Men & Masculinities 101: What is Traditional Masculine Ideology (TMI)?
Updated: Oct 29, 2022
Photo by Alexandr from Pexels.
The third inclusion in our new monthly series: Men & Masculinities 101. These brief posts are designed to provide an overview of a variety of entry-level topics in the field of men and masculinities.
Traditional masculine ideology (TMI) refers to a set of conventional standards and expectations for men and essentially define what it means to be "masculine" within a particular society. While masculine ideology can vary by culture, TMI as commonly seen in the U.S. and endorsed by “white, Western, heterosexual” culture (Levant & Powell, 2017) includes dimensions such as “achievement, emotional control, antifemininity, and homophobia” (Pleck, 1995, p. 20). David & Brannon (1976) identified four key components of TMI: men should not be feminine; men should be respected for achievement and success; men should not demonstrate weakness; and men should be adventurous and risk seeking, even if this means the endorsement of (or participation in) violence. Though the feminist movement and the deconstruction of gender have made great strides in challenging traditional notions of gender, TMI still informs the development, presentation, maintenance of the masculine gender role in the U.S. (Levant & Powell, 2017). As such, TMI both encourages and limits boys and men to conform to prevailing gender norms through the adoption of prescribed behavior seen as traditionally masculine and the avoidance of behavior that is inherently feminine (Levant, 2011). Importantly, masculine socialization under TMI which constrains men’s behaviors to a rigidly defined, pre-prescribed set of norms has been considered by scholars to be inherently traumatic (Levant & Pollack, 1995), and is a contributor to the mild-to-moderate alexithymia, or restricted emotionality, as observed more commonly in men than women (Levant et al., 2007).
Indeed, the internalization of traditional masculine norms can be particularly harmful because of the negative implications such internalization can have for both men and others. Pleck (1995) described the negative outcomes of conforming to traditional masculine norms as gender role dysfunction (one proposition of his gender role strain paradigm; see our previous post, Men & Masculinities 101: The Gender Role Strain Paradigm, for more information). For example, TMI has been identified to have a positive association with mental health stigma (McCusker & Galupo, 2011) and negative correlation with help seeking behaviors in men (Berger et al., 2005). In addition, endorsement of TMI in men has also been linked to fear of intimacy (Maxton, 1994) and decreased relationship satisfaction (Wade & Coughlin, 2012). Importantly, this type of gender role strain often has equally (or even greater) negative implications on others as well as society on the whole (Levant & Wong, 2017). Men who endorse TMI have been found to be more likely to experience greater reluctance to discuss safe sex with partners (Smith, 1996), harbor more negative attitudes towards racial and gender equality (Wade & Brittan-Powell, 2001), endorse attitudes associated with sexual harassment and report sexual aggression (Gale, 1996), and endorse beliefs of ethnocentrism (Liu, 2002).
Further, research suggests that the internalization of TMI is not stagnant; rather, the influence of TMI changes with context. Research by Vandello & Bosson (2013) suggests that when men’s masculinity is threatened, TMI becomes more salient and possesses a greater influence over men’s behaviors. Such research is particularly important because it describes situational influences on the endorsement of TMI, and ultimately when men, others, and society are most vulnerable to its deleterious impacts.
Berger, J. M., Levant, R., McMillan, K. K., Kelleher, W., & Sellers, A. (2005). Impact of gender role conflict, traditional masculinity ideology, alexithymia, and age on men's attitudes toward psychological help seeking. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 6(1), 73–78. https://doi.org/10.1037/1524-918.104.22.168
David, D. & Brannon, R. (Eds.). (1976). The forty-nine percent majority: The male sex role. Addison-Wesley.
Gale, S. R. (1996). Male role norm endorsement and acquaintance sexual aggression among
college students. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Levant, R. F. (2011). Research in the psychology of men and masculinity using the
gender role strain paradigm as a framework. American Psychologist, 66(8), 765–776.
Levant, R. F., Good, G. E., Cook, S. W., O'Neil, J. M., Smalley, K. B., Owen, K., & Richmond, K. (2007). "The Normative Male Alexithymia Scale: Measurement of a gender-linked syndrome": Correction to Levant et al. (2006). Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 8(3), 199–200. https://doi.org/10.1037/1524-922.214.171.124
Levant, R. F., & Pollack, W. S. (Eds.). (1995). A new psychology of men.
Levant, R. F. & Powell, W. A. (2007). The gender role strain paradigm. In R. F. Levant & Y. J. Wong (Eds.), The psychology of men and masculinities (pp. 15-44). American Psychological Association.
Levant, R. F. & Wong, Y. J. (Eds.). (2007). The psychology of men and masculinities. American Psychological Association.
Liu, W. M. (2002). Exploring the lives of Asian American men: Racial identity, male role norms, gender role conflict, and prejudicial attitudes. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 3(2), 107–118. https://doi.org/10.1037/1524-9126.96.36.199
Maxton, R. A. (1994). How do men in mid-life conceptualize masculinity, and how do these
conceptualizations relate to intimacy? (Doctoral Dissertation, Boston University). Dissertation Abstracts International, 54, B4432.
McCusker, M. G., & Galupo, M. P. (2011). The impact of men seeking help for depression on perceptions of masculine and feminine characteristics. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 12(3), 275–284. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021071
Pleck, J. H. (1995). The gender role strain paradigm: An update. In R. F. Levant & W. S. Pollack (Eds.), A new psychology of men (pp. 11–32). Basic Books/Hachette Book Group.
Smith, J. A. I. (1996). Assessment of gender variables in heterosexual condom use. [Unpublished master’s thesis]. University of North Dakota.
Wade, J. C., & Brittan-Powell, C. (2001). Men’s attitude toward race and gender equity: The importance of masculinity ideology, gender-related traits, and reference group identity dependence. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 2(1), 42-50. https://doi.org/10.1037/1524-9188.8.131.52
Wade, J. C., & Coughlin, P. (2012). Male reference group identity dependence, masculinity ideology, and relationship satisfaction in men's heterosexual romantic relationships. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 13(4), 325–339. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026278