Journal article Open Access

Reactions to contemporary narratives about masculinity: A pilot study

Barry, John; Walker, Rob; Liddon, Louise; & Seager, Martin

Masculinity is frequently talked about in contemporary Western media as being in crisis, needing reform or even being ‘toxic’. However, no research to date has assessed the impact that this pervasive narrative might be having on people, particularly men themselves. This cross-sectional online pilot survey asked 203 men and 52 women (mean + SD age 46 + 13) their opinions about the terms toxic masculinity, traditional masculinity, and positive masculinity, and how they would feel if their gender was seen as the cause of their relationship or job problems. Most participants thought the term toxic masculinity insulting, probably harmful to boys, and unlikely to help men’s behaviour. Having feminist views, especially being anti-patriarchy, were correlated with more tolerance of the term toxic masculinity. Most participants said they would be unhappy if their masculinity or femininity were blamed for their work or relationship problems. Further analysis using multiple linear regression found that men’s self-esteem was significantly predicted by older age, more education, and a greater acceptance of traditional masculinity. Men’s mental positivity – which is known to be negatively correlated with suicidality – was significantly predicted by older age, a greater acceptance of traditional masculinity, and more education. Implications for the mental health of men and boys are discussed in relation to the narrative around masculinity in the media, social sciences, and in clinical psychology.

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