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How Scientists Test Boys for Extreme Sexism

It's a father's job to model healthy masculinity while also teaching our children to respect women. But it can be tricky to make sure they get the message. 

Masculine sons are great; misogynistic sons, not so much. And therein lies the rub. As fathers, it’s one of our most important jobs to model healthy masculinity while also teaching our children to respect women and not be that guy. But sometimes it’s tricky to make sure our sons are getting the message. 

When we tell our sons that a man should know how to repair his own car, are we teaching a life skill or, promoting “self-reliance through mechanical skills”—a telltale sign of unhealthy male role norms? When we buy our boys trucks instead of dolls, are we simply choosing a toy that we think they’ll like, or are we teaching them that even paltry symbols of femininity detract from their masculinity? 

Loaded questions, with dire messages. Fortunately, there are no less than six psychometric tests that experts use to assess toxic masculinity, ranging from simple eight-question quizzes to intense 94-item instruments. Most prominent is the Male Role Norms Inventory, a 53-question slog that its creator, Ronald F. Levant of the University of Akron, recently shortened to a more manageable 21 questions.

Meet The Male Role Norms Inventory-Short Form (MRNI-SF)

Ask your son to answer the following questions with Strongly Disagree (1), Disagree (2), Slightly Disagree (3), No Opinion (4), Slightly Agree (5), Agree (6), or Strongly Agree (7). Then, simply tally up the score. The lowest possible score is 21, the highest possible score is 147.

  1. A man should never admit when others hurt his feelings
  2. Men should be detached in emotionally charged situations  
  3. Men should not be too quick to tell others that they care about them  
  4. Men should have home improvement skills
  5. Men should be able to fix most things around the house  
  6. A man should know how to repair his car if it should break down  
  7. Homosexuals should never marry  
  8. All homosexual bars should be closed down  
  9. Homosexuals should never kiss in public  
  10. Men should watch football games instead of soap operas  
  11. A man should prefer watching action movies to reading romantic novels  
  12. Boys should prefer to play with trucks rather than dolls  
  13. Men should always like to have sex  
  14. A man should not turn down sex  
  15. A man should always be ready for sex  
  16. The President of the US should always be a man  
  17. Men should be the leader in any group  
  18. A man should always be the boss
  19. It is important for a man to take risks, even if he might get hurt
  20. When the going gets tough, men should get tough
  21. I think a young man should try to be physically tough, even if he’s not big

What’s The Score Mean?

The raw score measures how much your son believes that men should conform to traditional Western masculine norms, which include restricting the expression of emotions (measured via questions 1-3), striving for self-reliance through mechanical skills (4-6), having negative attitudes toward sexual minorities (7-9), the avoidance of all things feminine (10-12), placing great importance on sex (13-15), and being tough or dominant (16-21).

The average male college student scores about 28; college women score closer to 21.

Does A High Score Mean That My Son Hates Women?

Not necessarily—He might also hate sexual minorities, too. Or just love power tools. First of all, recognize that a psychometric test is meant to be given in a clinic, not in your living room. So it’s possible that your son would give different answers if his dad hadn’t been the one administering the test. And it’s also possible that your son didn’t fully understand some of the questions and their implications. It’s conceivable that a boy who likes football might give a 7-point score to the statement “men should watch football games instead of soap operas”, without realizing that this question was not about personal preference, but about what all men should do.

If you do suspect that your son may be displaying some unhealthy world-views, a frank conversation may be in order. Because you do not want to raise a boy who scores high on the MRNI and means it. Studies have shown that men who embrace these traditional masculine values struggle to maintain romantic relationships are less likely to practice safe sex, and more likely to harass women. The good news is that it’s possible to embrace masculinity without harming others. But healthy masculinity takes work to build—and it begins at home, with fathers setting positive examples for their sons.