Our gendered expectations of men can be a lot to live up to, and this pressure can have a very damaging impact on boys and men who are trying to meet society’s standards of masculinity. In recent months, it has been revealed that men resist wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that they are even afraid to get an adequate amount of sleep because they fear such health-focused efforts will make them appear feminine or weak.
Men put in a great deal of effort to appear masculine in our society, meaning being strong, stoic, fearless, and impenetrable at all times. And now new research has suggested that when men feel their masculinity is threatened, they will respond by pulling away from their partner. Researchers from the University of Arizona have just revealed findings that show men will rate their commitment to their relationship lower if they feel they are not being perceived as masculine enough.
Researchers performed this study by first giving men a fictional ‘masculinity rating.’ They then let their male participants know how their masculinity rated in comparison to other men.
After these ratings, they were then asked about their relationship and their love life. Men who were given a low rating of masculinity and told that they ranked lower than other men in terms of their masculinity were much more likely to express low commitment to their relationship.
In other words, when men were told that they weren’t ‘manly’ enough, they responded by emotionally pulling away from their partner and downplaying the importance of their relationship. It’s almost as if these men felt that they could strengthen or improve their masculinity by disavowing their need for intimacy or their love for their partner.
The study could provide insight into modern relationships and why some men pull away from their partners or shut themselves off from love.
We know from previous research that when a man is having a hard time at work or loses his job, or perhaps simply makes less money than his female partner, that his relationship is going to suffer.
These men aren’t pulling away from their relationship intentionally just because their jobs aren’t secure or because they make less money, but because they don’t feel like ‘men’ in the traditional sense of being a provider, so they don’t know how to relate to their partners or receive love without feeling like a fraud.
So how can couples apply this research to their relationships to help improve their relationships?
If a female partner senses that her male partner is pulling away because he hasn’t been working due the pandemic, or he has been making less money, she can consider this research and look for ways to help her husband feel more ‘manly.’ Compliments about his strength and perseverance can go a long way, along with appreciating his role as a father or his efforts in the community. Avoid being sarcastic or insulting about his parenting, even if he doesn’t do everything exactly the way you might.
As for men, this study can help men understand that they’re not alone in their fears about their masculinity and that they can choose to have a different reaction when they feel their manhood is being challenged.
There is no one single way to be a man. Some men love guns and football, but also cry at sad movies or get mushy over puppies and kittens. Some men love eyeliner and nail polish while others love motorcycles.
We can choose to start working to change our ideas of masculinity so that men and boys don’t have to grow up in such strict and miserable boxes of what they can and cannot do and who they can and cannot be. No one can ever take your manhood away from you. You don’t have to ‘earn’ your masculinity or prove yourself to anyone, and once you really lean into this wisdom, you will find true strength and fearlessness that has nothing to do with machismo or ego.