It’s okay to be macho, study says

Hiding emotions and acting tough might not be psychological problems.
Thursday, July 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:33 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

In a time when it seems anything and everything can be bad for you, a study of college men found that a traditionally masculine personality isn’t.

The MU researchers say their findings go against other work in the field that suggests traits traditionally seen as masculine — such as hiding emotions, acting tough and not sharing feelings — are related to psychological distress.

The study found that, for a sample of 260 MU students, masculinity accounted for only 1 percent of their psychological distress. Masculinity was measured by asking questions about whether they share feelings or are uncomfortable around male affection, while distress was evaluated by accounts of anxiety, depression or substance abuse.

The study will appear next week in the journal “Psychology of Men and Masculinity,” published by the American Psychological Association. Authors of the study include MU professor Puncky Heppner and Lincoln University professor Kurt DeBord.

“The good news is that there’s many options for contemporary guys in the U.S. to successfully enact their masculinity,” said Glen Good, an MU associate professor of clinical psychology and lead author of the study.

Good said he hopes the study will change prognosis and treatment programs that tend to cite automatically any strong traditionally masculine personality as the source of psychological distress.

“We can’t make assumptions about how a person’s conception of masculinity is going to be related to their mental health,” he said.

There are, however, different types of pressures that all men will have to face regardless of where they might rate in masculinity, Good said. Less masculine-seeming men may risk being teased or ridiculed, while more traditionally masculine men may feel like they should be more communicative or expressive in light of recent cultural trends.

Michael Porter, an associate professor of communication at MU who has conducted gender research with Good but was not involved in this study, said he thinks Good’s findings come at a time of a greater variety of male role models in society. From Tim Taylor on “Home Improvement” to Jack on “Will and Grace” to the Crane brothers on “Frasier,” different styles of masculinity are now represented in the media.

Porter said there is no doubt these characters influence both children and adults. “And these television characters, as role models, teach us how to respond to people, teaches us how to dress, how to talk, what language is appropriate,” he said.

“This may give some fuel to traditional kind of guys to say... ‘society is changing, but my way can work’,” Good said.

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