Compensatory Masculinity: Is it Detrimental to Men’s Mental Health?

What is compensatory masculinity? In the past, the roles of men and women were clearly outlined. While women were in charge of childcare and homemaking, men’s lifestyle involved physical activity and seeking resources, which meant they had to constantly prove their status.

Men are still expected to act according to stereotypical gender identities, even though the line between those roles is blurred. They even feel shamed for exhibiting feminine traits. So, if a man’s masculinity is threatened, he’s likely to compensate for it in some ways to change the image he’s projecting.

One of the goals of Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month is to fight societal norms proclaiming that men have to be masculine to be valued. Unfortunately, many still face pressure to conform to gender ideals.

Compensatory Masculinity And Men’s Well-Being

Several previous studies explored the way men react when someone questions their masculinity.

One of the most interesting insights came from a research by a Cornell University researcher, Robb Willer. He asked men and women to take part in a gender identity survey. After completing the survey, each participant received feedback that classified them as either having a masculine or feminine identity.

Results revealed that men who were made to feel insecure about their masculinity tended to display more homophobic attitudes. They supported the Iraq War and showed more interest in buying a car seen as masculine.

Other studies also found that men who believe that their masculinity is threatened experience a powerful stress response. Men would even show an intent to engage in risk-taking behaviours. These included heavy drinking at social functions, having unprotected sex and gambling activity with higher stakes.

Some men might also rely on physical aggression to restore their masculinity such as hitting a punching bag. These kinds of compensatory behaviours can lead to relationship problems and negatively affect men’s health in many ways. As an example, they might contract an STI or become conditioned to rely on unhealthy behaviours, even when faced with stressors not related to their sense of identity.

Men whose masculinity was threatened also reported feeling ashamed and guilty. Even if a man tries to re-establish his perceived masculinity, he might still experience the same psychological distress as if he hadn’t acted on their negative emotions. 

So what can you do to fight these outdated norms?

It’s a good idea to find healthy coping skills you can rely on when distressed, such as:

Therapy and counselling
– Physical activity
– Mindfulness and meditation
– Communication with loved ones, especially your partner

Another thing to remember is to allow yourself to feel your emotions and share them with other people before acting on them; experiencing ups and downs is a part of being human and there’s no shame in it.

Similarly, if a friend decides to open up, refrain from telling him to ‘get over it’ or to ‘man up’, and try to be empathetic.

We can all change the narrative by breaking out of the pattern little by little.  

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