Recent research shows that men who do not feel they live up to traditional masculine gender norms may be more prone to violence.
The researchers, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, set out to understand and ultimately prevent injury and behavioral health outcomes associated with masculinity.
They focused on the influence of “masculine discrepancy stress,” that is, the stress that occurs when men perceive themselves as falling short of the traditional gender norms (i.e. feeling they are less masculine than the “typical guy”). This form of stress was measured alongside rates of stereotypically masculine behaviors outlined by the researchers as including substance use, risk-taking, and violence.
In 2012, the team recruited online 600 men aged 18 to 50 years old. The men completed surveys on self-perceptions of gender role discrepancy and consequent discrepancy stress, substance use and abuse, drunk driving, and violent assaults. Base rates of men endorsing violence were low. Only four percent of men reported using a weapon and only 11 percent reported causing injury. This is consistent with what we know about the small proportion of the population that commits the majority of violent crime, especially the most severe incidents.
Analysis indicated that men high on gender role discrepancy and attendant discrepancy stress reported significantly more assaults with a weapon and assaults causing injury.
“Gender role discrepancy and associated discrepancy stress, in particular, represent important injury risk factors and that prevention of discrepancy stress may prevent acts of violence with the greatest consequences and costs to the victim, offender, and society,” the authors write in the journal Injury Prevention. “Masculine socialization and acceptance of gender norms may induce distress in boys and men.”
However, there was no link with drug or alcohol abuse. “This may suggest that substance use/abuse behaviors are less salient methods of demonstrating traditional masculinity in contrast to behaviors related to sex and violence, perhaps due to the potentially private nature of the habit,” the researchers suggest.
On the other hand, the lack of an association may be due to the way the data was collected. Questions on substance use were not linked to the context, in terms of interpersonal relationships or situations.
The analysis did show a protective effect of gender role discrepancy for driving while intoxicated among men low on discrepancy stress.
Dr. Reidy commented, “This research indicates that, while highly masculine men are at greater risk of violence, less masculine men that experience discrepancy stress are equally at risk for violence. Therefore, preventing stress in some men about being perceived as insufficiently masculine may also prevent violence and injury.”
Efforts to reduce men’s risk of behavior likely to result in injury should, in part, focus on “the means by which masculine socialization and acceptance of gender norms may induce distress in boys and men,” they conclude.
“Preventing such behaviors would not only reduce burdens and cost associated with medical care, lost wages, and mental health anguish, it would also alleviate costs to the criminal justice system related to investigation, court proceedings, incarceration and monitoring.”
High-conforming/low-stress men and low-conforming/high-stress men seem to be at the highest risk for injury-related behaviors. So the team suggests that the two groups of men may require different prevention strategies aimed at negating the influence of gender socialization.
The same team has previously found that men with high discrepancy stress were more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, contract sexually transmitted diseases and perpetrate psychological, physical, and sexual violence.
For this study, they carried out another online survey of 600 men. It indicated that men who believe they are less masculine than the typical man (i.e., gender role discrepancy) and experience distress stemming from this discrepancy, are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behavior and are subsequently diagnosed with more sexually transmitted diseases.
They state, “Research on masculinity suggests that gender roles influence males’ sexual health by encouraging risk-taking behavior, discouraging access to health services, and narrowly defining their roles as partners. However, despite the propensity of highly masculine men to engage in high-risk sexual behavior, there is reason to suspect that men at the other end of the continuum may still be driven to engage in similar high-risk behaviors as a consequence of gender socialization.”
Despite these findings, the team believes, “It is far too early to draw conclusions or make recommendations about specific prevention strategies.”
Reidy, D. E. et al. Masculine discrepancy stress, substance use, assault and injury in a survey of US men. Injury Prevention, 26 August 2015 doi 10.1136/injuryprev-2015-042599 BMJ
Reidy, D. E. et al. Gender Role Discrepancy Stress, High-Risk Sexual Behavior, and Sexually Transmitted Disease. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 7 January 2015.