Men Need To Change How We Think About Masculinity, Or Else

Now more than ever, men need to stop trying to live up to outdated notions of masculinity. No, we’re not going to make you cut off your beard or pour out your Scotch. Manliness itself isn’t a problem. The thing is, with men’s roles rapidly changing in the workplace, at home and beyond, some guys are taking macho behaviour to an extreme—and they’re paying the price, if these studies are any indication.

Take for example the guys who would rather tough it out than admit there’s something wrong with their health. According to an American Academy of Family Physicians study conducted in 2007, nearly one in three men puts off medical attention as long as possible unless he’s extremely sick or in pain. Worse, nearly one in five men over the age of 55 refuses to get screened annually for colon cancer, even though early diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death.

Unfortunately, the toughguy attitude is hard to step away from. In fact, you may have noticed that men seem trained from an early age to exhibit aggressively masculine traits in situations that make us feel less manly.
The University of Washington proved it in a study published this June. Male test subjects were given falsely low results during a handgrip strength test, effectively comparing them to women. Later, nearly every subject compensated for the sleight by exaggerating their height by an average of three-quarters of an inch, reporting more romantic relationships than they actually had and claiming to be more aggressive and athletic than they really were. Guys whose strength and masculinity weren’t threatened didn’t feel the need to inflate their egos.

We’re guessing that the latter group lives an easier life—feeling the constant need to reassert your manhood is enough to cost a guy his sanity, after all. But it also has implications in the grander scheme of things. As a researcher rightly pointed out in her results, men have a lot of power in society, but our decisions can easily be manipulated through the simple act of challenging our masculinity. Not good for anyone.

When a guy finds himself employed by a female supervisor, things get even worse. According to a study by Bocconi University in Milan, some men who feel threatened reporting to a female boss respond by being overly assertive and hard to work with. In the study, male and female students were given the opportunity to negotiate a salary with male and female managers, then measured for how threatened they felt during the process. Unsurprisingly, men interviewing with females felt more imperiled and haggled for higher pay than they did with male interviewers.

A second part to the study also found that men were more likely to describe female superiors as power-seeking and ambitious. In a third experiment, men were asked to divide a $10,000 bonus among co-workers. When asked to split it with teammates, they went 50/50. When divvying between themselves and a female superior, however, they took the lion’s share, ostensibly to push the scales of power in their favour.
Of course, this hidden bias has implications for the future of men in the workplace. Guys unwilling to change their attitudes toward women in authourity put their careers in jeopardy as more and more women earn the power to (rightly) dismiss those they deem not to be team players.

Thankfully, there’s at least one place where the oversized male ego seems to be disappearing: at home with the family. A 2013 Pews survey about parenthood found that now, for the first time, just as many fathers are willing to play stay-at-home parent as mothers. Furthermore, fathers rated providing moral guidance and emotional support to their children as more important than conforming to classic fatherly roles as disciplinarian and breadwinner.

Perhaps it will take another generation, but it looks like there’s hope for us guys yet. With the rejection of hyper-masculine behaviours, men can reclaim all the things that overblown machismo promised—and failed—to realize for us: good health, a strong self-identity, profitable work environment and a happy family.

Our advice? Just let it go, man.
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