Male Psychology Basics

This section is a quick summary of the things you will find on this website. If you are just looking for the quick nuggets of info, here it is.

1. It is important to note the difference between sex (being a biological male or female) and gender (having characteristics associated with being male or female). Basically this means that people can have a male body and have a variety of ways to adopt and express gender.

2. A gender role is a set of attitudes, behaviors, and self-presentation methods ascribed to members of a certain biological sex. All cultures across all times have had what I call a “culturally preferred gender role” (CPGR; what a man is supposed to be like) that males are encouraged (or forced) to adopt. Men usually grow up learning these things and other “rules of masculinity” from their fathers, media, and peer group. The three major themes of these are:

Strength: emotional toughness, courage, self-reliance, aggression, rationality
Honor: duty, loyalty, responsibility, integrity, selflessness, compassion, generativity
Action: competitiveness, ambition, dominance, risk-taking

3. When men meet the expectations of a CPGR, there are benefits that usually include acceptance from other men, success in occupations traditionally held by men, increased social status, self-esteem, access to resources, and opportunities with potential mates. Basically, if a man thinks, feels, looks, and acts “like a man should” according to his culture, there are benefits, and these benefits reinforce men to continue with this type of masculinity. This process is what I call gender role conformity benefits.

4. However, conforming to a CPGR also brings serious negative consequences that include physical, mental, and relational health problems due to how restrictive or harmful the style of masculinity is for the individual. These problems are referred to as gender role strain and gender role conflict.

5. Men that do not conform to a CPGR do not receive the previously mentioned benefits, and instead usually experience negative consequences such as social rejection, loss of status, and fewer opportunities for work and potential mates. Therefore, many men who don’t meet the expectations of a CPGR usually either a) try to change in ways that will be more in line with a CPGR, b) reject the idea of the CPGR and find the benefits through other means, or c) make efforts to create change in what the CPGR is.

6. Basically what this means is that in most cultures, men have few options related to gender expression. Thus, most men learn and make efforts to embody a CPGR to get the benefits, and then find ways to deal with the other problems that come with it. Unfortunately, a lot of the ways men cope with these problems are unhealthy (substance abuse, escapism, violence, etc) and often lead to depression, relationship destruction, and physical illness that need professional treatment. Even worse, since self-reliance is usually part of a CPGR, men often do not seek help that they need.

7. For anyone wanting to know how to understand or work with men more effectively, I think the best advice is to a) be educated about the pressures men face to follow a CPGR, b) have compassion (rather than contempt) for their struggles in dealing with it, and c) understand that changing to go against a CPGR is very difficult and can come at great personal and social cost.

8. The Integrative Model of Masculinity (Meek, 2011) incorporates all of these threads to understand an individual male’s masculinity, and the things that influence it.