Fascinating research released by the American Psychological Association shows associations between conformity to gender norms and negative mental health outcomes among men. The meta-analysis of 78 research samples involving 19,453 participants, led by Joel Wong, showed particularly strong associations between sexist norms of 'pursuit of playboy behaviour' and 'power over women'.
Narratives that male dominance and sexual prowess are normative, natural and desirable legitimise and excuse sexual and domestic violence. This has been inexorably illustrated in the election of Donald Trump, where millions of people dismissed and forgave his bragging of having sexually assaulted women.
This study shows, however, that social legitimacy of 'playboy behaviour' and asserting power over women doesn't lead to increased well-being. Rather, as Connell & Messerschmidt articulate, the dehumanisation that adhering to these traits necessitates impedes empathy and the ability to relate emotionally - factors associated with well-being. Gender equality really is better for all of us:
Hegemonic masculinities are likely to involve specific patterns of internal division and emotional conflict, precisely because of their association with gendered power […] Any strategy for the maintenance of power is likely to involve a dehumanizing of other groups and a corresponding withering of empathy and emotional relatedness within the self (Schwalbe 1992). Without treating privileged men as objects of pity, we should recognize that hegemonic masculinity does not necessarily translate into a satisfying experience of life (Connell & Messerschmidt 1995: 852).
Interestingly, no significant association was found in the study between 'the primacy of work' and mental health-related outcomes. As highlighted by Wong, this likely reflects the complexity of work and implications for well-being. Research by the Department for Work and Pensions shows that being employed in some capacity can be beneficial for well-being. However, the link with poor mental health may be more visible during periods of unemployment for men. Research by the Samaritans suggests that job loss and unemployment can be factors which makes men vulnerable to suicide due to the shame associated with falling short of the 'bread winner' ideal.
We'll be publishing research soon on employment and mental health and looking to explore how the themes relate to gender conditioning through discussion and events. Get in touch with me if you'd like to stay informed: email@example.com
“Some of these sexist masculine norms, like being a playboy and power over women, aren’t just a social injustice, but they are also potentially bad for your mental health,” said Joel Wong, an associate professor of counseling psychology at Indiana University Bloomington and lead author of the study.