The Psychology of Men and Masculinity

The Psychology of Women and Gender: Half the Human Experience + - Nicole M. Else-Quest, Janet Shibley Hyde 2018

The Psychology of Men and Masculinity

“Strong men, men who are truly role models, don’t need to put down women for themselves to feel powerful.”

First Lady Michelle Obama, October 13, 2016

We’ve spent 15 chapters focusing on the psychology of women, reviewing research on trans and nonbinary people when available. In this chapter, we focus on the psychology of cisgender men and the male role. You might be wondering why we include this chapter in the book. Simply put, it is impossible to understand the female role without also considering the male role because both are firmly rooted in the gender binary. The traditional view of men and women assumes the gender binary, defining the male role and female role as complementary, non-overlapping, and biologically based. Similarly, heteronormativity, or the assumption that heterosexuality is universal (see Chapter 13), considers the male and female roles to be complementary to one another. And, of course, in relation to men, women have long been referred to as the “opposite sex.” Thus, because the female and male roles are defined in such terms, the psychology of women and the psychology of men are deeply interconnected.

The psychology of men and masculinity emerged from the feminist movement and feminist psychology. As a result, it is attentive to the power of gender roles, and particularly how the male role influences the lives of men. In this chapter, we review the theory and research on the psychology of men and masculinity.

Photo 16.1 Who is a “real” man? Traditional masculinity ideology narrowly defines the male role.







Masculinity and the Male Role

Although psychologists have long studied men, the male role has received far less attention. That is, because men have been considered the norm, they have often been studied as genderless humans (Pascoe & Bridges, 2016). But, of course, men have gender and a gender role. What does the male role look like?

Characteristics of the Male Role

Researchers have attempted to understand the male role by organizing the long list of masculine traits and identifying factors and themes. For example, early researchers described traditional masculinity ideology, which is a set of cultural beliefs about how men and boys should or should not think, feel, and behave (Brannon & David, 1976; Levant & Richmond, 2016). Traditional masculinity ideology includes four major components:

Traditional masculinity ideology: A set of cultural beliefs about how boys and men should or should not think, feel, and behave.

1. No sissy stuff: Masculinity involves the avoidance of anything feminine. Note that in this aspect of masculine stereotypes, masculinity is defined negatively; it means avoiding femininity.

2. The big wheel: The masculine person is a “big wheel.” He is high in status, is successful, is looked up to, and makes a lot of money, thereby being a good breadwinner.

3. The sturdy oak: Masculinity involves exuding confidence, strength, and self-reliance.

4. Give ’em hell: The masculine person is aggressive (perhaps to the point of violence), tough, and daring.

Because gender ideologies are cultural beliefs and are defined by culture, there is variability across cultures in masculinity ideologies (Levant & Richmond, 2016).

Along these same lines, contemporary approaches note that the male role includes several characteristics, including aggressiveness, independence, self-confidence, and being unemotional (Spence & Buckner, 2000; Twenge, 1999). Common to each of these characteristics is a dimension of power and dominance. Research exploring gender stereotypes of emotions has revealed that, while men are stereotyped as less emotional than women, the emotions of anger, contempt, and pride are masculine and an expression of dominance (Brody et al., 2016; Plant et al., 2000; Shields, 2013; see Chapter 6). Thus, power and dominance are central to masculinity and the male role.

Cross-cultural research into masculinity has revealed how, despite cultural variations, there are commonalities. For example, Peter Glick and his colleagues (2004) examined stereotypes about men in 16 nations—including the United States, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Peru, and Taiwan—and found that men across all of the cultures are stereotyped as “bad but bold.” That is, men are viewed as powerful, but that power comes with a cost of men being too powerful and using their power in negative ways. The positive aspects of their power make men well-suited for high-status jobs, but the negative aspects also make them well-suited for the role of oppressor or dictator. By contrast, women are viewed as nice but less powerful. Glick et al. argued that these views of men perpetuate gender inequality because they justify men’s greater status and power. Evidence was consistent with this hypothesis, demonstrating that in countries with more gender inequality, the more men are viewed as “bad but bold” in a culture, the greater the gender inequality is in that country. This evidence supports the theory that gender stereotypes are both the cause and the effect of power inequalities between women and men in any culture. That is, gender stereotypes and gender inequality reinforce or perpetuate one another.

Looking just within American and European cultures, there are eight stereotyped types of men (Smiler, 2006; Vonk & Ashmore, 2003):

1. The businessman: A professional man, dressed in a suit, who is educated, money-oriented, and success-oriented

2. The jock: A large, muscular athlete who is a football player; he is physically fit, coordinated, competitive, and determined, and he talks sports

3. The family man: He is the father and the breadwinner, working full-time to support his family; he is married, responsible, and devoted to his family

4. The nerd: Not particularly masculine, physically weak, and unattractive, with a strong emphasis on academics

5. The player: This ladies’ man is attractive, flirty, self-centered yet highly involved in the social scene, and irresistible to women

6. The tough guy: A blue-collar brawler with a quick temper

7. The sensitive new-age guy: This man believes in and practices gender equality and is sensitive and caring

8. The average Joe: A strong, simple working man who cares for his family

Again, note that dominance and power are reflected in most of these stereotypes—the businessman and family man have economic power, the jock and tough guy have physical power, and the player is powerful in his sexual prowess with women. Most types reject any hint of femininity. The least masculine type—the sensitive new-age guy—is supportive of gender equality and embraces feminine traits. The most masculine types are agentic or self-directed. These patterns echo the cross-cultural findings that gender stereotypes and gender inequality are linked, that masculinity and the male role are defined by power, dominance, and avoidance or rejection of femininity (e.g., Kimmel, 2006; Vandello & Bosson, 2013). Do these descriptions of masculinity and the male role reflect the men you know?

A recent analysis of masculinity and the male role suggests that gender roles differ not only in content (e.g., being aggressive versus nurturing, tough versus tender) but also in structure (Vandello & Bosson, 2013). According to the theory of precarious manhood, manhood is an elusive and achieved status, whereas womanhood is a given or assigned status. Moreover, unlike femininity, masculinity is perceived as something that is earned and hard-won, yet tenuous and easily lost. As a result, men must continue to publicly demonstrate and defend their masculinity to prove that they are “real men.” Men may do this with displays of dominance and aggression and by rejecting or avoiding anything feminine.

Precarious manhood: The theory that manhood is an elusive and achieved social status that is hard-won and yet easily lost, and that requires constant public proof.

Today, when a man is perceived as being sensitive or vulnerable, his manhood is threatened and he is told to “man up” or “grow a pair.” According to the theory of precarious manhood, what we are telling men with these euphemisms is that they must earn their manhood and that they will easily lose it if they show any signs of femininity.

Historical Changes in the Male Role

Today, the male role is characterized by a number of ambiguities and conflicts. For example, men are supposed to be aggressive, yet it is increasingly unacceptable for them to rape or beat their wives. They are expected to be aggressive and even violent as soldiers and professional athletes, yet they are expected magically to transform themselves into tender, gentle partners and fathers as they walk through the door to their own homes. Men are supposed to possess great physical strength and be active, yet what is adaptive in today’s society is to be able to work cooperatively with others and to interact intelligently with a computer while sitting quietly at a desk (Gee et al., 2000). What exactly are men supposed to do?

The sources of the ambiguities and conflicts in today’s male role become clearer through a historical lens. Much like the female role, the male role has changed rapidly in just over a century, and such rapid changes can produce tension. Psychologist Joseph Pleck (1981, 1995) argued that, whenever roles change, ambiguities are created because of contradictions between the old role and the new role. The individual feels a personal sense of conflict or strain in the contradictions between these roles, perhaps having been raised by the standards of the old role and then needing to function as an adult in the new role, and perhaps not even being aware that there is an old role and a new role.

Photo 16.2 Will a gun make you a man? According to the theory of precarious manhood, being a “real man” is a hard-won and easily lost social status.



During the Victorian era of the late 19th century in the United States and England, institutions strictly controlled the roles of men and women (Pleck, 1981). Men went to all-male colleges, lived in fraternities, worked alongside other men, voted in elections (while women remained disenfranchised), and drank at the all-male saloon. Later, men functioned in the corporate boardroom, where no woman ever entered. In short, men occupied one distinct sphere and women occupied another. Masculinity was clearly defined, and it was obvious to all what was expected and required of men.

Yet, in just a few generations, we zoomed from men and women occupying different spheres to Title IX, marriage equality, and questioning the gender binary. All-male colleges became coeducational, workplace discrimination based on gender became illegal, all-male saloons became singles’ bars, and a woman won the popular vote for U.S. president by nearly 3 million votes. Some women even entered the corporate boardroom, running big corporations like Pepsi and General Motors. In short, external, institutional definition and control of masculinity declined. How, then, would masculinity be defined?

Pleck argued that as society loses one kind of control over people’s lives, it increases control over other aspects. Thus, as external, institutional control of masculinity declined, emphasis shifted to internal, psychological masculinity and gender identity. And at that point the psychologists stepped in. Pleck suggested it was no accident that the first major work on psychological masculinity—femininity, Terman and Miles’s (1936) Sex and Personality, was published at the height of the Great Depression, just when traditional definitions of masculinity—having a job and being a breadwinner—were threatened most seriously. Thus the shift was from externally defined masculinity to internally defined masculinity. That is, masculinity shifted from being defined by one’s job to being defined by one’s gender identity.

Paralleling these historical changes from external to internal definitions of masculinity was a shift in the traits and behaviors expected of men. That is, there was a shift from the traditional male role to the modern male role. And with increasing changes in women’s roles in the last several decades, men’s roles have been further destabilized (Kimmel & Messner, 2001).

In the traditional male role, physical strength and aggression are of primary importance. Tender emotions are not to be expressed, although anger is permitted. The traditional man likes to spend his time with other men and defines his masculinity in the male group. Although he is married, he regards himself as superior to women and does not value an egalitarian, emotionally intimate relationship with women. The traditional male role has been found in all social classes in the United States during the 19th century, in most nonindustrial societies studied by anthropologists, and in working-class communities today.

By contrast, in the modern male role, primary importance is given to success on the job and earning a lot of money. Thus, working successfully in a corporation and gaining power over others are far more important than physical strength. A high-quality intimate relationship with one woman, rather than numerous anonymous conquests, is considered an important goal for the modern man. Emotional sensitivity may—indeed, should—be expressed with women, but self-control and emotional restraint are still essential.

Some men find the modern male role to be oppressive and seek new options and liberation from it. Many are caught in historical change, in the ambiguities and conflicts between the traditional male role and the modern male role. Gender roles can be instructive and give us a sense of security when we don’t know how to behave in new or uncertain situations, but they can also be oppressive and restrict our freedom to be authentic or honest about our identity and values. It is, in many cases, a considerable risk that men bravely take when they choose to define their gender for themselves.

Finally, we think it’s worth noting that, although Pleck initially proposed these ideas several decades ago at the peak of the second wave of feminism, they are equally relevant today. As analyses of gender equality and masculinity find their ways into popular and social media—via discussions of laws about marriage equality, bathroom access, and gender-based violence, for example—we see much material for feminist analysis. The male role continues to be in flux.

The Gender Role Identity Paradigm

Despite the androcentric bias of traditional psychology, there have been concerns about men’s gender role identity. Importantly, those concerns were raised when men failed to meet the expectations of the male role. As noted above, beginning in the 1930s, research into the notions of masculinity and masculine identity, continuing to the present, developed. Pleck (1981) framed this research as based on the belief in the critical importance of masculine identity, or as based on the gender role identity paradigm (GRIP). Consistent with traditional masculinity ideology, the GRIP proposed that one’s optimal personality development depended on a gender role identity that matched their “biological sex” (more specifically, the gender they were assigned at birth). Pleck critiqued the GRIP, analyzing the set of assumptions involved in this traditional view as well as whether the data support these assumptions. Some of the most critical assumptions are reviewed below.

Gender role identity: The psychological structure representing the individual’s identification with their own gender role; it demonstrates itself in the individual’s gender-appropriate behavior, attitudes, and feelings.

Gender role identity paradigm (GRIP): Traditional psychology’s perspective that optimal personality development depends on a gender role identity that matches the gender assigned at birth, consistent with the traditional masculinity ideology.

One of the critical assumptions of the GRIP is that gender role identity develops through the processes of identification or modeling and, to a lesser extent, reinforcement and cognitive learning, and that cognitive learning is more important in men than in women. This assumption appears consistent with several traditional psychological theories (see Chapter 2). That is, both psychoanalytic theory and social learning theory claim that we develop our gender role identity because we identify with and learn from our same-gender parent. But psychoanalytic theory and social learning theory are at odds with each other as to which traits of the father encourage identification. Psychoanalytic theory says the boy identifies with his father out of fear of his father’s wrath. Therefore, a punishing father should encourage identification. By contrast, social learning theory says it is the warm, nurturant, reinforcing father who encourages identification.

Based on his review of the evidence, Pleck (1981) concluded that research does not support the identification/modeling assumption. For example, the data do not support the punishing father idea from psychoanalytic theory. Yet there is some support for the notion that boys imitate same-gender models more than other-gender models as early as 3 years of age (Bussey & Bandura, 1999). The identification/modeling assumption also predicts that, because children should identify with and model their same-gender parent, sons should be more like their fathers than their mothers. But the data don’t support this idea either—children are not necessarily more like their same-gender parent (Blakemore et al., 2009).

The other part of this first assumption is that cognitive learning of gender roles should be more important for boys than it is for girls. The reasoning goes something like this: In their formative, preschool years, boys spend most of their time with their mothers and little time with their fathers, because mothers are at home more and fathers are off at work (yes, there are a lot of problematic assumptions here!). This makes it difficult for the boy to identify with his father, so he must then look for other models for cognitive learning of masculinity. For example, he may look to cultural sources such as TV and picture books. One pair of studies supports this whole idea (McArthur & Eisen, 1976a, 1976b), but that research is quite old, and far more research on the issue is needed.

In short, we really don’t know why or how boys and men develop a masculine identity. The research on this topic is often inadequate or contradictory and based on unidimensional measures of masculinity—femininity (see Chapter 3), which do not recognize the possibility of androgyny. It is likely that, as with many aspects of human psychology, many factors are involved in the process of developing a gender role identity.

Another assumption of the GRIP is that men’s negative attitudes and behaviors toward women stem from men’s problems with gender role identity that are caused by mothers. What could mothers be doing that causes these problems? Three possibilities have been proposed, and all three assume that fathers do not participate much in raising their sons. One possibility is that the little boy feels overwhelmed and threatened by his mother’s power over him. Then, as an adult, he tries to control and subordinate women in order to defend himself against his fear that women (like his mother) will control him (this is the idea of Karen Horney, whose theories were discussed in Chapter 2). A second possibility has to do with identification. That is, the little boy mistakenly identifies with his mother because his father is not around, but he later realizes that he must shed this identification and become masculine. Therefore, men fear the feminine part of their identity and react to this fear by dominating and controlling those who are feminine (i.e., women; this is the idea of Nancy Chodorow, whose theory was also discussed in Chapter 2). A third possibility considers mothers as the primary socialization agents. Since socialization of boys frequently consists of punishing feminine behaviors, mothers punish their sons for femininity. As a result, boys come to dislike their mothers and to generalize this dislike to all women.

Any or all of these possibilities, then, could be used to explain why men have negative attitudes toward women. In extreme cases, they might be used as explanations of gender-based violence. What feminists point out, however, is that in all cases the mother is blamed and the father is uninvolved.

What do the data say? Unfortunately, there really is not enough definitive research to determine whether this second assumption of the GRIP is accurate. An alternative explanation is that men hold negative attitudes toward women because it is to their advantage to do so (i.e., negative attitudes about women justify and perpetuate men’s privileged position in society). And such attitudes are so widespread in our culture that it is not surprising that each new generation of little boys picks them up.

A third assumption of the GRIP is the school feminization hypothesis, which argues that boys have academic and adjustment problems in school because schools are feminine. That is, since most teachers are female and teachers encourage femininity, boys’ identity problems are made worse. These old ideas have been revived in books such as Christina Hoff Sommers’s (2000) controversial The War Against Boys. Yet some see this trend as a backlash against advances for girls in the schools (Weaver-Hightower, 2003). The evidence, however, shows that boys’ academic motivation and performance are about the same whether they have a male or female teacher (Marsh et al., 2008).

Photo 16.3 Some have argued that boys have more problems in school than girls do because most teachers are women, with whom boys have trouble identifying. The research, however, does not support this claim; there are no differences between boys with male teachers and boys with female teachers.



We can’t ignore the sexist, cisgenderist, and heterosexist assumptions of the GRIP. Anyone can have a masculine gender identity, including women as well as trans, nonbinary, and queer people. Yet the GRIP labels men who aren’t cisgender and heterosexual as having failed in the development of an appropriate gender role identity. In sum, while the GRIP was psychology’s traditional view of men for many decades, none of the assumptions of the paradigm have much supportive evidence.

Why have we told you all these things about the GRIP and then told you that each of them is wrong? First, critical thinking involves understanding the assumptions of a theoretical perspective, and thus it is important to understand that the assumptions of traditional psychology’s view of men are faulty. Second, based on the evidence, it is clear that traditional psychology’s approach to the male role needs replacing.

The Gender Role Strain Paradigm

Contemporary feminist research on gender roles involves a new set of assumptions, collectively termed the gender role strain paradigm (GRSP; Levant, 2011; Pleck, 1995). The GRSP theorizes that the male and female roles are socially constructed by our beliefs about the roles of men and women (i.e., our gender ideologies), which grow out of and support gender inequality. In particular, traditional masculinity ideology determines our gender roles and helps to maintain a patriarchal system in which men have greater power than women. The GRSP has 11 assumptions (Levant & Richmond, 2016), shown in Table 16.1. Let’s consider a few of them.

Gender role strain paradigm (GRSP): A feminist theory that gender roles are socially constructed by gender ideologies, which grow out of and support gender inequality, and that gender roles are a source of strain for individuals.

One important assumption is that gender roles are contradictory and inconsistent. As noted earlier in this chapter, some of these contradictions exist because of historical changes in gender roles, causing strain between the old and new norms. The more general point is that contemporary gender roles include a number of aspects that contradict one another. This is stressful for men because they may be unsure of which aspects of the male role to follow and when. Sometimes, adhering to one aspect of the male role means violating another. For example, in developing emotional intimacy (which involves vulnerability and sensitivity) with his wife, a man meets one requirement of the traditional male role through heterosexual marriage, but he fails to meet another by making himself vulnerable. Note that the GRSP points to gender roles as a source of strain to individuals, compared with the GRIP, which views gender roles and masculine identity as positive goals to be achieved. Research shows that, indeed, the more conflict that men experience in the male role, the greater their psychological distress and the lower their self-esteem (Mahalik et al., 2001; Shepard, 2002).


Source: Levant & Richmond (2016).

Another assumption of the GRSP is that a substantial proportion of people violate gender roles. Gender roles are so idealized and unrealistic that most people can’t possibly live up to all aspects of them on all occasions. Only a handful of people are shining examples of their gender role, and the rest bumble along in various degrees of failure to live up to it. Particularly for men who hold a traditional masculinity ideology, the discrepancy between what they think they ought to be and what they actually are can cause considerable strain.

Another assumption of the GRSP is that violating gender roles has more severe consequences for boys and men than it does for girls and women. For example, one study found that men who violated the male gender role were judged as lower status and more likely to be gay relative to women who violated the female gender role (Sirin et al., 2004). Focusing on peer interactions, boys punish other boys who violate gender roles more harshly than girls punish role-violating girls (Blakemore et al., 2009). Of course, violating one’s gender role can be in one’s own best interests, as when a father provides sensitive care to his children or when a woman pursues a successful career in engineering.

Related to this point, another assumption of the GRSP is that some characteristics that are prescribed by gender roles are actually maladaptive. That is, some gender role requirements may interfere with one’s psychological well-being and functioning. For example, men who endorse a traditional masculinity ideology show higher levels of alexithymia, or difficulty identifying and describing their own and others’ emotions (Levant & Wong, 2013). On average, men have higher rates of alexithymia than women (d = 0.22; Levant et al., 2009), and it is a risk factor for some forms of mental illness. If we adopt an intersectional approach, we see how masculinity and race are interconnected. The link between masculinity ideology and alexithymia is particularly strong among White men (Levant & Wong, 2013).

Alexithymia: Difficulty identifying and describing the emotions of oneself and others.

Aggression is a stunning example of a maladaptive component of the male role. Right-wing militias in the United States, such as White supremacists, are bound together by an ideology of self-reliant masculinity (Kimmel, 2000). The al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, were all educated, middle-class men who were unemployed in their home countries, where economies were struggling (Kimmel, 2002). Their masculinity was threatened and al-Qaeda terrorism restored it.

Mass shootings—which occur once every week in the United States, on average (Ingraham, 2015)—are almost entirely male-perpetrated (Kalish & Kimmel, 2010). Similarly, male violence against women and girls continues to be a major public health issue (see Chapter 14). In many cases, the boys and men who commit these acts of violence have been teased and bullied. The evidence indicates that the teasing and bullying usually involves issues of masculinity and that homophobia is a motivator for it. These patterns provide dramatic evidence of the maladaptive aspects of the male role and challenge us as a society to reform our definitions and practices of masculinity.

In this section we have considered the GRSP. It shifts emphasis away from traditional psychology’s concern with male gender role identity as an ideal and instead views gender roles as sources of strain for people.

Lifespan Development

In this section we review cisgender boys’ and men’s development using a lifespan perspective.


As we discussed in Chapter 7, most research evidence points to psychological gender similarities during infancy. Meta-analysis has indicated that gender similarities are the rule for temperament traits such as sociability, shyness, difficulty, soothability, emotionality, and adaptability (Else-Quest et al., 2006). However, gender differences are found in physical activity level, inhibitory control, and perceptual sensitivity. Relative to girls, boys are on average more active, less able to inhibit inappropriate behaviors, and less sensitive to subtle changes in their environment. In addition, boys tend to regulate their attention less well than girls do. However, consistent with the gender similarities hypothesis (see Chapter 3), none of these gender differences is large; most are small.

One experience that male infants are likely to have is circumcision. Circumcision (surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis, usually done within a few days of birth) is routinely done to about 59% of male infants born in hospitals in the United States (Owings et al., 2013). However, there is cultural variability in choosing this procedure for baby boys. Relative to the United States, circumcision rates are considerably lower in Europe, Canada, and Australia. Within the United States, circumcision rates are highest among White infants (91%) and lowest among Mexican-American infants (44%; Morris et al., 2014). In addition, in many states, circumcision is not covered by Medicaid, which limits poor families’ access to the procedure.

Circumcision: Surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis, usually done within a few days of birth.

Parents choose to have their sons circumcised for a variety of reasons. One has to do with religion: Circumcision is part of Jewish religious practice, symbolizing the covenant between God and God’s people. Another reason has to do with public health: There is evidence that uncircumcised babies are more vulnerable to urinary tract infections (Morris & Wiswell, 2013) and that uncircumcised men have a greater risk of infection with the AIDS virus (Bailey et al., 2007). In a major shift in policy in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that the health benefits of circumcising newborn boys outweigh the risks. Yet, controversy exists about the procedure. For example, some physicians question the magnitude of the health benefits for boys and men in the United States (Frisch et al., 2013). And some biomedical ethicists have argued that performing nontherapeutic or medically unnecessary surgery on an infant’s body is a violation of the infant’s human right to bodily integrity (e.g., Svoboda, 2013).

For psychologists, one interesting question has to do with the psychological effects of this early physical trauma. Research has found no effect (Fergusson et al., 2008). That is, there appear to be no differences in behavior between circumcised and uncircumcised babies. In addition, evidence suggests that circumcised and intact men experience similar sexual functioning and satisfaction (Morris & Krieger, 2013).


The peer group becomes an increasingly important socializing force as children develop through childhood. And school-age children spend considerably more time with their peers than they do with their parents. Given that children care deeply about gaining the approval of their peers, the peer group can be a powerful shaper of behavior through modeling, positive reinforcements, and punishments (Blakemore et al., 2009). Moreover, relative to girls, boys are more sensitive to the reactions of peers and less sensitive to those of teachers (Blakemore et al., 2009).

Children tend to be gender-segregated in their play, such that boys play with boys and girls play with girls (Maccoby, 1998). Gender-segregated play and the gender typing of toys and activities appear to have mutually reinforcing effects. In other words, the more a boy plays with other boys, the more he plays with trucks, and the more he plays with trucks, the more playing house seems alien to him. As a result, he avoids playing with girls and his preference for playing with other boys grows, which means more play with trucks, which means more play with boys, and so on.

Photo 16.4 Gender-segregated play in childhood helps to perpetuate gender differences in behavior.



Despite many psychological gender similarities, boys tend to have more problems in school. Relative to girls, boys are more frequently put in remedial classes and referred for learning difficulties and behavior problems in school. One possible explanation has to do with gender differences in rates of hyperactivity: Boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) outnumber girls about 3:1 (Willcutt, 2012). Hyperactivity is characterized by extremely high activity levels in situations where it is clearly inappropriate, such as the classroom. Why are there so many more hyperactive boys than girls? Many researchers are interested in answering this question. One possibility is that boys’ hyperactivity is evidence of a developmental or maturational lag; that is, children gain more control of their activity level with age, and the hyperactive child may simply be a very slow maturer. If boys generally are slower to mature than girls are, perhaps boys’ greater rate of hyperactivity is a result of their slower maturation.

For children with ADHD, hyperactivity is accompanied by difficulties regulating attention. Boys’ greater incidence of hyperactivity and ADHD may help to explain their problems in school as well as their higher rates of learning difficulties and referral to remedial classes. The hyperactivity itself is challenging for teachers, who must divert attention from other students to manage the behavior of the hyperactive student. These observations raise several questions about elementary education practices. For example, if there were more male elementary school teachers who themselves had been hyperactive as children, would outcomes for these boys improve? Perhaps male teachers would be more sympathetic or more skillful as teachers of hyperactive boys.


In adolescence, athleticism is an important and highly demanding aspect of the male role (Messner, 1990). Athletic participation is the single most important factor in high school boys’ social status (Kilmartin, 2000). Nearly every high school has a group called the “jocks.” They are dominant, highly masculine, and heterosexually successful, and they enjoy high social status in their schools (Pascoe, 2003).

Let’s consider the athlete role from the perspective of the GRSP. One source of strain results from the shifting value attached to athletics at different times in the lifespan. In high school, athletics is a supreme, unquestioned value. In college, it continues to be important for some but is less important for most. At age 30, no one cares a bit about one’s high school varsity letter in football, nor about the thousand hours that went into earning it. Another source of strain for athletes is the obsession with winning, expressed so eloquently by Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” The problem is that in a contest between two teams, only one can win, and that means that half the players go home losers. Athletics, of course, does not have to be structured competitively, and winning does not have to be the goal. Still, the dominant reality in American athletics has been competition, and that produces losers.

For the boy who isn’t athletic, the athlete role still creates strain. Athleticism contributes to popularity for boys (Blakemore et al., 2009). The boy who is a nonathlete is essentially flunking part of the masculinity test, and he is likely to be bullied. Remember how children choose one another to make teams for sports? The uncoordinated or unathletic boy is chosen last. The message is clear: “Not only are you a poor athlete, but your peers don’t want you on their team.” Because peer relationships are so important at this age, this message can be a devastating blow, especially if it happens repeatedly.

In focusing on the psychological strains created by the athlete role, we should not forget that actual physical damage is also part of this reality. For example, repeated blows to the head—common in football and soccer—cause serious damage to the brain. New research shows that rates of brain injuries and conditions such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are alarmingly high among people who played football in high school, college, and the NFL (Breslow, 2015). Symptoms may take years to develop, by which point it may be too late to prevent memory problems, depression, and dementia. For example, Pro Football Hall of Famer Junior Seau tested positive for CTE after suffering from depression and committing suicide (see Photo 16.5). Researchers at the National Institutes of Health determined that Seau’s CTE was the result of repeated head trauma during his football career.

Photo 16.5 The athleticism of the male role can be dangerous. Pro Football Hall of Famer Junior Seau developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy after years of repeated head trauma during his football career.


Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images.

In sum, the intense focus on competition and winning in athletics, particularly during high school, creates problems for the male athlete and nonathlete alike. No one actually benefits from this system. Moreover, there are serious physical dangers of some high-contact sports, such as football, which also encourage male aggression.

In Chapter 7 we discussed how, today, adolescence has been extended beyond the teenage years and a new stage of emerging adulthood extends well into the 20s. Sociologist Michael Kimmel calls these years between 16 and 26 for men Guyland (Kimmel, 2008). With no pressure to become an adult upon high school graduation, college and the years that follow represent an extension of adolescence. According to Kimmel, in college these not-quite-men engage in rites that define their masculinity, including binge drinking, fraternity hazing, watching porn with the guys, and hooking up with as many women as possible. None of this prepares men to be responsible, productive adults, nor is it healthy. Each year, 1,400 college students die as a result of drinking, most because of drunk driving but some from alcohol poisoning (Kimmel, 2008). Of course, not all college men behave this way. We should encourage and nurture men who are brave enough to behave responsibly and ethically. Even among those who stumble through college participating in Guyland, many come out of it after graduation, typically when faced with the demands of earning a living. But some remain long-term alcoholics or continue to think that treating women callously is just fine.


In this section on the developmental stage of adulthood for men, we will first consider the role of the father. Next, we will consider whether there is a male midlife crisis that is perhaps analogous to the menopause experience for women.


The father role is a major part of the adult male role, and one that fathers feel is rewarding and important to their identity (Parker & Livingston, 2016). Here we will consider the transition to fatherhood and the importance of paternal influences on children’s development.

The transition to parenthood is challenging and an opportunity for growth for every parent, regardless of gender. Just as with new mothers, new fathers may struggle to get adequate sleep and get to know their baby and how to care for them. For most fathers, it is not financially feasible to take paternity leave (indeed, maternity leave is not financially feasible for many mothers!), so they may experience tension or strain between caring for their baby and earning sufficient income. Since we spend a considerable amount of time and energy socializing girls and women for motherhood, but comparatively little time socializing boys and men for fatherhood, it’s not surprising that some fathers feel inadequate or ill-prepared to provide care for their baby. As a result, they may instead opt to focus on the provider role, another aspect of the traditional male role (Singley & Edwards, 2015). For about 10% of fathers, the transition to parenthood is accompanied by postpartum depression (Paulson & Bazemore, 2010). Men’s postpartum mental health is an important public health issue, with potentially far-reaching effects (Singley & Edwards, 2015). In short, depressed fathers (like depressed mothers) struggle to provide adequate care to their children.

Let’s turn to the effects of the father on his children, technically called paternal influence (e.g., Goeke-Morey & Cummings, 2007; Marsiglio et al., 2000). We can consider two categories of effects that fathers might have on their children. Indirect effects, in which the father’s behavior influences the child indirectly by affecting some other factor in the child’s life (Goeke-Morey & Cummings, 2007), make up one category of effect. For example, consider a situation in which a father expresses unhappiness with his marriage, which may lead the mother to feel angry or depressed. In turn, she may be irritable with the child or depressed and unresponsive, either of which can affect the child.

Another category of effects consists of direct effects. Fathers’ interactions with their children, the behaviors and attitudes they model, and so on are considered direct effects. One researcher proposed that there are at least 14 ways that fathers might be involved with their children: communicating, teaching, monitoring, engaging in thought processes, providing economic support, showing affection, protecting, supporting emotionally, running errands, caregiving, sharing interests, being available, planning, and sharing activities (Palkovitz, 2002). Based on research with families, we know that fathers can be just as sensitive and responsive to their children as mothers are (Cabrera et al., 2007). Moreover, these paternal behaviors make a real difference in their children’s development: Longitudinal research shows that fathers who are warm, accepting, and loving toward their children contribute to their children’s psychological well-being and to lower rates of aggression and behavior problems (Flouri & Buchanan, 2002; Rohner & Veneziano, 2001). These effects extend to other aspects of development, too: Children whose fathers are involved, nurturing, and playful tend to have higher IQs, better emotional self-regulation, and more developed language and cognitive abilities (Cabrera et al., 2007; McWayne et al., 2013).

Just as high-quality fathering is good for child development, poor quality fathering is bad for child development. For example, when fathers are more negative and less engaged during interactions with their young infants, the children are more likely to develop externalizing problems by their first birthday (Ramchandani et al., 2013).

Researchers are interested in measuring the many ways that fathers are involved with their children in order to understand the full range of paternal influence. Table 16.2 includes items from one such measure, the Paternal Involvement With Infants Scale (Singley et al., 2017). Notice that the scale has five factors, each of which may shape different child outcomes.


Source: Data from Singley et al. (2017). Created by the authors.

As noted earlier, the male role has changed in recent decades. Today, fathers are more involved with their children than ever before (Parker & Wang, 2013). Table 16.3 shows some of the ways that fathers can be involved. A related question is this: How much time do fathers spend with their children? One way to approach questions of how time is spent is the time diary method, in which individuals keep a careful record of all their activities for a 24-hour day, usually on a detailed diary form. The results of two such studies, comparing data from 1965 and 2011, are shown in Table 16.3 (Parker & Wang, 2013). Notice that, between 1965 and 2011, fathers increased the amount of time spent engaged in child care nearly threefold, going from 30 minutes per day to over 80. Still, relative to fathers, mothers continue to spend more time engaged in child care, and that amount of time has actually increased over the decades. For comparison, consider the hours spent in paid employment. In 2011, fathers spent about 1 hour less per day in paid work than they did in 1965, whereas mothers worked about 2.5 hours more per day each week. Historical changes in gender roles are reflected in how people spend their time.

Midlife Crisis?

It is commonly believed that men suffer a “midlife crisis” at some point during midlife (we define this roughly as the time between the ages of 40 and 55). Countless films and television programs portray a 40-something man who, in feeling anxious that his life has become monotonous and that his time is running out, buys a sports car and leaves his wife for a younger woman. Is there at least a kernel of truth to this stereotype?


Source: Parker & Wang (2013).

Researchers have explored the phenomenon of the midlife crisis, which they define as personal turmoil and sudden changes in lifestyle, touched off by a realization of aging, physical decline, and being trapped in tired roles (Wethington, 2000). One author described the midlife period as follows:

Midlife crisis: During men’s midlife, the phenomenon of personal turmoil and sudden changes in lifestyle, touched off by a realization of aging, physical decline, and being trapped in tired roles.

The hormone production levels are dropping, the head is balding, the sexual vigor is diminishing, the stress is unending, the children are leaving, the parents dying, the job horizons are narrowing, the friends are having their first heart attacks; the past floats by in a fog of hopes not realized, opportunities not grasped, women not bedded, potentials not fulfilled, and the future is a confrontation with one’s own mortality. (Lear, 1973)

This points to the complex forces—biological, personal, and social—that converge on the middle-age man.

Let’s evaluate the claim about hormones. Testosterone levels gradually decline in midlife and older adulthood. Such gradual declines in androgen levels in men are sometimes called andropause, or ADAM (for Androgen Decline in the Aging Male; Morales et al., 2000; Tancredi et al., 2005). Some men may experience declines in libido and erectile functioning, mood changes, cognitive impairment, and vasomotor symptoms, along with decreases in muscle mass and strength and bone mineral density. Note that many of these symptoms are similar to those of menopause (see Chapter 11). Controversy remains as to whether testosterone treatments are beneficial (Tan & Culbertson, 2003).

Andropause: A time of declining testosterone levels in middle- and older-age men.

Roles may change in midlife as well, bringing about new developmental challenges. Erik Erikson (1950) theorized that one of the major developmental tasks of adulthood is the resolution of the generativity versus stagnation stage. At this stage, according to Eriksonian theory, individuals have a desire to feel that they are contributing or creating something of value for future generations. This might be realized through parenting one’s children or caring for one’s grandchildren, mentoring or teaching others, or doing volunteer work that supports one’s community. Generativity, then, is an important theme in midlife for all people, regardless of gender. For men with a traditional masculinity ideology, providing financially for one’s family or coaching their child’s sports team might meet this developmental need.

Another theme in midlife is the confrontation with death and mortality. The man is at once aware of his own aging and that of his peers and parents. He may lose peers to heart attacks or cancer, which are more common at this stage. Confronting the mortality of oneself and loved ones can be disorienting and may lead to negative outcomes such as depression. Alternatively, it may lead to a positive outcome in which the man comes to terms with the idea of his own death. Acutely aware of his limited time, he may choose to examine and reorder his priorities and make healthier choices about stress management, diet, and exercise.

Despite the physical changes and role changes in midlife, systematic, well-sampled research shows that the midlife period is far from universally stressful and that only about 10% of U.S. men undergo something that would be classified as a midlife crisis (Wethington, 2000). Like all developmental stages in the lifespan, midlife has its unique challenges.

Male Sexuality

Based on the research of Masters and Johnson (1966), we know that cisgender men go through the same phases of sexual arousal that we described for women in Chapter 12: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.

A major process during both male and female arousal is vasocongestion, or increased blood flow to the genitals. In men, vasocongestion produces erection of the penis. During puberty, a boy will have his first ejaculation at orgasm, in which the penis emits a milky fluid containing sperm; this is called spermarche (or semenarche). One interesting difference between men’s and women’s sexual functioning is that men have a refractory period after orgasm. A refractory period is a period of time during which one cannot be restimulated to orgasm. Whereas women have no such refractory period, and thus can have multiple orgasms, men are generally limited to single orgasms. The length of the refractory period varies in men, depending on factors such as age. For example, in younger men, the refractory period may be as short as a few minutes, whereas in men over the age of 65, it might be 24 hours.

Spermarche: The first ejaculation of seminal fluid; also called semenarche.

Refractory period: A period of time following orgasm, during which one cannot be restimulated to orgasm.

The psychology of male sexuality is even more fascinating than the biology. Sexuality—specifically, heterosexuality—is a central aspect of masculinity (Tolman et al., 2016). Men are expected to be very interested in sex, aggressive in pursuing it, and good at it. In Focus 16.1, we describe one sex therapist’s analysis of the psychology of male sexuality.

Men of Color

Men of color in the United States are a diverse group of people, but they have some experiences in common. For example, Black and Latino men have generally higher unemployment rates and lower wages relative to those of White and Asian men. Data on this point are shown in Table 16.4. Economic adversity due to low wages or unemployment, as well as experiences of racial discrimination, are common for men of color.

Beyond that, we must recognize the cultural diversity in masculinity and the male role, with the understanding that traditional masculinity ideology privileges White masculinity, making masculinity for men of color especially precarious. Thus, a common stereotype among these groups is that men of color fail to live up to the ideal of traditional, White masculinity.

African American Men

There is a long history of concerns about the development of male identity among African American boys and men, particularly from White people (e.g., Frazier, 1939; Moynihan, 1965; Pettigrew, 1964). The narrative went something like this: Slavery had disrupted the patriarchal family structure, and a matriarchal subculture had developed as a high percentage of households were led by Black women, thus disempowering Black men and fostering aggression and deviance. Moreover, without their fathers in the home, how could Black boys develop into men? There are a number of problems with this logic. First, it assumes that Black women are somehow inadequate as parents. There is no evidence that children must have both a mother and a father in their home in order to develop into well-adjusted adults (Silverstein & Auerbach, 1999). Second, this logic ignores the time fathers may spend with their sons when they don’t live in the same household. Similarly, it ignores the contributions of older brothers, uncles, and grandfathers. Finally, this logic assumes that a patriarchal family is inherently better than a matriarchal one. The deficit perspective is plain to see. Note also that sexist assumptions were used to prop up racist ones, demonstrating the intersectionality of these forms of oppression.

Focus 16.1 Myths About Male Sexuality

Traditional masculinity emphasizes power, dominance, and agency; these traits extend to male sexuality. Psychologist and sex therapist Bernie Zilbergeld (1999) provided a sharp analysis of male sexuality and how to cope with it. His central thesis is that men in our culture are taught a “fantasy model of sex,” which includes unrealistic and idealistic expectations that put intense performance pressures on men. In his book The New Male Sexuality, he provided a list of cultural myths about male sexuality, which we discuss here.

Myth 1: A real man isn’t into sissy stuff like feelings and communicating. A central part of the male role is emotional restraint and toughness. Gendered display rules of emotion dictate that feelings of love, tenderness, and vulnerability are a violation of the male role and inappropriate. Yet such feelings are crucial to developing intimate relationships and enrich sexual experiences with a partner. As boys and men are socialized to the male role, they are taught that, while a sexual relationship with a woman is of great importance, they must not express emotional sensitivity or tenderness. This is tricky! Zilbergeld suggested that female partners should seek to understand this problem as a handicap and, rather than resenting men’s lack of emotional expressiveness, try to help them overcome their handicap and discover the more complex and tender emotions.

In addition, Zilbergeld argued that this myth causes men to misread and mislabel their feelings. They think that what they are feeling is a sexual need for intercourse, when in fact what they are experiencing is love, or tenderness, and a need for intimacy or closeness. When men are socialized to think that they can only experience lust, they find it difficult to read and label their feelings of love or tenderness. In other words, when they want to hear someone say “I love you,” they instead think they want to have intercourse.

Myth 2: A real man performs in sex. Western culture is highly achievement-oriented, and sex is often framed as yet another achievement situation. We express this in language, such as “achieving” orgasm, and in setting up achievement goals in sex, such as simultaneous orgasms for both partners. Of course, every opportunity for achievement is also an opportunity for failure.

Myth 3: A man should be able to make the earth move for his partner, or at the very least knock her socks off. Put this myth together with the preceding one, and you have a situation in which sex becomes, for the man, an impossible achievement situation. Of course, one problem with approaching sex as an achievement situation is that it can produce performance anxiety, which interferes with the ability to have and enjoy sex. The work of Masters and Johnson (1970) and others indicates that achievement orientation and performance orientation contribute to sexual dysfunctions such as erection problems. The extent of performance pressures on men is strikingly illustrated in this account by two sex therapists:

We’ll never forget the man who called himself a premature ejaculator even though fairly regularly he lasted for forty-five minutes of vigorous thrusting. We know he lasted this long because his partner confirmed it. Actually, she had never been orgasmic in intercourse and had no desire to become so. She much preferred shorter intercourse because she sometimes became so sore through almost an hour of thrusting that she could barely sit down the next day. That had little influence on the thinking of our client, who was convinced that she would have orgasms if only he could last an hour. (quoted in Zilbergeld, 1978, p. 257)

Recent research supports the continued presence of this myth. Men—particularly those who experience greater gender role strain—feel more masculine when they imagine that a woman experiences orgasm during sex with them (Chadwick & van Anders, 2017).

It’s no surprise that men experience performance anxiety—sexuality, agency, and achievement are key features of the male role.

Myth 4: A man is always interested in and always ready for sex. Men are often portrayed as constantly, incessantly interested in sex and easily arousable (if not already aroused). But that can’t possibly be true. It is important for men to acknowledge and accept that sometimes and in some situations, they won’t be in the mood for sex. When we are tired, stressed, or not with the right partner, sex just isn’t in the cards. Moreover, men need to learn to say no to sex—something women have received more than adequate training for, but that men learned was not part of their script.

Myth 5: Sex is centered on a hard penis. We have a script for sexual interactions. The script tells us what to do and in what order to do it. Touching, kissing, and hugging progress to heavy petting, which progresses to intercourse. As a result, we have a narrow and constrained idea of what a satisfying sexual interaction can be. We do not know how to relax and enjoy sex that consists only of kissing and touching. Anything other than penis-in-vagina intercourse is not “real” sex, or is merely foreplay. For the man, this is especially problematic, because it means that an erection is absolutely essential. Erections can be nice if they happen on their own, but when they are a prerequisite for pleasure, we again arrive at an achievement situation. The stage is set for anxiety, fear or failure, and sexual dysfunction. Part of the remedy is to learn that there are many enjoyable aspects of sex that require no erection—in fact, the only thing that actually requires an erection is intercourse.

Myth 6: Good sex is spontaneous with no planning and no talking. Sure, spontaneous sex is great, but not all good sex has to be that way. One problem with the emphasis on spontaneity is that it prevents some important and valuable things from happening. For example, conversations about contraception and STD prevention are not likely to happen if sex “just happens.” Indeed, some people fail to plan for and talk about birth control because they say it interferes with the spontaneity of sex. Good sex sometimes does take planning, learning, and talking.

Zilbergeld recommended that letting go of these myths and the sexual scripts we’ve learned is well worth the effort. For men willing to spend some time discovering what is truly pleasing to them sexually, expressing those ideas, and then trying to have sex that way, rather than the way society dictates, better and more satisfying sexual relationships are possible.

We are beginning to appreciate the complexity of male sexuality, in part by adopting a feminist perspective and examining how gender roles contribute to our sexual scripts and experiences and then considering the ways in which we all can be liberated from some of the restrictions and demands of those roles.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017).

Photo 16.6 Many African American role models are available for African American boys to identify with. President Barack Obama (left), basketball star LeBron James (center), and author Ta-Nehisi Coates (right).


Photo of Obama: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza - P120612PS-0463 (direct link), Public Domain. Photo of James: By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA - LeBron James, CC BY-SA 2.0 Photo of Coates: By Eduardo Montes-Bradley, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Of course, the more adults who love, nurture, and support a child’s development, the better. But that does not mean that children of single parents—in this particular case, Black children raised by Black women—are doomed. In the case of youth growing up in female-headed Black households, it’s important to recognize that there are many African American heroes with whom Black youth can identify outside of their own family. Depending on their interests and concerns, African American boys may identify with different heroes or mentors within their culture (e.g., Grantham, 2004). For instance, if his passion is sports, his role model may be LeBron James, if he wants to be a writer, it may be Ta-Nehisi Coates, or if his interest is in politics and civil rights, it may be former president Barack Obama. A teacher at his school or a leader in his church or mosque can also be heroes. In sum, there are a number of Black male role models or heroes for a Black boy to identify with and look up to, beyond his own father.

Earlier in this chapter we discussed the GRIP. The concern over African American male identity is clearly part of this paradigm. Having concluded that the GRIP is not a very good approach to the male role and that concerns over gender identity are overblown, we must accept the implication that there has been too much emphasis on Black male identity.

If we shift to the GRSP, we see gender roles as sources of psychological strain for Black men, which is a more productive approach. For example, let’s consider the economic status of Black men in the United States. As shown in Table 16.4, about 1 in 11 Black men is unemployed and Black men make about 76 cents for every dollar that White men make. Given that the role of breadwinner or good provider is important to the traditional male role in the United States, this high unemployment rate contributes to a gender role strain for Black men. Thus Black men may feel that they are failing to fulfill this part of their role. Consistent with the GRSP, gender roles can be a source of strain.

The stress of not fulfilling one’s gender role can be expressed or manifested in a number of ways. For example, it might turn into antisocial behavior, including violence and crime. It has also been suggested that volunteering for the army becomes an alternative means of fulfilling the male role—whereas 8% of young White men intend to enlist, 18% of young Black men do (U.S. Department of Defense, 2001).

Black men may also engage in other efforts to demonstrate their masculinity, as with the cool pose (Majors & Billson, 1992; Rogers et al., 2015). The cool pose refers to a set of behaviors and scripts for Black men that developed in response to racial oppression. This form of masculinity emphasizes the expression of pride, strength, and control. While the cool pose is a strategy that Black men may use to maintain their sense of self-worth and resist racial oppression, it comes with a cost. Like traditional masculinity, the cool pose is demanding in its narrow construction of masculinity.

Cool pose: A set of behaviors and scripts for Black men that developed in response to racial oppression and that emphasize the expression of pride, strength, and control.

Another aspect of the male role is that of husband, which is closely tied to the breadwinner role. With elevated unemployment rates, African American men are understandably reluctant to take on the responsibility of marriage. Nonetheless, the husband and provider role are important to many Black men, particularly after they pass through young adulthood (Perry, 2013). Middle-class African American men tend to place an especially strong emphasis on the provider role and on obtaining the requisite education for that role (Diemer, 2002). One important factor in Black men’s attitudes about marriage has to do with religion; marriage is of greater importance to Black men who are more religious or connected to their church (Perry, 2013).

Related to the provider role is the father role. The responsibility of supporting and raising children is enormous and can be a source of stress to any parent, but especially to one who is unemployed. Thus, for an African American man who is also unemployed, the father role might add to the gender role strain. Alternatively, it can be a means of fulfilling the male role when the provider role is elusive. In terms of parenting behaviors, relative to White men in two-parent families, Black men in two-parent families monitor their children more and exhibit more responsibility for child rearing (Hofferth, 2003). And Black fathers are as involved with their children as fathers from other ethnic groups, though they devote a smaller proportion of that time to playing with their children (McGill, 2014).

Yet, in the era of mass incarceration, fulfillment of the father role can be elusive for many Black men (Sykes & Pettit, 2014). Today, Black men are six times more likely than White men to be incarcerated (Parker & Wang, 2013). Studies have found that, in cities around the United States, people of color were more likely than Whites to be stopped and searched by police, even though they were actually less likely to be carrying illegal weapons (Cole et al., 2015). As evidence of racial discrimination in policing and the criminal justice system accumulates, scholars note that Black men are especially disadvantaged. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander (2010) proposed that, while racial discrimination in employment is no longer socially acceptable, Black men encounter a new, redesigned form of racial discrimination that oppresses and disenfranchises them in legal ways:

Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. (p. 2)

Thus, for the Black man who has served time in prison, he will find it exceedingly difficult to fulfill many aspects of the male role, such as being a father, husband, and provider for his family.

In sum, despite the long emphasis on viewing Black men’s masculinity from a deficit perspective, the GRSP is most useful in framing and understanding the experiences of Black men. Aspects of the traditional male role—particularly the breadwinner or provider role—have been denied to Black men for decades. In turn, higher unemployment rates contribute to their gender role strain and may make it more difficult to fulfill other aspects of the male role, such as the husband and father roles.

Asian American Men

Like African American men, Asian American men experience racial discrimination and prejudice in our Anglocentric society (Liu & Wong, 2016). However, Asian American men differ from African American men in some substantial ways. For example, Asian Americans do not have the heritage of slavery. And across the intersection of gender and ethnicity, Asian American men have the lowest unemployment rates and the highest earnings (see Table 16.4). This higher income—and the accompanying higher educational attainment—can shape Asian American men’s experiences in important ways.

Of course, as we discussed in Chapter 4, there is tremendous diversity among Asian American groups. Some may be refugees who escaped from Vietnam or Cambodia under oppressive and traumatic circumstances, some may be Japanese Americans who lived in internment camps in the 1940s, some may be Chinese Americans who are fourth generation in the United States, and some may be recent immigrants from India. It is important to keep this diversity in mind when referring to Asian Americans.

In comparison with Asian American women, Asian American men share many of the same difficulties (see Chapter 4), including bilingualism and conflicts between Asian cultural values and the dominant cultural values of America. Yet there are also gender differences within this broad ethnic group. For example, Asian Americans’ sexuality is stereotyped in gendered ways. Whereas Asian American women are stereotyped as exotic sex toys (see Chapter 4), Asian American men are stereotyped as asexual, sexually unattractive, and having small penises (Liu & Wong, 2016; Reid & Bing, 2000). Similarly, research indicates that women across diverse ethnic groups are less interested in Asian American men as potential romantic partners (Fisman et al., 2008). Asian American men are also stereotyped as introverted, socially inept, feminine and unmasculine, physically inferior and nonathletic, and perpetual foreigners (Liu & Wong, 2016). In short, they are stereotyped as not living up to the ideal of traditional White masculinity.

Photo 16.7 Asian American men are stereotyped as not living up to the ideal of traditional White masculinity, yet they earn higher median incomes relative to other men.



Another gendered aspect of Asian American men’s lives in the United States has to do with gender ratios in the population. The combination of U.S. immigration policies and the circumstances under which some Asian Americans (e.g., Chinese men brought to build the transcontinental railway in the 1860s) came to the United States contributed to a lopsided gender ratio, such that there were far more Asian American men than Asian American women. For example, at one point in Washington state, the ratio of Filipino men to Filipino women was 33:1 (Bulosan, 1960). Given that anti-miscegenation laws prohibited Asian American men from marrying women of other racial or ethnic groups, many Asian American men were in a state of permanently enforced bachelorhood. Moreover, because marriage and parenthood are considered milestones or signs of reaching adulthood in some Asian societies, many men experienced a life of perpetual boyhood by their own cultural values (Kim, 1990).

Latino Men

Latinx culture is typically seen as highly patriarchal and gendered. Men are held to the ideal of machismo and women to the ideal of marianismo (see Chapter 4). As noted in Chapter 4, in traditional Latin American cultures, gender roles are sharply defined (Raffaelli & Ontai, 2004; Salgado de Snyder et al., 2000). And among Latino men, belief in traditional masculinity is closely tied to their identity as Latino (Saez et al., 2009). Traditional gender roles are emphasized early in the socialization process for children (Raffaelli & Ontai, 2004). Boys are given greater freedom, are encouraged in sexual exploits, and are not expected to share in the household work, whereas girls are closely monitored and expected to contribute to household work.

Yet, as with any generalization, the description of Latinx culture as highly patriarchal does not capture the rich diversity and subcultural variations across Latinx culture. For example, compared with Mexicans living in Mexico, the Mexican American family structure is less patriarchal, despite sharing the value of familismo and the strong emphasis on family (Muñoz-Laboy, 2008). The shared value of familismo also means that the father role is an important aspect of the Latino male role (Roubinov et al., 2016).

With regard to masculinity and the male role, the belief that the provider role is the man’s responsibility varies according to acculturation (Taylor et al., 1999). Less acculturated Mexican immigrants hold the strongest beliefs in the man’s responsibility to be a provider, while highly acculturated Mexican immigrants hold less strong beliefs, and highly acculturated U.S.-born Mexican Americans hold the least strong beliefs. Still, White Americans hold this traditional belief less strongly than all three of these Latinx groups. Similar patterns have been found with regard to the importance of the father role (Cabrera et al., 2006). In sum, the aspects of being a good provider and father for one’s family are important to the male role in Latinx culture, though there are subcultural variations. In the context of intense national controversy regarding the legal immigration and employment of Latinx persons in the United States, there is increased pressure on Latino men to fulfill this aspect of the male role.

Photo 16.8 The father role is an important aspect of the Latino male role, consistent with the shared value of familismo.



American Indian Men

Like other men of color, American Indian men experience disadvantages such as discrimination and prejudice based on their ethnicity. Yet their unique cultural heritage, based on tribal diversity and hundreds of years of colonization, trauma, occupation, and enslavement by Europeans, distinguishes some of their experiences.

In considering gender roles among American Indians, it is important to note that gender is not understood as a binary construct in most American Indian languages or cultures. Traditionally, roles have been assigned not based on gender but on one’s purpose (Rouse, 2016).

Some American Indian tribes, including the Cherokee, Navajo, Iroquois, Hopi, and Zuni, traditionally had relatively egalitarian gender roles (LaFromboise et al., 1990). Women had important economic, political, and spiritual roles, and there was even a matrilineal pattern of inheritance. Men tended to have more authority in the public sphere, but women’s power in the private sphere of the family was great. Yet as Europeans colonized North America and cross-cultural contacts increased, this gender egalitarianism declined. Increased contact with the dominant White culture in the United States and subsequent acculturation contributed to an increase in male dominance among American Indians (LaFromboise et al., 1990).

Photo 16.9 Conflicts between American Indian culture and White masculinity can contribute to gender role strain among American Indian men.



Yet, paradoxically, the imposition of patriarchy and male dominance on American Indian cultures has not been very beneficial to American Indian men. Instead, American Indian men are likely to experience gender role strain, particularly as their native culture conflicts with traditional White masculinity (Whitbeck et al., 2002). For example, a Navajo man who follows his cultural tradition of wearing his hair long and tied with yarn in a bun will likely face discrimination and hostility as he is perceived as feminine. In short, his culturally defined masculinity conflicts with traditional White masculinity, which has the upper hand in mainstream U.S. society.

Unfortunately, there is very little psychological research on American Indian men (Wong et al., 2010), which makes it difficult to characterize the full range of their experiences. Nonetheless, researchers who study American Indians note that, despite their history of trauma, it would be a mistake to define their experiences so narrowly and think of them as victims. Instead, the indigenous peoples of North America are resilient and persistent and actively engaged in shaping their own future (Gone, 2010; Rouse, 2016).

Health Issues

A baby boy born in the United States today can expect to live 76 years if he is White and 72 years if he is Black; a baby girl can expect to live 81 years if she is White and 78 years if she is Black (see Chapter 11; Arias, 2015). In other words, men live about 5 to 6 fewer years than women do. Many researchers are interested in the causes of men’s shorter life expectancy and whether biological factors or environmental factors are more important (Courtenay, 2000; Helgeson, 2009; Theorell & Härenstam, 2000). For example, are men more biologically vulnerable, more susceptible to disease, genetic defects, and so on? Or are men victims of their environment and social context, and the male role in particular? Let’s examine the evidence on both sides of the issue.

With regard to biological factors, boys and men have a higher death rate than girls and women, even prenatally. At conception, the ratio of male to female zygotes is probably about 120:100. Yet, at birth, the male-to-female ratio is down to about 105:100 (Mathews & Hamilton, 2005). So, even before birth, boys have a higher death rate (Kilmartin, 2000). That disparity can’t possibly be the result of the male role. What is more likely is that sex-linked recessive genetic defects or diseases such as hemophilia cause the higher male death rate.

Yet, after birth, X-linked diseases probably cause a relatively small proportion of the excess male deaths. Sex hormones are a far more important biological factor (Helgeson, 2009). While heart disease is a leading cause of death for both men and women (Mozzafarian et al., 2016), heart disease tends to strike men at much younger ages. This contributes to men’s shorter life expectancy. Estrogen appears to be a protective factor against heart disease, protecting women at least until menopause.

With regard to environmental factors, an important issue is substance use, including tobacco (i.e., smoking) and alcohol. For example, lung cancer and heart attacks are among the leading causes of death in men, and cigarette smoking is implicated in both (Helgeson, 2009; Sue, 2000). Another leading cause of death in which men outnumber women is cirrhosis of the liver, and that is related to excessive drinking, a behavior that is considered more appropriate for the male role than for the female role. Men also have higher rates of illicit substance use (see Chapter 15).

Accidents—specifically vehicle accidents and gun accidents—are another cause of death in which men outnumber women. These kinds of deaths, too, can clearly be linked to masculine traits such as aggressiveness and risk taking. In sum, specific behaviors associated with the male role—smoking, drinking, aggression, and risk taking—are linked to men’s higher death rates. Moreover, research indicates a link between masculinity and death, such that more masculine men die younger than less masculine men (Lippa et al., 2000).

The male role contributes to men’s shorter life expectancy in other ways. For example, men are less likely than women to seek help for medical, mental health, and substance use problems (Addis & Mahalik, 2003). This gendered pattern of help-seeking is seen across ages, nationalities, and ethnic groups. Simply put, help-seeking is not masculine; the male role requires that men be self-reliant and tough. This means that men die at younger ages because they wait too long to seek treatment for problems that are preventable or treatable.

Driving is another part of the male role. Relative to women, men tend to drive more and drive faster, and they take more risks while driving (Helgeson, 2009). The result is that men account for 71% of deaths from motor vehicle crashes (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2016).

In sum, neither biological factors nor environmental factors alone seem to explain gender differences in life expectancy. Clearly, there are dangerous aspects of the male role, contributing to men’s shorter life expectancy. Male deaths from heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver seem linked to environmental factors, specifically the male role and smoking and drinking behaviors. Nonetheless, biological factors such as genetic defects seem likely to cause the higher rate of male deaths prenatally. It is also likely that some biological factors make men more vulnerable to particular environmental factors.

Photo 16.10 The male role can be hazardous to men’s health.


Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images.

We can also examine the interaction of biological and environmental factors among transgender men. Some transgender men may feel pressure to adhere to the male role in order to be seen and accepted as men. Thus, they may engage in heavier drinking or smoking, which can shorten their life expectancy. By contrast, it is unclear how much the biological factors that are linked to cisgender men’s shorter life expectancy impact transgender men’s health. For example, research comparing transgender men receiving testosterone to cisgender women finds no differences in cardiovascular disease (Gooren et al., 2014). Clearly, we need more research that can tease apart the biological and environmental factors contributing to cisgender and transgender men’s health.

Experience the Research: Childhood Experiences of the Mother and Men’s Desire to Control Women

One assumption of the gender role identity paradigm is that men’s negative attitudes toward women are a result of problems of gender role identity caused by mothers. One hypothesis is that little boys experience the mother as overwhelming and therefore try to control and dominate women in adulthood. If this is the case, there should be a correlation between men’s ratings of their childhood experiences of their mother and their attitudes, as adults, toward women. Men who experienced their mothers as overwhelming should want to control women, and men who did not experience their mothers as overwhelming should be less interested in controlling women. You will collect data to see whether this is true.

Use the following items to assess men’s experience of their mothers in childhood:

1. When I was a child, my mother seemed overwhelming to me.

2. When I was a child, my mother tried to control me all the time.

Use the following items to assess men’s attitudes toward women:

1. The husband should have the final say in family decisions.

2. In the traditional marriage vows, the wife promises to obey the husband, and there is great wisdom in that.

Participants should rate each item on a scale from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree, with (3) meaning neither agree nor disagree. To make the purpose of these items less obvious, construct at least 10 items assessing attitudes on some other topics and intersperse the four critical items among them.

Administer your 14-item scale to five men who are not in your class (men who take a psychology of women course are not a random sample of the male population). If possible, include in your sample several men who are older than traditional college age.

Take the average of the two items on experience of the mother as the man’s score on Experience of Mother. Take the average of the two control of women items as the man’s score on Control Women. For your five respondents, does there appear to be a correlation between Experience of Mother scores and Control Women scores? That is, do men who have high scores on one tend to have high scores on the other? If you have taken a statistics course, compute the actual correlation between the two scales. You may also put your data together with those of other students in your class to obtain a larger sample and then compute the correlation.

Do the results support or go against the hypothesis?

Chapter Summary

In this chapter we have focused on the psychology of cisgender men and the male role. The feminist analysis of masculinity points to the link between traditional gender roles and gender inequality. In requiring men to control the public sphere and engage in dominant and aggressive behaviors while requiring women to remain in the private sphere and engage in adaptive and nurturing behaviors, traditional gender roles maintain patriarchy. Being a “real man” is a hard-won but easily lost social status. Masculinity and the male role are characterized by dominance, power, and agency, in stark contrast to femininity and the female role. Moreover, traditional gender roles are firmly rooted in the gender binary and assume that heterosexuality is the norm. As such, these roles make no space for trans or queer people. Yet some trans men feel pressure to adhere to the traditional male role in order to be seen and accepted as men by others.

An important point in this chapter was the distinction between the GRIP and the GRSP. The GRIP was traditional psychology’s approach to the male role and was based on the assumption that a man must have a masculine identity in order to be psychologically healthy. Yet the GRIP is just not borne out by the evidence—boys’ masculinity is not correlated with their fathers’ masculinity, father absence does not necessarily produce inadequate masculinity, and so on.

An alternative model is the GRSP, which views gender roles as sources of strain. The GRSP puts masculine traits such as athleticism in context. The emphasis on athletic prowess for boys and men produces strains for both the athlete and the nonathlete alike. The father and provider roles are important aspects of the male role in adulthood.

Traditional masculinity privileges White men; men of color are stereotyped as not meeting the ideal of traditional White masculinity. For example, Asian American men are stereotyped as asexual and physically weak. Manhood seems especially precarious for men of color, and traditional masculinity contributes to gender role strain for many.

The male role involves risk taking and is often dangerous to men’s health. Gender differences in life expectancy appear to be the result of an interaction of biological and environmental factors, and gendered behaviors such as drinking and smoking increase men’s mortality.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Kimmel, Michael. (2015). Angry White men: American masculinity at the end of an era. New York, NY: Nation Books. Interviewing White supremacists, men’s rights activists, and students, sociologist Michael Kimmel provides a feminist and intersectional analysis of contemporary White masculinity.

Levant, Ronald F., & Wong, Y. Joel. (2017). The psychology of men and masculinity. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. This book reviews the research on the psychology of men and masculinity, with chapters written by leading researchers in the field.

Pascoe, C. J., & Bridges, Tristan. (2016). Exploring masculinities: Identity, inequality, continuity and change. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Sociologists C. J. Pascoe and Tristan Bridges discuss masculinities from an intersectional perspective.