If someone studying the psychology of men only examined things through gender role conflict and social construction lenses, he/she would be left bewildered by why anyone would want to be masculine or maintain a traditional masculine gender role since it can cause such significant problems. Yet, vast numbers of men embrace at least some (if not most) of those characteristics and behaviors despite experience of gender role strain and conflict. So why does this traditional masculinity continue in the US and comparable versions persist across the globe? Some researchers and writers say that it is a way to maintain inequality, other cite the inter-generational transmission process or larger cultural pressures.
An additional explanation that gets very little consideration in the professional literature is that men who maintain at least some level of culturally preferred masculinity benefit tremendously, often outweighing the costs associated with it. The tendency for following a culturally preferred brand of masculinity benefiting the person is what I call “gender role conformity benefits” (GRCB). Put simply, a culturally preferred gender role is functional and advantageous in many aspects of men’s lives. I believe that GRCB is the primary factor that prevents men from readily adopting (and teaching their sons) more flexible gender roles, which would reduce gender role conflict and associated problems.
Some of the benefits of GRCB are:
1. Acceptance from other men
2. Success in activities and occupations traditionally pursued by, or required of men
3. Interest from potential mates
4. Increased self-esteem
Think of it this way. Each culture has their expected way of “being a man” that is collectively taught and wide accepted. When a male fulfills this expected role, he is more readily accepted by other men, will have the characteristics to be successful in professions occupied by men, and will therefore have an increased social status, income, self-esteem, and greater romantic interest from others. These are the rewards that apply pressure from the other side. It’s not just the negative things (strain, conflict) that motivate compliance with a gender role, but also the benefits that come along with successfully adopting it.
In conclusion, for individual men, a tension exists related to gender role. Maintaining a certain level of a culturally preferred style of masculinity is the source of great rewards (gender role conformity benefits) and also the source of problems (gender role strain and conflict).