Conformity To Hegemonic Masculine Norms And The Relationship To Help-Seeking Behaviours

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When compared to women, men engage in more harmful behaviours such as excessive drinking, substance abuse, and participating in unsafe sexual activities (Courtenay, 2011). Although researchers suggest multiple causes underlying these differences, such as biology and access to healthcare, a significant number of studies indicate gender role socialization, which results in most men conforming to typical masculine norms (Liu & Iwamoto, 2007; O’Neil & Crasper, 2011; Locke & Mahalik, 2005). Seeking help from professional counselors would eliminate and reduce the psychological risks that men face and enhance their mental health. However, men are less likely to ask for professional psychological help when faced with psychological issues (Lindinger-Sternart, 2015). Research has shown that men avoid seeking psychological help to avoid talking about their distressing events, to avoid experiencing painful emotions, and to avoid suffering from social stigma (Linger-Sternart, 2015). As toddlers, boys cry just as much as girls do, but as they grow older, they are introduced to notions of “power” and how society perceives it. They are meant to believe that crying is a sign of weakness that they must learn to overcome. However, this does not need to be the case, because crying has its own benefits. The view that crying in men is a sign of weakness is one that must be forgotten. Men who strongly conform to these norms and do not express themselves emotionally are less open to seeking psychological help.

Since the mid-1980s, researchers have been highly interested in the field regarding men’s health. The initial focus on the field of men’s health was on sexual and urological health but has recently broadened to looking at their psychological and social well-being (Idris, Forrest, & Brown, 2017). In most western countries, norms surrounding masculinity consist of the notion that men should conform to a hegemonic masculine identity that requires them to portray themselves as healthy, strong, powerful, and self-sufficient (Idris, Forrest, & Brown, 2017). Hegemonic masculinity indicates that sharing personal and health problems as a sign of weakness and men worry that by seeking for psychological health assistance, they could risk being labeled as “less of a man.”

Hegemony involves the persuasion of the more substantial part of the society through media and organization of social organizations in a manner that looks natural and ordinary, which results in having some particular definitions of being standard (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2015). On the other hand, masculinity is seen as something performed in social associations and men pass one specific kind of masculinity through their behaviour. Masculinity brought about by social-cultural norms is unhealthy and detrimental to the psychological health of men. While the notion of hegemonic masculinity is responsible for their poor help-seeking behaviour, its benefits and significance have been tested in many ways in certain cultural contexts. For example, most people have not understood well how gender and other social aspects of health correlate with each other and afterward inform the health-seeking behaviours of men. The topic is essential and should be addressed as a way of telling men, parents, and society of the adverse effects of gender role socialization concerning men’s health. Discussing the topic also helps reduce the conformity of men towards hegemonic masculinity to avoid these adverse effects.

Conforming to hegemonic masculinity causes emotional control and self-reliance, which has a significant negative effect on help-seeking attitudes. Emotional power is the degree to which an individual shows controlling expression of their emotions or limits expression of feelings, while self-reliance is the preference of an individual to depend on oneself and disregard help from other people (Idris, Forrest, & Brown, 2017). Hegemonic masculinity in Western cultures portrays men as dominant, self-reliant, successful, and competent. The hegemonic masculinity conceptualization influences how men in western cultures are socialized since their childhood. From an early age, parents accept emotions from girls more than from boys and teach boys to “suck it up” because boys do not cry and that exposing their feelings or vulnerability as men will have them viewed as weak or labeled “sissies” (Rice, Purcell, & McGorry, 2018).

Crying is only natural, and both men and women know this to be true. The fact that some people would be excluded from experiencing a natural phenomenon is confusing. Just like any other person, men are affected by feelings of happiness and sadness, because they are human beings. There are two main emotions that will make a human being cry: happiness and sadness. When men experience these feelings, they will cry, like any other person. This is not because they were weak. As a matter of fact, it has nothing to do with strength or weakness. It is simply an expression of emotion that must not be inhibited by perceived cultural notions. In a study by Wong et al. (2011), men agreed that they should be left alone to cry without being judged. 150 footballers were let to evaluate the behaviour of a fellow footballer Jack, who cries after a football game. The researchers reported that footballers who saw Jack tearing up tended to report higher levels of perceived appropriateness, typicality, and conformity with regard to Jack’s crying behaviour. (Wong et al., 2011). Having understood the nature of the game, participants did not feel as if Jack’s behaviour showed weakness. Rather, they approved of his crying behaviour, because they thought it was appropriate, given the circumstance. It is extremely limiting and unfair to demand that men should not cry. Forbidding anyone from expressing what they see and feel is only denying them the ability to be human.

Crying has many health benefits as well. In addition to keeping the eyes wet and moisturized, tears contain lysozyme, an enzyme with antibacterial and antiviral properties that keeps the eyes healthy. However, health benefits go beyond the eyes. During periods when the body is under stress, it produces hormones such as the adrenocorticotropic hormone. This hormone will build up as long as the body is undergoing stress. Tears help flush out this hormone, revitalizing and energizing the body (Simons, Bruder, Lowe, & Parkinson, 2012). By stigmatizing crying, society denies men the health benefits of tears. The result is predictable: men’s stress is likely to pile up to the point of becoming toxic. As a result, it can cause depression, and other psychological disorders.

When society denies men the chance to express their emotions and keep telling them that they should not cry, they tend to harden their feelings and even when hurt, they psychologically shun away from seeking help since they have been taught that expressing themselves in that way makes them appear weak. The idea that men do not cry communicates to them that they should be controlled, self-reliant, and avoid asking for help. Therefore, when boys grow up, they view looking for psychological support as a way of losing control and independence. Additionally, emotional control for men means they are in power, superior, and can depend on themselves. Some men may feel afraid to ask for psychological and professional help as they look at guidance as shifting powers in favor of the therapist or professional when they begin to reveal information about themselves and express their feelings. As a way of responding to their need of seeking psychological help, men engage in more high-risk behaviours such as binge drinking and violence, which causes them to be more psychologically distressed (Courtenay, 2011).

Men who highly conform to hegemonic masculinity norms have more negative attitudes towards seeking help and are less open towards doing it because of their tendency to self-stigmatize. Corrigan (2004) explains that “stigma” is the social appearance of disgrace related to specific features, and “self-stigma” is a reduction in a person’s self-worth by internally labeling their issues as socially unacceptable. Lannin et al. (2015) researched and argued that people who self-stigmatize themselves have low likelihoods of seeking help when faced with psychological problems. Additionally, the results of a study by Johnson (2018) indicated that men who strongly conform to hegemonic norms report greater stigma towards seeking help. The research found that masculinity is positively correlated with both self-stigma and public shame. According to the researchers, men are not only discouraged to share their issues with their friends, but also discouraged to seek professional help. The public suggests that men should handle their problems privately and tell those who are in distress that it is a stage, which everyone passes through, and they will get through the situation. Men who conform to typical masculine norms internalize their public stigma to self-stigma, view themselves and their problems as less worthy, and do not receive psychological help.

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Additionally, men who suffer from self-stigma put off looking for psychological help since they view their symptoms as minor. In a study by Johnson (2018), she found that men were less willing to admit they need professional help but were more willing to say their friends or strangers require help when showing significant symptoms. Research by Hammer, Vogel, and Heimerdinger-Edwards (2013) found that all men who conform to masculinity were prone to internalizing public stigma. The authors explained that male gender role conflict is the cause of higher levels of self-stigma in men, which consequently, negatively affects their views towards seeking professional help.

Conversely, the basic idea of hegemonic masculinity has been argued as flawed from the realist and poststructuralist perspectives. Petersen (2003) claimed that the hegemonic design is flawed because it minimizes the behaviour of men and indicates a false unity of a “fluid” and different truth. According to the author, the issue of hegemonic conformity is based on a heteronormative idea of gender that oversimplifies male-female differences and overlooks differences and exclusions within gender categories. However, Kimmel and Mahalik (2005) analyzed the attitude of gay men towards seeking psychological help, and they found that gay men are not heteronormative, since they have same-sex partners. Research by the author showed that even when they are not heteronormative, they still show less willingness to seek psychological help and like other men, feel self-reliant, have emotional resistance, and self-stigmatize themselves (Kimmel & Mahalik, 2005).

Critics of hegemonic masculinity also argue that the concept is flawed, as it tends to analyze masculinity of men by studying only men and relations among other men. However, that is not the case because the research on hegemonic masculinity and its negative impact on seeking psychological help have been done on comparing relationships between men and women. King et al. (2018) document some studies comparing men and women and how the conformity to their genders affects their willingness to look for psychological help. The article also conducts a survey, which finds that men are less likely than women to admit they have mental issues and those who do admit it tend to postpone the date that they are scheduled to see a professional, unlike women (King et al., 2018).

Additionally, critics of hegemonic masculinity argue that the argument does not adequately portray the “realness of power.” Morgan (2000) reports that hegemonic masculinity is only associated with adverse characteristics that characterize men as unemotional, aggressive, and independent and fails to link the idea with positive behaviours such as being breadwinners and fathers. On the contrary, hegemonic masculinity is based on the idea that men are breadwinners and are responsible for bringing wages home. Even with that association, it still results in negative attitudes toward psychological help-seeking attitudes. Men who view themselves as breadwinners and associate themselves with being fathers avoid seeking mental help to prevent being seen as weak and dependent because breadwinners are seen as strong and independent.

This idea has also been ignored when conformity to stereotypical masculine norms is discussed in terms of self-stigma, which critics find too narrow and inadequate to determine how men perceive help-seeking actions. Neff (2009) reported that conforming to hegemonic masculinity increases self-compassion, which is the tendency of an individual to see oneself as they might treat a friend in need. The researcher associated self-compassion with self-kindness, humanity, and mindfulness and concluded that the three result in positive attitudes towards seeking professional help as they merge into accepting and forgiving attitudes towards oneself. However, the literature review in an article by Connell and Messerchmidt (2015) shows the lack of correlation between self-compassion and conformity to hegemonic masculinity and that men who show high-level of self-compassion do not conform to masculinity.

The idea that crying men are weak and lack “toughness” is simply not true. This is so for the reason that the connection between crying and weakness has no correlation. It is a creation that has continued to be unleashed on men who publicly show their emotions. There is nothing wrong with getting emotional, because it is clear that emotions do not affect the decisions a person makes or who they are. There is nothing wrong with admitting that one is overwhelmed with the pressures of life. If and when we need be, everyone should feel free to pour out their emotions. In fact, the vulnerability that is depicted by crying can itself be a source of power. We all can benefit from getting help. Those who are not afraid to cry get help while those who are ashamed stay stuck with their problems. In a study published in Motivation and Emotion, by Vingerhoets et al. (2016), it observed that genuine crying deepens “perceived helplessness…and predicted the willingness to help a person depicted as crying tearfully” (Vingerhoets, Ven, & Velden, 2016, p. 455). Therefore, a crying man is a strong man, one who is strong enough to share his deepest fears. It takes strength to share one’s problems openly, because it is far much easier to conceal them.

In conclusion, men who strongly conform to hegemonic masculinity have low willingness to receive psychological help. It is clear that there is no basis for claiming that men crying is seen as a sign of weakness. This is nothing but a stereotype that is deeply rooted in society. Men crying should not be seen as a sign of weakness, for the simple reason that it is not. Submitting to masculine norms results in emotional control and self-reliance, which discourages men from sharing their problems, so they are not viewed as “weak” or “feminine”. Additionally, it causes self-stigma, which makes them find their problems minor, which leads to a negative help-seeking attitude. Women seek psychological help more when compared with men, however, men are diagnosed with fewer symptoms for depression and they are at higher risk of suffering from mental issues. It is likely that medical practitioners will look more into men’s psychological matters even when they cannot disclose them.

My argument is important for the many men who are living under the pressures of toxic masculinity. As more people begin to understand that crying is not a sign of weakness, they can live freely without unnecessary emotional inhibitions. They can live life without being held back by the consequences that come with trying to avoid “weaknesses” if they cry. However, I do acknowledge the limitations of my argument. It takes time to change social perceptions. As of now, the view that a crying man is a weak man is a widespread one. As a result, it will not disappear overnight. However, society is constantly changing, and arguments such as this one add onto the existing belief that men should not feel intimidated to show their emotions. This debate will only increase men’s awareness of their susceptibility to psychological disorders and the possible causes of these issues.

References

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