Masculine Gender Role Stress
Byline: Willem A. Arrindell, Ph.D.
Basing themselves on Bem's (1981) theory that gender role schema predispose men to view the world through masculine-tinted cognitive lenses; on Pleck's (1995) view that culturally imposed masculinity predisposes men to gender role strain; and on the contention of Lazarus and Folkman (1984) about the crucial role of cognitive appraisal in stress reactions, Copenhaver and Eisler (1996) developed the following propositions to explain the development of masculine gender role stress and how it may lead to mental and physical health problems in men.
There are significant gender differences in situations that men and women appraise as stressful. The sociocultural contingencies that reward masculine attitudes and behaviors, while punishing nonmasculine attitudes and behaviors, result in the development of masculine gender role cognitive schemata in the vast majority of men. These schemata, reinforced by peers and adult role models, eventually operate through a self-evaluation process to provide the basis for what men consider proper personal characteristics and behavior. Men then use these masculine schemata to appraise potential threats and challenges from the environment and to evaluate and guide their coping responses. However, strong commitment to masculine gender role cognitive schemata is hypothesized to restrict the types of coping strategies available to men. By implication, masculine gender role stress may result from excessive reliance on culturally approved masculine schemata, which hamper objective appraisal of threatening situations and permit men a limited range of gender-linked approved coping strategies. This, in turn, may predispose men to behavior patterns that are unhealthy or dysfunctional. Also, masculine gender role stress may arise from the belief that one is not living up to culturally sanctioned masculine gender role behavior, meaning that men may experience stress if they feel that they have acted in an unmanly fashion (Copenhaver and Eisler, 1996; Eisler and Blalock, 1991). Thus, the concept of masculine gender role stress is based on the paradigm that gender-related differences in the way men appraise environmental, behavioral and perceptual events are directly related to the way they experience stress, which may increase vulnerability to physical and psychiatric disorders (Selye, 1976).
Eisler and Skidmore (1987) developed a scale to measure relationships between masculine gender role stress and dysfunctional behavior patterns in men. A factor analysis of the scale's item pool using data from U.S. male participants demonstrated that there are at least five components of masculinity that can lead to the experience of stress. First, many men place tremendous emphasis on being able to prevail in situations that require physical strength and fitness. Being perceived as weak or sexually below par is a major threat to self-esteem for many men. Second, men tend to become distressed by women who they perceive to be equal or superior to them in traditional masculine domains, such as competitive activities or earning capacities. Third, it is important for men to view themselves as supremely decisive and self-assured;...