Masculinity is long acquired, quickly lost. International research by a scientific team from UG

dr hab. Natasza Kosakowska-Berezecka, prof. UG. Photo: Arek Smykowski/UG.

Masculinity is not the same as being a man. The results of an international research project carried out at the Institute of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Gdańsk, indicate that in most cultures masculinity is understood as a social status that is difficult to earn and easy to lose. Additionally, it requires repeated proving through specific behaviours, gestures or actions.

What is masculinity, how to define it and what do we mean by it? Answers to these and many other questions were sought by more than 100 researchers from 62 countries within the international project Towards Gender Harmony headed by dr hab. Natasza Kosakowska-Berezecka from the University of Gdańsk.

- 'Our international team analysed the contemporary understanding of masculinity and femininity conducting research on all continents. They involved over 28,000 male and female participants. This is the first such extensive and broad research work in the history of social research on this subject,' says dr hab. Natasza Kosakowska-Berezecka, prof. UG from the Department of Intercultural and Genetic Psychology of the Institute of Psychology, UG. - 'The research has shown that masculinity in most cultures is connected with a certain universal assumption: you have to earn it and you have to prove it by meeting masculinity standards defined in a given culture.'

The Towards Gender Harmony team during the meeting at the University of South Florida, Tampa, March 2020: from left Prof Jennifer Bosson (University of South Florida, USA), Dr Anna Włodarczyk (Universidad Católica del Norte, Chile), Dr Magdalena Żadkowska (University of Gdansk, Poland) , dr hab. Tomasz Besta, prof. UG (University of Gdańsk,, Poland), dr hab. Natasza Kosakowska-Berezecka, prof. UG (Principal Investigator, University of Gdańsk, Poland), prof. Paweł Jurek (University of Gdańsk, Poland), prof. Saba Safdar (University of Guelph, Canada).

Determined, resourceful, effective, strong...

How is masculinity defined in different cultures? Researchers from the University of Gdańsk stress that most frequently masculine traits are associated with efficiency, self-confidence, dominance, striving for high social status or financial resourcefulness. According to them, norms of masculinity refer to what expectations are placed on men in a given society. Research shows that these expectations emerge at a very early stage, accompanying boys from an early age.

Masculinity is long acquired, quickly lost

Research also shows that in most cultures, masculinity is something other than being a man - that is, masculinity and being a manly man has to be earned... and therefore... masculinity can be lost.

- 'People differ in how much they believe that masculinity needs to be constantly affirmed. These differences are influenced by the way a person is brought up and the social environment (family, school, peers) in which he/she grows up, and then the environment in which he/she functions as an adult man or adult woman (work, own family, friends),' - explains dr hab. N. Kosakowska-Berezecka.

As researchers of the Towards Gender Harmony project convince us, the sense of masculinity can be easily shaken, e.g. by commenting on physical or personality traits of men.

- 'The feeling of being threatened that others will think I am not masculine enough goes hand in hand with the need to prove one's masculinity e.g. by avoiding behaviours considered feminine e.g. showing compassion or care ("I have to be tough"), avoiding household duties such as cleaning, cooking, ironing, taking care of a child ("this is not something a real man does"). The need to show and prove one's masculinity in a situation when it is uncertain may also be connected with the reluctance to support actions for gender equality,' - adds dr hab. Kosakowska-Berezecka.

Pressure and obligation to constantly prove masculinity

Whether or not masculinity has to be constantly proven by specific actions or attitudes depends, according to the researchers, on the culture of the country concerned.

- 'Our international results indicate that beliefs about the threat to masculinity are deeply rooted in the culture in which a person lives. The higher a country's rate of development and gender equality, the lower the beliefs that masculinity is threatened and needs to be proven are among women and men. In countries such as Kosovo, Albania or Nigeria, beliefs that masculinity has to be constantly proven through specific behavioural patterns are very strongly anchored in the minds of the citizens. On the other hand, in countries such as Finland, Germany or Spain, masculinity is not so easy to challenge through individual behaviours, expressions or interests. The results obtained in Poland show that we are in the first group of countries, which indicates that in our culture it is relatively easy for a man to lose his status as a man in the eyes of others,' - says dr hab. Natasza Kosakowska-Berezecka.

Research also shows that in some countries (e.g. Albania, Bosnia, Georgia) beliefs about threatened masculinity are stronger among women and in others among men (e.g. Italy, England or Belgium).

- 'It is also important to note that the feeling that masculinity needs to be proven may induce men to undertake behaviours that are not necessarily healthy to maintain their masculine status - we know that the feeling that masculinity is threatened goes hand in hand with increased risk-taking in men, a tendency to behave aggressively or to advocate armed actions. Therefore, exploring what masculinity is and why it is endangered is important for men's health and quality of life - the feeling of endangered masculinity has many negative social consequences,' explains dr hab. Natasza Kosakowska-Berezecka.

The Towards Gender Harmony project, which involved research on masculinity, is a 3-year project carried out in 62 countries, where teams of researchers from all over the world looked at the contemporary understanding of femininity and masculinity, as well as at the expectations placed on women and men in various societies in the world. The project was funded by the National Science Centre (project number 2017/26/M/HS6/0036).

More about the project

Link to article:

Bosson, J. K., Jurek, P., Vandello, J. A., Kosakowska-Berezecka, N., Olech, M., Besta, T., Bender, M., Hoorens, V., Becker, M., Timur Sevincer, A., Best, D. L., Safdar, S., Włodarczyk, A., Zawisza, M., Żadkowska, M., Abuhamdeh, S., Badu Agyemang, C., Akbaş, G., Albayrak-Aydemir, N., Žukauskienė, R. (2021). Psychometric Properties and Correlates of Precarious Manhood Beliefs in 62 Nations. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.


Elżbieta Michalak-Witkowska/Zespół Prasowy UG, dr hab. Natasza Kosakowska-Berezecka, prof. UG