In Greek mythology, Heracles is synonymous with Apollonian masculinity.

Masculinity is, according to Collins Dictionary, possessing qualities or characteristics considered typical of or appropriate to a man. The term can be used to describe any human, animal or object that has the quality of being masculine. When masculine is used to describe men, it can have degrees of comparison—more masculine, most masculine.

The opposite can be expressed by terms such as unmanly or epicene.[1] A typical near-synonym of masculinity is virility (from Latin vir, man);[1] and the usual complement is femininity.[1]


Literature review


Cicero wrote that "a man's chief quality is courage."[2]

Ancient literature goes back to about 3000 BCE. It includes both explicit statements of what was expected of men in laws, and implicit suggestions about masculinity in myths involving gods and heroes. In 1000 BCE, The Hebrew Bible states King David of Israel told his son "Be strong, and be a man" upon David's death. Men throughout history have gone to meet exacting cultural standards of what is considered attractive. 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."[3] 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 takes a woman to wife, but has no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him."[4]

Scholars suggest integrity and equality as masculine values in male-male relationships,[5] 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."[6] Again ethics, courage and generosity are seen as characteristic of the portrayal of men (=niela) 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.

Masculine physical attributes

During the first half of the twentieth century, men were often associated with images of industrialization

Some researchers argue that a number[clarification needed] of women may be aroused by broad chins and shoulders and high cheekbones, though there are cultural differences in those preferences, and arousal may be a mere indication of socialized notions of attractiveness. Other research suggests that women recognize a sculpted physique as indicative of "masculine" discipline and self-control.

Biology and culture

Direct competition of physical skill and strength is a feature of masculinity which appears in some form in virtually every culture on Earth. Here, two U.S. Marines compete in a wrestling match.

Some gender studies scholars will use the phrase "hegemonic masculinity" to refer to an ideal of male behavior which men are strongly encouraged to aim, which is calculated to guarantee the dominant position of some men over others.

Western trends

According to a paper submitted by Tracy Tylka to the American Psychological Association (APA), in contemporary America: "Instead of seeing a decrease in objectification of women in society, there has just been an increase in the objectification of both sexes. And you can see that in the media today." Men and women restrict their food intake in an effort to achieve what they consider an attractively thin body, in extreme cases leading to eating disorders.[7] Thomas Holbrook, also a psychiatrist, cites a recent Canadian study indicating as many as one in six of those with eating disorders were men.[8]

"Younger men and women who read fitness and fashion magazines could be psychologically harmed by the images of perfect female and male physiques," according to recent research in the United Kingdom. Some young women and men exercise excessively in an effort to achieve what they consider an attractively fit and muscular body, which in extreme cases can lead to body dysmorphic disorder or muscle dysmorphia.[9][10][11]

Although the actual stereotypes may have remained relatively constant, the value attached to the masculine and feminine stereotypes seem to have changed over the past few decades.

Those associated with recent work in the study of masculinity from a philosophical perspective view masculinity as an unstable phenomenon and never ultimately achieved.[12]

Masculinity in decline

There has been a recent uptick of books, articles and research studies documenting an endocrinological (or hormone) decline in the general male population. Recent analysis shows average testosterone levels receding in men of all ages.[13] In addition, average sperm quality, quantity and even testicle size has seen a marked reduction.[14] Although many theories are presented to why this is happening, from endocrine dysruptors, to the feminist movement, to evolutionary biology,[15] researchers ultimately concede the reason is still unknown.


A construction worker.

A great deal is now known about the development of masculine characteristics and the process of sexual differentiation specific to the reproductive system of Homo sapiens. The SRY gene on the Y chromosome interferes with the process of creating a female, causing a chain of events that leads to testes formation, androgen production, and a range of both natal and post-natal hormonal effects. 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. Within sociology such labeling and conditioning is known as gender assumptions, and is a part of socialization to better match a culture's mores. Among men, some non-standard behaviors may be considered a sign of homosexuality, which frequently runs contrary to cultural notions of masculinity. When sexuality is defined in terms of object choice, as in early sexology studies, male homosexuality is interpreted as "feminine" sexuality. 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, some hold that certain aspects of the feminine and masculine identity exist in almost all human cultures, though this has not been thoroughly substantiated.

The historical development of gender role is addressed by such fields as behavioral genetics, evolutionary psychology, human ecology, anthropology and sociology. 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. More specialized treatments of masculinity may be found in works such as the Bhagavad Gita or bushidō's Hagakure.

Another term for a masculine woman is butch, which is associated with lesbianism. Butch is also used within the lesbian community, without a negative connotation, but with a more specific meaning (Davis and Lapovsky Kennedy, 1989).

Downside and failure of concept

It is a subject of debate whether masculinity concepts followed historically should still be applied. Researchers such as Care International have argued that there is a harmful downside due to considerations such as the following:

  • The relationship between masculinity and gender-based violence[16]
  • The disempowerment and impoverishment of women and the persistence of gender inequalities through men’s violence[16]
  • The loss of men's dignity and self-esteem when they are taught to behave violently

The images of boys and young men presented in the media may lead to the persistence of harmful concepts of masculinity. Men's rights activists argue that the media does not pay serious attention to men's rights issues and that men are often portrayed in a negative light, particularly in advertising.[17]

Pressures associated

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 body and fitness
  • Being perceived as emotional
  • The need to feel adequate in regard to sexual matters and financial status

Because of social norms and pressures associated with masculinity, Men with spinal cord injuries have to adapt their self identity to the losses associated with SCI which may “lead to feelings of decreased physical and sexual prowess with lowered self-esteem and a loss of male identity. Feelings of guilt and overall loss of control are also experienced.”[18]

Masculinity is something that some fear is becoming increasingly challenged, especially in the last century, with the emergence of Women's rights and the development of the role of women in society. In recent years many 'Man Laws' and similar masculinist manifestos have been published, as a way for men to re-affirm their masculinity. A popular example is the Miller Lite Man Laws, and other various sites on the internet offering rules such as: "15. A real man does not need instruction manuals." [19] Although many of these rules are offered in a humorous fashion, they attempt to define masculinity, and indicate that proper gender is taught and performed rather than intuited.


The driver crash rate per vehicle miles driven is higher for women than for men; although, men are much more likely to cause deaths in the accidents they are involved in.[20] Men drive significantly more miles than women, so, on average, they are more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents. 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.[21] 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. In the United States, men make up 92% of workplace deaths, indicating either a greater willingness to perform dangerous work, a societal expectation to perform this work, or that women are not hired for this work.[22]

Health care

A growing body of evidence is pointing toward the deleterious impact of masculinity (and hegemonic masculinity in particular) on men's health help-seeking behaviour.[23] 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, that is, if women's visits for pregnancy are included, childbirth and associated obstetrical and gynecological visits. A quarter of the men who are 45 to 60 do not have a personal physician. Many men should go to annual heart checkups with physicians but do not, increasing their risk of death from heart disease. 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.

Reasons men give for not having annual physicals and not visiting their physician include fear, denial, embarrassment, a dislike of situations out of their control, or not worth the time or cost.

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 the measurement of masculinity (skills like pool, strength and drinking ability) and serves as a center for male socializing.

Traditional Masculinity

Father with his son

Traditional avenues for men to gain honor were that of providing adequately for their families and exercising leadership.[24] The traditional family structure consisted of the father as the bread-winner and the mother as the homemaker. During World War II, women entered the workforce in droves to replace the soldiers who were sent overseas. While some returned home to resume their positions as homemakers if their husbands survived the war, and others remained in the workplace. Over the decades since, women have risen to high political and corporate positions. This shift has caused an increase in women becoming the primary income-earners and men the primary care-givers[24] --a process author Jeremy Adam Smith calls "the daddy shift" in his 2009 book of that title.[25] As of 2007, 159,000 dads were primary care-givers and this number is increasing.[26] Dubbed stay-at-home dads, these men are performing duties in the home which are not being done by women. Regardless of age or nationality, men more frequently rank good health, harmonious family life and good relationships with their spouse or partner as important to their quality of life.[27]

See also



  1. ^ a b c Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus, 3rd. ed., Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
  2. ^ "Viri autem propria maxime est fortitudo." Cicero, Tusculanae Quaestiones, 1:11:18.
  3. ^ Kate Cooper, The Virgin and The Bride: Idealized Womanhood in Late Antiquity, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 19.
  4. ^ The Code of Hammurabi, translated by LW King, 1910.
  5. ^ Karen Bassi, ['Acting like Men: Gender, Drama, and Nostalgia in Ancient Greece', Classical Philology 96 (2001): 86-92.]
  6. ^ Jeffrey Richards, 'From Christianity to Paganism: The New Middle Ages and the Values of ‘Medieval’ Masculinity,' Cultural Values 3 (1999): 213-234.
  7. ^ Pressure To Be More Muscular May Lead Men To Unhealthy Behaviors
  8. ^ Goode, Erica (2000-06-25). "Thinner: The Male Battle With Anorexia". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  9. ^ "Magazines 'harm male body image'". BBC News. 2008-03-28. Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  10. ^ Muscle dysmorphia –
  11. ^ Men Muscle in on Body Image Problems | LiveScience
  12. ^ Reeser, T. Masculinities in Theory, Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  13. ^ Travison, T. Araujo, A., O’Donnell, A. Kupelian, V. and McKinlay, J. (2007). "A Population-Level Decline in Serum Testosterone Levels in American Men". The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 92 (1): 196–202. doi:10.1210/jc.2006-1375. 
  14. ^ Dindyal, S. (2007). "The sperm count has been decreasing steadily for many years in Western industrialised countries: Is there an endocrine basis for this decrease?". The Internet Journal of Urology 2 (1): 1–21. 
  15. ^ Rogers (Nov. 2010.). "The dramatic decline of the modern man". Salon. 
  17. ^ Farrell, W. & Sterba, J. P. (2008) Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men: A Debate (Point and Counterpoint), New York: Oxford University Press.
  18. ^ Hutchinson, Susan L "Heroic masculinity following spinal cord injury: Implications for therapeutic recreation practice and research". Therapeutic Recreation Journal. 07 Apr, 2009
  19. ^ "List of Man Law Rules/Rules for Men". Fucking Manly. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  20. ^ Johns Hopkins School Of Public Health (1998, June 18). Women Not Neccessarily Better Drivers Than Men. ScienceDaily.
  21. ^ Crash Data and Rates for Age-Sex Groups of Drivers, 1996, Ezio C. Cerrelli, January 1998, National Center for Statistics & Analysis - Research & Development
  22. ^ CFOI Charts, 1992–2006
  23. ^ Galdas P.M., Cheater F. & Marshall P. (2005) Men and health help-seeking behaviour: Literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49, 616-23
  24. ^ a b George, A., “Reinventing honorable masculinity” Men and Masculinities
  25. ^ Smith, Jeremy Adam. The Daddy Shift. Boston: Beacon Press, 2009.
  26. ^ Stay-at-Home Dads, By Dawn Rosenberg McKay, Guide
  27. ^ Men defy stereotypes in defining masculinity, August 26, 2008, Tri-City Psychology Services


  • 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.
  • Broom A. and Tovey P. (Eds) Men’s Health: Body, Identity and Social Context London; John Wiley and Sons Inc.
  • 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
  • Raewyn Connell: Masculinities (as Robert W. Connell), 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
  • Galdas P.M. and Cheater F.M. (2010) Indian and Pakistani men’s accounts of seeking medical help for angina and myocardial infarction in the UK: Constructions of marginalised masculinity or another version of hegemonic masculinity? Qualitative Research in Psychology
  • 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
  • Reeser, T. Masculinities in Theory, Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  • 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;
  • Smith, Bonnie G., Hutchison, Beth. Gendering Disability. Rutgers University Press, 2004.


  • 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
  • Shuttleworth, Russell. "Disabled Masculinity." Gendering Disability. Ed. Bonnie G. Smith and Beth Hutchison. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2004. 166-178.

External links


  • The Men's Bibliography, a comprehensive bibliography of writing on men, masculinities, gender and sexualities, listing over 16,700 works. (mainly from a constructionist perspective)
  • Boyhood Studies, features a 2200+ bibliography of young masculinities.


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Masculinity — Mas cu*lin i*ty, n. The state or quality of being masculine; masculineness. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • masculinity — 1748; see MASCULINE (Cf. masculine) + ITY (Cf. ity). Earlier in same sense was masculineness (1660s) …   Etymology dictionary

  • masculinity — / masculine [n/adj] manly andric, gender, macho*, male, manful, mannish, potent, virile; concepts 371,372,408,648 Ant. feminine …   New thesaurus

  • masculinity — The characteristics of, and appropriate to, the male sex. Although feminists would argue that most sociology has been by men, about men, and for men, the problem of analysing men and masculinity as issues in their own right remained relatively… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • masculinity — [[t]mæ̱skjʊlɪ̱nɪti[/t]] 1) N UNCOUNT A man s masculinity is the fact that he is a man. ...a project on the link between masculinity and violence. Ant: femininity 2) N UNCOUNT Masculinity means the qualities, especially sexual qualities, which are …   English dictionary

  • masculinity — mas|cu|lin|i|ty [ˌmæskjuˈlınıti] n [U] the features and qualities considered to be typical of men ≠ ↑femininity ▪ Children s ideas of masculinity tend to come from their fathers. ▪ boys trying to prove their masculinity …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • masculinity — The qualities and characteristics of a male. * * * mas·cu·lin·i·ty .mas kyə lin ət ē n, pl ties the quality, state, or degree of being masculine <measurement of masculinity or femininity (Psychological Abstracts)> * * * mas·cu·lin·i·ty… …   Medical dictionary

  • masculinity —    the male genitalia    Or one of the component parts:     ... lays out his masculinity on the table top, where Gasha Rani mistakes it for a Havana cigar. (Dalrymple, 1998) …   How not to say what you mean: A dictionary of euphemisms

  • masculinity — noun (U) the characteristics and qualities considered to be typical of men: Children s ideas of masculinity tend to come from their fathers …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • masculinity — noun he s the picture of masculinity Syn: virility, manliness, maleness, machismo, vigor, strength, muscularity, ruggedness, robustness; informal testosterone …   Thesaurus of popular words

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