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New Study Identifies Positive Masculine Norms in Boys and Men

Being a good man is complicated, but scientists are finally starting to identify positive masculine traits.

Many aspects of traditional masculinity are harmful for boys, men, and everyone around them, according to a massive new report from the American Psychological Association. The recommendations have been met with backlash from conservative pundits, men’s rights activists, and men concerned about masculinity being policed. Now, a new study in the journal of Psychology of Men & Masculinities, attempts to define the most harmful masculinity norms, and replace them with positive traits that are still celebrated as manly. It’s a sort of middle ground—one that researchers hope will satisfy the general public.

“Researchers have yet to systematically test whether aspects of positive masculinity represent socialized messages about what is typically expected of men in the broader culture,” authors wrote. “Accordingly, the present exploratory study sought to determine which attributes of positive masculinity were perceived as positive and socially expected of men.”

We know that traditional masculinity norms aren’t great for men. Studies have linked masculinity norms to physical and mental health problems and violent tendencies among boys. But that doesn’t mean there’s no healthy way for men to express masculinity. Which is why researchers recently developed the positive psychology positive masculinity paradigm. The PPPM paradigm is defined as “beliefs and behaviors of boys and men that produce positive consequences for self and others … learned and internalized through a socialization process in which boys and men develop masculine ways of thinking and behaving.”

Since then, researchers have identified 11 potential domains of positive masculinity: male self-reliance, the worker-provider tradition of men, men’s respect for women, male courage, daring, and risk-taking, the group orientation of men and boys, male forms of service, men’s use of humor, and male heroism. But that’s in theory. In practice, it’s hard to know how many positive norms men actually feel pressured to conform to. In order to figure that out, researchers surveyed 1,077 people about what they thought it meant to be a “good man.” They identified 79 potential positive masculine attributes and had participants rate whether it was positive, whether it was typically expected of men, and whether it was expected of women.

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Of the 79 attributes, all but 3 were strongly rated as positive, but more of them were expected of women, 36, then men, 32. Eleven were gender neutral. “The present results suggest that some aspects of positive masculinity may reflect positive male role norms that are embedded in traditional aspects of masculinity but represent more moderate expressions of those gendered qualities,” study authors write.

Simply, positive masculinity and traditional masculinity are not mutually exclusive. More importantly, the proponents of positive masculinity norms are not trying to get rid of traditional ones entirely. No one is trying to take away anyone’s manhood or rob them of their identities. They’re just trying to make sure masculinity expressed in a way that’s better for everyone.

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