Comparing Attitudes towards Masculinity in the United States to Southern Europe

This is the first in a series of blogs about views of Male Psychology and masculinity around the world. To start us off, Professor Miles Groth of Wagner College, New York, relates his thoughts on masculinity in the United States compared to Southern Europe.


by Professor Miles Groth

I return to Italy every year for many reasons but have also traveled in Spain, Portugal and France, Europe’s other “Latin” counties. I’ve just returned from my annual stay in Venice and have a few “anthropological” observations to make related to so-called “toxic masculinity”.

Latin men are such a contrast to American men and, it seems, to other Anglophone groups. They enjoy their masculinity and take pride in it. So do Latin women, who as a group are among the strongest women I’ve seen anywhere. I’ve visited more than a dozen countries in my lifetime, but if you can believe it, never the UK, so I must withhold adding British males to the generalization I’m making about men in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, whom I’ve seen first-hand. What I see and read second-hand, however, suggests including British men. I should add I don’t trust any “representations” in the media about a people and their culture, and trust only what I have seen in person. It’s among my plans for retirement to remedy this and visit a friend who’s located in Scarborough and do a road trip as well as visit London and Edinburgh. I want to get to Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well.

My point here is not autobiography, however, but rather that Anglophone males, above all Americans, seem more confused about their gender, sex and sexuality than males in the “Latin” countries I’ve mentioned. I’ll bracket for now Scandinavian, German and Austrian men, many of whom I know and have seen in their natural habitat, but they, too, seem to be less confused about being male.

I watch a bit of local television everywhere to get a sense of the national and local “scene,” but most of my “field work” is simply observing people in public places and casual settings, having sorted them out from the tourists. Venice is not the best place for such an anthropologist as I am, but in northern Italy, which will be my point of reference in these generalizations, “gender trouble” seems much less severe. I should add that I also know men from other parts of Italy and they share the features of northern Italians.

Italian men (and women) continue to enjoy the traditional gender roles we now oddly enough call sex roles, while seeming to have little trouble accepting differences in sexual orientation in both males and females, even though for most Italians homosexuality is still a puzzling option. I think this is because both men and women freely kiss members of the same sex. They do less hugging than Americans now do. The kissing, while very intimate indeed, is not at all sexual. (So, which is more intimate—lips to cheek or chest to chest?)

The question then becomes for us in the States and in our parent country, Britain: why is the USA the source of the bleak and harmful notion of “toxic masculinity”? At the source of this destructive way speaking, and the current anti-male movement related to it, is what I will call “male trouble” among men and boys in the States.

There is trouble it is said in being male, trouble from which emanates the notion of masculinity being “toxic.” This strikes Latin-European men and women as nonsense. Being male and masculinity are prized and enjoyed by males and females, just as being female and femininity are by females and males. This is not limited to high-profile “stars” and media “personalities.”

A pop TV show I watched for a few minutes through jet-lag haze my first night in Venice is a case in point in this, my brief anthropological investigation. The guests were playing a “dating game.” With equal dignity, the males and females were masculine and feminine in the traditional ways. Interestingly enough, neither groups smile all over the place as much as Americans do, even for the television camera. The point is that both groups were strong and beautiful. To have spoken of masculinity as “toxic” would have been as outrageous as talking about femininity as “poisonous.” So, where has this American notion of males as dangerous, sickening and bad come from? That is my question. To repeat: it’s missing elsewhere, not only in Southern Europe among all “classes,” but also, as far as I can tell, in the Middle East, Asia, India and South America.

I think it will be a very long time indeed for Latin European and Eastern European, Asian and all Islam-based cultures to find any of this talk of masculinity as poisonous at all believable let alone acceptable.


Miles Groth

September 2018


About the author

Professor Miles Groth. Miles Groth, PhD, first taught university students in 1972 and will complete his teaching career at the end of the current academic year in late summer 2019. Along the way, his teaching experience also ranged from students in Grade Five elementary school and fourth-year MD residents in psychiatry at a general hospital in metropolitan New York City. His interest in the well-being of boys and men began about 15 years ago when he noticed diminishing interest in classroom and campus life among male college students. He has been the editor of The International Journal of Men’s Health, Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies, and New Male Studies: An International Journal. He is co-editor of Engaging College Men. Understanding What Works and Why (2010) and has lectured on the psychology of boys and men in Canada, Australia, and Germany, as well as the United States. For several years he contributed to a blog on boys and men for Psychology Today.




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