Don’t Blame The “man-child” Archetype On Feminism: An Analysis Of Masculinity

Sexual Health 10 years ago (2012) Barbara
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I’m tired of the sensationalist media blaming women for men’s weaknesses. I’m tired of reading articles that blame successful women, as if life is a zero-sum game where one group winning means another group losing. We see a lot of pop psychology articles about the boy archetype that blame women for making too much money and stealing all the jobs. As a die-hard feminist for a long time, I didn’t believe there was any masculinity going on. Even if men had any complaints about women’s success, it certainly wasn’t my fault, or the fault of other women. But a recent literature review has led me to a new hypothesis: there is very real masculinity in our society, but it stems from hidden cultural attitudes about the role of men.
To be sure, new ideas about masculinity have been well-discussed. I’m looking at you, not seriously, how about Teh Menz. But I think in the process of liberating women, society got the idea that masculinity is bad. All of it is. Even the things that men take pride in, like responsibility, respect, kindness and dignity. I would like to take this opportunity to make a distinction between positive masculinity and negative masculinity.
Take, for example, a study of macho culture in Mexico and Mexican-American relationships. Historically, endorsement of machismo has been considered pathological and detrimental to marital satisfaction; however, those who believe in traditional gender roles have also been found to have high marital satisfaction (Pardo et al., 2012). Research has shown that husbands’ and wives’ endorsement of machismo is much more nuanced than previously thought. While endorsement of positive machismo (e.g., loyalty, responsibility, respect, and dignity) was found to be a predictor of marital satisfaction for both husbands and wives, negative machismo (masculine traits associated with dominance, control, manipulation, and self-centeredness) was not (Pardo et al., 2012). Although men who endorsed positive machismo positively predicted high marital satisfaction for themselves and their wives (and vice versa), men who endorsed negative machismo were not as highly associated with marital satisfaction. Furthermore, when wives endorsed negative machismo qualities, their partners were predicted to be less satisfied with their relationship (Pardo et al., 2012).
It appears that the positive aspects of masculinity provide communal support for the relationship, whereas the negative aspects of masculinity are more overly dominant and patriarchal, which puts a strain on the relationship and may even be more psychologically demanding for men. Specifically, when female partners have more dominant, protective, and constrictive expectations of men, it particularly affects men’s relationship satisfaction. Overall, Sibley and Tan (2011) found that as men endorsed patriarchal attitudes, resistance to sharing power and decision-making in the relationship increased for both members. This clearly indicates that traditional masculinity leads to increased friction and is detrimental to the relationship.
In fact, research has shown that men who endorse positive machismo beliefs such as tenderness and kindness are more in touch with their feelings, are more empathetic, and have higher life satisfaction than men who endorse traditional machismo beliefs (Pardo et al., 2012). Although these specific findings come from Mexican-American culture, there is evidence that this distinction between positive and negative masculinity is also evident among American men.
Extensive research on video games and violence provides an indicator of a clear distinction between the effects of positive and negative masculinity beliefs in the United States. It has been widely shown that video games can increase aggressive responses in players (Anderson et al., 2010). However, Thomas and Levanson (2012) found that exposure to violent video games only predicted increased aggression in men who endorsed traditional masculinity ideologies; for men who did not endorse traditional masculinity, there was no relationship between exposure to violent video games and aggression. While this example is not directly related to personal relationships, the link between dimensions of masculinity and the positive and negative outcomes associated with them is clear.Thomas and Levanson’s findings suggest that, in contrast to negative masculinity, the key to men’s mental health and resilience is to emphasize the positive aspects of masculinity; responsibility, respect, and dignity (Kiselica and Englar-Carlson, 2010).
Therefore, it is clear that negative masculinity is bad. No one wants a partner who is bossy, controlling, and self-absorbed. However, it is as if we have decided that masculinity is totally bad and decided to discard everything about it. So now, instead of embracing positive masculinity (which is a quality anyone should strive to cultivate – male or female), we’re struggling in an age where men don’t know what it is to be a man, and have lost touch with their more positive qualities. I believe (and I will be mindful of this in future research) that the man-child is an incarnation of a man who abandons all responsibility and instead chooses to live a life of self-absorption without the values that must be cultivated in order to become a well-adjusted man and adult. As I mentioned earlier, positive psychology emphasizes that men’s happiness increases when they have a positive set of masculine values to cultivate in themselves. Responsibility, respect, and dignity are the core values here. Rather than discarding all things about masculinity, let’s take some time as a culture to think about all the good and bad things associated with it – and choose for ourselves what aspects benefit us as a group and as individuals.
Further Reading.

  • Addis, M. E., & Schwab, J. R. (2012). Theories and research on gender are always fluid.Doi:10.1037/a0030960
  • Psychology of Men & Masculinity.

  • Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A., … Saleem, M. (2010). The effects of violent video games on aggression, empathy, and pro-social behavior in Eastern and Western countries. A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 151-173. doi:10.1037/a0018251
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  • Arciniega, G. M., Anderson, T. C., Tovar-Blank, Z. G., & Tracey, T. J. G. (2008). Toward a more comprehensive conception of “machismo”: development of the traditional “machismo” and “cabalism” scales. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 55(1), 19-33. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.55.1.19
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  • Kiselica, M. S., & Englar-Carlson, M. (2010). Identifying, affirming, and building on masculine strengths: A positive psychology/positive masculinity model for psychotherapy with boys and men. Psychotherapy. Theory, research, practice, training, 47(3), 276-287. doi:10.1037/a0021159
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  • Pardo, Y., Weisfeld, C., Hill, E., & Slatcher, R. B. (2012). Machismo and marital satisfaction in Mexican American couples. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. doi:10.1177/0022022112443854
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  • Thomas, K. D., & Levant, R. F. (2012). Does endorsement of traditional masculine ideology moderate the relationship between exposure to violent video games and aggression?Doi:10.3149/jms.2001.47
  • Journal of Men’s Studies, 20(1). 47-56.

  • Vandello, J. A., & Bosson, J. K. (2012). Hard won, hard lost. A review and synthesis of theory and research on unstable masculinities.



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