AskDefine | Define masculinity

Dictionary Definition



1 the properties characteristic of the male sex [syn: maleness] [ant: femaleness]
2 the trait of behaving in ways considered typical for men [ant: femininity]

User Contributed Dictionary



masculine + noun of state suffix -ity. From Latin noun masculinitas, from adjective masculinus, masculine, diminutive of masculus, + noun of state suffix -tas


  • (GenAm) /ˌmæskjəˈlɪnɪti/, /%m

Extensive Definition

Masculinity is manly character (manliness). It specifically describes men; that is, it is personal and human, unlike male which can describe animals, or masculine which can describe noun classes. When masculine is used to describe men, it can have degrees of comparison — more masculine, most masculine.
Cicero wrote that "a man's chief quality is courage." Virility (from Latin :la:vir, man) is a near-synonym for masculinity. The usual complement of masculinity is femininity.

Literature review


Ancient literature goes back to about 3000 BC. It includes both explicit statements of what was expected of men in laws, and implicit suggestions about masculinity in myths involving gods and heroes. Kate Cooper, writing about ancient understandings of femininity, suggests that, "Wherever a woman is mentioned a man's character is being judged — and along with it what he stands for." One well-known representative of this literature is the Code of Hammurabi (from about 1750 BC).
  • Rule 3: "If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death."
  • Rule 128: "If a man take a woman to wife, but have no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him."
Scholars suggest integrity and equality as masculine values in male-male relationships, and virility in male-female relationships. Legends of ancient heroes include: The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Such narratives are considered to reveal qualities in the hero that inspired respect, like wisdom or courage, the knowing of things that other men do not know and the taking of risks that other men would not dare.


Jeffrey Richards describes a European, "medieval masculinity which was essentially Christian and chivalric." Again ethics, courage and generosity are seen as characteristic of the portrayal of men in literary history. In Anglo Saxon, Beowulf and, in several languages, the legends of King Arthur are famous examples of medieval ideals of masculinity. The documented ideals include many examples of an "exaulted" place for women, in romance and courtly love.


Janet Saltzman Chafetz (1974, 35-36) describes seven areas of masculinity.
  1. Physical — virile, athletic, strong, brave. Unconcerned about appearance and aging;
  2. Functional — breadwinner, provider for family as much as mate
  3. Sexual — sexually aggressive, experienced. Single status acceptable; (do not mind to walk around naked, especially around other guys)
  4. Emotional — unemotional, stoic, the proverb says boys don't cry;
  5. Intellectual — logical, intellectual, rational, objective, practical,
  6. Interpersonal — leader, dominating; disciplinarian; independent, free, individualistic; demanding;
  7. Other Personal Characteristics — success-oriented, ambitious, aggressive, proud, egotistical; moral, trustworthy; decisive, competitive, uninhibited, adventurous.


Masculinity has its roots in genetics (see gender). Therefore while masculinity looks different in different cultures, there are common aspects to its definition across cultures. Sometimes gender scholars will use the phrase "hegemonic masculinity" to distinguish the most dominant form of masculinity from other variants. In the mid-twentieth century United States, for example, John Wayne might embody one form of masculinity, while Albert Einstein might be seen as masculine, but not in the same "hegemonic" fashion.
By contrast, as many as "1 per 30,000 adult males and 1 per 100,000 adult females seek sex-reassignment surgery" due to discomfort with their gender identity, gender role or both.
Machismo is a form of masculine culture. It includes assertiveness or standing up for one's rights, responsibility/selflessness, general code of ethics, and sincerity and/or respect.
Anthropology has shown that masculinity itself has social status, just like wealth, race and social class. In western culture, for example, greater masculinity usually brings greater social status. Many English words such as virtue and virulant (from the Latin vir meaning man) reflect this. An association with physical and/or moral strength is implied. Masculinity is associated more commonly with men than with boys.

Development of masculinity

A great deal is now known about the development of masculine characteristics. The process of sexual differentiation specific to the reproductive system of Homo sapiens produces a female by default. The SRY gene on the Y chromosome, however, interferes with the default process, causing a chain of events that, all things being equal, leads to testes formation, androgen production and a range of both natal and post-natal hormonal effects covered by the terms masculinization or virilization. Because masculinization redirects biological processes from the normal female route, it is more precisely called defeminization.
There is an extensive debate about how children develop gender identities.
In many cultures displaying characteristics not typical to one's gender may become a social problem for the individual. Among men, some non-standard behaviors may be considered a sign of homosexuality, while a girl who exhibits masculine behavior is more frequently dismissed as a "tomboy". Within sociology such labeling and conditioning is known as gender assumptions and, and is a part of socialization to better match a culture's mores. The corresponding social condemnation of excessive masculinity may be expressed in terms such as "machismo" or "testosterone poisoning."
The relative importance of the roles of socialization and genetics in the development of masculinity continues to be debated. While social conditioning obviously plays a role, it can also be observed that certain aspects of the masculine identity exist in almost all human cultures.
The historical development of gender role is addressed by such fields as behavioral genetics, evolutionary psychology, human ecology and sociobiology. All human cultures seem to encourage the development of gender roles, through literature, costume and song. Some examples of this might include the epics of Homer, the King Arthur tales in English, the normative commentaries of Confucius or biographical studies of the prophet Muhammad. More specialized treatments of masculinity may be found in works such as the Bhagavad Gita or bushido's Hagakure.

Pressures associated with masculinity

Most men feel pressured to act masculine. These men feel that they have to prevail in situations that require physical strength and fitness. To appear weak, emotional, or sexually inefficient is a major threat to their self-esteem. To be content, these men must feel that they are decisive and self-assured, and rational. Masculine gender role stress may develop if a man feels that he has acted 'unmanly'. Conversely, acting 'manly' among peers will often result in increased social validation or general competitive advantage.
In 1987, Eisler and Skidmore did studies on masculinity and created the idea of 'masculine stress'. They found four mechanisms of masculinity that accompany masculine gender role often result in emotional stress. They include:
  • the emphasis on prevailing in situations requiring fitness and strength
  • being perceived as emotional and thereby feminine
  • the need to feel conquering in regard to sexual matters and work
  • the need to repress tender emotions such as showing emotions restricted according to traditional masculine customs

Coping strategies

Men and women have different ways that they appraise stressful situations and cope with them. Standards of masculinity cannot only create stress in themselves for some men; they can also limit these men's abilities to relieve stress. Some men appraise situations using the schema of what is an acceptable masculine response rather than what is objectively the best response. As a result men often feel limited to a certain range of "approved" responses and coping strategies.


In every age category after that, from age 25 to age 65, the driver fatality rate per vehicle miles driven is higher for men than for women. Men are more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident and other accidents generally. And even in the narrow category of young (16-20) driver fatalities with a high blood alcohol content (BAC), a male's risk of dying is higher than a female's risk at the same BAC level. That is, young women drivers need to be more drunk to have the same risk of dying in a fatal accident as young men drivers. Men are in fact three times more likely to die in all kinds of accidents than women. Men make up 93% of workplace deaths, indicating either a greater willingness to perform dangerous work, or a societal expectation that this work will be performed by men.
The reasons for this willingness to take risks are widely debated.

Health care

Men are significantly less likely to visit their physicians to receive preventive health care examinations. American men make 134.5 million fewer physician visits than American women each year. In fact, men make only 40.8% of all physician visits. A quarter of the men who are 45 to 60 do not have a personal physician. Men should go to annual heart checkups with physicians but many do not, increasing their risk of death from heart disease. In fact, men between the ages of 25 and 65 are four times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women. Men are more likely to be diagnosed in a later stage of a terminal illness because of their reluctance to go to the doctor. This may also be due to the fact that men tend to not notice symptoms as quickly as women do.
Reasons men give for not having annual physicals and not visiting their physician include fear, denial, embarrassment, and a dislike of situations out of their control. These are feelings that result from their ideas of masculinity, specifically independence, control, and invulnerability.

Media encouragement

According to Arran Stibbe (2004), men's health problems and behaviors can be linked to the socialized gender role of men in our culture. In exploring magazines, he found that they promote traditional masculinity and claims that, among other things, men's magazines tend to celebrate "male" activities and behavior such as admiring guns, fast cars, sexually libertine women, and reading or viewing pornography regularly. In men's magazines, several "ideal" images of men are promoted, and that these images may even entail certain health risks.

Alcohol consumption behavior

Research on beer commercials by Strate (Postman, Nystrom, Strate, And Weingartner 1987; Strate 1989, 1990) and by Wenner (1991) show some results relevant to studies of masculinity. In beer commercials, the ideas of masculinity (especially risk-taking) are presented and encouraged. The commercials often focus on situations where a man is overcoming an obstacle in a group. The men will either be working hard or playing hard. For instance the commercial will show men who do physical labor such as construction workers, or farm work, or men who are cowboys. Beer commercials that involve playing hard have a central theme of mastery (over nature or over each other), risk, and adventure. For instance, the men will be outdoors fishing, camping, playing sports, or hanging out in bars. There is usually an element of danger as well as a focus on movement and speed. This appeals to and emphasizes the idea that real men overcome danger and enjoy speed (i.e. fast cars/driving fast). The bar serves as a setting for test of masculinity (skills like pool, strength and drinking ability) and serves as a center for male socializing.
Men drink more alcohol than women, often engaging in risky behavior such as binge drinking. According to a study done by Rorabaugh, college men are among the heaviest drinkers in American society. In exchange for taking the risk presented, college men receive acceptance from their peers. Not only is alcohol in itself a risk in these men's lives, but some college rituals and traditions expect men to mix danger while they have consumed alcohol. In American colleges, young men view their manhood as developing in a moment that is socially dominated by alcohol.

Masculine roles

The following roles are frequently associated with masculinity.

See also



  • Janssen, Diederik. International guide to literature on masculinity: a bibliography. MPS, March 2008. ISBN 978-1-931342-17-9 (pbk. : alk. paper) -- ISBN 978-1-931342-18-6 (electronic)
  • Levine, Martin P. (1998). Gay Macho. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-4694-2.
  • Stibbe, Arran. (2004). "Health and the Social Construction of Masculinity in Men's Health Magazine." Men and Masculinities; 7 (1) July, pp. 31-51.
  • Strate, Lance "Beer Commercials: A Manual on Masculinity" Men's Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001

Further reading

Present situation

  • Arrindell, Willem A., Ph.D. (1 October 2005) "Masculine Gender Role Stress" Psychiatric Times Pg. 31
  • Ashe, Fidelma (2007) The New Politics of Masculinity, London and New York: Routledge.
  • Burstin, Fay "What's Killing Men". Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia). October 15 2005.
  • Canada, Geoffrey "Learning to Fight" Men's Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001
  • Robert Connell: Masculinities, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995 ISBN 0-7456-1469-8
  • Courtenay, Will "Constructions of masculinity and their influence on men's well-being: a theory of gender and health" Social Science and Medicine, yr: 2000 vol: 50 iss: 10 pg: 1385–1401
  • bell hooks, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, Taylor & Francis 2004, ISBN 0415969271
  • Levant & Pollack (1995) A New Psychology of Men, New York: BasicBooks
  • Juergensmeyer, Mark (2005): Why guys throw bombs. About terror and masculinity (pdf)
  • Kaufman, Michael "The Construction of Masculinity and the Triad of Men's Violence". Men's Lives Kimmel, Michael S. and Messner, Michael A. ed. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, London: 2001
  • Mansfield, Harvey. Manliness. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. ISBN 0300106645
  • Robinson, L. (October 21 2005). Not just boys being boys: Brutal hazings are a product of a culture of masculinity defined by violence, aggression and domination. Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario).
  • Stephenson, June (1995). Men are Not Cost Effective: Male Crime in America. ISBN 0-06-095098-6
  • Williamson P. "Their own worst enemy" Nursing Times: 91 (48) 29 November 95 p 24-7
  • Wray Herbert "Survival Skills" U.S. News & World Report Vol. 139 , No. 11; Pg. 63 September 26 2005
  • "Masculinity for Boys"; published by UNESCO, New Delhi, 2006;


  • Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America, New York [etc.]: The Free Press 1996
  • A Question of Manhood: A Reader in U.S. Black Mens History and Masculinity, edited by Earnestine Jenkins and Darlene Clark Hine, Indiana University press vol1: 1999, vol. 2: 2001
  • Gary Taylor, Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood, Routledge 2002
  • Klaus Theweleit, Male fantasies, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1987 and Polity Press, 1987
  • Peter N. Stearns, Be a Man!: Males in Modern Society, Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1990

External links

masculinity in Arabic: ذكورة
masculinity in German: Männlichkeit
masculinity in French: Virilité
masculinity in Italian: Maschilismo
masculinity in Japanese: 男らしさ
masculinity in Polish: Maskulinizm
masculinity in Russian: Мужество
masculinity in Swedish: Mansforskning
masculinity in Ukrainian: Мужність
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