend had said: the majority of the boys that did the hugging were involved in the same church youth group that she was involved in. This led me to think about my time spent in my church youth group, but I could not recall boys hugging! Fortunately, I was lucky enough to run into a friend of mine from my youth group days, and she confirmed that the boys in our church youth group were in fact huggers, not only in church situations, but outside as well when they all met in a group.
In fact, in talking with a friend of mine that I have known since middle school, he reiterated that boys hugging each other in this manner—two arms, chests touching—was completely unacceptable. If my friend, Jonathan Fedee, were to ever hug a boy, it would be a one-armed hug, with a handshake between them, and could only occur after having not seen a good friend of his for years. The acceptable way to show joy at seeing a friend, for that is what Logan Miller, one of the teenage huggers, told me is the reasoning behind the hugging, and according to Jonathan is a handshake or a completely verbal form of greeting.
When I looked deeper into why I was so bothered by this, it occurred to me that when I was that age, I was not used to seeing affection being expressed between boys since that was the prime time to assert their masculinity. In all, it is a perfectly normal action for friends to hug, and I have never had an issue with girls hugging. Perhaps this is because, in my mind, girls have always been more tolerant of entering each others’ personal space to express solidarity, but when boys enter each others’ personal space in any manner; it seems to only be confrontational and to assert their power. In a church setting, this being on the defensive seems not to come about nearly as frequently as it would, perhaps, on school grounds. Having talked with Jonathan, he pointed out that as men are younger; hugging seems taboo whereas a thirty year old man hugging another isn’t as strange or odd. I’m fairly certain that this is because by the time a man has reached his thirties, he has already planted himself firmly in his sex and gender roles, and therefore his masculinity is cemented, whereas with younger men it seems to be something they have not yet asserted.
After identifying the bump and my feelings on the bump, I went on to try to identify my expectations. When two young men want to express joy and happiness at seeing each other, I expect them to greet each other with a playful handshake, perhaps a high five, even a slap on the arm. A one-armed hug is appropriate, but anything more than that borders on violating the boundaries that I expect boys to keep. When boys and girls hug, there should be a minimum of space between them, because this is a boy’s way of being physically close to a girl. The opposite is true of boys who hug. I think that there are other ways for boys to show their closeness, none of which should be physical otherwise that borders on showing proximal tendencies that I associate with being close to girls.
When my expectations are met, that is, boys shake hands when they greet each other, I feel secure in the fact that these are boys that are masculine and strong. If they were to hug, I might feel that some of their masculinity had decreased and that they were more effeminate, in which case I would not try to be close to them physically. For me, I believe this phenomenon has roots in my searching for a mate. I would want someone who was strong and willing to be close only to girls rather than to a man who could possibly have even the slightest hint at being close to both females and males. The boundaries with this subject are very thin, blurred, and grey. In no way am I saying that boys should not be allowed to hug, or that it is deviant in every case, but I did feel so strongly bothered in this one instance that it still sometimes bothers me when I think about it today.
Now that I understand which groups are more likely to encourage nonsexual hugging between males, I feel confident that I will not jump to such radical emotions. To have men hug I think is a wonderful thing because it lets them release their emotions and practice means of solidarity. This culture bump has taught me a valuable lesson on the limitations of my previous expectations and broadened my views on instances of appropriate hugging.