How Conforming to “Manliness” Affects Your Mental Health

Studying gender has opened my eyes to many things we take for granted.

For instance, men and women do not differ in prevalence of mental disorders. Women are just more likely to develop depression, anxiety and stress disorders compared to guys. Women tend to be harsher towards themselves.

On the other hand, men tend to express their problems outwardly. We are more likely to abuse illegal drugs and have antisocial personalities (think ‘psychopaths’).

Furthermore, you’re less likely to see men seeking counseling compared to women. Maybe it’s just harder for many. Why could this be?

I think one reason for this is because what a man ‘should’ be can be quite distorted in our minds. Men should control their emotions, and be ‘strong’. It’s not cool to be seen as a ‘submissive’ male. Some men I know find shame in earning less money than their wives.

These masculine norms that we’ve somehow entertained may make us feel good when we’re at the top. However, they have negative consequences  to our well being.

The Psychological Price of “Manliness”

Dr. Joel Wong and colleagues reviewed 78 studies to see how conforming to these masculine norms affect our mental health and functioning. They particularly wanted to see how we are affect by these norms:

  1. Winning
  2. Being a playboy (sexual promiscuity)
  3. Status seeking
  4. Dominance
  5. Aggression
  6. Risk-taking
  7. Power over women
  8. Emotional control
  9. Self-reliance
  10. Priority of work
  11. Disrespect to homosexuality

Think. Based on these norms men seem to adopt, which of these could mostly predict negative symptoms of mental health like depression, drug abuse, and such? Choose the top 3 you find most relevant. See if you guess right.

Of course, following all these norms predicted less  happiness, more depression, anxiety, and stress in men’s lives. Nevertheless, the three variables that linked most to negative mental health symptoms were: being a playboy, self-reliance, and power over women.

What do these three norms have in common? They are all sexist in nature. Not only are they ‘socially unjust’, conforming to these norms may actually ruin your relationships most especially with women.

These top three norms were also least linked to help-seeking behavior.  Sadly, this makes it harder for us to help these kinds of men, even when they need it the most.

Interestingly, the study found that prioritizing work for men wasn’t connected to any negative symptoms. This means being a “workaholic” may not be that bad at all for men, and can become a source of meaning for them.

So what should you take away from this read?  Be cautious of how you automatically conform to what a man ‘should’ be, especially if it relates to the list above. You may be damaging what matters in your life (like well being and relationships).

 

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