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Duke study shows masculinity may be toxic to women and men

It has been known for some time that men do not live as long as women, but new research from Duke University suggests toxic masculinity, the health consequences of traditional male behaviors, may be to blame. 

The Duke researcher behind these new findings, Haider Warraich, said the disparity in life expectancies between males and females has been observed, but has been attributed to differences in genetics rather than differences in behavior. 

“Men are less likely, even when they are sick, to identify as someone who needs help,” he said.

Allen O’Barr, the director of Counseling and Psychological Services at UNC, said, proportionally, men are less likely to seek medical treatment than women are. However, O’Barr said he believes the forces keeping men from seeking help may have more to do with culture than gender.

“I can definitely say to you that we see more women than we do men at CAPS. I think we see probably 60 percent women and 40 percent men,” he said. “There are some men from particular cultures where the culture itself causes them to delay coming in because it’s just not something that’s discussed.”

The influence of upbringing does not stop at culture, though, O’Barr said. He said boys may adopt hyper-masculine behaviors to blend in and avoid being bullied. 

Warraich said upbringing, specifically the differing ways boys and girls are raised, plays a large role in the way men present themselves. 

“If a boy is in pain, what they’re asked to do is ‘man up’ and ignore the pain or fight through it,” he said. “That’s a very important metaphor and pattern that shapes how boys think and develop.”

Taylor Hargrove, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of sociology at UNC, said in an email that men’s behavior does not only affect men themselves but can also affect the women around them.

“Contemporary ideas and constructions of masculinity are linked, for example, to the experience of physical or domestic violence among women — which is a huge problem both in the U.S. and around the globe,” she said.

Michael Schwalbe, a sociology professor from N.C. State University, said in an email that men’s desire to constantly be in control often affects women.  

“If men constantly strive to be in control to affirm their manhood, this will likely harm people in their lives who don't want to be controlled,” he said. “Often enough, the targets of control are women. Sexual violence and sexual harassment are manifestations of this problem.”

This issue in particular hits especially close to home. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 23.1 percent of female undergraduate students experience sexual assault. O’Barr said one way CAPS tries to combat sexual assault on campus is by teaching men the things they’ve learned about treating women from the media or from their peers may not be acceptable behaviors. 

“The issue of sexual assault on campus is an issue of not respecting the female in a way that they should be respected,” he said. 

“There are masculine traits that don’t require not respecting your body or not respecting the bodies of those around you.”


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