The Effects of Masculine Stereotypes on Male Suicide & Depression

Hypermasculinity Example

In our current culture there has been much attention on feminism and a movement towards equality between genders in the social aspects of everyday lives; in particular for adolescents who come more in contact with slut-shaming and harms of benevolent sexism in the classroom and workplace. Though the goal of the feminist movement is equality, the spotlight has only been aimed at one gender and failing to notice other societal expectations that harm both genders. Recent publications have brought into light a multitude of studies from within the last five years, but haven’t received much media coverage. The research reveals that acceptance of hyper masculine stereotypes by boys as they move through adolescence has been shown to have a direct correlation with stress, depression, and lower rates of overall mental health. These studies may help explain why the suicide rates for adolescent boys are four times the rate for girls and spike up to six times the rate by the time they reach their mid-20s and why parents should spend time with their sons to develop emotional literacy [1].

A study following 426 boys through middle school to access the effects of favoritism towards male stereotypical qualities, mental health rates, and parenting on one another was presented at the annual American Psychological Association by Carlos Santos, an Arizona State University’s School of Social and Family Dynamics professor in 2010. His study revealed that all ethnicities and races, thus regardless if an individual comes from a collectivistic or individualistic culture, adopted masculine stereotypes at nearly the same rate. Boys were also more likely to accept these stereotypes as they age into adolescence. However Santos’ main finding is that this was not true for boys who maintained a close relationship with their mothers.

These boys were more likely to shun masculine stereotypes, more emotionally accessible, acted “tough”–displayed emotional stoicism–less frequently, and had higher average rates of mental health on the Children’s Depression Inventory through middle school. This same effect was not found in closeness with fathers. Though Santos’ research did not look into this factor, Santos suspects that this is because men see close relationships with their sons as an opportunity to act as a guide into adulthood. Fathers exhibit continuous reinforcement of stereotypical masculine way of relating and emphasize traditional gender roles through statements of “man up” and “boys don’t cry” [2].

Wiseman, an internationally-recognized parenting educator and author of Masterminds and Wingmen, writes in an article for Time magazine that unlike how daughters are encouraged to share emotions not spending the time with sons to develop those same abilities to understand and communicate their emotions comes with costs. Niobe Way, author of Deep Secretes: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection and an applied psychology professor at NYU, has done research that backs up Wiseman’s claims. Way’s research reveals a correlation between this decline of word usage related to positive emotion and increased feelings of isolation. Boys who reported lower levels of emotional expression to friends and greater time spent digesting their emotions themselves scored higher on symptoms exhibited in depression [3]. Additionally, treating boys as emotional illiterate and forcing stereotypical masculine traits such as autonomy and toughness cause men to not seek out medical help when its needed or foster emotional connections that create a sense emotional security and well-being [2].

A study in 2001 of male undergraduate students in the United States,with similar findings in the United Kingdom and Israel, shows that only 23% of males reported crying when feeling helpless compared to 58% of females. Without developing the skills to channel emotions in a healthy way boys are taught to repress them and later learn to express their emotions through socially acceptable ways within the rigid confines of the hyper-masculine stereotype. “Rather than crying while angry, boys learn to externalize their anger by aggressive acting-out, whether verbal or physical” instead of communicating [4].

References

[1] National Institute on Mental Health. (2007). NIH Publication No. 06-4594. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-us-statistics-and-prevention/index.shtml.

[2] Harrell, Eben. (2010). Being a Mama’s Boy: Good for Your Health?. TIME Magazine. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2014038,00.html.

[3] Wiseman, Rosalind. (2013). What Boys Want. TIME Magazine. Retrieved from http://time.com/696/what-boys-want/.

[4] Vitelli, Romeo. (2013). A Crying Shame. Psychology Today: Media Spotlight. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/media-spotlight/201311/crying-shame.

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[1] Retrieved August 21, 2014, from: http://dlisted.com/2009/02/06/morning-wood-30568/.

 

Tiffany Nguyen is a sophomore studying psychology at Georgia Institute of Technology. Follow The Triple Helix Online on Twitter and join us on Facebook.

 

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