Reimagining Masculinity: Masculinity and its Influence on the Well-Being of African American Men

A Research Brief by: Cameron Rolland

CRAs an African American man, I have the highest chance of mortality and lowest life expectancy among men and women in all other racial and ethnic groups. Historically, the disparities in health outcomes of African American men have been attributed to racism. Racism can in part be attributed to the poor health status of African American men; however, it is not the sole cause. Masculinity is another salient factor that acts as a barrier to positive health outcomes for African American men.

Masculinity can be defined as a set of beliefs, goals and values that shapes the behaviors of men and their relations to others. Research shows that power, self-reliance and perseverance are some common masculinity norms black men use to conceptualize masculinity. Research also shows that black men who possess a higher salience of masculinity norms have more barriers to health help-seeking. This is because visiting the doctor poses a threat to the masculine norms of control, independence and suppressing emotions. While manhood can have a negative influence on the health and well-being of black men, it can also have a positive influence. A study found that the masculine norms of self-reliance and control can have a positive influence on African American men's health attitudes and behaviors. Participants of the study viewed taking care of their health as a demonstration of masculinity because of the chance to exert influence on their health and well-being.

For effective health interventions to be designed, research needs to be conducted to determine the extent to which masculinity impacts health behaviors and health outcomes of black men. This will ensure that masculinity is not disproportionately weighted in health interventions as racism and other factors influence the health outcomes of African American men.

Conducting research takes a significant amount of time and effort. Therefore, healthcare organizations should in the meantime develop programs and campaigns targeting African American men that associate masculinity with caring for one's health. Health resources can be created to encourage health promoting behaviors without threatening black men's masculinity. For example, conducting interviews with black men who view taking care of their health as a demonstration of masculinity, and advertising those interviews can impact other black men's perceptions of health help-seeking. The "Real Men Real Depression" campaign spearheaded by the National Institute of Mental Health, NIMH, is another example of a health resource. By taking traditional norms of masculinity such as courage and applying them to health help-seeking with phrases like "It takes courage to ask for help," this campaign raised awareness about depression without threatening the masculinity of men.

Changes in African American men's perceptions of masculinity as it relates to their health as well as health resource engagement should be used to measure the success of interventions. NIMH had over 150,000 copies of their health resources downloaded from their campaign website. This was an indicator of public engagement. It is time to prioritize the health of African American men. Through research and health resource development, the health disparities that plague black men can be reduced and black men's health and well-being can flourish.