Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Relationship between Constructions of Masculinity, Health Risk Behaviors and Mental Health among Adolescent High School Boys in Durban, South Africa

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Relationship between Constructions of Masculinity, Health Risk Behaviors and Mental Health among Adolescent High School Boys in Durban, South Africa

Article excerpt

In this article, we investigated the relationship between traditional masculine ideology, mental health and health risk behaviours. A secondary aim was to investigate the influence of coping styles and school connectedness on mental health and health risk behaviours in a sample of school going boys. Constructs were measured using a cross-sectional survey containing measures of masculinity ideology, coping, school connectedness, risk behaviours and depression. A total of 568 adolescent school boys aged between 15-18 years from Grade 9, 10 and 11 from 2 public high schools in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal participated in the study. Analysis revealed constructions of masculinity exert an influence on sexual activity. Particular coping styles are also associated with health risk behaviours, and that school connectedness serves an important protective factor against health risk behaviours.

Keywords', boys, coping, school connectedness, mental health, health risk behaviours


Globally, constructions of masculinities and their relationship to violence and risk behaviours are prominent on most schools' agendas around the world and South Africa is no exception. However, in South Africa, the influence of constructions of masculinities on risk behaviours and mental health is one of the most underrated problems in schools (Kwili & Shumba, 2008; Schochet, Dadds, Ham & Montague, 2006). Our study builds on existing literature by investigating the relationship between constructions of traditional masculinity, school connectedness and, coping on several health risk outcomes, including: substance abuse, violence, sexual risk behaviour and depression, in a sample of adolescent school boys, between the ages of 15-18 years. More specifically, the primary purpose of this study was to assess how the endorsement of traditional masculinity ideology influences the expression of internalizing behaviours like depression and externalizing behaviours like violence-related behaviour, substance abuse, and sexual risk behaviours. An ancillary aim of this study was to investigate how variables like that of coping and school connectedness impact on these health risk outcomes.


While there is a noted dearth of research in relation to the above, it needs to be acknowledged that one of the difficulties associated with research on constructions of masculinity is that there are varying conceptualisations of masculinity. Medicine, education and psychology, experts have dealt with masculinity in divergent ways and with different objectives (Mullen, Watson, Swift & Black, 2007; Sathiparsad & Taylor, 2006). The behaviours that represent constructions of traditional masculinity have also changed over time (Govender et al., 2013; Morrell, ed., 2001), from a colloquial understanding of primarily physical behaviours between men, to a group of more diverse behaviours which include subtle psychological assaults such as social exclusion and verbal masculinity (Kwili & Shumba, 2008). Masculinity, more generally, has been conceptualized as a set of values and ideals, as such, that is established by the dominant group, which serves to include and exclude (Hearn & Morrell, 2012). More specifically, Connell's theory of hegemonic masculinity (1995,2001,2002) serves as an important platform for this study. Connell's concept of hegemony draws on Gramsci's notion of hegemony, whereby certain groups come to acquire power in society and therefore come to impose definitions and ideals and normality (Barrett, 2001). It follows that hegemonic masculinity is a particular version of masculinity that has ascended into the dominant position in the gender order, in this instance the traditional masculinity type (Connell, 1995). In this article, we argue that boys' demonstrations of deviant behaviours are central to attaining hegemonic positions of power. It is acknowledged that the above review risks conflating the terms "sex" with "gender", in that boys are viewed as being inherently prone to risk behaviours. …

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