Science

Homophobic men who display traits of toxic masculinity are more likely to be bullies, study finds

Homophobic men who exhibit toxic masculinity traits are more likely to be bullies who are violent and carry out sexual harassment, a study has suggested.

Researchers from the US used data from 3,600 men and a new scale of harmful masculinities to explore how toxic masculinity can impact health and society.

The team found ‘macho’ men with aggressive and anti-LGBT attitudes to be not only more likely to be bullies — but also to experience depression and suicidal thoughts.

Homophobic men who exhibit toxic masculinity traits are more likely to be bullies who are violent and carry out sexual harassment, a study has suggested (stock image)

Homophobic men who exhibit toxic masculinity traits are more likely to be bullies who are violent and carry out sexual harassment, a study has suggested (stock image)

The so-called ‘Man Box Scale’ of harmful masculinities was developed by the gender equality consortium Promundo-US — and it covers such themes as acting tough, control, hyper-sexuality, physical attractiveness and rigid gender roles.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh used this 15-point scale in combination with data from more than 3,600 men, aged 18–30 and from across three different countries, that was gathered in 2016.

Participating men had been asked about their notions of masculinity, gender equality and their own mental health.

The team found that those men who scored higher on the Man Box scale were up to five times more likely to engage in online, physical or verbal bullying, as well as sexual harassment.

Furthermore, higher scores were seen to be associated with twice the risk of experiencing depression, or suicidal thoughts.

‘There has been a lot of discussion around harmful masculinities in the media and in the research community,’ said paper author and medical anthropologist Elizabeth Miller University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

However, she added, ‘no one has agreed on a standardised way to measure the concept.’

The ‘Man Box’ concept originated in the 1980s, when activist Paul Kivel and colleagues at the Oakland Men’s Project developed the ‘Act-Like-a-Man Box’ activity to help consider how society tells men they ought to react in various situations.

The exercise involved getting participants to think about how various traits — some of which are associated with ‘acting like a man’ and are visually grouped inside a box — impact and constrain their behaviour in a series of hypothetical scenarios.

Research has shown that boys and men — just like girls and women — are affected by societal norms around masculinity, experts said. Pictured, participants in the San Francisco Women's march last year holding a sign referencing toxic masculinity

Research has shown that boys and men — just like girls and women — are affected by societal norms around masculinity, experts said. Pictured, participants in the San Francisco Women’s march last year holding a sign referencing toxic masculinity

Recently, the issue of harmful masculinity got widespread attention in response to the 2018 American Psychological Association’s ‘Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men’

This report presented a series of steps that health care workers should take to improve the psychological care of boys and men.

The association was reacting to growing evidence that showed men who strongly align with more harmful masculine gender norms have poorer health outcomes — including around depression and suicidal thoughts.

In addition, these men perpetrate violence against others at much higher rates.

Research has shown that boys and men — just like girls and women — are affected by societal norms and that these can have real consequences, experts said.

‘These findings highlight how detrimental harmful masculinities can be to the people who endorse them, as well as their peers, families and communities at large,’ said paper author Amber Hill, also of the University of Pittsburgh.

‘It’s important to remember that individuals of all genders are influenced and impacted by the heteronormative society that we live in.’

To help clinicians better monitor their male patients’ attitudes, the researchers developed a shorter version of the survey, below, which includes only those items seen to have the strongest associations with violence and poor mental health.

THE NEW, SHORTENED VERSION OF THE ‘MAN BOX’ SURVEY

To help clinicians better monitor their male patients’ attitudes, researchers developed a shorter version of the survey, including only those items seen to have the strongest associations with violence and poor mental health.

The five statements in this survey that men are asked to express their level of agreement with are:

  1. A man shouldn’t have to do household chores.
  2. Men should use violence to get respect if necessary.
  3. A real man should have as many sexual partners as he can.
  4. A man who talks a lot about his worries, fears and problems shouldn’t really get respect.
  5. A gay guy is not a ‘real man’.

SOURCE: University of Pittsburgh

‘We have found a way to measure the concept of the “Man Box,”,’ said Gary Barker, president and CEO of Promundo-US.

This, he explained, ‘allows us to clearly see that when men embrace stereotypical ideas about manhood, they’re also more likely to harm the well-being of others, as well as impact their own health in adverse ways.’

‘We now have a valid tool in our pockets to help us measure progress toward changing harmful stereotypes and advancing both gender equality and healthier versions of masculinity.’

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

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