Researchers determined that conformity to masculine norms, otherwise known as sexism, was unfavorably linked to mental health outcomes.

Accepting sexism appears to be related to negative social functioning, which is caused by patterns of power over women, male self-reliance, and reluctance to seek help.

Accepting sexism appears to be related to negative social functioning. Photo credit: Brain Institute, Oregon Health & Science University
Accepting sexism appears to be related to negative social functioning. Photo credit: Brain Institute, Oregon Health & Science University

This allowed researchers to propose a new approach towards the general construct of sexism and tackle every issue separately, with the certainty that this would cause an improvement over the patient’s life.

Confirmed: Macho behavior takes its toll on mental health

As a base for the study, researchers used the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory, which comprehends 11 factors that account for what is perceived as a predominantly male behavior. The norms include violence, dominance, emotional control, winning, the primacy of work, disdain for homosexuality, the pursuit of status, playboy, and power over women.

In 2005, it was proposed that men who adhere to the rules of masculinity dominance in relationships perceive a better sense of identity and purpose, even if they seemed to be failing in every other aspect of their life.

To analyze the effects of sexism on mental health, researchers from the Indiana University Bloomington and Nanyang Technological University analyzed 19,453 participants and took into account their adherence to masculine norms and how likely they were to seek psychological help. The meta-analysis took self-esteem and social connectedness with others as the main factors that could be related to a healthy mental state.

Three areas appeared to be the most harmful for the mental health of men, these being self-reliance, sexual promiscuity, and power over women. Researchers point out that self-reliance is easily the least dangerous of the three, seeing that males frequently have to rely on others to achieve their objectives. It is consequently harder to depend on oneself to accomplish great tasks, which is why even the proudest of men will join others that share similar goals.

The two remaining areas are the main issue that evolved into what we know as sexism. This is no surprise for researchers, who claim that this has been evidenced throughout history, but now it is the first time the idea has been linked with a person’s mental health.

Times have changed, and men should too

Power over women and promiscuity have existed since antiquity, and they have been labeled as characteristics of powerful people such as kings, criminals, politicians, and celebrities. As time passes, these activities have been slowly categorized as unacceptable and harmful towards women, and now it seems that this also takes its toll on the mental health of men.

“Perhaps 30 years ago you could behave in a sexist manner, you could do and say things that’d be inappropriate and get away with it. People would suffer in silence and not speak out. But that’s changed a lot,” stated Y. Joel Wong to Popular Science.

The main issue is that many males believe that these traits are inherently present in their genes, while in reality these behaviors can be changed, so they are no longer needed for achieving success as a species. These factors or activities of male-dominant behavior are often seen as beneficial traits, where men are expected to stand up to the toughest circumstances, and any man who is a playboy is usually respected and highly esteemed in his social circle.

The research emphasizes that too much of self-reliance, promiscuity or power over women can lead to an adverse effect on the person’s mental health. This is mostly because, if the individual finds itself in a situation where it would have to take a course of action that would acknowledge him as weak towards women, or any activity that would go against the traits mentioned above, it would emasculate them. Then the person would suffer in silence and hold in a deep feeling of discomfort that can remain buried for years, influencing new patterns of thought and activities.

To fight onset sexism, having access to new ideas seems to be one of the most efficient methods. Knowing that in other parts of the world women are respected and empowered can often lead to new ideas, perhaps allowing the person to realize that there is no need to discriminate women or feel a sense of power over them.

Researchers also suggested that for clinical practice, clinicians should try to lead their clients to understand the negative implications of masculine-dominant behavior.

“For instance, men who are extremely self-reliant and emotionally controlled might potentially struggle with seeking help and developing intimate relationships with others,” wrote the authors on the paper published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

It was also proposed that the primacy of work can result in conformity to masculine norms when in reality it can be both a cause of stress and a source of a meaningful life. Although the data seemed conclusive, researchers admitted that they should have kept a record of race diversification and social class, which could have provided valuable information on whether conformity to masculine norms had a higher impact, for instance, on men of color with low-income.

Source: Journal of Counseling Psychology