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Hypermasculinity is a psychological term for the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior, such as an emphasis on physical strength, aggression, and sexuality. This term can be pejorative, though it is also used when examining the behavior (as adaptive or maladaptive) dispassionately.

One of the first studies of hypermasculinity was conducted by Donald L. Mosher and Mark Sirkin in 1984. Mosher and Sirkin have operationally defined hypermasculinity or the "macho personality" as consisting of three variables:

  • callous sexual attitudes toward women
  • the belief that violence is manly
  • the experience of danger as exciting

They developed the Hypermasculinity Inventory (HMI) designed to measure the three components.[1] Research has found that hypermasculinity is associated with sexual and physical aggression towards women.[2][3] Prisoners have higher hypermasculinity scores than control groups.[4]

Hypermasculine styles in gay male culture are prominent in gay disco groups of the 1970s such as Village People, and are reflected in the BDSM gay subculture depicted in the film Cruising (1980). The term "hypermasculine" also characterizes a style of erotic art in which male figure's muscles and penis/testicles are portrayed as being unrealistically large and prominent. Gay artists who exploit hypermasculine types include Tom of Finland and Gengoroh Tagame.

Hormonal hypothesis[edit]

Though there are many different hypotheses on the causation of these masculinized traits, the most accepted idea is that hypermasculinity stems from hormonal irregularities (i.e., higher levels of prenatal testosterone). As research into these hormones continued, studies on rats began to show that injection of androgens or androgen suppressors soon after birth could have a profound effect on the physicality and brain structures of the rodents. Pfeiffer (1936) Also found that implanting female rats with testicular tissue as newborns stopped their oestrous cycle as adults, making them unable to produce offspring, while castrating male rats and implanting them with ovaries at birth allowed them to secrete gonadotropin as adults in a regular cycle.[5] Through this research the impact of the amount of these hormones before or just after birth has become clearer. These androgens are extremely important in regards to the outcome of masculine and feminine traits of individuals.

Many studies have looked to prenatal hormone differences between fetuses to account for differences in fetal development. Although sex is determined at conception, these hormones have the ability to aid the development of differentiated male/female genitals, and affect how the brain is structured. Hormones such as testosterone can alter the ways in which neural pathways are built, which is believed to account for some of the masculinization or feminization of individuals. In overly masculinized males and females, they are generally exposed to a higher rate of prenatal testosterone during fetal development, and this is believed to cause the difference in masculinization or over masculinization.

Hypermasculinity and irregular development[edit]

The effects of prenatal androgens can be seen on levels of masculinity as well as on sexual orientation. Many studies claim that low levels of prenatal androgens can lead to male homosexuality while the opposite is true of those who exhibit hypermasculinized tendencies.

In some of the same studies, finger length (specifically the lengths of the ring and index fingers), have been correlated with high and low levels of fetal androgens. These digit ratios (2D:4D) have been prevalent in more recent research on this topic. 2D:4D relationships have been correlated with different amounts of prenatal testosterone, and it is generally believed that having a shorter index (or 2nd digit) than the ring finger (or 4th digit), corresponds with having higher levels of prenatal androgens. In general this pattern is seen more often in men, and is thought to be linked with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and a lower ability for empathy, as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.[6] This relationship has not yet been firmly established, but in males with prenatal testosterone levels that are considerably higher than normal, there is a much higher likelihood of ASD, and a low 2D:4D, and a probable weakened ability to empathize.[7]

Through findings in recent research there are many irregular developmental factors that may be associated with high levels of prenatal testosterone (or hypermasculinization), including homosexuality,[8] ASD, ADHD, (McFadden et al., 2005), as well as a higher likelihood of greater levels to be found in criminals.[9] Although these findings have been more significant in males, many studies feel that more research on the effects of these hormone levels in women will be useful in fully understanding this phenomenon.

The hormonal differences between men and women, (especially men), who have developed irregularly because of differing levels of prenatal androgens have a higher likelihood of committing crime, and having aggressive attitudes than those who have developed normally. Because of this their masculine tendencies are exacerbated to become hyper-masculine. High Testosterone levels can also be linked to a lack of empathy and moral judgments,[10] which could lead to the hypermasculanized tendencies created by Mosher & Sirkin (1984).

Hypermasculinity and emotion[edit]

While popular identification of hypermasculine traits tends to revolve around the outward physical aspects of violence, danger and sexual aggression, much less consideration is given to the emotive characteristics that define those men deemed "hypermasculine". Hypermasculine attitudes can also include emotional self-control as a sign of toughness.[11] To be emotionally hardened or indifferent, especially toward women, is to display what Thomas Scheff calls "character" – composure and impassiveness in times of great stress or emotion.[12] Of this hypermasculine stoicism, Scheff observes, "it is masculine men that have 'character'. A man with character who is under stress is not going to cry and blubber like a woman or child might."

Self-imposed emotional monitoring by men has also greatly affected the conditions in which they communicate with women.[11] Ben-Zeev, Scharnetzki, Chan and Dennehy (2012) write of a recent study that has shown many men to deliberately avoid behaviours and attitudes such as compassion and emotional expression, deeming these traits feminine and thus rejecting them altogether. Scheff adds, "The hypermasculine pattern leads to competition, rather than connection between persons."[12] In the context of intimate or emotional communication (especially confrontation) with women, the masculine male often withdraws emotionally, refusing to engage in what is termed affective communication (Scheff). In a similar study of affective communication behaviours, gender contrast – the deliberate or subconscious negation by one sex of the behaviours of the other – was far more evident within the young boys used as test subjects than of the girls. This suggests evidence of early behavioural formation, what can become particularly harmful in the emotional and behavioural development of the male in later years.[11]

Where this insistence on emotional indifference manifests in the physical definitions of hyper masculinity is discussed by Scheff: "Repressing love and the vulnerable emotions (grief, fear and shame, the latter as in feelings of rejection or disconnection) leads to either silence or withdrawal, on the one hand, or acting out anger (flagrant hostility), on the other. The composure and poise of hypermasculinity seems to be a recipe for silence and violence."[12]

In visual media[edit]

Ben-Zeev, Scharnetzki, Chang and Dennehy point toward images in the media as the most important factor influencing hypermasculine behaviour, stating "After all, media does not only reflect cultural norms but can and does transform social reality".[11] This is based on the fact that physical and emotional elements of hypermasculine behaviour are manifested regularly in advertising, Hollywood film, and even in video games through the use of very strong imagery: muscular men overpowering women in advertisements, actors portraying staunch male characters who do not give in to the emotional appeals of their female counterparts and countless video games whose story lines are based strictly on violence. The constant availability of these images for every-day public viewing and use has indeed paved the way for the construction of a system of re-enactment (consciously or unconsciously) by both men and women, of the values they perpetuate (Ben-Zeev et al.).[11]

Brian Krans describes the results of a study in which advertisements in men's magazines were analyzed for hypermasculine appeal: "The team found that at least one hypermasculinity variable appeared in 56 percent of the 527 advertisements they identified. Some magazines' advertisements included hypermasculine messages a whopping 90 percent of the time."[13] Krans reports that the researchers were concerned that such ads, which are generally aimed at young male audiences, are playing a very prominent role in shaping the still-developing attitudes toward gender of these young men.

In the gaming industry, hypermasculinity is experienced mainly through the fantastic and often violent situations presented in the gameplay, and as well by the typical design and character traits of the playable characters: often powerfully built, bold and full of bravado and usually armed. "The choice of female characters and actions within games leaves women with few realistic, non-sexualized options", while female characters, like Lara Croft, are but illusions of female empowerment, and instead serve only to satisfy the gaze of men.[14]

Effect on women[edit]

The media's influence in creating gendered behaviours operates strongly upon women. In the same way that male consumers seek to conform to the physical and emotional characteristics predicated by stereotypes in visual media, so too do women tend to fall into the trap of conforming to the imagined social norms.[13] Only, the media encourages them to fulfil the self-deprecating roles of the submissive and subservient women depicted in advertisements and commercials; in other words, the system forces women to assume their roles as the focal points of the violence and sexual callousness of men. "Advertisements depicting men as violent (particularly towards women) is disturbing, because gender portrayals in advertisements do more than sell products. They also perpetuate stereotypes and present behavioural norms for men and women."[12]

Scheff has observed another strange way in which re-perpetuation of gender roles has assumed a cyclical pattern: fear of physical victimization in women has grown to such a level that many women actually seek the protection of men who display hypermasculine traits. In this way, women find favor in one hypermasculine behaviour, out of fear of another (2006).

Effect on race[edit]

In his 2002 book Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic, Mark Anthony Neal states that black masculinity became synonymous with a unified black identity during the Civil Rights Movement. Neal claims that the hypermasculinity translated as violence within the black community to protect from violence directed at the black community from white America. Black gays and women were sometimes censured outright in an effort to merge black identity with masculinity. Huey P. Newton, in an effort to improve ties, wrote an essay to advocate for a stronger alliance between black political organizations and the women and gay members of their community.[15] In it, he admitted that this popularity of hypermasculinity drives a tendency towards violence and silencing of women and gay men, which didn't permit these marginalized members to become a part of the black identity.

In books such as Trey Ellis's Platitudes and Junot Diaz' The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, we see the continued effects on the black community to meet a certain standard of hypermasculinity as put upon the community by outside forces. Earle and Oscar are representations of the New Black Aesthetic, yet are still hypersexualized and thus masculinized. Neal's Post-Soul Aesthetic urges for a more inclusive black identity that does not encourage the further marginalization of already oppressed members of the black community, and to separate from the divisive nature that this cultural hypermasculinity brought on.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mosher, Donald L.; Serkin, Mark (1984). "Measuring a macho personality constellation". Journal of Research in Personality 18 (2): 150–163. doi:10.1016/0092-6566(84)90026-6
  2. ^ Mosher, Donald L.; Anderson, Ronald D. (1986). "Macho personality, sexual aggression, and reactions to guided imagery of realistic rape". Journal of Research in Personality 20 (1): 77–94. doi:10.1016/0092-6566(86)90111-X
  3. ^ Parrott, Dominic J.; Zeichner, Amos (2003). "Effects of hypermasculinity oh physical aggression against women". Psychology of Men & Masculinity 4 (1): 70–78. doi:10.1037/1524-9220.4.1.70
  4. ^ Beesley, Francis; McGuire, James (2009). "Gender-role identity and hypermasculinity in violent offending." Psychology, Crime & Law 15 (2–3): 251–268. doi:10.1080/10683160802190988
  5. ^ Pfeiffer, C. A. (1936). Sexual differences of the hypophyses and their determination by the gonads. American Journal of Anatomy, 58(1), 195–225.
  6. ^ McFadden, D., Westhafer, J. G., Pasanen, E. G., Carlson, C. L., & Tucker, D. M. (2005). Physiological evidence of hypermasculinization in boys with the inattentive type of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Clinical Neuroscience Research, 5(5), 233–245.
  7. ^ Hönekopp, J. (2012). Digit ratio 2D: 4D in relation to autism spectrum disorders, empathizing, and systemizing: a quantitative review. Autism Research, 5(4), 221–230.
  8. ^ Rahman, Q., & Wilson, G. D. (2003). Sexual orientation and the 2nd to 4th finger length ratio: evidence for organizing effects of sex hormones or developmental instability?. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 28(3), 288–303.
  9. ^ Lussier, P., Proulx, J., & LeBlanc, M. (2005). Criminal Propensity, Deviant Sexual Interests And Criminal Activity Of Sexual Aggressors Against Women: A Comparison Of Explanatory Models*. Criminology, 43(1), 249–282
  10. ^ Montoya, E. R., Terburg, D., Bos, P. A., Will, G. J., Buskens, V., Raub, W., & van Honk, J. (2013). Testosterone administration modulates moral judgments depending on second-to-fourth digit ratio. Psychoneuroendocrinology.
  11. ^ a b c d e Dennehy, T.; Ben-Zeev, Avi et al. (2012). "Hypermasculinity In The Media: When Men 'Walk Into The Fog' To Avoid Affective Communication". "Psychology of Popular Media Culture" '"1"' (1):53–61. {{DOI: 10.1037/a002709}}
  12. ^ a b c d Scheff, Thomas. (2006). "Hypermasculinity and Violence as a Social System". "2" (2):1–10. {{ISSN: 1558-8769}}
  13. ^ a b Krans, Brian. (2013). "Hypermasculinity in Advertising: Selling Manly Men to Regular Men". "Healthline News".
  14. ^ Anastasia Salter & Bridget Blodgett (2012) Hypermasculinity & Dickwolves: The Contentious Role of Women in the New Gaming Public, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56:3, 401–416, DOI: 10.1080/08838151.2012.705199
  15. ^ Huey P. Newton on Gay and Women's Liberation, 15 August 1970, reprinted in Worker's World (accessed 7 March 2015)

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