Men Succumb to Societal Pressures

Going off to college can be a pivotal moment in a young man’s life– he is away from home, has more independence, has to make new friends, etc. Once a young man is placed in a new environment surrounded by other men, they may feel obligated to “prove” themselves masculine through conventional masculine norms that may have adverse effects to their mental health.

The fact that many men succumb to societal pressures to act anti-feminine, self-reliant, aggressive, etc., is important to notice because it tells us that these young men my feel compelled to act a certain way in order to gain respect from their peers and to fit in. Furthermore, this research is critical because there may be a correlation between adhering to these norms and depressive symptoms. In the context of studying families, this issue is significant because if these behaviors are constantly reinforced by young men, then the stereotypes and gender roles may remain, which could affect the way fathers raise their sons.

The research question– if adhering to masculine norms has a positive correlation to depressive symptoms among college freshmen– was tested through a longitudinal study. This study gathered a large sample of over 320 men aged between 18-20 years who were incoming college freshmen. The researchers collected their participants by emailing a random sample of incoming freshmen, as well as through university listservs. These freshmen took two surveys: one at the beginning of the Fall semester, and one at the beginning of the Spring semester, six months apart.

The first survey was designed to measure the degree of conformity these men exhibited to specific subsets of hegemonic masculinity. This test, measured through the CMNI-29 (Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory), measured results through eight subscales including: “ (1) Winning, or striving to win, (2) Playboy, or desiring to have multiple sexual partners, (3) Self-Reliance, (4) Violence, or being aggressive, (5) Heterosexual Presentation, or striving to display oneself as heterosexual, (6) Risk Taking, (7) emotional control, and (8) Power Over Women, or being dominant over women” (Iwamoto, Brady, Kaya, & Park, 2018). The second test, taken six months after the first, used the BDI-II (Beck Depression Inventory II), a widely accepted tool to measure depression, and measured the depressive symptoms these men may be experiencing. The results were analyzed to find skewness and/or correlation.

The results indicated that adherence to some gender norms were positively correlated with depressive symptoms while others were negatively correlated. Regarding the BDI-II test, the study concluded that 12.4% of the participants scored “within the mild to moderate and higher range, of which 6% scored in the moderate or higher range” (Iwamoto et al., 2018). Overall, the findings of the correlational analysis demonstrated that conforming to masculine norms was significantly correlated with higher scores of depression. Not surprisingly, the results suggested that men who abide by the playboy, self-reliance, and violence norms were the most likely to have higher depression scores. Contrarily, the results indicated that men who adhere to the winning and power over women norms were less likely to score high on the depression test.

In short, the conformity to the playboy, self-reliance, and violence norms perhaps were associated with higher depression because of the inability to form meaningful and intimate relationships, reluctance to be vulnerable and ask others for emotional help when needed, and aggressive behavior can negatively impact relationships and well-being, respectively. On the other hand, men who exhibit the winning and power over women norms perhaps were associated with lower depression because being successful can increase confidence and self-esteem, and exhibiting power may allow men to feel more dominant and in control, respectively. These assumptions are speculations, and more research must be conducted to confirm these beliefs.

These findings are very important to understand because many young men feel like they need to conform to gender norms that often do more harm than good to their well-being. To halt the perpetuation of these norms and expectations, our society needs to redefine masculinity in the context of our current, changing era. Unless reformation is enacted, the epidemic of men’s mental and physical health will likely continue to be a dominant issue that many men face.

Going forward, it would be beneficial to carry out more research about how young men’s expectations of what it takes to be a man affects the way they raise their sons in the future. An extensive longitudinal study could be performed among many different men in the United States, and could examine how their perceptions of masculinity as a teenager affects the way they teach their sons how to be a man in the future. This study could uncover the trends of how the role of masculinity affects fathering, and hopefully the trend will steer away from hegemonic masculinity, for social constructs are constantly changing every decade here in the United States.

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