According to a study published in the Journal of Counselling Psychology there may be link between adopting traditional male gender norms and poor mental health.
Researchers at the University of Indiana collected data from 78 different previously published studies about men, mental health and perceptions of masculinity. With information from 19,453 participants, Joel Y Wong and his team analysed the data with 11 dimensions of masculine norms in mind:
Dominance, winning, emotional control, pursuit of playboy behaviour, primacy of work, self-reliance, level of homophobia, pursuit of status, power over women, risk-taking, violence.
Conformity to masculine norms was more strongly correlated with negative social functioning than with psychological indicators of negative mental health.
In particular, men conforming to the masculine norms of self-reliance, power over women and playboy were “unfavourably, robustly, and consistently related to mental health-related outcomes”.
Dr Jo River, whose research topics cover men’s health and suicide prevention in the University of Sydney, argues that the study adopts a simplified approach to gender norms:
The key thing is that men’s attitudes towards ideals of masculinity don’t tell us about the power relationships among men and masculinities, and how this impacts on the mental health outcomes for some men, in particular how men from diverse backgrounds are impacted by those men who choose to embody these dominant ideals of masculinity
Raewyn Connell, professor of social sciences also at Sydney University reiterates this theory:
The statistical technique of meta-analysis has value for some purposes, but always adds further difficulties of interpretation. To think this report could tell us anything clear and substantial about men in general is a major stretch.
A different study by William Henry, which looked at perceptions of manhood and its effect on male mental health, found that ‘traditional’ ideas of masculinity like self-reliance and dominance can impact men’s health.
While the study needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, its findings open the door to an in-depth and much-needed conversation about the proliferation and impact of gender normative ideas on men.