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Two reasons to pay attention to International Men’s Day

Insight

18 November 2019

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To get to inclusion and diversity, we must have a conversation about men.

Over the generations, psychologists have used men and boys as the benchmark in society. We have viewed men and boys as the norm of acceptable behaviour, and categorised and measured other groups against this.1

This has come at considerable cost to all genders. Perhaps surprisingly, there is an impact on men and boys too.

Our gender is a complex interaction of three aspects:

• our body, our experience of our body, how others interact with us based on our body

• our identity and the name we use to convey our gender based on our sense of self

• how we present our gender in the world, and the gender roles, norms and expectations placed on us by society.

When society takes men’s behaviour as the normative one, many men are socialised to conform to the traditional masculinity ideology of achievement, anti-femininity, avoiding appearing weak, and to seek adventure, risk and violence. This plays out in all domains, including at work.2

Why is this a problem for everyone?

Reason 1 – cost to men

Research shows that when men conform to this ideology, it limits their psychological development, constrains their behaviour, results in gender role strain and gender conflict,3 and negatively impacts their mental health and physical health.4

Let’s put some numbers on this.

• Men are four times more likely than women to die of suicide worldwide.5

• Men are less likely than women to be diagnosed with internalising disorders such as depression (because they do not conform to traditional gender stereotypes about men’s emotionality); yet more likely to be diagnosed with externalising disorders such as substance abuse or misconduct.6

• Men, in every age group, have higher death rates than women for all major causes of death (in the USA), despite men having greater socio-economic advantages.7

 

Reason 2 – cost to other genders

When men’s behaviour is the benchmark, other gender groups also face a cost.

For example, when other gender groups fail to live up to normative expectations of confidence or physical strength, show vulnerability, or have a lower striving for achievement, it is all too easy to brand them as lesser. This branding “lesser” is further compounded when, with every good intention, we put in place programmes to teach these groups how to reach up to the men’s normative behaviour.

Of course, the branding of others as “lesser than men” may not be explicit or purposeful. Ask a colleague to think of a world-class tennis player. Almost all will think of a male player. But change the question to think of a female or male world-class tennis player, chance is most women and some men will mention a woman. We easily make implicit associations, with the result that the “lesser” genders are also viewed less highly in their career, potential and ability.

The solution

Challenge the prevailing norm – recognise that mascul-inity and its associated behaviours is the standard everyone holds themselves to whereas we should have a human-inity ideology or standard.

  1. Challenge your thinking about the descriptive, prescriptive and proscriptive ideas you and your organisation have about all genders.
  2. Re-think rigid and restrictive gender roles that exist in your business, where they restrict, devalue or violate a person’s worth. Where can you change the gender roles ascribed to men or women?
  3. Consider where there is gender strain at work. What are the psychological and practical demands on men who are trying to live up to expectations of gender role norms? How can you help men to learn different self-concept and view of their role at work?
  4. Examine which groups are seen as inferior or less deserving than others in your organisation. Identify why this is the case. Work out how they can all have equal access to social power at work.
  5. Understand the specific factors that influence the interpersonal relationships and physical and mental wellbeing of the men who work for you. Take action to improve the outcomes for them.

Use International Men’s Day to recognise and celebrate the men in your organisation, as part of the diverse range of humanity who work with you.

 

[1] O'Neil, J. M., & Renzulli, S. (2013). Introduction to the special section: Teaching the psychology of men—A call to action. Psychology of Men & Masculinity14(3), 221.

[2] Levant, R. F., & Richmond, K. (2008). A review of research on masculinity ideologies using the Male Role Norms Inventory. The Journal of Men’s Studies15(2), 130-146.

[3] O'Neil, J. M. (2008). Summarizing 25 years of research on men's gender role conflict using the Gender Role Conflict Scale: New research paradigms and clinical implications. The counseling psychologist36(3), 358-445.

[4] Gough, B., & Robertson, S. (2017). A review of research on men’s health. The psychology of men and masculinities, 197-227.

[5] De Leo, D., Draper, B. M., Snowdon, J., & Kõlves, K. (2013). Contacts with health professionals before suicide: Missed opportunities for prevention?. Comprehensive Psychiatry54(7), 1117-1123.

[6] Cochran, S. V., & Rabinowitz, F. E. (2000). Practical resources for the mental health professional. Men and depression: Clinical and empirical perspectives. San Diego, CA, US.

[7] Gough, B., & Robertson, S. (2017). A review of research on men’s health. The psychology of men and masculinities, 197-227.

 

 

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