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  • Writer's pictureRyon McDermott

New Research Summary: Development of The Policing of Masculinity Scale

Updated: May 26, 2021

We invited Dr. Christopher Reigeluth from Pacific University to talk about his recently published study in our flagship journal, Psychology of Men & Masculinities. The article, coauthored with Dr. Michael Addis (Clark University) is titled, Policing of Masculinity Scale (POMS) and pressures boys experience to prove and defend their “manhood.

Adolescent boys can experience a range of negative consequences when they do not meet masculine role norms including being physically bullied. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

What were the research questions you were answering with this study?

There are many ways of learning how to “be a man.” One of the primary ways that adolescent boys are socialized about what constitutes “appropriate” male behavior is through policing of masculinity (i.e., any action that serves to prevent or punish behavior perceived as insufficiently masculine). A classic example of this in action is when one boy makes fun of another boy for acting “feminine.” This study focused on assessing a new assessment measure, the Policing of Masculinity Scale (POMS). The POMS measures this widespread gender socialization process, was normed on adolescent boys, and includes three primary scales – Target (POMS-T; how much you get policed), Agent (POMS-A; how much you police other boys), and Emotional Impact (POMS-E; how policing impacts you emotionally).

In assessing the POMS, the primary areas of focus included factor analysis, validity (e.g., the POMS should measure what it is supposed to measure), and reliability (e.g., POMS scores should be consistent and trustworthy). For validity, we were most interested in exploring the POMS in relation to constructs that share similarities with the concept of policing of masculinity, such as teasing, masculine norm conformity, and homophobic insults. We also investigated the relationship of the POMS to well-being outcomes, including school performance, relationship health, and social-emotional functioning.

What are some of the key findings of this study?

The primary finding from this study is that for each of its primary/reciprocal scales, the POMS consists of three theoretically meaningful factors or elements, Verbal Policing Epithets, Physical Policing Challenges, and Masculinity Deviations. Sample items are included below.

How often in the past month did you call boys you hang out with a name or say something like gay, homo, that’s so gay, or something similar? [POMS -A, Verbal Policing Subscale]
How much does it bother you when boys you hang out with challenge you to prove your toughness by doing something that could be painful? [POMS-E, Physical Policing Subscale]
How often in the past month did boys you hang out with give you a hard time or tease you about not being good at sports? [POMS-T, Masculinity Deviations Subscale]

Historically, previous research has focused on homophobic teasing as the primary POM mechanism. However, our findings represent the range of ways boys can engage in this widespread and normative masculine gender socialization process, including some physical formats. The study results also yielded promising findings with regard to validity and reliability, with some important differences across the three POM scales. Noteworthy correlational findings included significant relationships between higher scores on some of the POM Scales and greater endorsement of homophobic teasing, masculine norm conformity, school difficulty, and social-emotional functioning.

What are some key implications of your findings for research or practice?

The key implication for research and peer-based contexts is we now have a measure through which to quantitatively explore this widespread, normative, and influential masculine gender socialization process in ways not previously possible. This will enable studying POM with larger sample sizes and quantitative research questions, such as predictive models between POM and well-being outcomes. As a multi-dimensional measure, the POMS also enables exploring the experiences that boys have with policing phenomena as agents, targets, and/or emotionally. For example, higher scores on the POM Emotional Impact Scale correlated significantly with having more emotional problems, whereas higher scores on the POM Agent and Target Scales did not. Such findings indicate some noteworthy potential psychological consequences for boys who experience this social process as more emotionally bothersome.

Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?

The majority of POM research has been qualitative and disproportionately included White participants. Thus, there are many POM-based quantitative questions that need exploring, such as psychological outcomes of this widespread gender socialization process. Furthermore, there has been a dearth of culturally-focused and representative studies to tease apart potential cultural and intersectional differences for diverse boys with regard to POM. Policing of masculinity is something to which all boys (and men) are exposed in varying doses throughout childhood, adolescence, and beyond. Thus, there is a great deal for us to learn as a society about ways that this dominant masculine gender socialization process can impact boys’ development, functioning, and well-being.

How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?

I became interested in studying masculine gender socialization primarily from my own lived experiences growing up and working with boys. While I was not critically considering POM as a child and teenager, I experienced it on a regular basis and was well aware of the threats and pressures of the “Guy Code.” When I started to explore a PhD in Clinical Psychology, I quickly realized that research on boys’ psychology was an understudied area, including ways that masculine gender socialization impacts boys’ development and well-being. Furthermore, researchers interested in the psychology of masculinities have primarily focused on men; yet, the seeds for many of the well-being issues men can encounter, such as emotional restriction, are sown in childhood. Now that I have a baby boy of my own, this work has become even more personal and compelling.

Christopher S. Reigeluth, Ph.D.

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