Young Males, Modern Society, and Drug Use
To understand the use of drugs by young men and to review the literature in a coherent framework it is necessary to begin with an understanding of the term 'gender'. Gender is said to mean more than just male or female. Rather it is a description of the traits and attributes which society ascribes to each sex. Gender is distinguished from sex in that sex refers to biology, whereas gender refers to the cultural meanings and social constructs that are superimposed on the biological differences between the sexes. That is, gender is socially constructed. It transforms female to mean 'feminine' and male to mean 'masculine', and by so doing it defines our expectations of both male and female behavior in everyday life.
Most research up until the 1980s was based on male perceptions and male constructs of drug use, which by its very nature, neglected female drug use (Davey, 1994; Sargent, 1992; Temple-Smith & Hamilton, 1991). Some studies ignored women entirely; others included women but ignored gender, simply combining men and women in the analysis. Authors of many studies thus generalized from male subjects to 'people'. As Henderson (1993) says "It is a familiar sentiment by now that the literature on drugs is limited when it comes to the subject of gender and drug use. All too often studies have ignored gender as a factor in drug use and extrapolated from the male experience." (p. 127).
It is important, therefore, to acknowledge that historically, gender has been a 'blindspot' in much of the research on drug use and abuse (Lammers & Schippers, 1991). The influence of male gender has not been considered, despite the fact that males have mostly been the subjects of the studies. As Broom (1995) says "While men have been the centre of attention ('androcentrism'), paradoxically men's maleness remained unacknowledged. That is, femininity (but not gender) was problematized, and the potential importance of certain forms of masculinity has not been analyzed." [For drug-related behavior and harm (p. 412). Broom (1995, p. 414) goes on to say "Androcentrism, and the related neglect of gender, entails hazards to men as well as to women. For example, it has retarded recognition of the ways in which masculinity contributes to heart disease and cancer risk factors. Smoking was for several decades mainly a male activity: indeed, it was a means of confirming and displaying certain forms of masculinity".
Traditionally male drug use, especially drinking, has been public and social, which suggests it was socially sanctioned. Female drug use, on the other hand, has usually been much more covert and private (particularly with some drugs, and in some cultures) which suggests it was socially unsanctioned. Gomberg (1982) and others have argued that females have traditionally been encouraged to use drugs in medicinal and therapeutic ways, while males have been encouraged to use drugs for recreation and pleasure (Swift,...