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Masculinity comprises culturally of the traits assigned to the male in various contexts. Masculine may refer to:

  • Male
  • Grammatical gender

Manhood is sometimes used as a synonym for masculinity. The antonym of masculinity is femininity; femininity in men is sometimes called effeminacy.

Masculinity has its roots in social constructions and genetics. Therefore while masculinity can mean different things to different cultures, there are often common aspects to its definition across cultures. Sometimes gender scholars will use the phrase "hegemonic masculinity" to distinguish the most dominant form of masculinity from other variants. In the mid-twentieth century United States, for example, John Wayne, a US movie star, might embody one form of masculinity, while Albert Einstein might be seen as masculine, but not in the same "hegemonic" fashion.

In some cultures masculinity may be an indicator of social status as much as wealth, race or social class. In western culture, for example, greater masculinity usually brings greater social status for males among their peers. Many English words such as virtue and virile (all from the Latin vir meaning man) reflect this. An association with physical and/or moral strength is implied. Masculinity is associated more commonly with men than with boys.

Sociological View of Western Concepts of Masculinity[]

Janet Saltzman Chafetz (1974, 35-36) describes seven areas of traditional masculinity in Western culture:

Lewis Hine Power house mechanic working on steam pump

Concepts of masculinity in the western world during the first half of the twentieth century were most often rigid and inextricably associated with images of industrialization, military power and conventional social gender roles.

  1. Physical--virile, athletic, strong, brave. Unconcerned about appearance and aging;
  2. Functional--breadwinner, provider;
  3. Sexual--sexually aggressive, experienced. Single status acceptable;
  4. Emotional--unemotional, stoic;
  5. Intellectual--logical, intellectual, rational, objective, practical,
  6. Interpersonal--leader, dominating; disciplinarian; independent, individualistic (applies to western societies);
  7. Other Personal Characteristics--success-oriented, ambitious; proud, egotistical (applies to some societies); , moral, trustworthy; decisive, competitive, uninhibited, adventurous.
(Levine, 1998, p.13)

Social scientists Deborah David and Robert Brannon (1976) give the following four rules for establishing masculinity:

  1. No Sissy Stuff: anything that even remotely hints of femininity is prohibited. A real man must avoid any behavior or characteristic associated with women;
  2. Be a Big Wheel: masculinity is measured by success, power, and the admiration of others. One must possess wealth, fame, and status to be considered manly;
  3. Be a Sturdy Oak: manliness requires rationality, toughness, and self-reliance. A man must remain calm in any situation, show no emotion, and admit no weakness;
  4. Give 'em Hell: men must exude an aura of daring and aggression, and must be willing to take risks, to "go for it" even when reason and fear suggest otherwise.
(Levine, 1998, p.145)

Definitions of masculinity, such as all of the above, are entirely subjective observations of their authors. Observable and traditionally accepted traits of masculinity may differ across time periods and cultures. For example see machismo, which includes negative traits and positive ones including assertiveness or standing up for rights, responsibility/selflessness, general code of ethics, and sincerity and/or respect [1]

Development of masculinity[]

Main article: Masculine psychology
Marines wrestle

Direct competition of physical skill and/or strength is a feature of masculinity which appears in some form in virtually every culture on Earth. Here, two US Marines compete in a wrestling match.

There is an extensive debate about how children develop gender identities. See Gender identity and Gender role for a full discussion of the subject.

In many cultures non-standard characteristics of the "other" gender may become a social problem. Among sexually mature individuals, non-standard behaviors may be considered a sign of homosexuality, while a young female who exhibits masculine behavior is sometimes called a "tom boy". Within sociology such labeling and conditioning is known as peer pressure, and is a part of socialization to better match a culture's mores. The corresponding social condemnation of excessive masculinity may be expressed in by terms such as "machismo" or as "testosterone poisoning."

The relative importance of the roles of socialization and genetics in the development of masculinity continues to be debated. While social conditioning obviously plays a role, it can also be observed that certain aspects of the masculine identity exist in almost all human cultures, which points to a partly genetic origin.

The historical development of gender role is addressed by such fields as behavioral genetics, evolutionary psychology, human ecology and sociobiology. All human cultures seem to encourage the development of gender roles, through literature, costume and song. Some examples of this might include the epics of Homer, the King Arthur tales in English, the normative commentaries of Confucius or biographical studies of Muhammad. More specialized treatments of masculinity may be found in works such as the Bhagavad Gita or bushido's Hagakure.

Pressures associated with masculine gender role[]

Most men feel pressured to act masculine. These men feel that they have to prevail in situations that require physical strength and fitness. To appear weak, emotional, or sexually inefficient is a major threat to their self-esteem. To be content, these men must feel that they are decisive and self-assured, and rational. Masculine gender role stress may develop if a man feels that he has acted 'unmanly'. Conversely, acting 'manly' among peers will often result in increased social validation or general competitive advantage.

In 1987, Eisler and Skidmore did studies on masculinity and created the idea of 'masculine stress'. They found five mechanisms of masculinity that accompany masculine gender role often result in emotional stress. They include:

a) the emphasis on prevailing in situations requiring fitness and strength
b) being perceived as emotional and thereby feminine
c) the need to feel conquering in regard to sexual matters and work
d) the need to repress tender emotions such as showing emotions restricted according to traditional masculine customs

Two seated men ca 1860

Two Seated Men
In many societies, masculinity is understood to include open displays of same-sex non-sexual affection and physical contact. In others, such as the USA in recent times, such behavior is devalued and regarded as effete.
Anonymous photo, USA, ca. 1860

Coping strategies[]

Men and women have different ways that they appraise stressful situations and cope with them. Standards of masculinity cannot only create stress in themselves for some men; they can also limit these men's abilities to relieve stress. Some men appraise situations using the schema of what is an acceptable masculine response rather than what is objectively the best response. As a result men often feel limited to a certain range of “approved” responses and coping strategies. Often sexual issues are linked to masculine coping behavior. Men seem to masturbate more [How to reference and link to summary or text] and more often than women[How to reference and link to summary or text] and generally are considered to have a stronger need for sex more often than do women--stereotypically, the "male brain" is seen as more "sex-centered" than is the psyche of females.[How to reference and link to summary or text] In nature, the males of most species actively pursue the females for the continuance of the species--males are the pursuers; females are the pursued.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Males have to be "driven" biologically and psychologically to mount and copulate with their female partners and be potent enough to impregnate them. Humanity is no exception.


Men, significantly more so than women, tend to drink and drive, not to wear seatbelts, and to drive fast. Men are also more likely to be involved in a homicide, to be involved in a motor vehicle accident and other accidents (It should be noted, however, that any statistics involving males and autos can be misleading, as men drive farther than women;[2] and that even in households where both a man and woman drive, when together the driving is usually performed by the male)[How to reference and link to summary or text].

Men are in fact three times more likely to die of accidents than females. Men make up 93% of workplace deaths. While many argue that this is because dangerous job industries are dominated by men, others argue that at least part of the gender disparity is due to masculine risk-taking behavior.

Men generally take more risks with their health than women. All these behaviors are acceptable for men and are to some extent deemed masculine. Men are twice as likely to die from cancer than women are. Men are more likely to not wear sunscreen, to eat unhealthily, and to forgo cardiovascular exercise[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Men are historically also more likely to smoke (although now more women start smoking than men).

The reasons for this willingness to take risks are widely debated. There is evidence to show that this is largely due to genetic predispositions of the male sex [How to reference and link to summary or text], though perhaps greatly exaggerated and supported by social constructs and related pressure. Some believe that men, especially young men, are genetically predisposed to be less risk-averse than women because, in terms of a group's reproductive capacity, the loss of a young man is much less risky in terms of evolution than the loss of a young woman [How to reference and link to summary or text], which would seem to present evolutionary pressures towards men being more predisposed to risk and danger (see handicap principle). Some also cite how widespread and culture-independent certain aspects of masculine identity are, implying that if masculinity was purely learned, different societies in different times would have completely different ideas about the masculine gender role, which has historically remained relatively consistent.

In addition to taking more risks, men appear to be more capable of managing risk and performing under stress than women [How to reference and link to summary or text].

Independence and invulnerability[]

Men are significantly less likely to visit their physicians to receive preventive health care examinations. Men make 134.5 million fewer physician visits than American women each year. In fact, men make only 40.8% of all physician visits. A quarter of the men who are 45 to 60 do not have a personal physician. Men should go to annual heart checkups with physicians but many do not, increasing their risk of death from heart disease. In fact, men between the ages of 25 and 65 are four times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women. Men are more likely to be diagnosed in a later stage of a terminal illness because of their reluctance to go to the doctor. This may also be due to the fact that men tend to not notice symptoms as quickly as women do. Jerry Kaiser, a health-care consultant believes that, "Men… [are] still basically hunters and warriors… They tend to not pay attention to things that are invisible and internal. If there is no clear external stimulus, there's no response." The strange irony is that the male body is physically much less tolerant to pain than that of women, though men are pressured socially to deal with pain more. However, when one considers that women are the child-bearers it is easier to understand why men may not need to be naturally so pain-tolerant. The heavier use of drugs and alcohol among men is probably the way our culture deems it "macho" for a man to mask physical and perhaps, emotional, pain. The natural male vulnerability to physical pain is probably why men drink so heavily. Also, men (who can, in fact, be pained emotionally and psychologically inside as can be women) cannot cry in our society so they drown their emotional woes (and sometimes physical pain as from injury) with beer and booze.

Reasons men give for not having annual physicals and not visiting their physician include fear, denial, embarrassment, and a dislike of situations out of their control. These are feelings that result from their ideas of masculinity, specifically independence, control, and invulnerability.

Media encouragement[]


Portrayals of idealized masculine males in the media, like their female counterparts, are controversial for what some see as promoting an unrealistic or unachievable ideal. Here, the Carlson Twins model clothing.

According to Arran Stibbe (2004), men's health problems and behaviors can be linked to the socialized gender role of men in our culture. In exploring magazines, he found that they promote traditional masculinity and claims that, among other things, men's magazines tend to celebrate “male” activities and behavior such as admiring guns, fast cars, traditional male sports as football and prize-fighting, sexually libertine women, and reading or viewing pornography regularly. In men's magazines, several “ideal” images of men are promoted, and that these images may even entail certain health risks.

Alcohol consumption behavior[]

Research on beer commercials by Strate (Postman, Nystrom, Strate, And Weingartner 1987; Strate 1989, 1990) and by Wenner (1991) show some results relevant to studies of masculinity. In beer commercials, the ideas of masculinity (especially risk-taking) are presented and encouraged. The commercials often focus on situations where a man is overcoming an obstacle in a group. The men will either be working hard or playing hard. For instance the commercial will show men who do physical labor such as construction workers, or farm work, or men who are cowboys. Beer is shown as a reward for a job well done. Beer is also associated with the end of the day as a transition from work to leisure. Beer commercials that involve playing hard have a central theme of mastery (over nature or over each other), risk, and adventure. For instance, the men will be outdoors fishing, camping, playing sports, or hanging out in bars. There is usually an element of danger as well as a focus on movement and speed. This appeals to and emphasizes the idea that real men overcome danger and enjoy speed (i.e. fast cars/driving fast). The bar serves as a setting for test of masculinity (skills like pool, strength and drinking ability) and serves as a center for male socializing. Beer is also associated with nature. The idea that beer is natural and pure, not harmful, perhaps even healthy is strongly suggested.

Another example of the depiction of alcohol consumption and bars as central to male socialization can be found in the cartoon The Simpsons. Homer Simpson, the patriarch of the family, is often referred to as an alcoholic and spends a great deal of time at Moe's Tavern. In many episodes, Homer Simpson is portrayed as choosing to spend time at the bar drinking "Duff Beer" over spending time with his wife and children.

Men drink more alcohol than women, often engaging in risky behavior such as binge drinking.[3] According to a study done by Rorabaugh, college men are among the heaviest drinkers in American society. In exchange for taking the risk presented, college men receive acceptance from their peers. Not only is alcohol in itself a risk in these men’s lives, but some college rituals and traditions expect men to mix danger while they have consumed alcohol. In American colleges, young men view their manhood as developing in a moment that is socially dominated by alcohol.

Masculine roles[]

The following characters and roles are commonly considered in academic papers as popular hyperboles and stereotypes of masculinity.[1][2]

  • Military/fighter: Airman, Coastguard, Commando, Guard, Hoplite, Knight, Lancer, Marine, Mercenary, Ranger, Samurai, Seaman, Sailor, Sentry, Soldier, Viking
  • Other uniformed professions: Firefighter, Fireman, Park Ranger, Pilot, Police Officer, S.W.A.T.
  • Criminals: Assassin, Duellist, Gigolo, Mobster, Murderer, Pimp, Pirate
  • Superhero or Supervillain
  • Construction worker, Demolitionist, Dock Worker, Foreman, Lumberjack, Mechanic, Oil Rigger, Truck Driver
  • Cowboy
  • Entertainer: Heavy Metal Star, Film Director
  • Sports:Basketball, Rugby, Rowing, Athletics, Bodybuilding, Football, Martial Artist, Baseball, Hockey, Wrestling, Soccer
  • Male Nobility: Emperor, King, Prince, Duke, Count, Earl, Baron, Lord, Shogun
  • National Leader in many nations.

See also[]

Further reading[]

Present situation[]

  • Arrindell, Willem A., Ph.D. (1 October 2005) “Masculine Gender Role Stress” Psychiatric Times Pg. 31
  • Burstin, Fay “What’s Killing Men”. Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia). October 15 2005.
  • Canada, Geoffrey “Learning to Fight” Men’s Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001
  • Robert Connell: Masculinities, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995 ISBN 0-7456-1469-8
  • Courtenay, Will “Constructions of masculinity and their influence on men's well-being: a theory of gender and health” Social Science and Medicine, yr: 2000 vol: 50 iss: 10 pg: 1385-1401
  • Juergensmeyer, Mark (2005): Why guys throw bombs. About terror and masculinity (pdf)
  • Kaufman, Michael “The Construction of Masculinity and the Triad of Men’s Violence”. Men’s Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001
  • Reeser, T. Masculinities in Theory. Malden: Blackwell, 2010.
  • Robinson, L. (October 21 2005). Not just boys being boys: Brutal hazings are a product of a culture of masculinity defined by violence, aggression and domination. Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario).
  • Stephenson, June (1995). Men are Not Cost Effective: Male Crime in America. ISBN 0-06-095098-6
  • Williamson P. “Their own worst enemy” Nursing Times: 91 (48) 29 November 95 p 24-7
  • Wray Herbert “Survival Skills” U.S. News & World Report Vol. 139 , No. 11; Pg. 63 September 26 2005
  • "Masculinity for Boys"; published by UNESCO, New Delhi, 2006;


  • Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America, New York [etc.]: The Free Press 1996
  • A Question of Manhood: A Reader in U.S. Black Men's History and Masculinity, edited by Earnestine Jenkins and Darlene Clark Hine, Indiana University press vol1: 1999, vol. 2: 2001
  • Gary Taylor, Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood, Routledge 2002
  • Klaus Theweleit, Male fantasies, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1987 and Polity Press, 1987
  • Peter N. Stearns, Be a Man!: Males in Modern Society, Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1990


  1. Mirande, Alfredo (1997). Hombres y Machos: Masculinity and Latino Culture, p.72-74. ISBN 0-8133-3197-8.
  2. includeonly>"Are Men Better Drivers than Women?", Retrieved on 2006-11-17. (in English)
  3. includeonly>National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol's Effects?", Alcohol Alert, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1999-12. Retrieved on 2006-11-17. (in English)
  • Levine, Martin P. (1998). Gay Macho. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-4694-2.
  • Stibbe, Arran. (2004). “Health and the Social Construction of Masculinity in Men’s Health Magazine.” Men and Masculinities; 7 (1) July, pp. 31-51.
  • Strate, Lance “Beer Commercials: A Manual on Masculinity” Men’s Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001

External links[]

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