Don’t blame feminism for the Man-Child archetype: an analysis of masculinity

This post is partially taken from a paper I wrote, and adapted for a blog post. 

I am sick of sensationalist media pinning the perceived emasculation of men on women. I’m sick of reading articles that pin the blame on successful women, as if life is a zero-sum game in which one group winning means another group is losing. We see many pop-psychology articles about the man-child archetype, which blame women for making too much money and taking all the jobs. As a die-hard feminist, for the longest time I didn’t believe there was any emasculation going on to begin with. Even if men were being babies about women succeeding, it sure as hell isn’t my fault, or the fault of other women. But a recent literature review led me to a new hypothesis: there is very real emasculation going on in our society, but it stems from insidious cultural attitudes about the role of masculinity.

To be sure, there has been excellent discussion about new ideas about masculinity. I’m looking at you, No Seriously, What About Teh Menz. But I think that somewhere along the line of liberating women, society got the idea that masculinity is bad. All of it. Even the things that men prided themselves on—like responsibility, respect, kindness and dignity. I want to take this opportunity to draw a distinction between positive masculinity and negative masculinity.

Take, for example, research on the culture of machismo in Mexican and Mexican-American relationships. Historically, it has been believed that endorsement of machismo is pathological and detrimental to marital satisfaction; however, those who believe in traditional gender roles have also been found to have high marital satisfaction (Pardo et al., 2012). Research has shown that endorsement of machismo by husbands and wives is more nuanced than previously thought. While endorsement of positive machismo (traits such as loyalty, responsibility, respect, and dignity) has been found to be a predictor of marital satisfaction for both husbands and wives, the same is not true of negative machismo (masculine traits associated with dominance, control, manipulation and self-centeredness) (Pardo et al., 2012). Though men that endorse positive machismo positively predict high marital satisfaction for both themselves and their wives (and vice versa), male endorsers of negative machismo are not as highly correlated with marital satisfaction. Furthermore, when wives endorse negative machismo qualities, it is predicted that their partners will be less satisfied with their relationship (Pardo et al., 2012).

It seems as though the positive aspects of masculinity provide communal support to relationships, while the more excessive dominance and paternalism of the negative aspects of masculinity contribute to stress on the relationship and perhaps may even be more psychologically demanding on the male. Specifically, when a female partner has expectations for the male to be more domineering, protective, and stoic, it particularly affects the relationship satisfaction of the male. Overall, Sibley and Tan (2011) found that as men endorse patriarchal attitudes, there is increased resistance by both members to sharing power and decision-making within a relationship. This is a clear indicator that traditional masculinity can lead to increased friction and be detrimental to relationships.

Indeed, research indicates that men who endorse positive machismo beliefs such as gentleness and kindness were more in touch with their feelings, were better able to empathize, and had higher life satisfaction than men who endorsed traditional machismo beliefs (Pardo et al., 2012). Though these specific findings were from Mexican-American culture, there is evidence that this distinction between positive and negative masculinity is apparent in American men as well.

The extensive research on video games and violence provides an indicator that there is a clear distinction in the effects of beliefs in positive and negative masculinity in the United States. It has been widely shown that video games can increase aggression responses in players (Anderson et al., 2010). However, Thomas and Levanson (2012) found that exposure to violent video games only predicted increases in aggression for males that endorsed traditional masculine ideology; for males that did not endorse traditional masculinity, there was no relationship between violent video game exposure and aggression. Though this example does not directly relate to personal relationships, the connection between dimensions of masculinity and the positive and negative outcomes that relate from them are clear. Thomas and Levanson’s results, indicate that—in contrast to negative masculinity—the key to mental well-being and resiliency in men is emphasis on the positive aspects of masculinity; responsibility, respect, dignity (Kiselica and Englar-Carlson, 2010).

It becomes clear then, how negative masculinity is bad. No one wants a partner who is domineering, controlling, and self-absorbed. Still, it’s as if we’ve decided that masculinity is wholly bad, and decided to chuck everything about it. So now, instead of embracing positive masculinity (which are qualities anyone should try to cultivate—male or female) we’re struggling through a time where men don’t know what it is to be men anymore, and have lost touch with their more positive qualities.  Enter the archetype of the Man-Child that we hear so much about in sensationalist media;  it is my belief (and I’ll be looking out for this in future research) that the Man-Child is the incarnation of a guy who has abdicated all responsibility and chooses instead to lead a self-absorbed existence devoid of the values one must develop in order to become a well-adjusted man, and adult. As I mentioned earlier, positive psychology has highlighted the increases in well-being that men develop when presented with a set of positive masculinity values to cultivate within themselves. Responsibility, respect, and dignity are the core values observed here. Instead of ditching everything about masculinity, let’s all as a culture take some time to think about all the good and bad that comes with it—and choose for ourselves which aspects benefit us as a group, and as individuals.

For Further Reading:

  •   Addis, M. E., & Schwab, J. R. (2012). Theory and Research on Gender Are Always Precarious. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. doi:10.1037/a0030960
  • Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A., … Saleem, M. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 151–173. doi:10.1037/a0018251
  • Arciniega, G. M., Anderson, T. C., Tovar-Blank, Z. G., & Tracey, T. J. G. (2008). Toward a fuller conception of Machismo: Development of a traditional Machismo and Caballerismo Scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55(1), 19–33. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.55.1.19
  •   Kiselica, M. S., & Englar-Carlson, M. (2010). Identifying, affirming, and building upon male strengths: The positive psychology/positive masculinity model of psychotherapy with boys and men. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 47(3), 276–287. doi:10.1037/a0021159
  •   Pardo, Y., Weisfeld, C., Hill, E., & Slatcher, R. B. (2012). Machismo and Marital Satisfaction in Mexican American Couples. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. doi:10.1177/0022022112443854
  •   Thomas, K. D., & Levant, R. F. (2012). Does the Endorsement of Traditional Masculinity Ideology Moderate the Relationship Between Exposure to Violent Video Games and Aggression? The Journal of Men’s Studies, 20(1), 47–56. doi:10.3149/jms.2001.47
  • Vandello, J. A., & Bosson, J. K. (2012). Hard Won and Easily Lost: A Review and Synthesis of Theory and Research on Precarious Manhood. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. doi:10.1037/a0029826

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Open access to published research, and why it’s important

A friend sent me this video today, and believe me, it’s worth your time if you feel strongly about research being more widely available. I personally believe that the scientific community has an obligation to the public to make information more widely available. How can we do that if it’s not even widely available enough for the scientific community itself?

open access

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Does nurture really affect gender differences in spatial abilities?

link to abstract

Today’s post is discussing the paper “Nurture Affects Gender Differences in Spatial Abilities” by Moshe Hoffman and Uri Gneezy. This paper is a rebuttal to the most widely known and empirically supported gender difference in cognitive ability known to date, spatial ability.  I was excited to find this paper, since my thesis deals with cognitive gender differences–I have a love-hate relationship with my research, since my feminist leanings lead me to deeply want to see evidence for these differences being due to socialization–not innate ability. Of course, these things are deeply and complexly intertwined. First, however, lets get back to the article at hand.

Hoffman and Gneezy hypothesized that matrilineal or patrilineal societal structure contributes to the observed gender differences, by providing resources and education to one sex over another.  And this is precisely what they found–

As we can see here, in patrilineal societies, males outperformed females by finishing the spatial puzzle in 42.31s (on average), while females took 57.17s (on average).  In comparison, there were no gender differences present in matrilineal societies.  Accounting for a decent sized portion of the difference was the factor of education–in the matrilineal societies, men and women had about the same level of education, whereas there was a larger difference in patrilineal societies (males had around 5 more years of education than women).

Now, this might invalidate my whole area of research. . . except for this:

The puzzle they used was a simple 4-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Now, we already know that education has been shown to erase a large portion of gender differences in spatial ability. But research has also shown that the gender differences are especially pronounced as the spatial tasks get more and more difficult. These findings indeed do demonstrate that socialization does indeed greatly impact spatial abilities, but they haven’t been shown to account for the entire phenomenon.

I will discuss the possible reasons for this in a future post, but it seems that as spatial tasks increase in difficulty, females are more likely to use an analytical and top down approach to solving problems than males are. In contrast, males seem to use a bottom-up, more automatic approach to solving these problems–and they seem to be much faster at it because of this.  FMRI studies have supported these findings; males seem to have activation in more automatic visual areas while solving spatial problems, while females do not.  Of course, not all males and females behave this way cognitively, and there seems to be about a 65/35 split toward each respective cognitive gender bias–so about a third of males think in an non-stereotypically male way, and the same is true for females.   The conclusion that I have come to, thus far, is that these “innate” differences are extremely subtle at a young age and are magnified by the influence of society.  In the scheme of things, these observed gender differences are extremely small and are over-publicized because the media likes to make mountains out of the molehills of gender difference.

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It’s been a while, and musings on evo psych

I haven’t updated in a long time–I know. I was busy being a complete slacker and enjoying my time off before grad school started.  The last half a year was something like the Summer of George; I sat around all day, watched a lot of Netflix, moved, ate unhealthy food, and just generally had a blast.

Now I’m in grad school and I get to never have fun again and make a piddly stipend. Fortunately, that’s okay with me. I’ve been having a blast so far. This blog is not going to attempt to be internet famous, and it’s largely going to be dedicated to my musings and tidbits from my conversations with my cohort and my mentors. It’ll probably be boring, just warning you. Here’s an example:

Today I got into a conversation with a fellow student about evolutionary psychology. I mentioned that I’m interested in human sexuality but that I’m not a huge fan of evolutionary psychology. The other student had worked extensively in an evo psych lab in undegrad, and was quick to defend it, saying that it had the same internal validity as any other area of research. Since I have little expertise in the area, I took his word for it and explained that my problem with evo psych lies in the concern that it allows people to make frustrating ad-hoc claims about gender and gender role stereotypes, and should be criticized openly because they tend to be wrong a lot.  I conceded that this is no different from any other branch of science, which wouldn’t be much good if it couldn’t be criticized.

But his claim, that evo psych has just as much internal validity as any other area, still bothers me for some reason. Is it true? I feel like it shouldn’t be. I certainly don’t want it to be. So many of the claims I’ve looked at and evo psych books I’ve read have turned out to be utter hogwash. I’m inclined to believe that he’d only defend the subject because he worked with it, and that it’s not really defensible with a background in biology (and feminism too I guess).



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HPV vaccine video and other announcements

Echo, one of our own at UCSD VOX has made another smashing video for sexual health.  And I make a cameo in it!  I’m a huge supporter of HPV vaccinations, so I wanted to share his work here.

In other news, I’ve been accepted to graduate school to study psychology, gender, and sexuality.  I’m very excited to share the things I’ll learn on sexological in the future.

Happy weekend, and stay safe.

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Understanding anti-choice hostility–guest post by Echo Zen

As some of you may have heard, the Senate last week rejected the GOP’s House spending bill, along with the Pence Amendment which attempted to cut all Title X funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning orgs.

On one hand the bill had little chance of surviving a Senate vote anyway, given that the anti-choice movement failed to take the Senate in 2010. But given the willingness of our elected officials to compromise on core issues of women’s health and choice (remember last year’s healthcare reform concessions?), the Senate’s rejection of the House bill deserves a sigh of relief. Understandably a common sentiment bandied around meetings this quarter was: “If GOPers hate abortion, why cut Title X funding for contraception and stuff? Wouldn’t contraception REDUCE the need for abortion? Idiots…”

That’s why I want to state for the record that these wingnuts attempting to de-fund Planned Parenthood are hardly idiots. Sure, they may be blatant hypocrites like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who moved last week to cut funds for family planning – but not for erectile dysfunction medication. And certainly they’re prone to regular bouts of foolishness. As President Cecile Richards of PPFA pointed out this month, attacking Planned Parenthood was “one of the stupidest things the Republican Party could have done.” If the outpouring of support for PP these attacks have triggered are anything to go by, this latest attack may have awakened a “sleeping giant” of reproductive activism.

But GOPers aren’t idiots. They knew their spending bill (probably) had no chance in the Senate. They passed it anyway because they wanted to send an unambiguous message – that they don’t care for women’s health, nor do they believe women should have access to women’s health services, because women don’t need those services if they only engage in monogamous procreative sex with husbands (because everyone knows husbands can’t give you STIs or cervical cancer, right?).

This is how one knows the anti-choice movement’s assaults on Planned Parenthood have nothing to do with abortion, and everything to do with punishing women who dare to deviate from their ideology of how proper women are supposed to behave. After all, none of PP’s Title X funding goes to abortion, something the discriminatory Hyde Amendment has ensured for over 30 years. But PP does provide contraception, STI testing/treatment, reproductive cancer screenings and education for sexually active women to stay safe and control their own fertility. Alas, as many a women’s health advocate will tell you, “abortion” in the anti-choice context has little to do with “terminated pregnancies” per se. Instead it’s a convenient smokescreen they use to throw moral weight behind their attacks on women’s health services.

And make no mistake, this attack is no accident. It’s not a “side effect” of the GOP’s battle to stop abortion. As Representative Mike Pence himself admitted online last month, GOPers are well aware the Pence Amendment has nothing to do with abortion funding, but would instead cut funding for women’s health services at Planned Parenthood and other family planning orgs. In other words, this attempt to de-fund contraception, STI testing/treatment and cervical cancer screenings is utterly intentional.

The anti-choice movement opposes all these services, not because they have anything to do with “terminated pregnancies,” but because they allow women to exercise their sexuality with fewer negative consequences. In short, they’re attacking Planned Parenthood because they’re “invested in promiscuity,” regardless of whether or not PP has anything to do with abortion. In fact, for anti-choice activists, virtually anything that might help women prevent conception is a form of “abortion,” as evidenced by their ironic attempts to brand President Obama’s anti-abortion Affordable Care Act as “the biggest advance of the abortion industry in America.”

Such nakedly fictitious claims may seem like plain idiocy, until one realizes the Affordable Care Act, despite its shortcomings, has the potential to “greatly improve women’s access to contraception, STD testing and treatment, general gynecological care, and the HPV vaccine” – all things the anti-choice movement opposes. “Abortion” is simply their catchall codeword for smearing anything that might allow women control over their bodies – and for this reason, pregnancy prevention is tantamount to abortion.

By recognizing this ideology of equivalence, one realizes why no anti-choice group in the U.S. supports better access to contraception – and why being pro-life yet pro-contraception is considered grounds for unceremonious expulsion from most anti-choice orgs, despite how the overwhelming majority of pro-life Americans support contraception. It explains why anti-choice activists have worked for years to (successfully) confuse Americans into believing the “abortion pill” (RU-486) and emergency contraception are the same thing. It explains why anti-choice groups like Americans United for Life attacked last year’s Affordable Care Act as the “biggest expansion of abortion” in the history of U.S healthcare – despite crippling Democratic concessions in the Act which prohibit federal funding for elective abortion. Now anti-choice activists have turned their sights on Planned Parenthood using virtually the same tactics, claiming PP provides (nonexistent) federally funded abortions in order to push their true agenda – punishing women who deviate from their ideology of how women are to be chaste virgins who abstain from sex until marriage (to straight men). Emboldened by GOP victories last October, anti-choice politicos have now dropped any pretense that this is about abortion. Instead they’ve begun to show their true colours by waging open war on contraception and women’s health services nationwide.

Two years ago, President Obama was elected on a platform of bipartisanship that included finding common ground with pro-life groups, supposedly by working to reduce the need for abortion through education and contraception. I won’t say this was a mistake, but as a women’s health advocate, I anticipated this would be a waste of time at best – because virtually all anti-choice organisations in America actively oppose education and contraception, because it’s never really about abortion, except as a smokescreen for their larger anti-women agenda.

It’s for this reason that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recognizes that common ground no longer exists between the pro-choice and anti-choice movement: “We don’t have a set of shared values.” That’s why it’s time we draw a line in the sand, because this is the political reality we face in America today – anti-choice extremism gone mainstream, through Tea Party radicalisation of the GOP. We need to make sure we tailor our messaging so Americans realize this is about more than abortion, that these assaults on women’s health are no accident. We have our work cut out for us till 2012, when we get an opportunity to challenge these legislators of hypocrisy and foolishness.

In the meantime, let’s keep fighting to protect women’s health for 2011.

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Link Carnival 2: a sense of humor, the end of sexism, and princess culture

My friends often send me links to articles, videos, and comics I would be interested in. I’m creating a list of them here to share with readers as well.

Fat, Ugly or Slutty–as somewhat of a gamer girl, I definitely relate to how video game culture can often be hostile to women. The creators of Fat, Ugly or Slutty have made a place for people to remember and laugh at the most ridiculous sexist insults that online video gamers can hurl at them. I freakin’ love this site! It’s like Holla Back for gamers.

Does Female Sexuality Need to be Fixed?–this article discusses some of the problems with Female Sexual Dysfunction. Mainly that it is based around a male-centric idea of what sex should be.

Social Media and the End of Gender–This TED talk examines how social media is changing advertising to be less sexist. I still disagree somewhat, because I still get 2-3 engagement ring ads every day on facebook despite marking each one as “offensive.” It seems to me that at least on facebook, ads are still sold to demographics and not altogether by interests. I guess advertising still has much to learn.

How I Learned What Sex Was–This is a collection of humorous anecdotes about misunderstandings when first learning about sex.

Saving Our Daughters From An Army of Princesses–A mother is dismayed when her daughter (who used to love running around in her overalls and playing with trains) enters preschool and suddenly becomes obsessed with princess culture.

Thanks to all that sent me these links–I didn’t thank you by name because I was concerned you wouldn’t want me to use it publicly. Nonetheless, I love receiving links, and if you have one you’d like to share, please email it to

see you soon!


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