Pitt Researchers Develop Scale To Measure Harmful Beliefs About Masculinity

Aug 10, 2020

"A man shouldn't have to do household chores."

"Men should use violence to get respect if necessary."

These are two of five beliefs about “harmful masculinity” that University of Pittsburgh researchers identified as correlating with violence, sexual harassment and poor mental health outcomes.

To achieve these findings, researchers survey more than 3,600 men between the ages of 18 and 30 in the U.S., .U.K. and Mexico about their beliefs around masculinity.

“This was to test how well the questions that we were asking truly identified the concept of what we know as harmful masculinity,” said lead author Amber Hill.

After analyzing the results, researchers culled the five questions that correlated most strongly with adverse outcomes to create a scale that measures harmful masculinity. Hill defines this concept as a set of rigid hetero-normative beliefs about who a “real man” is and how he should behave.

As the study notes, previous research shows that men who subscribe to hostile or dominant forms of masculinity have higher rates of perpetrating violence or abuse against women and gender-nonconforming people. And studies have found that men who think this way about masculinity and gender are more likely to be depressed and contemplate suicide.

“So, it goes beyond just hurting the people that are in your life, but also [it can] be harmful for the people who actually believe [these things],’ said Hill.

Though gender, sex and identity are dynamic and complex, Hill’s questionnaire and scale focuses on heteronormative attitudes.

“I'm not necessarily saying that this is all there is to masculinity or that this is all there is to gender,” she said. “It’s measuring a very specific subset of what is masculinity or a specific subset of kind of these gender norms.”

Nonetheless, she said the findings offer a way to assess public policies and interventions that are aimed at mitigating violence, sexual assault, online bullying, suicide and depression.

“We can really use this tool that we've created to help shift these harmful beliefs, and then ultimately measure whether we're improving health outcomes to create a more equitable society,” she said. “In order to find a pathway forward we need to have good measurement tools.”

The study was published last week in the journal Preventive Medicine.