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"Masculine" redirects here. For other uses, see Masculine (disambiguation).
"Manliness" redirects here. For the book by Harvey Mansfield, see Manliness (book).

Masculinity is a set of qualities, characteristics or roles generally considered typical of, or appropriate to, a man. It can have degrees of comparison: "more masculine", "most masculine'". The opposite can be expressed by terms such as "unmanly'" or epicene.[1] A near-synonym of masculinity is virility (from Latin vir, man). Constructs of masculinity vary across historical and cultural contexts. The dandy, for instance, was regarded as an ideal of masculinity in the 19th century, but is considered effeminate by modern standards.[2]

Academic study of masculinity underwent a massive expansion of interest in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with courses in the United States dealing with masculinity rising from 30 to over 300.[3] This has led to the investigation of the intersection of masculinity with other axes of social discrimination and also to the use of concepts from other fields – such as feminism's model of the social construct of gender.[4]

Nature versus nurture

The extent to which masculinity is a result of nature or nurture, a matter of what someone is born with or how they are socialised, has been the subject of much debate. Genome research has yielded much information about the development of masculine characteristics and the process of sexual differentiation specific to the reproductive system of human beings.. The SRY gene on the Y chromosome, which is critical for male sexual development, activates SOX9.[5] SOX9 associates with Sf1 to increase the level of Anti-Müllerian hormone to repress female development while activating and forming a feedforward loop with FGF9, which creates the testis cords and is responsible for the proliferation of sertoli cells.[6] The activation of SRY interferes with the process of creating a female, causing a chain of events that leads to testes formation, androgen production, and a range of pre-natal and post-natal hormonal effects. There is an extensive debate about how children develop gender identities. On the nature side of the debate, it is argued that masculinity is inextricably linked with the male body. In this view, masculinity is something that is associated with the biological male sex and having male genitalia, for instance, is regarded as a key aspect of masculinity.[7]

Others have suggested that while masculinity may be influenced by biological factors, it is also culturally constructed. Proponents of this view argue that women can become men hormonally and physically [7] and that many aspects that are assumed to be natural are linguistically and therefore culturally driven. On the nurture side of the debate, it is argued that masculinity does not have a single source of origin or creator such as the media, certain institutions, or certain groups of people. While the military, for example, has a vested interest in constructing and promoting a specific form of masculinity, it does not create it from scratch and masculinity has influenced the creation of the military in the first place.[8] However, as an example of socialisation into masculinity, facial hair has been linked to masculinity through language, in such forms as stories about boys becoming men when they start to shave.[9]

Hegemonic masculinity

Main article: Hegemonic masculinity

Traditional avenues for men to gain honor were that of providing adequately for their families and exercising leadership.[10] Connell has labelled the traditional male roles and privileges hegemonic masculinity. This is the norm, something that men are expected to aspire to and that women are discouraged from adopting. According to Connell: “Hegemonic masculinity can be defined as the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees the dominant position of men and the subordination of women.”[11] (Connell, 2001)

Critics of masculinity

It is a subject of debate whether masculinity concepts followed historically should still be applied. However, researchers have argued that there is a harmful current of masculine criticism related to the following:

  • The reshaping of contemporary values that traditional masculists uphold.
  • The gender war feminist groups have been waging on traditional masculinity values and roles.
  • Cultural hostilities that society has placed on masculine values.
  • The promotion of masculinity in women and the pressuring of men to become more feminized.

The images of boys and young men presented in the media may lead to the persistence of harmful concepts of masculinity. Men's rights activists argue that the media does not pay serious attention to men's rights issues and that men are often portrayed in a negative light, particularly in advertising.[12]

Scholar Peter Jackson writes that the dominant forms of masculinity can be "economically exploitative" and socially oppressive." He asserts, "the form of oppression varies from patriarchal controls over women's bodies and reproductive rights, through ideologies of domesticity, femininity and compulsory heterosexuality, to social definitions of the value of work, the nature of skill and the differential remuneration of 'productive' and reproductive' labor."[13]

Masculine gender role stress

In 1987, Eisler and Skidmore did studies on masculinity and created the idea of 'masculine stress'. They found three mechanisms of masculinity that accompany masculine gender role often result in emotional stress. They include:

  • The emphasis on prevailing in situations requiring body and fitness
  • Being perceived as emotional
  • The need to feel adequate in regard to sexual matters and financial status

Because of social norms and pressures associated with masculinity, Men with spinal cord injuries have to adapt their self-identity to the losses associated with SCI which may “lead to feelings of decreased physical and sexual prowess with lowered self-esteem and a loss of male identity. Feelings of guilt and overall loss of control are also experienced.”[14]

Masculinity is something that some fear is becoming increasingly challenged, especially in the last century, with the emergence of Women's rights and the development of the role of women in society. In recent years many 'Man Laws' and similar masculinist manifestos have been published, as a way for men to re-affirm their masculinity. A popular example is the Miller Lite Man Laws, and other various sites on the internet offering rules such as: "15. A real man does not need instruction manuals."[15] Although many of these rules are offered in a humorous fashion, they attempt to define masculinity, and indicate that proper gender is taught and performed rather than intuited.

Research also suggests that men feel social pressure to endorse traditional masculine male models in advertising. Research by Martin and Gnoth (2009) found that feminine men preferred feminine models in private, but stated a preference for the traditional masculine models when their collective self was salient. In other words, when concerned about being classified by other men as feminine, feminine men endorsed traditional masculine models. The authors suggested this result reflected the social pressure on men to endorse traditional masculine norms.[16]

An emerging discourse regarding masculinities in relation to other men has emerged and relates to a man's social status and political power. Dr. Joseph Pleck[17] explains that there is an inherent system of relations in male-to-male relationships within North American patriarchal society. Hierarchies are demarcated by levels of masculinity which are equated to physical composition when men are young, and the acquisition of wealth and women when men age.[17]

Pleck argues that the hierarchy of masculinities among men exist largely in a dichotomy of homo/heterosexual males and explains that "our society uses the male heterosexual-homosexual dichotomy as a central symbol for all the rankings of masculinity, for the division on any grounds between males who are "real men" and have power, and males who are not".[17] Kimmel [18] furthers this notion and adds that the trope "you're so gay" indicates that one is devoid of masculinity, rather than being sexually attracted to members of the same sex. Pleck argues that to avoid the continuation of male oppression of women and themselves and other men, patriarchal structures, institutions, and discourse must be eliminated from North American society.

In the New York Times bestselling book, Raising Cain: Protecting The Emotional Life of Boys authors Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson argue that although all boys are born as loving and empathetic creatures, their exposure to gender socialization, specifically to the tough male ideal and hypermasculinity, invalidates the male character and limits the ability for boys and men to function as healthy emotional adults. The authors argue that boys lack the ability to understand and express emotions productively because of the stress of masculine gender roles.[19]

Notion of "masculinity in crisis"

A mounting discourse of "masculinity in crisis" has emerged arguing that masculinity is in a state of crisis.[20][21] For instance, Australian archeologist Peter McAllister stated, "I have a strong feeling that masculinity is in crisis. Men are really searching for a role in modern society; the things we used to do aren't in much demand anymore".[22] Others see the changing labor market as a source of the alleged crisis. Deindustrialization and the replacement of old smokestack industries with new technologies has allowed more women to enter the labor force and reduced the demand for great physical strength.[23]

The supposed crisis has also been frequently attributed to feminism and a resulting questioning both of men's dominance over women and the rights which had been granted to men solely on the basis of their sex.[24] British sociologist John MacInnes argued that "masculinity has always been in one crisis or another" and suggested that the crises arise from the "fundamental incompatibility between the core principle of modernity that all human beings are essentially equal (regardless of their sex) and the core tenet of patriarchy that men are naturally superior to women and thus destined to rule over them."[25]

Academic John Beynon examined the discourse surrounding the notion of masculinity in crisis and found that masculinity and men are often confused and conflated so that it remains unclear whether masculinity, men, or both are supposed to be in crisis.[26] He further argues that the alleged crisis is not a recent phenomenon and points out several periods of masculine crisis throughout history, many of which predate the women's movement and post-industrial societies. He suggests that due to the fact that masculinity is always changing and redefined, "crisis is constitutive of masculinity itself."[27] Film scholar Leon Hunt contends in the same vein, "Whenever masculinity's 'crisis' actually started, it certainly seems to have been in place by the 1970s".[28]

Western trends

According to a paper submitted by Tracy Tylka to the American Psychological Association (APA), in contemporary America: "Instead of seeing a decrease in objectification of women in society, there has just been an increase in the objectification of both sexes. And you can see that in the media today." Men and women restrict their food intake in an effort to achieve what they consider an attractively thin body, in extreme cases leading to eating disorders.[29]

Thomas Holbrook, also a psychiatrist, cites a recent Canadian study indicating as many as one in six of those with eating disorders were men.[30]

"Younger men and women who read fitness and fashion magazines could be psychologically harmed by the images of perfect female and male physiques," according to recent research in the United Kingdom. Some young women and men exercise excessively in an effort to achieve what they consider an attractively fit and muscular body, which in extreme cases can lead to body dysmorphic disorder or muscle dysmorphia.[31][32][33]

Although the actual stereotypes may have remained relatively constant, the value attached to masculine stereotypes have changed over the past few decades and it has been argued that masculinity is an unstable phenomenon and never ultimately achieved.[9]


The driver crash rate per vehicle miles driven is higher for women than for men; although, men are much more likely to cause deaths in the accidents they are involved in.[34] Men drive significantly more miles than women, so, on average, they are more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents. Even in the narrow category of young (16–20) driver fatalities with a high blood alcohol content (BAC), a male's risk of dying is higher than a female's risk at the Same BAC level.[35] That is, young women drivers need to be more drunk to have the same risk of dying in a fatal accident as young men drivers.

Health care

A growing body of evidence is pointing toward the deleterious impact of masculinity (and hegemonic masculinity in particular) on men's health help-seeking behaviour.[36] American men make 134.5 million fewer physician visits than American women each year. In fact, men make only 40.8% of all physician visits, that is, if women's visits for pregnancy are included, childbirth and associated obstetrical and gynecological visits. A quarter of the men who are 45 to 60 do not have a personal physician. Many men should go to annual heart checkups with physicians but do not, increasing their risk of death from heart disease. Men between the ages of 25 and 65 are four times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women. Men are more likely to be diagnosed in a later stage of a terminal illness because of their reluctance to go to the doctor.

Reasons men give for not having annual physicals and not visiting their physician include fear, denial, embarrassment, a dislike of situations out of their control, or not worth the time or cost.

Media encouragement

Arran Stibbe (2004) analysed issues of a prominent men's health magazine in the year 2000, and claimed that while ostensibly being focused on health, the magazine also promoted hegemonic (traditional) masculinity. These potentially damaging male behaviors included the excessive consumption of convenience foods and meats, drinking of alcohol, and unsafe sex.

Alcohol consumption behavior

Research on beer commercials by Strate (Postman, Nystrom, Strate, And Weingartner 1987; Strate 1989, 1990) and by Wenner (1991) show some results relevant to studies of masculinity. In beer commercials, the ideas of masculinity (especially risk-taking) are presented and encouraged. The commercials often focus on situations where a man is overcoming an obstacle in a group. The men will either be working hard or playing hard. For instance the commercial will show men who do physical labor such as construction workers, or farm work, or men who are cowboys. Beer commercials that involve playing hard have a central theme of mastery (over nature or over each other), risk, and adventure. For instance, the men will be outdoors fishing, camping, playing sports, or hanging out in bars. There is usually an element of danger as well as a focus on movement and speed. This appeals to and emphasizes the idea that real men overcome danger and enjoy speed (i.e. fast cars/driving fast). The bar serves as a setting for the measurement of masculinity (skills like pool, strength and drinking ability) and serves as a center for male socializing.


Concepts of masculinity have varied according to time and place and are constantly subject to change and thus, argues Connell, it is more appropriate to talk of masculinities than of a single masculinity.[37]


"Viri autem propria maxime est fortitudo." Cicero, Tusculanae Quaestiones, 1:11:18.

In translation, Cicero states: "a man's chief quality is courage." Ancient literature goes back to about 3000 BC. It includes both explicit statements of what was expected of men in laws, and implicit suggestions about masculinity in myths involving gods and heroes. In 1000 BC, the Hebrew Bible states King David of Israel told his son "Be strong, and be a man" upon David's death. Men throughout history have gone to meet exacting cultural standards of what is considered attractive. Kate Cooper, writing about ancient understandings of femininity, suggests that, "Wherever a woman is mentioned a man's character is being judged – and along with it what he stands for."[38] One well-known representative of this literature is the Code of Hammurabi (from about 1750 BC).

  • Rule 3: "If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death."
  • Rule 128: "If a man takes a woman to wife, but has no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him."[39]

Scholars suggest integrity and equality as masculine values in male-male relationships,[40] and virility in male-female relationships. Legends of ancient heroes include The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Such narratives are considered to reveal qualities in the hero that inspired respect, like wisdom or courage, the knowing of things that other men do not know and the taking of risks that other men would not dare.


Jeffrey Richards describes a European, "medieval masculinity which was essentially Christian and chivalric."[41] Again ethics, courage, respect towards women of all classes, and generosity are seen as characteristic of the portrayal of men in literary history. The Anglo Saxons Hengest and Horsa and Beowulf are famous examples of medieval ideals of masculinity. Rosen argues that the traditional view of scholars such as J. R. R. Tolkien that Beowulf is a tale of medieval heroism overlooks the many similarities in description of both Beowulf and Grendel, the monster. Beowulf's masculinity is seen to "cut men off from women, other men, passion and the household".[42]


Main article: Victorian masculinity

In the Victorian era of Great Britain, masculinities were undergoing a transformation from their traditional 'heroic' scripts. As the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote in 1831:

Modern times

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the traditional family structure consisted of the father as the bread-winner and the mother as the homemaker. Other examples of modern masculinity shifting radically from the masculinities of Victorian and earlier times include the willingness of men to defy stereotypes. For example, regardless of age or nationality, men more frequently rank good health, harmonious family life and good relationships with their spouse or partner as important to their quality of life.[43]


In many cultures, displaying characteristics not typical to one's gender may become a social problem for the individual. Within sociology such labeling and conditioning is known as gender assumptions, and is a part of socialization to better match a culture's mores. Among men, some non-standard behaviors may be considered a sign of homosexuality, which frequently runs contrary to cultural notions of masculinity. When sexuality is defined in terms of object choice, as in early sexology studies, male homosexuality is interpreted as feminine sexuality. The corresponding social condemnation of excessive masculinity may be expressed in terms such as machismo or testosterone poisoning.

The relative importance of the roles of socialization and genetics in the development of masculinity continues to be debated. While social conditioning obviously plays a role, some, such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, hold that certain aspects of the 'feminine' and 'masculine' identity instinctively exist at subconscious levels in males of all human cultures. The historical development of gender role is addressed by such fields as behavioral genetics, evolutionary psychology, human ecology, anthropology and sociology. All human cultures seem to encourage the development of gender roles, through literature, costume and song. Some examples of this might include the epics of Homer, Hengest and Horsa tales in English, the normative commentaries of Confucius. More specialized treatments of masculinity may be found in works such as the Bhagavad Gita or bushidō's Hagakure.

Another term for a masculine woman is butch, which is associated with lesbianism. Butch is also used within the lesbian community, without a negative connotation, but with a more specific meaning (Davis and Lapovsky Kennedy, 1989).

See also


  • Levine, Martin P. (1998). Gay Macho. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-4694-2.
  • Stibbe, Arran. (2004). "Health and the Social Construction of Masculinity in Men's Health Magazine." Men and Masculinities; 7 (1) July, pp. 31–51.
  • Strate, Lance "Beer Commercials: A Manual on Masculinity" Men's Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001

Further reading

Present situation
  • Arrindell, Willem A., Ph.D. (1 October 2005) "Masculine Gender Role Stress" Psychiatric Times Pg. 31
  • Ashe, Fidelma (2007) The New Politics of Masculinity, London and New York: Routledge.
  • bell hooks, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, Taylor & Francis 2004, ISBN 0-415-96927-1
  • Broom A. and Tovey P. (Eds) Men’s Health: Body, Identity and Social Context London; John Wiley and Sons Inc.
  • Burstin, Fay "What's Killing Men". Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia). October 15, 2005.
  • Canada, Geoffrey "Learning to Fight" Men's Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001
  • Courtenay, Will "Constructions of masculinity and their influence on men's well-being: a theory of gender and health" Social Science and Medicine, yr: 2000 vol: 50 iss: 10 pg: 1385–1401
  • Galdas P.M. and Cheater F.M. (2010) Indian and Pakistani men’s accounts of seeking medical help for angina and myocardial infarction in the UK: Constructions of marginalised masculinity or another version of hegemonic masculinity? Qualitative Research in Psychology
  • Juergensmeyer, Mark (2005): Why guys throw bombs. About terror and masculinity (pdf)
  • Kaufman, Michael "The Construction of Masculinity and the Triad of Men's Violence". Men's Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001
  • Levant & Pollack (1995) A New Psychology of Men, New York: BasicBooks
  • Mansfield, Harvey. Manliness. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-300-10664-5
  • Reeser, T. Masculinities in Theory, Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  • Robinson, L. (October 21, 2005). Not just boys being boys: Brutal hazings are a product of a culture of masculinity defined by violence, aggression and domination. Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario).
  • Stephenson, June (1995). Men are Not Cost Effective: Male Crime in America. ISBN 0-06-095098-6
  • Simpson, Mark (1994). Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-41590991-0. Also published by Cassell, London, ISBN 0-304-32808-1 pbk,
  • Walsh, Fintan. Male Trouble: Masculinity and the Performance of Crisis. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Williamson P. "Their own worst enemy" Nursing Times: 91 (48) 29 November 95 p 24–7
  • Wray Herbert "Survival Skills" U.S. News & World Report Vol. 139, No. 11; Pg. 63 September 26, 2005
  • "Masculinity for Boys"; published by UNESCO, New Delhi, 2006;
  • Smith, Bonnie G., Hutchison, Beth. Gendering Disability. Rutgers University Press, 2004.
  • Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America, New York [etc.]: The Free Press 1996
  • A Question of Manhood: A Reader in U.S. Black Mens History and Masculinity, edited by Earnestine Jenkins and Darlene Clark Hine, Indiana University press vol1: 1999, vol. 2: 2001
  • Gary Taylor, Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood, Routledge 2002
  • Klaus Theweleit, Male fantasies, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1987 and Polity Press, 1987
  • Peter N. Stearns, Be a Man!: Males in Modern Society, Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1990
  • Shuttleworth, Russell. "Disabled Masculinity." Gendering Disability. Ed. Bonnie G. Smith and Beth Hutchison. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2004. 166–178.

External links


  • The Men's Bibliography, a comprehensive bibliography of writing on men, masculinities, gender and sexualities, listing over 16,700 works. (mainly from a constructionist perspective)
  • Boyhood Studies, features a 2200+ bibliography of young masculinities.


  • Practical Manliness, A manly blog that applies "historical ideals to modern men".
  • The ManKind Project of Chicago, supporting men in leading meaningful lives of integrity, accountability, responsibility, and emotional intelligence
  • NIMH web pages on men and depression, talks about men and their depression and how to get help.
  • Article entitled "Wounded Masculinity: Parsifal and The Fisher King Wound" The symbolism of the story as it relates to the Wounded Masculinity of Men by Richard Sanderson M.Ed., B.A.
  • BULL, Print and online literary journal specializing in masculine fiction for a male audience.
  • Art of Manliness, An online web magazine/blog dedicated to "reviving the lost art of manliness".
  • The Masculinity Conspiracy, An online book critiquing constructions of masculinity.
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