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The relationship between masculinity ideology, loneliness, and separation-individuation difficulties.

In The Myth of Masculinity, Pleck (1981) postulated the Sex Role Strain model (SRS) where he identified ten propositions related to gender roles that emphasize the difficulty men experience in adhering to their prescribed gender roles. Later, Pleck (1995) argued that implicit in these ten propositions are three broader concepts: gender role discrepancy, gender role trauma, and gender role dysfunction. Gender role discrepancy suggests that a significant proportion of men fail to meet ideal male standards within their culture. The result is often times negative psychological functioning such as low self-esteem.

Gender role trauma suggests that only through traumatic male socialization can men bend themselves psychologically to the ideal standards of society; however, with this process, there are also long-term negative effects. Theorists have discussed this notion in terms of a boy's traumatic separation from his mother and the potential for trauma when he has an absent father (Levant, 1995; Pollack, 1998). Dialogue is also emerging with regard to some men being wounded (Brooks & Good, 2001) and how the masculine socialization process can be potentially traumatizing (Lisak, 2001). Finally, gender role dysfunction states that some male role expectations have inherently negative side effects for themselves and/or others (i.e., emotional constriction, spending little time with family, etc.).

After his initial work, Pleck (1995) continued to reformulate the SRS model also emphasizing the importance of masculinity ideology. Pleck stressed the importance of an individual's "beliefs about the importance of men adhering to culturally defined standards for male behavior" (p. 19). Pleck's concept, masculinity ideology, is built upon theorists such as Brannon (1976) who highlighted a number of now well-known traditional stereotypes related to masculinity like the "big wheel," the "sturdy oak," etc. Pleck pointed out that "traditional," "conservative," and "conventional" are the best operative terms to describe masculinity ideology as they are taken to convey that collection of contemporary attitudes and behaviors in the United States considered stereotypically male. These include emotional control, anti-feminity, homophobia, and achievement.

Masculinity ideology has been operationalized and measured by instruments such as the Brannon Masculinity Scale (BMS; Brannon, 1985) and the Male Role Norms Scale (MRNS; Thompson & Pleck, 1986), both of which are attitudinal measures concerned with the endorsement of "traditional" values and expectations for being male. The MRNS is of particular interest for this study. The measure consists of three subscales: Status, Toughness, and Anti-femininity. Thompson and Pleck suggested that the scale was built upon the following cluster beliefs: that men should conceal emotions that make one appear vulnerable, avoid the feminine, dedicate themselves to supporting a family through work, strive for admiration and respect, and become self-reliant through becoming physically and mentally tough.

This paper recognizes that Pleck's SRS model, including masculinity ideology, has an emphasis upon "conflict" on both the intrapsychic and interpersonal levels. Men may experience conflict because they feel pressure by society, family, and themselves to assume behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that may not be congruent with who they are. The double bind is that even if they successfully subscribe to the cultural ideal of certain masculine behaviors like emotional restriction, it may have an adverse impact on their psychological well-being. In keeping with Pleck (1981,1995), we suggest that a subscription to a conflicted form of masculinity leads to psychological distress and dysfunction.

Loneliness and Separation-Individuation

We chose loneliness as our measure of psychological distress in men because it potentially fits with the notion of traditional masculinity ideology. One might imagine that men who endorse masculinity ideology in the extreme may, as a result, experience loneliness. This may be due to striving for a near insular mode of existence through self-reliance or by keeping others at a distance in order to hide conflicts about being a man (Brannon, 1976; Blazina & Watkins, 2000; Pollack, 1995.) Therefore, it would be significant if masculinity ideology was a significant predictor for this type of psychological distress.

We also expected that separation-individuation difficulties would be related to MRNS scores. Drawing on psychoanalytic observations about maleness, such issues can be viably operationalized as problems with separation-individuation. Gender specific challenges for males have been highlighted in this process and have been referred to as disidentification (Blazina, 1997, 2001; Blazina & Watkins, 2000; Greenson, 1968; Pollack, 1995, 1998). According to this process originally postulated by Greenson, the initial masculine identity task is to disidentify with mother and all things feminine. The second task is to counteridentify with an older male role in an attempt to solidify the masculine identity. Recently, the disidentification process has been criticized as a normative but unhealthy process whereby males are emotionally traumatized (Bergman, 1995; Blazina; Blazina & Watkins; Pollack, 1995; 1998).

Blazina (2001) suggested the concept of the fragile masculine self to account for the psycho-emotional developmental difficulties that impact the gendered sense of self. The fragile masculine self is a model for conceptualizing and working with men in individual and group therapy that seeks to combine intrapsychic features with an awareness of psychosocial forces such as male socialization. Further, some men may be left in a weakened intrapsychic state because they lack the needed psycho-emotional experiences that give them the resources to deal with the trials of being a man. Blazina (2004) suggested that males are sometimes left with painful affective states as a consequence of harsh male socialization. They resort to at least two different styles or coping strategies to deal with painful emotional residual related to the fragile masculine self. This includes isolating themselves from others and/or leaning too much on others in an overly dependent fashion.

In the present study, psychological separation from parents was measured through conflictual independence and attitudinal independence with each parent. These two dimensions of psychological separation have been found to be highly robust and conceptually congruent with the notion of separation-individuation (Blustein, Walbridge, Friedlander, & Palladino, 1991). However, this is the first study to examine them in relation to masculinity ideology. Conflictual independence is defined as freedom from excessive mistrust, guilt, resentment, and anger toward parents; whereas, attitudinal independence refers to having one's own set of attitudes, values, and beliefs that are unique from one's parents (Hoffman, 1984).


Following the literature review, we have postulated two hypotheses. First, MRNS scores will be a significant predictor of loneliness. And, second, MRNS scores will be positively correlated with separation-individuation difficulties as operationalized as conflictual independence and attitudinal independence from both parents.



The participants were 179 men ranging in age from 17 to 70 years old (M = 17.45, SD = 11.26). The sample was drawn from an urban university setting in the Southwest. Subjects volunteered to participate in the study in exchange for extra credit in their university course. The demographic make-up was as follows: 53 percent Caucasian, 20 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Asian, 10 percent African-American, and 4 percent listed themselves as "other" ethnicities.


Subjects were asked to fill out a series of questionnaires that included: MRNS, The Psychological Separation Inventory, and the Differential Loneliness Scale. The order of administration was counterbalanced. Subjects were given a packet with an anonymous code number assigned at random. Subjects filled out the questionnaires and returned them to the packet before giving them to the research assistant. Subjects filled out the questionnaires in small groups ranging from 2 to 10.

Male Role Norms Scale. The Male Role Norms Scale (MRNS; Thompson & Pleck, 1986) is an adapted version of the Brannon Masculinity Scale (1985). The MRNS assesses the endorsement of traditional male ideology. It consists of 26 items, which make up three subscales: Status, Toughness, and Anti-femininity. This is shown to be a psychometrically sound measure with adequate reliability and validity. Thompson, Pleck, and Ferrer (1992) reported a coefficient alpha of .91.

The Psychological Separation Inventory. The Psychological Separation Inventory (PSI; Hoffman, 1984) is an instrument used to assess men's perceptions of psychological separation from mother and father. The PSI is a 138-Likert-type, self-report inventory with scales representing four dimensions of psychological separation. Of the four scales, two were used in this study: Conflictual Independence and Attitudinal Independence. Conflictual independence is defined as freedom from excessive mistrust, guilt, resentment, and anger toward parents; whereas, attitudinal independence refers to having one's own set of attitudes, values, and beliefs that are unique from one's parents (Hoffman).

Both subscales have excellent internal consistency (CI = .90; AI = .88) and Hoffman (1984) reports adequate test-retest reliabilities. Validity of the subscales can be inferred from the PSI relationship to academic adjustment and emotional problems (Hoffman; Hoffman & Weiss, 1987; Lopez, Campbell, & Watkins, 1986). Higher scores on both subscales indicate more difficulties with separation-individuation.

Differential Loneliness Scale. The Differential Loneliness Scale (DLS; Schmidt & Sermat, 1983) is a self-report instrument used to assess levels of loneliness. This is a 60-item measure used to assess overall loneliness as well as specific subtypes such as romantic-sexual relationships, friendships, family relationships, and relationships with larger groups. For our study, we focused on the total score of loneliness. The reliability of the test is high, ranging from .90 to .92 with test-retest coefficients ranging from .85 to .97 over one month (Schmidt & Sermat). The validity of the measure has been established against other measures of loneliness.


Descriptive information for the sample is presented Table 1 while intercorrelations between variables are present in Table 2. We can clearly see that the MRNS scores are significantly related to scores on both the loneliness and separation-individuation problems. That is, as masculinity ideology scores increase, so does reports of loneliness and separation-individuation problems. The regression analysis (Table 3) shows that MRNS was a significant predictor for loneliness.


The present study provides support for both hypotheses 1 and 2. Men who endorsed traditional masculinity ideology portrayed scores that were correlated with separation-individuation problems (though MRNS scores were related to conflicted attitudes toward mother and father, but not attitude independence). And, MRNS scores significantly predicted men's scores of loneliness.

We explain our findings, that men's traditional masculinity ideology was related to conflicted separation-individuation attitudes toward mother and father and, in addition, was related to loneliness. Our findings seem consistent with Pleck's (1995) notions of gender role trauma and dysfunction. Both speak of the emotional residual associated with the socialization process of being a man. Placed in more psychoanalytic terms, Blazina (2001) suggested that men who have fragile masculine selves are those who have suffered from developmental experiences that have left their sense of masculinity in a weakened state. This is consistent with previously mentioned information on disidentification. Furthermore, Blazina (2004) has proposed and described two distinct relational stances for men with fragile masculine selves. One involves emotional distancing from others through avoidance of intimacy in relationships. It was further theorized that these men distance themselves from others in an attempt to modulate negative emotional states in isolation. Another possible consequence of a harsh disidentification process is reliance on an overly dependent style of relating to others. Thus, highly conflicted men may look outside of themselves (i.e., rely on their romantic partners or drink too much) in an overly dependent manner to manage conflicted affect. This may be especially true for men who lack the internal resources to effectively manage negative affective states.

The current results may be consistent with the first relational stance where men may move away from others in order to preserve their sense of self, resulting in possible management of conflicted affect; however, the trade-off being a state of loneliness. If this pattern is accurate, one would need to know if this is experienced as a self-imposed isolation and/or because they have been cast out, feeling the social-cultural sting of traditional masculinity not achieved. This is more akin to Pleck's notion of gender role dysfunction.

It may be added that men who experience a fragile masculine self may also employ another strategy to deal with negative affective states--that of moving against others. Mahalik, Cournoyer, DeFranc, Cherry, and Napolitano (1998) found that men who scored high on another male role norms measure--the Gender Role Conflict Scale (GRCS; O'Neil et al., 1986) employed this defensive strategy. Since the GRCS and the MRNS are related constructs, we might look to future research to also examine this relationship. We may begin to consider a sort of neurotic triad of relational stances related to the fragile masculine self--moving away (resulting in loneliness), moving toward (resulting in over-dependence), and moving against (result in aggressive behavior). It would make sense given the separation-individuation problems encountered in normative male socialization; men may be left with notions of how much or how little connection can be afforded.

A better model for men to emulate is more akin to Fairbairn's (1952) notion of mature interdependence. This allows for connection, intimacy, and vulnerability, but also calls into account the need for mature functioning. In short, a man can be a man, managing his affective world and then also, look to others. This underscores the notion that while we need to obtain a certain level of emotional autonomy; we never outgrow the need for others.

While these conclusions are speculative in nature, in future studies it would be important to see if the link between perceived self-isolation and chronic loneliness exists. Adding to this is the importance of researching to see if chronically lonely men actually do have available others, or if their sense of being set adrift is more one of an internal state of perception. Future studies conducted both by the researcher and clinician should be directed toward answering these questions.

In terms of limitations, our study was an exploratory one and used correlations and regressions. More sophisticated analyses assessing direction and causality would add more credibility to the results. Because we are dealing with variables that seem to impact each other, the use of statistical models involving the examination of mediation and moderation may be best suited. It should also be noted that, in our study, we focused on the overall score of loneliness. It may be that men are susceptible to certain types of loneliness (e.g., family, peers, romantic partner, etc.), which could warrant a more defined future research investigation.

Another limitation of this study is that the sample consists mainly of traditionally college-aged students (i.e., 18-22 years). There are certainly limitations with this type of sample when we discuss masculinity and how it impacts psychological well-being. For instance, there are certain developmental considerations, such as separation-individuation issues, that seem to fit well with young adults. However, it would be important to see if these same dynamics are seen in an older population where one might expect matters of separation-individuation to be more resolved. In this same vein, the MRNS is a self-report measure meaning that it may be more likely to tap into self-concepts and perceived norms. Therefore, more behavioral assessments of masculinity that provide objective data may be of help in future studies.

Another limitation is that one measure was used to represent Pleck's masculinity ideology. It is important to consider using other measures that closely approximate Pleck's paradigm, such as O'Neil et al.'s, (1986) GRCS. Further, with the development of the Gender Role Conflict Scale-Adolescent version (GRCS-A; Blazina, Pisecco, & O'Neil, 2005), it may be possible to purse a comparison between Pleck's masculinity ideology and O'Neil's gender role conflict (GRC) in a younger sample as well. This would be an important step in studying the developmental aspects of gender norms in younger males.


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Chris Blazina, Psychology Department, Tennessee State University; Rachel Eddins, Career Counseling Center, University of Houston; Andrea Burridge, Psychology Department, University of Houston; and Anna G. Settle, Psychology Department, Tennessee State University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Chris Blazina, Tennessee State University, Psychology Department, 3500 John Merritt Blvd., Nashville, TN 37209. Electronic mail:


Tennessee State University



University of Houston


Tennessee State University
Table 1
Descriptive Statistics for Male Role Norm Scale, Loneliness and
Independence Scales

Scale Minimum Maximum Mean Std. Deviation

Male Role Norms Scale 38.00 169.00 104.85 25.14
Loneliness 1.00 41.00 15.32 9.26
Conflictual indep. 25.00 99.00 46.69 16.21
 from mother
Conflictual indep. 25.00 101.00 44.04 16.72
 from father
Attitudinal indep. 14.00 69.00 39.45 11.73
 from mother
Attitudinal indep. 14.00 70.00 38.19 13.89
 from father

Note. Male Role Norms = Sum of Male Role Norms scale;
Loneliness = Sum of Differential Loneliness Scale; Conflictual
independence from mother = Sum of Conflictual Independence
from Mother scale; Conflictual independence from Father = Sum of
Conflictual Independence from Father; Attitudinal independence
from mother = Sum of Attitudinal Independence from Mother scale;
Attitudinal independence from father = Sum Attitudinal Independence
from Father scale.

Table 2
Inter-Correlations Between Independent Variables

 Lone. MRNS Conflictual

Lone. 1.000 .273 ** .446 **
MRNS 1.000 .260 **
Conflictual indep. Mother 1.000
Conflictual indep. Father
Attitudinal indep. Mother
Attitudinal indep. Father

 Conflictual Attitudinal Attitudinal
 indep-father indep-mother indep-father

Lone. .447 ** -.119 -.181
MRNS .224 ** .142 .106
Conflictual indep. Mother .612 ** .023 .171
Conflictual indep. Father 1.000 .147 * .035
Attitudinal indep. Mother 1.000 .584 *
Attitudinal indep. Father 1.000

Note. MRN = Sum of Male Role Norms scale; Lone. = Sum of Differential
Loneliness Scale; Conflictual independence mother = Sum of Conflictual
Independence from Mother scale: Conflictual independence Father = Sum
of Conflictual Independence Father; Attitudinal independence mother =
Sum of Attitudinal Independence from Mother scale; Attitudinal
independence father = Sum Attitudinal Independence from Father scale.

** p [less than or equal] 0.01 level (2-tailed)

* r [less than or equal] 0.05 level (2-tailed)

Table 3
Regression Coefficients for Male Role Norm Scores Predicting Loneliness

Predictors in Model b se(b) [beta] t p model

Model 1
 Male role norms .101 .027 .273 3.87 .000 .075

N = 179
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Author:Blazina, Chris; Eddins, Rachel; Burridge, Andrea; Settle, Anna G.
Publication:The Journal of Men's Studies
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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