How Stereotypes Of Men Affect All Genders

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated June 6, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Stereotypes profoundly impact society, affecting individuals of many different cultures, backgrounds, races, religions, and genders. For many decades, gender stereotypes surrounding men have been perpetuated throughout society. 

Rigid, masculine gender roles and societal expectations shaped by stereotypes of men can lead to a wide range of adverse effects on a person's mental health, relationships, and other vital aspects of life. This article will explore the nature of gender stereotypes about men and how they impact all genders.

Rawpixel
Questioning the validity of self-limiting beliefs?

What are stereotypes?

According to social psychology, stereotypes generally develop through a complex interplay of individual differences, cognitive mechanisms, and the influence of socialization and cultural transmission. Humans are pattern-seeking creatures; our ability to categorize and assign meaning has largely ensured our survival and evolution as a species. 

In the context of stereotypes, we may rely too heavily on previous experiences (or indirect exposures, like through media content) with a particular demographic. For example, someone with a traumatic upbringing within a particular religious community may associate negative attributes with people who practice organized religion.

In another scenario, people of all ages may be exposed to subtle stereotyping perpetuated by the media. Specific examples of gender stereotypes include portrayals of older adults as weak or behaving like children, teenagers as rebellious and impulsive, or women as eager to please men. Because of both direct and indirect experiences reinforced over time, stereotypes can pass down through generations via family, peers, media, and societal institutions. 

Understanding stereotypes of men

In many cultures, gender stereotypes surrounding men revolve around unhealthy ideas of self-reliance, creating harmful environments that restrict personal growth and hinder meaningful connections. One common stereotype associated with men is the expectation to act tough and display physical aggression, which can lead to the suppression of emotional expression and vulnerability. As a result, men often find it challenging to seek help with their mental health concerns, which can lead to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

People may use similar phrases like “Be a man” or “Toughen up” to gender-police one another, insinuating that behaviors like crying after experiencing an injury, walking away or showing diplomacy in the face of verbal aggression, or not “pulling one’s weight” during a sporting event are unacceptable. 

Another negative stereotype related to men is the societal expectation of acting tough and exhibiting physical aggression to demonstrate masculinity. In many cases, this emphasis on aggression leads to the glorification of violence and inhibits healthy communication amongst men and individuals of other genders. 

If you think back on different action movie heroes, images of bulky, stoic, unfeeling, or downright brutal protagonists (or antagonists) may come to mind. Other men in the film may fear or revere characters who dominate or accumulate wealth and power through violence. You can find many of these characters (e.g., the murderous drug trafficker Tony Montana from Scarface) plastered on the walls of men's dorm rooms in today’s colleges and universities. 

Through tacit and overt admonition of showing vulnerability and asking for help, many men may turn to harmful coping mechanisms – like excessive or illicit alcohol or drug use – to suppress their emotions and avoid confronting problems. Those who can consume large amounts of such substances are often glorified in the same ways that highly volatile or belligerent characters are praised (e.g., John “Bluto” Blutarsky from Animal House, another character often seen on posters in men's dorm rooms).

In addition to the glorification of violence and the ability to be seemingly invincible in the face of drug and alcohol intoxication, stereotypes of men often reinforce ideas that men should exhibit certain characteristics, such as having many sexual partners, prioritizing physical attractiveness, disregarding household chores, and showing an overall willingness to conform to rigid gender roles. 

Having unprotected sex with multiple partners can result in legitimate health concerns, such as sexually transmitted infections. It is also possible for the psychological and emotional detachment inherent in frequent sex—often under the influence of substances—to complicate one’s ability to distinguish genuine from superficial connections.

In addition to real-life sexual encounters, young men are often exposed to certain types of pornographic material that perpetuate inaccurate or exploitative relationships between men and their sexual partners, usually women. After developing expectations of how sex works from primarily pornographic sources, young men may find an incongruent reality in their real-world sexual encounters, leading them to feel inadequate, confused, or misled.

Getty

Common reactions to shame stem from the human fight-or-flight response and include shutting down and seething or lashing out through violence or other means of destruction. These are just a few examples of reactions after feeling shame-based emotions that lead us to internalize thoughts such as “There’s something wrong with me” or “I’m unworthy of love.” To challenge and dismantle these negative stereotypes, it is crucial to promote a more inclusive understanding of gender.

How stereotypes about men can affect all genders

The impact of negative stereotypes of men goes beyond individual relationships and extends to broader society. Just as those stereotypes hinder the well-being of men and boys, women, girls, and people of other genders also face consequences. 

In many cases, upholding traditional gender roles bolsters an environment where power imbalances are normalized and reinforced. Traditional gender roles and stereotypes often perpetuate the idea that men should be placed in positions of power, relegating women and girls to domestic duties. 

These stereotypes sustain the notion that men should prioritize their careers over family responsibilities, limiting their ability to participate fully in nurturing and caregiving roles. Consequently, both men and women may struggle with abiding by or resisting various restrictions imposed by these gender roles. 

Additionally, these power dynamics can contribute to the perpetuation of gender-based violence, as it reinforces notions of entitlement, control, and objectification. According to the Violence Against Women Prevalence Estimates report published jointly by different United Nations system components, one in three women experience domestic violence globally. 

Along with the overall hindrance of the well-being and emotional expression of men, the alarming statistics surrounding gender-based violence emphasize the detrimental – and sometimes fatal – effects of gender stereotyping and highlight the importance of dismantling and replacing them with humane, empowering alternatives.

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

The importance of challenging stereotypes of men

Overall, it is evident that the stereotypes surrounding men have wide-ranging consequences that extend to people of all genders. With the extension of a narrow and rigid idea of masculinity in society, men and boys often face stereotypes that may restrict their choices and limit their ability to express themselves fully. Additionally, these stereotypes can affect individuals of all ages and gender identities. 

By breaking free from stereotypes, challenging traditional gender roles, and fostering overall gender equality, a more inclusive and empowering world is possible. By recognizing their harmful nature and engaging in self-reflection, we can take the first step toward challenging negative stereotypes. 

Along with taking individual steps, challenging and dismantling stereotypes about men requires group action and commitment. People, communities, and organizations must actively engage in conversations about stereotypes, raise awareness about their harmful effects, and advocate for gender equality.

Online therapy for overcoming stereotypes and stigma

Questioning the validity of self-limiting beliefs?

Therapy can provide a valuable resource for those who have been negatively affected by stereotypes associated with men. Especially for men who feel the stigma of reaching out for support in public, online therapy eliminates the need to travel to an in-person therapist’s office, provide an explanation for taking off work early, or have conversations with family members they aren’t yet ready to have. Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp enable users to attend individually or as couples, which may benefit people struggling under the weight of rigid gender roles.

Another benefit of online therapy is that you don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental health condition to receive support. Whether you’re experiencing self-doubt in social situations as a result of not feeling “man enough” or struggling to feel heard in a relationship with a power imbalance, online therapy can be a safe space to discuss your concerns and learn healthy communication skills (like being assertive versus aggressive).

For many individuals, online therapy offers a flexible and affordable option for receiving well-informed and specialized guidance. Along with ease, convenience, and cost-effectiveness, online therapy has been proven to provide quality care, with research showing it is equally as effective as in-person therapy

Whether you have experienced the direct consequences of masculine stereotyping or witnessed its harmful effects, speaking to a therapist can be extremely helpful in empowering yourself and individuals of all genders to reach their full potential.

Takeaway

Stereotypes surrounding men and their behavior can have detrimental effects on all genders. By challenging stereotypes, promoting diverse expressions of masculinity, encouraging emotional intelligence, and redefining traditional gender roles, we can create an environment where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive and achieve their full potential.

If you’d like to learn healthy coping skills, develop respectful communication techniques, or make a plan for leaving an unhealthy relationship, you can reach out to an experienced, empathetic licensed counselor at BetterHelp for unwavering support.

Does it seem like stereotypes hold you back?
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started