Gender role is generally defined as a set of attitudes, behaviors, and self-presentation methods ascribed to members of a certain biological sex. This includes norms for behavior, which some researchers have started to call “the rules of masculinity” or “masculine ideology.”
These include prescriptions for ways to act (be tough, stay in control, etc), attitudes to hold (work is very important, women should be be primary caregivers to children, etc), and ways to look (wear pants and suits, wear hair short, etc). It also includes proscriptions for ways not to act (don’t cry, don’t be a wimp, etc), attitudes not to hold (want to be a stay-at-home dad, it’s OK for my wife to earn more money than me, etc), and ways not to present oneself (don’t wear a dress, don’t have long hair, etc).
Similar to sex differences, there are many debates about the nature and nurture of gender roles. Some believe that these attitudes and behaviors naturally flow from biological sex and personality traits, whereas others see them as complete cultural constructions.
In reading a variety of work on these characteristics (most of which are outlined below), I believe that this work is in need of a more flexible organizing framework, and this can be used to understand the remaining concepts on this site. Therefore, I use the following three themes that make up male gender roles:
1. Strength: emotional toughness, courage, self-reliance, rationality
2. Honor: duty, loyalty, responsibility, integrity, selflessness, compassion, generativity
3. Action: competitiveness, ambition, risk-taking, agency, volition
Using this model, we can also examine different levels of them. If the above might represent a “positive” or “balanced” masculinity (male gender role presentation), below we can see levels of “hypomasculinity” and “hypermasculinity.” These clusters are generally viewed as the less healthy masculinity characteristics in the US, and many other societies.
1. Weakness: emotional fragility, excessive fear, dependence, irrationality
2. Ambivalence: unreliability, irresponsibility, being non-committal
3. Inactivity: lethargy, submissiveness, complacency
1. Coldness: stoicism, relational cutoff, fearlessness
2. Sociopathy: vanity, arrogance, manipulation, selfishness, lack of conscience
3. Hostility: violence, life endangering risks, hyper-aggression
Some researchers have also tried to explore whether there is a “universal masculine” gender role, that can be seen in all cultures during all times. This proves to be quite difficult, but there are several types of social roles that have been highlighted (Gregor, 1985). Specifically, those are:
(1) Provider: Secure and provide resources
(2) Protector: Defend others and territory
Other researchers examine larger cultural trends of male gender roles. Some notable work on this includes Levant et al (1992), who summarized traditional (hegemonic) American masculinity into seven principles. It is important to note that although these are a general trajectory for many men, that there are many different configurations of expression of these depending on individual and sub-cultural differences.
(1) restrict emotions
(2) avoid being feminine
(3) focus on toughness and aggression
(4) be self-reliant
(5) make achievement the top priority
(6) be non-relational
(7) objectify sex
(8) be homophobic
Another popular structuring of this was by David & Brannon (1976), who described the four standards of the traditional American masculinity:
(1) “no sissy stuff”
Distance self from femininity, homophobia, avoid emotions
(2) “be a big wheel”
Strive for achievement and success, focus on competition
(3) “be a sturdy oak”
Avoid vulnerability, stay composed and in control, be tough
(4) “give em hell”
Act aggressively to become dominant
In contrast to what is often viewed as a negative angle on masculinity, a set of studies and papers has been focusing on positive traits associated with traditional concepts of masculinity (Hammer & Good, 2010; Kiselica et al, 2008; O’Neil, 2008; Levant, 1992). A recently presented framework for this focuses on the following 10 “strengths” of masculinity (Kiselica & Englar-Carlson, 2010):
1. Male relational styles: males form relationships through shared instrumental activities
2. Male ways of caring: protecting others and action-empathy
3. Generative fathering: engaging and responding to a child’s needs while attending to larger development
4. Male self-reliance: using resources to overcome adversity and “be your own man”
5. Worker/provider tradition: having meaningful work that provides for others
6. Group orientation: males tend to collaborate and associate in larger networks
7. Male courage: males can achieve great things through daring and risk-taking
8. Humanitarian service: fraternal organizations have a strong history of service for others
9. Men’s use of humor: this can be a means for connecting to others and coping with stress
10. Male heroism: heroic acts have a long tradition as part of manhood.
- David & Brannon (1976). The Forty-nine percent majority: The male sex role. Addison-Wesley.
- Hammer & Good (2010). Positive Psychology: An Empirical Examination of Beneficial Aspects of Endorsement of Masculine Norms. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 11(4), 303–318.
- Kiselica, M., Englar-Carlson, M., Horne, A., & Fisher, M. (2008). A positive psychology perspective on helping boys. In M. Kiselica, M. Englar-Carlson, & A. Horne (Eds.), Counseling Troubled Boys: A Guidebook for Professionals. (pp. 31–48). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
- Kiselica & Englar-Carlson (2010). Identifying, affirming, and building upon male strengths: the positive psychology/positive masculinity model of psychotherapy with boys and men. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 47(3), 276–287.
- Levant, R. (1992). Toward the reconstruction of masculinity. Journal of Family Psychology, 5, 379–402.
- Levant et al (1992). The male role: An investigation of norms and stereotypes. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 14, 325-337.
- O’Neil, J. M. (2008). Summarizing 25 years of research on men’s gender role conflict using the Gender Role Conflict Scale: New research paradigms and clinical implications. The Counseling Psychologist, 36, 358.
- Gregor (1985). Anxious pleasures. University of Chicago Press