Men With Harmful Attitudes About Masculinity More Prone to Violence and Mental Illness

A new study has found that men who hold more harmful attitudes about masculinity — including beliefs about aggression and homophobia — also are more prone toward bullying, sexual harassment, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

The study is based on the “Man Box” Scale developed by Promundo-US, the U.S. member of a global consortium dedicated to promoting gender equality and ending violence. The scale is a way to measure harmful norms and stereotypes about masculinity, according to researchers.

The 15-item scale encompasses themes such as self-sufficiency, acting tough, physical attractiveness, rigid masculine gender roles, hypersexuality, and control.

“While there has been a lot of discussion around harmful masculinities in the media and in the research community, no one has agreed on a standardized way to measure the concept,” said Elizabeth Miller, M.D., Ph.D., and chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center Children’s Hospital in Pennsylvania.

The idea of the Man Box originated in the 1980s, according to the researchers. Paul Kivel and his colleagues at the Oakland Men’s Project developed the “Act Like a Man Box” activity as a way to discuss how society tells men they ought to be. Since then, activist Tony Porter helped popularize the term in a TEDWomen Talk and his book “Breaking Out of the ‘Man Box’: The Next Generation of Manhood.”

Recently, the issue of harmful masculinity received widespread attention in response to the 2018 American Psychological Association (APA) Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men, which presented a series of steps health care practitioners should take to improve the psychological care of boys and men, the researchers noted.

The APA was reacting to growing evidence showing that men who strongly align with more harmful masculine gender norms have poorer health outcomes, such as depression and suicidal ideation. In addition, these men perpetrate violence against others at much higher rates.

Research shows that boys and men, just like girls and women, are affected by societal norms, and those norms can have real consequences, according to the researchers.

For the new study, researchers at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Promundo-US used data from 2016 from more than 3,600 men between the ages of 18 and 30 in three countries.

The researchers discovered that higher Man Box Scale scores were associated with up to five times higher rates of verbal, online, or physical bullying, as well as sexual harassment. Men with higher scores also were about twice as likely to experience depression or suicidal ideation, the researchers reported.

“These findings highlight how detrimental harmful masculinities can be to the people who endorse them, as well as their peers, families, and communities at large,” said lead author Amber Hill, Ph.D., a fourth-year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “It’s important to remember that individuals of all genders are influenced and impacted by the heteronormative society that we live in.”

To help doctors more efficiently monitor their male patients’ attitudes, the researchers developed a shorter version of the survey, including only the five items that had the strongest associations with violence and poor mental health:

  1. A man shouldn’t have to do household chores.
  2. Men should use violence to get respect if necessary.
  3. A real man should have as many sexual partners as he can.
  4. A man who talks a lot about his worries, fears, and problems shouldn’t really get respect.
  5. A gay guy is not a “real man.”

“We have found a way to measure the concept of the Man Box, which allows us to clearly see that when men embrace stereotypical ideas about manhood, they’re also more likely to harm the well-being of others, as well as impact their own health in adverse ways,” said Gary Barker, Ph.D., president and C.E.O. of Promundo-US. “As health care providers, researchers, and public health workers, we now have a valid tool in our pockets to help us measure progress toward changing harmful stereotypes and advancing both gender equality and healthier versions of masculinity.”

The study was published in Preventive Medicine. 

Source: University of Pittsburgh

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