The Psychology of Men and Masculinities: Campus Lunch and Learn with Modesto Jesus Hevia, PsyD

Professor Teaching a Class

As societal views of gender change, new perspectives of masculinity, femininity, and traditional gender roles are evolving. For Modesto Jesus Hevia, PsyD, Associate Professor in the Clinical Psychology Department at William James College, the topic rife for exploration if, as a  society, we are to bring about constructions of gender that are equitable. At a Student Lunch and Learn on Thursday, April 4, Hevia raised some thought-provoking questions in his talk, The Psychology of Men and Masculinities: Where We’ve Been, Where We Could Go, and What it Could Mean, chief among them: What makes men behave as if they always have to prove their masculinity?

 “[As] men, [we either] need to prove our manhood because it’s our essential nature; it is the ‘essence’ of manhood that is never fully established [or], we need to prove our masculinity because we’ve been socialized to believe that manhood has to be proven,” explains Hevia, citing two possible answers to what he deems, “The Burning Question”. 

 “The belief that men behave a certain way—that we need to prove our masculinity—is really quite popular in our society,” says Hevia, a Cuban-American psychologist with more than 32 years of clinical and teaching experience, pointing to the fact that these answers underscore the age-old nature vs. nurture debate.

“As a field, the critical study of men and masculinity is relatively new,” says Hevia, underscoring that it was nonexistent prior to the 1970s; both its emergence and evolution have been influenced by feminist relational scholarship and dominated by two major perspectives over the past 50 years. “Answer 1 is the nature [argument, one that offers a] ‘traditionalist’ or ‘essentialist’ view—the [one] referred to in the research as the Gender Role Identity Paradigm (GRIP), [while] Answer 2 is the nurture [or] social constructivist position that underlies the Gender Role Strain Paradigm (GRSP)...the major current paradigm for understanding the psychology of men.”

Hevia went on to outline the six major tenets of the GRSP, chief among them the fact that, “gender roles are inconsistent and often contradictory, [which means] many people violate them,” he explains, adding that adverse consequences can arise when men, “fail to conform to [prescribed gender roles]”. Over time, gendered ways of behaving have led to the assumption that men are inherently forceful, aggressive, dominant, assertive, independent, and willing to defend their beliefs, take a stand and engage in risk. Because “traditional” male gender roles are narrower and more rigid when compared with those for females, “the consequences of violating them have been [historically] more adverse for males than for females.” Hevia goes on to point out that the underlying ideology surrounding “traditional masculinity” is based on stereotyped gender roles that are overly rigid and create an asymmetrical relationship between the genders —one that not only creates but also perpetuates inequity on the basis of gender.

 “Patriarchy is a social system that empowers males and disempowers everyone else,” says Hevia, adding that, “the division is hierarchical and involves an asymmetrical power relationship between the genders, [one that] isn't particularly friendly to folks who aren't male, but it's not particularly friendly to males either.” To complicate things, while some aspects of traditional masculinity are actually quite functional in certain contexts, these same traits can be equally dysfunctional in other contexts. As such, when men can’t fulfill their traditionally masculine—read “essential” roles of provider, protector, and procreator—it creates psychological discomfort for them.

 “Gender Role Strain [the term for this discomfort] has been associated with a number of adverse psychological and physical health consequences,” explains Hevia of three main expressions, the most severe of which—dysfunction strain—causes some aspects of “so-called traditional masculinity” to be hazardous to men’s health. All of these factors combined leave Hevia in favor of the term masculinities as a means of acknowledging that men have myriad ways of expressing their masculinity differently at different times.

His current interests (beyond the psychology of men and masculinity), include social justice education—a field of increasing relevance to conversations surrounding gender roles in society. According to Hevia, this begs an examination of the implications surrounding this body of research in order to include more socially just constructions of gender and contemporary clinical practice both with men and by men. Hevia points to the American Psychological Association’s guidelines, published in 2018, that “reflect a paradigm shift [and not only] emphasize equity and social justice [but also] empathy for men,” he explains, before underscoring the epic problem that remains: Many men remain highly skeptical of psychotherapy. 

“There's no single, monolithic way to be masculine over the course of one's lifetime,” Hevia reminds his audience, pointing to the role of intersectionality—when cultural and diversity variables interact with gender norms—and the ensuing impact of the experience on the expression of both masculinity and Gender Role Strain. “Because men of color and GBT men have to reconcile the values and masculinity standards of their own cultural group with those that the dominant culture imposes on them (while at the same time denying or restricting their opportunities to attain them), these men may be even more susceptible to the harmful effects of gender role than men from the dominant culture,” emphasizes Hevia, outlining a scenario he calls, “the essence of gender role strain.” 

Bottom line: “I’ve never met a man who responded well to being told that his manhood was toxic,” says Hevia who offers some truths about men and masculinity that bear repeating when conversing with, and about, men. These points present teachable moments for those folks keen on increasing awareness around the topics of men and masculinity and improving communication and connection with the men in their lives:

Five Ways to be More Mindful of Men and their Masculinities

1. Men are emotional beings who crave intimacy. 

To isolate them from their emotional feelings, and by extension their emotional selves, is harmful not only to individual men but also to those seeking to build relationships with them.

2. Masculine stereotypes are harmful. 

Pervasive scripts that socialize boys and men to compete, but not to connect, predispose both groups to violence and promote bullying as well as high-risk behavior, especially among teens.

3. “Traditional masculinity” can be hazardous to a man's health. 

Research has found Gender Role Strain to be associated with a number of adverse health risks, from hypertension and cardiovascular stress to substance abuse and depression.

4. Masculinity is expressed differently in different contexts. 

For many men, fatherhood is a second chance at creating bonds they might have neglected to foster. When an individual focuses on being a good parent, and a good person, being a good man takes care of itself.

5. The term “toxic masculinity” is neither helpful nor constructive for anyone. 

As Hevia reminds his audience, “It isn’t manhood itself that is toxic, but rather it’s the sexist, heterosexist, overly rigid and socially unjust ideas and values into which so many men are socialized that are toxic and poison men from within. And these ideas and values affect us all: When you poison the air, everyone who breathes inhales it.”


Follow William James College

Media Contact

Press and Media Center