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Gordon C. Nagayama Hall, Ph.D.

What Is Healthy Masculinity?

It may involve femininity.

Man Holding Up an Infant/Nguyen Haut rung/Flickr
Source: Man Holding Up an Infant/Nguyen Haut rung/Flickr

When you read these descriptions, you are probably thinking of a man. And this man may cause problems for others. But a man with these characteristics not only causes problems for others. He may cause problems for himself.

Psychologist Y. Joel Wong recently examined traditionally “masculine” characteristics, including the four above, in a meta-analysis of 74 studies of more than 19,000 men. A meta-analysis is a statistical summary of the combined results of multiple studies. Traditionally masculine characteristics were associated with poorer mental health, including depression, distress, and low self-esteem. Dr. Wong concluded that traditionally masculine characteristics may interfere with men’s relationships with others. And poor relationships may result in poor mental health.

  • Sensitive to the needs of others
  • Affectionate
  • Loves children
  • Gentle

When you read these descriptions, you are probably thinking of a woman. Yet, in a 17-year study of over 700 men, having these and other traditionally “feminine” characteristics predicted lower rates of death from coronary heart disease. So, healthy masculinity may involve a dose of femininity.

Twenty years ago, psychologist Christy Barongan and I proposed feminine socialization, which involves teaching males to have feminine characteristics. Feminine socialization could reduce violence because being female is associated with lower levels of violence. We acknowledged that feminine socialization of males was an uphill battle.

Society still does not value non-masculine behavior, particularly among males. “Effeminate” and “emasculated” are derogatory terms for men with feminine characteristics. For example, both men and women rate Asian American men as more feminine than other men. And they view Asian American men as unassertive and poor leaders. Similarly, many gay men of all ethnicities have negative attitudes toward effeminate gay men.

Our nation’s failure to elect its first woman president has been widely regarded as a setback for women and feminist values. But it is also a setback for men. The traditionally feminine focus on relationships is healthy for everyone. Including men.

It is not easy to change people’s definitions of masculinity. But men’s mental and physical health may depend on it.


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Hunt, K., Lewars, H., Emslie, C., & Batty, G. D. (2007). Decreased risk of death from coronary heart disease amongst men with higher ‘femininity’scores: a general population cohort study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 36, 612-620. doi: 10.1093/ije/dym022

Iwamoto, D. K., & Liu, W. M. (2009). Asian American men and Asianized attribution: Intersections of masculinity, race, and sexuality. In D. K. Iwamoto & W. M. Liu (Eds.), Asian American psychology: Current perspectives (pp. 211-232). New York: Routledge.

Sánchez, F. J. (2016). Masculinity issues among gay, bisexual, and transgender men. In Y. J. Wong & S. R. Wester (Eds.), APA handbook of men and masculinities (pp. 339-356). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association doi: 10.1037/14594-016

Wong, Y. J., Ho, M. H. R., Wang, S. Y., & Miller, I. S. (2016). Meta-analyses of the relationship between conformity to masculine norms and mental health-related outcomes. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64, 80-93. doi: 10.1037/cou0000176


About the Author

Gordon C. Nagayama Hall, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon with a focus in culture and mental health.