As he enters middle school, Greg is formally leaving childhood and entering the world of adolescence—a world, as he learns, with a whole range of new and perplexing rules about masculinity and relationships with girls. As a so-called “wimpy kid” who hasn’t had a growth spurt yet, Greg struggles to find his place in a social order that values particular expressions of masculinity and punishes those who deviate from that ideal.
Greg likes girls and desires their attention, but also feels threatened by them and finds little success in his efforts to make them like him. He tries to sit next to “hot girls” in homeroom, but he admits that they pass notes about him and make fun of him. He assumes that all girls like the most popular boy in high school, Bryce Anderson, thus linking attention from girls to social status. Greg longs for the days in elementary school when the boy who “got all the girls” was simply the boy who ran the fastest—whereas now there are more complicating factors, like clothes, looks, or wealth. When Greg and his classmates are tasked with building a robot in Independent Study, he is disdainful of the girls’ plan for a robot that dispenses lip gloss, and he refers to the group of boys as “the serious workers.” His sense of an “us versus them” dynamic between boys and girls suggests that he has internalized stereotypical ideas about femininity and masculinity.
Greg feels insecure about his body image and complains that the problem with middle school is that it mixes people like him—who haven’t yet gone through puberty—with boys who already need to shave, and thus are perceived as more masculine and physically dominant. He feels the sense of inadequacy even more keenly in physical education class, where the boys are taught how to wrestle while the girls learn gymnastics. The fact that the wrestling class is only for boys emphasizes the sport’s association with male identity and ideals of masculinity. Later, Greg asks his parents for a weight set for Christmas, hoping to improve his physique in order to move up a weight class and make the football team in the spring. He thinks that both developments would raise his social status, since many of the most popular boys in his grade are athletes.
Greg also faces pressure to conform to a certain ideal of masculinity from his father, who buys him gifts and encourages activities that are associated with stereotypically masculine spheres like sports. Greg’s dad is very keen for him to stop playing video games and go outside for physical exercise. Greg is passionate about video games and hates sports, but his dad is so set on the idea that Greg even runs through sprinklers to make it appear as if he has been sweating from exertion. Greg remembers that he once asked for a Barbie Dream House as a Christmas gift. His mom was supportive, thinking it was healthy for him to “experiment” playing with different kinds of toys, but his dad told him to start his wish list over and choose toys that were more “appropriate for boys.” Greg’s mom, by contrast, suggests that he should try a range of activities, such as singing in the school play, which Greg considers more suitable for girls. Greg admits that he likes some “girly” activities—for example, he enjoys sewing in Home Economics, although he stopped taking the class because he thought kids would make fun of him.
Greg faces many pressures to conform to a restrictive ideal of masculinity that emphasizes athletic prowess, physical strength, and confidence with girls. His dad often reinforces such ideals with his ideas regarding what kind of activities he thinks Greg should engage in. His mom, by contrast, encourages Greg to try more stereotypically “girly” activities, offering a more flexible model of how Greg might grow up and explore his masculinity. Greg’s interest in Barbie dolls and sewing suggests that Greg’s mom is right to try to encourage him to explore activities based on what he wants to do, rather than what he thinks boys should do. At the same time, however, his reluctance to pursue those interests—as when he stops taking Home Economics because he is afraid of the social consequences—suggests that ideals of masculinity exert a significant hold on his life and decisions.
Ideals of Masculinity ThemeTracker
Ideals of Masculinity Quotes in Diary of a Wimpy Kid
I figure if I bulk up now, it could actually come in handy down the road. The football unit is coming in the spring, and they split the teams up into shirts and skins. And I ALWAYS get put on skins. I think they do that to make all the out-of-shape kids feel ashamed of themselves.
When Mom and Dad saw my wish list that year, they got in a big fight over it. Dad said there was no way he was getting me a doll’s house, but Mom said it was healthy for me to “experiment” with whatever kind of toys I wanted to play with.