BY: SAMANTHA TAPP
Sexism is bad and it’s everywhere, we know this. We see it in beer commercials that somehow show more boobs than brew; we see it when women’s promiscuity is considered slutty, while mens’ is celebrated; we see it in the way the pay wage is still a relevant issue. But, is the only sexism we’re seeing related to women? A new study suggests that we’re missing something.
The research conducted by Indiana University Bloomington found that toxic masculinity and sexism is bad for men too. More specifically, they found that masculine norms (hello, sexism) are linked to poorer mental health and are the reason less men choose to seek psychological help.
The researchers combined the results of 78 studies with nearly 2,000 participants to find patterns between a disdain towards being vocal about mental health and conforming to traditional masculine behaviours. They used eleven norms that they assumed were viewed as ‘most masculine’ in society. These traits and behaviours included self-reliance, sexual promiscuity, dislike towards homosexuality, primacy of work, power over women and risk-taking.
Although most showed negative mental health effects, the three that had the strongest link to negative mental health, unsurprisingly, were self-reliance, power over women and sexual promiscuity.
“The masculine norms of playboy and power over women are the norms most closely associated with sexist attitudes,” the study says. “The robust and unfavourable association between conformity to these two norms and mental health-related outcomes underscores the idea that sexism is not merely a social injustice, but also has deleterious mental health-related consequences for those who embrace such attitude.”
According to Popular Science, Y. Joel Wong of Indiana University Bloomington said he was not at all surprised by the results of the study, saying this has been going on for over 20 years. He said specifically sexual promiscuity and power over women are not just related to masculinity, but are strongly linked to sexism. What has changed is not the sexism itself, but the time. In a time where mental health is more prevalent than ever, when people are urged to be vocal about their issues, men still feel secluded from this and suffer in silence.
As Wong said, it’s not surprising. It would be a mistake to ignore why this happens. Flip though any rom-com or sitcom, and you’ll see it. To society, these harmful masculine stereotypes simply represent what it means to be a man. It’s no mystery why men strive for these qualities. From an evolutionary standpoint, these qualities are seen as biologically natural and critical to be a successful man. From a cultural standpoint, it’s ingrained into everyday media just as much as it is for women to have a perfect hour-glass figure.
Andrew Reiner, a professor at Towson University, questions why we, as a society, refuse to encourage men to embrace their emotions. He notes that limiting the emotional lives of males not only harms the men themselves, but doesn’t serve society as a whole at all.
“By the time many young men do reach college, a deep-seated gender stereotype has taken root that feeds into the stories they have heard about themselves as learners,” Reiner wrote in the New York Times. “Better to earn your Man Card than to succeed like a girl, all in the name of constantly having to prove an identity to yourself and others.”
According to the results of the study, the behaviours (mainly sexual promiscuity) that hinder men’s mental health doesn’t even benefit them. What’s most disturbing isn’t that there are no real benefits for the men, but that these behaviours stop them from asking for help for mental health issues.
Reiner told Forbes, “seeing mental health counselling smacks of too much vulnerability and is perceived as the ultimate failure when it comes to masculine accountability.”
But, the researchers do believe that this problem does have a fix. It can be as simple as challenging norms, being vocal and changing the stereotypical bias towards emotional men. In 2016 we’re more open than ever about gender, sexuality, and feminism, but perhaps masculinity needs a louder voice in this conversation.