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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 has been used pejoratively by some scholars.



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]

Fetal developmentEdit

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. Relatively masculine ratios have been associated with male heterosexuality,[5] criminality,[6] ADHD,[7] and autism spectrum disorder.[8]

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. Differing levels of prenatal androgens have been found to modulate moral reasoning.[9] On average, women who were administered exogenous testosterone showed increased preference for utilitarian over deontological judgments. This effect was inverted, however, in women whose finger length ratios were consistent with high prenatal testosterone exposure. Samples of feminist activists in Sweden and Austria showed relatively masculine digit ratios compared to the average for women.[10]


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.

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 mediaEdit

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]

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.

An article titled "Marketing Manhood in a 'Post-Feminist' Age" by Kristen Barber and Tristan Bridges also highlights the existence of hypermasculine traits in advertising. Old Spice, a predominantly male hygiene brand, used an image of Isaiah Mustafa in a tub dressed as a cowboy with the slogan "Make Sure Your Man Smells Like a Man" to advertise for their products. Both Barber and Bridges find that the ad is problematic because of the subliminal support for the idea that a distinct so-called masculine scent exists and the fact that it seeks to perpetuate stereotypical male characteristics. The advertisement also strategically dresses Mustafa as a cowboy to represent a hardworking, rough man in an attempt to create a greater appeal towards men to look and smell like him.[15]

Effect on womenEdit

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 fulfill the roles of the submissive and subservient women depicted in advertisements and commercials; in other words, the system pressures 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]

Effect on menEdit

Societal expectations have propagated the formation of gender roles between what is deemed masculine and feminine. However, these gender roles can have negative impacts of men and their mental wellbeing. If a man is unable to meet the designated masculine criteria, it can oftentimes lead to feelings of insecurity, inferiority, and overall psychological distress.[16] Some may also believe that an inability to live up to a certain gender role may jeopardize their social capital in their communities.

Effect on raceEdit

Scholars assert that colonizers' perception of the colonial black subject as an uncivilized, primitive, "irrational nonsubject"[17] served as justification for the traumas inflicted on them, and that the legacy of such a perception is still evident in today's society. As a means of resistance, black men project hypermasculinity in order to combat the feelings of powerlessness that are imposed on them by an "abusive and repressive" society.[18] However, this merging of black identity and masculinity has "overdetermine[d] the identities black males are allowed to fashion for themselves",[19] perpetuating negative stereotypes of all black men as inherently violent and dangerous.

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.[20] 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.

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ 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. doi:10.1016/s0306-4530(02)00022-7. PMID 12573297.
  6. ^ 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. doi:10.1111/j.0011-1348.2005.00008.x. hdl:20.500.11794/11948.
  7. ^ 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 (5–6): 233–245. doi:10.1016/j.cnr.2005.09.004.
  8. ^ 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. doi:10.1002/aur.1230. PMID 22674640.
  9. ^ 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. 38 (8): 1362–1369. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.12.001. PMID 23290991.
  10. ^ Madison, Guy; Ulrika, Aasa (2014). "Feminist activist women are masculinized in terms of digit-ratio and social dominance: a possible explanation for the feminist paradox". Frontiers in Psychology. 5: 1011. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01011. PMC 4158978. PMID 25250010.
  11. ^ a b c d 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. ^ Salter, Anastasia; Blodgett, Bridget (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. ^ Barber, Kristen; Bridges, Tristan (2017). "SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research". Contexts. 16 (2): 38–43. doi:10.1177/1536504217714257.
  16. ^ Sánchez, Francisco J.; Greenberg, Stefanie T.; Liu, William Ming; Vilain, Eric (January 2009). "Reported Effects of Masculine Ideals on Gay Men". Psychology of Men & Masculinity. 10 (1): 73–87. doi:10.1037/a0013513. ISSN 1524-9220. PMC 2902177. PMID 20628534.
  17. ^ Royster, Francesca T. (2011). ""P-Funk's Black Masculinity" by Francesca T. Royster". Poroi. 7 (2). doi:10.13008/2151-2957.1100. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
  18. ^ "In Search of Manhood: The Black Male's Struggle for Identity and Power". Student Pulse. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
  19. ^ hooks, bell (2004). We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. New York, NY: Routledge. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-415-96927-7.
  20. ^ 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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