Our society's standards for masculinity could literally be killing men.
According to new studies published in Preventive Medicine and The Journal of Health Psychology, men who support traditional gender roles are more likely to have health problems—and less likely to consult their doctors.
For one study, Rutgers University researchers polled 250 men about their views of masculinity and their doctor preferences, finding that those who believed gender stereotypes preferred male doctors.
Ironically, when researchers gave another group of men the questionnaire and had both men and women question them about their health, men with traditional views on gender were actually more likely to open up to women than men.
In the second study, researchers interviewed 491 people about their views on gender and their medical habits, finding that men who endorsed stereotypes about masculinity were less likely to seek help, more likely to minimize health problems, and more likely to have these problems in the first place.
It wasn't just men who suffered from pressure to be tough, though—women who felt this pressure also had worse health and were less likely to communicate their medical problems than those who didn't.
We have a cultural script about masculinity that tells men they need to be tough, brave, strong and self-reliant.
“It’s worse for men, however,” Mary Himmelstein, doctoral student and co-author of the study, said in a press release. “There isn’t any cultural message telling [women] that, to be real women, they should not make too much of illnesses and symptoms.”
Harmful standards for masculinity are pervasive and expand beyond healthcare settings, Himmelstein told NTRSCTN in a statement. "I don't think men only have these kinds of relationships (e.g., not wanting to appear vulnerable) with their doctors; I think it's more broad than that. We have a cultural script about masculinity that tells men they need to be tough, brave, strong and self-reliant."
The study's other author, Rutgers psychology professor Diana Sanchez, told NTRSCTN in a statment that these social pressures start young.
They learn they should not cry on the playground or else they would get mocked by their male peers, and then, when they get older, their desire to appear tough prevents them from sharing their pain or other physical symptoms with their male doctors.
"Men learn to uphold masculinity norms from an early age as boys," she said. "For example, they learn they should not cry on the playground or else they would get mocked by their male peers, and then, when they get older, their desire to appear tough prevents them from sharing their pain or other physical symptoms with their male doctors."
In order to prevent this, Sanchez said, men need to understand that keeping their health problems to themselves has consequences. "If they are aware they may be withholding symptoms at the detriment to their health, they can change their behavior."
Sanchez said in the press release that men's unwillingness to seek medical help could have grave consequences.
“The question that we wanted to answer was, why do men die earlier than women?” she said. “Men can expect to die five years earlier than women, and physiological differences don’t explain that difference.”
Basically, #MasculinitySoFragile that some men would rather die than compromise their manhood.