The Relation of Masculinity and Help-Seeking Style with the Academic Help-Seeking Behavior of College Men

By Wimer, David J.; Levant, Ronald F. | The Journal of Men's Studies, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

The Relation of Masculinity and Help-Seeking Style with the Academic Help-Seeking Behavior of College Men


Wimer, David J., Levant, Ronald F., The Journal of Men's Studies


According to Taylor and Lorimer (2002), men are more likely than women to drop out of school or not enroll in college, and, in high school, to populate special education classes, be labeled as learning disabled, and take fewer advanced courses than women. The proportion of men enrolled in college in the U.S. dropped from 50 percent in the 1980s to 35 percent in the mid-1990s (Draves, 2002). Similar trends occurred in Eng land, Australia, France, and New Zealand. Furthermore, college men receive significantly lower grades than females (Brooks, 1987; Man & Lynn, 2001), and are three times as likely to consume large quantities of alcohol, which is associated with earning lower grades (Gliksman, Newton-Taylor, Adlaf, & Giesbrecht, 1997). However, despite these academic challenges and the resultant poor performance, men tend to not seek help from teachers when struggling academically (Ryan, Gheen, & Midgley, 1998). This combination of lower performance with reluctance to seek help among college men is concerning and requires further examination. The present study investigated how masculinity may be related to this unwillingness to seek academic help among college men.

The theoretical basis for the present study is the Gender Role Strain Paradigm (Pleck, 1981; 1995), which theorizes that society constructs gender through gender norms. Socially constructed gender roles are influenced by cultural beliefs about how men ought to behave (Mahalik, Good, & Englar-Carlson, 2003). The resulting social influence processes in turn may lead to three different types of masculine gender role strain: discrepancy strain, dysfunction strain, and trauma strain (Pleck, 1995). Discrepancy strain is the social psychological concept of the self-ideal discrepancy applied to masculine gender roles (a perceived gap between one's actual self and how one would ideally like to be). Men who experience discrepancy strain experience distress from failing to live up to their own internalized ideal of masculinity, which is usually similar to the traditional norms of masculinity. Dysfunction strain is a label for the distress that occurs when a man fulfills the socially constructed requirements of masculinity and then this fulfillment creates negative consequences for himself or for those close to him. For example, a man who fulfills the ideal that he should be competitive who ends up working too many hours at his job, which results in an eventual divorce with his partner. Finally, trauma strain is trauma experienced from the unhealthy ordeal of the male role socialization process. The male role socialization process can create trauma in many ways, such as male athletes being "hazed" upon joining a team or men developing physical or psychological disorders from the over-suppression of emotions.

Brannon (1985) was one of the first to formulate a set of four socially constructed masculine norms, known as the Male Code: The avoidance of acting in a feminine way ("No Sissy Stuff'), striving to be recognized for successful achievement ("The Big Wheel"), never showing physical or emotional weakness ("The Sturdy Oak"), and a willingness to engage in risky or thrill seeking behavior, and even engage in violence if necessary ("Give 'em Hell"). This set of male role norms is pervasive in contemporary US culture. Subsequent researchers using the Strain Paradigm have conceptualized masculinity in different ways. The conceptualizations that will be used in the present study are the endorsement of traditional masculinity ideology, and conformity to masculine norms. Traditional masculinity ideology is "a common constellation of standards and expectations associated with the traditional male role in the Western world" (Levant, Smalley, Aupont, House, Richmond, & Noronha, 2007, p. 84). Mahalik and colleagues (Mahalik, Locke, Ludlow, Diemer, Gottfried, Scott, & Freitas, 2003, p. 3) defined conformity to masculine norms as "meeting societal expectations for what constitutes masculinity in one's public or private life. …

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