Masculinity & Gender-Role Conflict: A Historical & Theoretical Overview

Before gender roles were considered products of social construction, academia — specifically psychology — considered gender expression as psychologically inevitable (Pleck, 1981). This underlying assumption, guiding a majority of research on masculinity, was rarely questioned, much less deeply examined. Pleck, with his seminal book, The Myth of Masculinity, changed this circumstance, providing a deep analysis and ultimate refusal of the male sex role identity paradigm (MSRI) — his term for the psychological assumption that gender identity was the result of psychological processes (Pleck, 1981). MSRI paradigm, according to Pleck (1981), had a deeply problematic view of masculinity.

Considered all together, one can summarize MSRI paradigm as the following: (1) individuals have a deep psychological need to match a particular gender identity as biologically determined by their sex, (2) cultural processes and observational learning guides — but not creates — a person’s sense of gender, (3) failure to match a biologically appropriate gender identity leads to adverse consequences such as negative behaviors towards women or homosexuality, and (4) societal changes regarding gender makes it more likely that men will fail to match their psychologically-needed gender identity (Pleck,1981).

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As Pleck (1981) scrutinizes the MSRI paradigm in his book, the theory fails to properly account for the data and findings psychological research has provided.

The data disconfirming the MSRI paradigm includes the findings that some masculine these createdmakeaits are correlated with negative psychological outcomes and an androgynous gender expression is associated with high psychological adByandtoStatesjustment. With discounting the MSRI paradigm, Pleck (1981, 1995) provides an alternative view of gender identity and expression, which he names the Gender Role Strain Paradigm (GRSP).

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With inspiration from the psychological findings discussed as well as the Feminist scholarship and activism prevalent contemporaneously, the theory provides an alternative account of masculinity. GSRP contends that (1) cultural practices and societal norms create gender roles, (2) an individual’s endorsement of these gender roles, or lack thereof, leads to that person’s gender expression, (3) violation of gender norms can lead to condemnation, and (4) endorsement of gender norms may lead to adverse consequences for the individual and their interactions with society (Pleck 1981, 1985). Using a similar conceptualization of gender, O’Neil (1981) created the concept of gender role conflict. O’Neil (1981) defined gender role conflict as the process of confining gender roles negatively affecting a person’s interactions with the self and others. According to O’Neil (1981), the societal assumptions imparted to men — including the superiority of males over females, the importance of sexual dominance, and the condemnation of traditionally feminine things — lead to immense anxiety to conform to the traditional notion of masculinity. This “fear of femininity” forces thoughts and behaviors that harm men and the people around them (O’Neil, 1981). With these theoretical breakthroughs, researchers sought out to define and operationalize masculinity in order to effectively study it. However, a fundamental problem arose.

If society dictated masculinity, there can exist no universal concept of masculinity for different cultures and historical periods would create different masculinities (Pleck, 1995). With this in mind, researchers have focused on the traditional masculinity ideology: the dominant view of masculinity in the United Status (the Levant, 1996). Traditional masculinity ideology’s deepest theoretical roots derive from the work of David & Bannon (1976). David and Bannon (1976) identified four key aspects of traditional masculinity: the avoidance of femininity, the desire for respect and success, the denial of weakness, and the predilection for risk-taking. With this as its foundation, Levant et al. (1992) developed the male role norms inventory (MRI). This scale’s latest iteration, MRNI-R, has demonstrated high reliability and validity (Levant et al., 2007). The MRNI-R effectively measures (1) the avoidance of femininity, (2) disdain towards homosexuality, (3) nonhealthy self-reliance, (4) aggression, (5) dominance, (6) sexuality removed from intimacy, and (7) difficulty in expressing emotions. While ethnic differences in traditional masculinity ideologdefinitionMRIthe y are seen, with African-Americans as the group with the most endorsement, the MRNI-R has been an essential tool in studying the traditional masculinity ideology. In order toTotoStatest study gender role conflict, O’Neil et al. (1986) developed the gender role conflict scale (GRCS). The GRCS has demonstrated consistent reliability and validity in measuring (1) restriction of emotional expression, (2) anxiety of emotional intimacy with other men, (3) the defining of success as the culmination of gaining power and defeating competition, and (4) the inability to balance work and family life (O’Neil et al., 1986; O’Neil, 2012).

While the MRNI-R and the GCRS are the most prevalently utilized, many other scales have been developed to measure the endorsement of masculinity and its effects (O’Neil, 2012). The development of gender role strain paradigm and gender role conflict has allowed for the deepening of understanding of masculinity and its effects on individuals and society as a whole. When one acknowledges the social construction of gender, one also sees an important implication: gender roles can be changed (the Levant, 1996). Each society has a choice of how to classify and define what gender means. This decision is one of the greatest importance, and it is one that the United States has chosen poorly. The Dark Side of Masculinity Traditional masculinity has demonstrated severe consequences on how men treat themselves and how they treat others; Brooks and Silverstein (1995) aptly called this phenomenon “the dark side of masculinity.” These ramifications extend to a wide array of domains from the psychological to the societal. When taken together, these problems demonstrate how detrimental and powerful traditional masculinity is on everyone, no matter their gender identity. Alexithymia is a condition where an individual faces difficulties in recognizing and describing their emotions (Sifenos, 1973). With his work at the Boston University Fatherhood Project, Levant (1992) noticed a small but consistent struggle for men to report their emotions. With this experience as his guide, Levant (1992) proposed the normative male alexithymia (NMA) hypothesis. The NMA hypothesis asserts that men, who were discouraged as youth to discuss their emotions, never effectively learned the skills and language to share their feelings (the Levant, 1992). The children were operantly conditioned to avoid their emotional experiments either through punishments or a lack of reinforcements (Skinner, 1975).

Alexithymia appears to directly relate to the traditional masculinity ideology. Using the MRNI, Levant et al. (2003) found significant correlations between the endorsement of traditional masculinity and alexithymia across cultures. In a meta-analysis of 41 separate studies, men exhibited greater levels of alexithymia than women overall (Levant, Hall, Williams, & Hasan, 2009). The effects of alexithymia include interpersonal problems with spouses and children and greater risks of substance abuse, hypersexuality, and interpersonal violence (Levant & Kopecky, 1995). Masculine Gender Role Stress Masculine gender role stress (MGRS) refers to a man’s anxieties related to failure to meet an ideal of masculinity or to exhibit feminine behaviors (Eisler & Skidmore, 1987). To measure MGRS, respondents answer how stressful certain gender nonconforming situations feel to them. Situations include completing housework and failing to perform intercourse. Factor analysis demonstrates 5 specific categories of MGRS: failure to appear fit and athletic, expression of unmanly emotions, domination by a female figure, failure to appear intelligent, and failure at work and sex. Interestingly enough, stress related to one’s job and one’s sexual performance tend to be comorbid with each other (Eisler & Skidmore, 1987). Eisler, Skidmore, and Ward (1988) found significant correlations between MGRS and a man’s likelihood to exhibit anger, have anxiety and perform harmful health behaviors. This data suggests that MGRS may detrimentally impact a man’s relationship with loved ones and his overall health and well-being. A man with MGRS is more likely to do behaviors such as using tobacco and avoiding exercise (Eisler, Skidmore, & Ward, 1988). In addition, a greater predilection to anger may lead to more conflict with a man’s friends and family.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Masculinity & Gender-Role Conflict: A Historical & Theoretical Overview. (2022, Aug 22). Retrieved from

Masculinity & Gender-Role Conflict: A Historical & Theoretical Overview essay
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