Young men in Canada are increasingly breaking away from traditional moulds and stereotypes when it comes to their perceptions of masculinity, a new study has found.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia recently teamed up with Intensions Consulting, a Vancouver-based research firm, and surveyed 630 millennial males, aged 15 to 29, living in Western Canada.
“The idea was to really understand, from a young man’s perspective, what does it mean to be a man now?” explained Nick Black, managing partner at Intensions Consulting and one of the study’s co-authors.
“What’s important to being a man? What’s made them the man that they are?”
After completing 30 initial, in-depth interviews, the research team broadened it out to the wider pool of 630 respondents. What they found upends much of the traditional thinking around masculinity that was firmly established in older generations.
Instead of prioritizing traits like physical strength or independence, the respondents were more likely to value altruism, social engagement and overall health. The results were published last week in Psychology of Men & Masculinity.
“Some of these new components of masculinity were coming out with these young guys,” Black, 36, explained.
“(These) were things like that sense of selflessness, caring for others, helping others and wanting to give back to the community.”
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Ninety-one per cent of respondents agreed that a man should help other people, the results showed, and about 80 per cent believed that a man should give back to his community.
A full 88 per cent said a man should be open to new ideas, new experiences, and new people.
Black said the shift in stated priorities may be part of a broader societal change, and that men are increasingly seeing themselves as caregivers — and they’re not apologetic about it.
“There was one young guy that I spoke to, I remember quite distinctly, who was talking about listening to his professor … the professor is always talking about his two young daughters and how much he loves them,” Black recalled.
“He said ‘I’ve never had that feeling before, but it sounded so incredible and I can’t wait for that.'”
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Grooming and physical health were another clear priority, with 86 per cent agreeing that a man should “take care of his appearance.”
Seventy-five per cent of the men agreed that a man should possess raw physical strength, but an even larger proportion — 87 per cent — agreed that he should have intellectual strength, and 83 per cent cited the importance of emotional strength.
One 18-year-old participant told the researchers that, for young men today, it is “more mind over muscle,” and another 24-year-old participant noted the emergence of successful men like Bill Gates, who embody more intellectual and entrepreneurial strength.
Autonomy also tracked a bit lower than other values, with just under 78 per cent of the men agreeing that “a man should be independent.”
Black said that moving forward, more research needs to be done looking at how these same sets of values are rated among older demographics.
“Perhaps looking at Generation X or older demographics of guys, to see if there’s something that is really new emerging here, or do we see it actually in other generations too?” he said.
“Maybe the (values) have always been in guys but guys have never felt permission from the media or from marketing and advertising and companies to express these deeper values … so they haven’t felt OK talking about it publicly, or maybe really owning it.”