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Men who believe that masculinity is toxic or harmful have lower self-esteem and worse metal health than men who embrace their masculinity and see it as a good thing

January 27, 2021

Psychology has historically done a poor job studying men and masculinity. At best it strives for a one size fits all approach, and at worse it has tried to contextualize everything through the eyes of women and femininity.

In such a model, men are treated as if they were defective women. The belief is that they suffer from mental health problems in part because they are men, or because masculinity has harmful or toxic elements to it.

It turns out though that men who adopt these beliefs actually have worse mental health than men who embrace their masculinity and see it as a good thing. In addition they have worse relationships with women, with their families, their friends, and they engage in drug use and alcohol more often than men who reject this view.

Obviously this is just a correlation. But given the APA's formal (and dare I say toxic) stance on masculinity, I think there are things that we're not looking at right now.

Men cry less because they deal with things differently than women, not because they're repressing their emotions. And those differences might be productive and healthy for them.

The key to better mental health for men might be a healthy respect for masculinity, not a shunning of it. Instead of trying to redefine masculinity, we should work to understand it better, and offer better services for men based on an honest acknowledgement that men's and women's mental health might require different approaches.

Men are not "defective women", and treating men's mental health in that context does not seem to be working very well.

A few sources (with quotes):

The other dogma, Pinker argued, 'is that repressing emotions is bad and expressing them is good – a folk theory with roots in romanticism, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Hollywood, but which is contradicted by a large literature showing that people with greater self-control, particularly those who repress anger rather than “venting,” lead healthier lives: they get better grades, have fewer eating disorders, drink less, have fewer psychosomatic aches and pains, are less depressed, anxious, phobic, and paranoid, have higher self-esteem, are more conscientious, have better relationships with their families, have more stable friendships, are less likely to have sex they regretted, and are less likely to imagine themselves cheating in a monogamous relationship.’

Further analysis using multiple linear regression found that men’s self-esteem was significantly predicted by older age, more education, and a greater acceptance of traditional masculinity. Men’s mental positivity – which is known to be negatively correlated with suicidality – was significantly predicted by older age, a greater acceptance of traditional masculinity, and more education.

When in distress, women tend to want to talk about their feelings whereas men tend to want to fix whatever is causing the distress (Holloway et al. 2018). However our mental health services are delivered in a “gender blind” way, so that treatment options that might suit men better are rarely considered (Liddon et al. 2017).

In addition, the APA has discovered that "many men report experiencing gender bias in therapy" and "investigations have identified systemic gender bias toward adult men in psychotherapy". So maybe if our mental health services viewed masculinity in a better light, men would receive better care.

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Post Information
Title Men who believe that masculinity is toxic or harmful have lower self-esteem and worse metal health than men who embrace their masculinity and see it as a good thing
Author Oncefa2
Upvotes 197
Comments 60
Date January 27, 2021 3:52 PM UTC (2 years ago)
Subreddit /r/LeftWingMaleAdvocates
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Top posts by Oncefa2

[–]serial-grapeist 22 points23 points  (0 children) | Copy Link

it's almost as if believing in a movement that believes you are worth less for being a man isn't good for your mental health.

[–]TintelFrootleft-wing male advocate 31 points32 points  (8 children) | Copy Link

Is feeling guilty about being masculine and embracing it the only options? What about people who are non conformist, any research into their mental well being?

Genuine question BTW.

[–]Oncefa2left-wing male advocate[S] 17 points18 points  (3 children) | Copy Link

I was wondering about this when I made this post. Not caring either way is probably healthier than seeing it as a negative. If you treat nonbinary as a third gender then the same logic might be able to apply there as well. Validating who you are in general is probably a good thing.

I'll let someone who's trans or nonbinary chime in though.

[–]TintelFrootleft-wing male advocate 15 points16 points  (2 children) | Copy Link

Oh I’m not even talking about something that drastic, I’m a guy but I just don’t worry if stuff is traditionally masculine or feminine.

[–]Oncefa2left-wing male advocate[S] 12 points13 points  (1 child) | Copy Link

I'm the same way for that most part.

I've never really cared if something was girly or manly. I do enjoy stereotypical male hobbies but that's not because I look at it as something I should embrace because of my gender. There are many masculine things I don't like (some I actually think are pretty stupid), and there are feminine things that I do like.

I just think that attacks and negative stereotypes about men (or women) are a bad thing. Especially for young boys who have to grow up in this world being told that there's something wrong with them because of their gender. It sends a message that they're not wanted, and that the things they identify with and enjoy doing are somehow less valid than the things that girls identify with and enjoy doing.

The problem with toxic masculinity and beliefs in the patriarchy or "male evilness" (which the second link goes into) is that if you believe those things, and you're a man, it means that there's a part of you that is bad and needs to be shunned. And that likely isn't very good for your self-esteem or mental health.

[–]Forgetaboutthelonely 8 points9 points  (0 children) | Copy Link

I've never really cared if something was girly or manly. I do enjoy stereotypical male hobbies but that's not because I look at it as something I should embrace because of my gender. There are many masculine things I don't like (some I actually think are pretty stupid), and there are feminine things that I do like.

I am MUCH the same way. There WAS a point where I embraced the whole "lumberjack masculinity" but that was a response to social ostracism. I thought if I acted more "normal" like my peers they'd accept me.

I am no longer near those peers and I've been told I'm generally fairly feminine for a 6'1 man.

[–]FightHateWithLove 7 points8 points  (2 children) | Copy Link

My perspective is that I'm a man and therefore everything about me is masculine as long as I'm being true to myself.

Taking human characteristics and separating them according to which gender is more likely to exhibit them the most seems like a pointless exercise.

[–]Nath43673 4 points5 points  (1 child) | Copy Link

I don't know who's dealing out all these downvotes, but I think this is a decent approach for an individual, and may be an ideal to work towards. It does kind of ignore the effect of being a social species, though.

I kind of see it like if you had a grove of apple trees and pear trees of different cultivars and subspecies. All the trees respond to the same stimuli (sun, water, soil, etc.) but, in general, there is a difference in the way the pear trees and apple trees contribute to a fruit basket. A small proportion of the trees are hybrids or grafts, and there is sometimes more variation between the cultivars than between apples and pears.

If I'm an apple tree, I can reasonably expect that I can draw from the same well of resources as the pear trees, but what I produce (my emotional responses, my tendency towards particular character traits, my body musculature) will tend to be different.

It's useful for me to know what kinds of fertilisers, etc. tend to work well for apple trees vs. for pear trees, even if it doesn't always apply in every case. This is different from other trees telling me exactly what every apple tree should be like, how tall I should be, the colour of my fruit, how I should respond to pests.

[–]Oncefa2left-wing male advocate[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children) | Copy Link

I think the problem is that some people see it as an either or thing.

If some men respond well to more feminine ways of handling emotions, then there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not saying we should force them into a box made exclusively for men because they happen to be men.

However we also shouldn't create a box designed primarily for women (intentionally made that way or not) and then expect to be able to shove men in it.

We can have a spectrum or whatever. And it's not like there aren't going to be women out there who respond better to the masculine side of things compared to the feminine side of things.

The male vs female thing is only one factor, or maybe even a starting point. But it's not a rigid destination.

[–]sense-si-millia 3 points4 points  (0 children) | Copy Link

Pure speculation but my guess is that a nihilistic approach wouldn't be very healthy. I think to some extent you have to pick and choose based on a combination of personal experience and role modelling. Understanding even in a very simplistic way why masculinity is important will allow you to understand when you can disregard it without too much worry. I think while it is probably more difficult now, these roles have always been a minefield of shifting expectations. People are very fickle in their preferences and really that is what drives all of this.

[–]Oncefa2left-wing male advocate[S] 36 points37 points  (5 children) | Copy Link

It is true that men go to the doctor less often than women, but this isn't because they're being macho or stubborn. It mainly has to do with health care coverage, insurance, and adequate time to go see a doctor.

Men work longer hours than women at jobs that are less flexible, and more stressful, than jobs that women tend to work at. Men overall engage in an extra hour of paid and unpaid labor per day compared to women, and an extra 45 minutes commuting to jobs that are further away. Meaning men on average have far less free time to go see a doctor than women do.

This is also something that changes during retirement: retired men who no longer have to spend most of their time at work are just as likely to go to the doctor as retired women.

A general lack of help and support, especially financial support, for men who need medical help also contributes to this.

[–]ParanoidAgnostic 3 points4 points  (2 children) | Copy Link

In my case, it's the lack of utility in most doctor's visits. I've never had a GP solve a problem.

GPs really can't do much beyond referring you to a specialist or writing a note to prove to your boss you really were sick.

It's a complete waste of time and money to sit in a waiting room until 45 minutes after my booked appointment and then pay $60 to be told it's a virus and all I can do is wait it out. I knew that already.

[–]Oncefa2left-wing male advocate[S] 1 point2 points  (0 children) | Copy Link

If you have a bad enough cold some of the prescription medicine they prescribe actually works pretty well.

And nowadays you can do remote visits and get those prescriptions if you need them.

Which is something I never knew for most of my adult life ;).

I get what you're saying though. Lots of times they just tell you to come back in a couple of weeks to see how you're progressing.

[–]qemist 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy Link

In my case, it's the lack of utility in most doctor's visits. I've never had a GP solve a problem.

I'm sure they've done something for me, once or twice, though I can't specifically remember. Often they seem dismissive -- you're a man, take your doctor's note and get out of here -- though sometimes they like to chat about irrelevant stuff. It's best to go in knowing the tests or drugs you want.

[–][deleted] 2 points3 points  (1 child) | Copy Link

Also, it's self-reinforcing: if you believe you're worthless you won't care much about taking care of yourself.

[–]fcsquadleft-wing male advocate 9 points10 points  (4 children) | Copy Link

There's a serious problem with this post which you allude to but don't explore:

Obviously this is just a correlation.

Exactly. You're focusing exclusively on a narrative that is based on one direction of the causal arrow of that correlation: namely, man 'chooses' to forego traditional masculinity and ends up with all sorts of problems. Your conclusion is that, "See? Traditional masculinity ain't so bad! It has all these positive things associated with it."

Now let's try a different narrative. Man is unwilling or unable to conform to traditional masculinity, gets shit on in lots of different ways by a society which still enforces traditionalism for men, and ends up with lots of problems as a result. Conclusion? "See? Traditional masculinity sucks, particularly for men who try to break free from it."

Now, I don't think men who embrace traditional masculinity should be condemned (providing of course that they don't disrespect men who reject that traditionalism), and I agree that therapeutic services have a blind spot towards men that feminism hasn't really helped with much. But I also think that compulsory traditional masculinity imposes very big costs on men as a group, and we shouldn't ignore those costs or 'blame the victim' when particular men experience more extreme problems with it.

[–]Oncefa2left-wing male advocate[S] 4 points5 points  (2 children) | Copy Link

But I also think that compulsory traditional masculinity imposes very big costs on men as a group, and we shouldn't ignore those costs or 'blame the victim' when particular men experience more extreme problems with it.

Yeah that wasn't my intent. The top level comment chain is actually mainly about this.

I prefer the term masculinity, specifically as it exists on a spectrum, over "traditional masculinity". But that is the term that one of the studies used. Probably because it's a good proxy for the less rigidly defined masculinity (in general terms). Traditional masculinity is easy to identify and study and it probably exists proximally to regular or modern day masculinity.

[–]fcsquadleft-wing male advocate 1 point2 points  (1 child) | Copy Link

Can you give me some examples of behavior which qualifies as "masculine" but not "traditionally masculine"? I'm genuinely curious as to how you draw that distinction.

[–]Oncefa2left-wing male advocate[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children) | Copy Link

Honestly that's a pretty good question.

I'd say that expressiveness in like art and music can be seen as masculine. As well as philosophy, epistemology, and anything associated with nerd culture.

Traditional masculinity is more concerned with hard work (usually physical), self-sacrifice (again physical), and family values. Mentally obsessing over abstract, nonproductive interests (nerd culture), worrying about philosophy, or forgoing a family to pursue those things (like many philosophers and scientists have done in history), is something that men do, including rather famously in history. But it isn't really seen as traditionally masculine.

You could also probably look at leather culture in the gay community as masculinity that isn't traditional as well.

In career terms, being a construction worker or a farmer is traditionally masculine, but being a mathematician or a scientist, isn't.

[–]WhenIsItOkayToHate 4 points5 points  (0 children) | Copy Link

How about we just stop treating people as defective for being whoever they are?

[–]floriandeckard 7 points8 points  (0 children) | Copy Link

Women can't wear same clothes with random girl at school because it will decrease her social status. And that's totally ok. But when a man doesn't want to cry infront of others because of his social status, he is somewhat toxic.

And hell yeah, masculinity is awesome. I pity men who die without having taste of physical limits and strenghts of their body. What a shame. Masculinity and manliness should be encouraged. I'm not talking about proud boys or alt-right shit. But I believe that our gender was better when they were proud because of being men. We are at bottom now because we are ashemed of our gender and manliness.

[–]beatstorelax 2 points3 points  (0 children) | Copy Link

the only mistake: psychology WAS doing a good job. until people decided Freud is sexist .

[–]Mollof2 1 point2 points  (0 children) | Copy Link


[–]RockmanXX 1 point2 points  (0 children) | Copy Link

Dear Feminists, (yes i know you ppl lurk!)

Men want to be Masculine, whether someone thinks its "Toxic" or not is irreverent. I know its ironic coming from a male advocate, but Feminists are fighting for a lost cause with their war against "Toxic" Masculinity. Men will defend Masculinity and the only ones who are fine with attacks on Masculinity from Feminists are self-hating Men from r/MensLib.

But then again, r/menslib is just a breeding ground for incels anyway. Eventually they'll get bitter&angry enough to hate everyone not just themselves. You can only go so long hating yourself before you turn to Elliot Rodger style violence. If you guys think i'm being an asshole i'm really NOT! Posts from r/menslib and /r/IncelsWithoutHate is hard to differentiate, they all have a serious sense of shame for just being BORN Male. WTF is wrong with these guys? I'm a nihilistic bastard and even i can't stand their negativity and self-hatred.

[–]fizzy0812 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy Link

I agree that men's mental health should be dealt with men in mind as opposed to the way women get help or treated or treatment its a unfair way to help men who just because of their masculinity get bypassed aswell I never disregard my hubby's masculinity I don't talk to him about his feelings and anxiety etc as if he's a women and I've always encouraged my hubby to let all your emotions out be it by crying or shouting whichever he feels is right for him and I don't shudder ckoz he's decided vent by shouting because he won't go on and on for ages once he feels lighter I give hi. A big hug znd kiss and he's still all man for me and I make him know that

[–]michael1113 0 points1 point  (0 children) | Copy Link

I'm not surprised at all by this

You can kill a man, but you can't kill an idea.

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