Masculinity in American Culture

Over the past few months I've been spending quite a bit of time in the United States – both for business and pleasure. In contrast to many European and Asian countries, one aspect of American culture that always surprises me is the degree to which they embrace ‘masculinity’ in their everyday lives. 

From the way that meetings are conducted, to the car brands that people prefer, masculinity seems to play an important role in mainstream American culture.

Defining Cultural Masculinity

For almost half a century, the famous social psychologist Prof. Geert Hofstede has been conducting research based on six dimensions of culture. One of those six dimensions is masculinity, a cultural dimension in which “social gender roles are clearly distinct: Men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success; women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.”

Below is a table outlining the social norms frequently found in masculine cultures:
Bigger, Faster, Harder, Stronger

According to the research, America is considered a higher masculinity country, meaning that many of the masculinity attributes listed above also reflect mainstream American culture. To wrap up this post, I thought I’d provide a few practical examples of how masculinity can influence everyday American behavior.

Muscle cars are defined by Merrium Webster as, “American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines.” These powerful cars are an icon of American masculinity, with research showing that “engine power of a car is more important in masculine cultures. In feminine cultures, people may not even know their car engines power.”

Madison Avenue is arguably the home of global advertising, located in New York City, the home of American corporate culture. According to research, “masculine cultures show more confidence in the advertising industry… [it’s believed that] the skepticism of feminine cultures toward advertising is based on their markets having been relatively swamped by advertising reflecting US masculine values.”

In America, information is often presented rationally. According to research, “across cultures it appears that feminine cultures read more fiction and masculine cultures more non-fiction… Members of masculine cultures seem to be more concerned with data and facts: members of feminine cultures are more interested in the stories behind the facts.”


Anonymous said...

Interesting article!
As someone from the so-called feminine culture (Japan and China), I tend to pick the cars that are economical, environmental friendly, elegant and subtle (i.e. quiet). I guess that’s probably the reason why so many Asians are driving Honda, Toyota or Mercedes (for higher end). It's a reflection of social/cultural status, value and norms. Being assertive means something completely different in Asia, and we don’t even have a translation for it. “自信”probably is the closest one and its direct translation is ‘believe in oneself’. As you can see, believing in yourself in Asia doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘masculine’.

So the next question will be ‘who and how to define the term - assertive’? Let me guess, the American way of being ‘masculine’ ‘powerful’ ‘confident’ and ‘noisy’? Mind you, there's a thin line between being aggressive and being assertive, even in western culture. =)


Elizabeth Harrington said...

Wow. This is very interesting. On reflection, it's not incompatible with some existing stereotypes of the US compared to the rest of the world.

I would suspect as "globalization" grows, there will be more of a merging between these extremes. Sad, though, if cultures become too homogenized. Different cultural personas are interesting, and the rubbing up of two (or multi) cultures with each other can enhance and deepen qualities in the other.

See how some Americans have adopted feminine elements in the form of Yoga, Buddhism, and other eastern philosophies, and how the Chinese have adopted some of America's more masculine capitalistic notions.

Nick Black said...

Sami: Thanks for the comment. Interesting that there isn't a direct translation for 'aggressive' in Chinese... But what about 'passive aggressive?' See Wen Jiabao's recent European tour:

Nick Black said...

Thanks for the comment Betsy; glad you like the post. We've found that Hofstede's work is a useful starting-point when conducting international studies.

I think you may be right about the merging of culture, although it may not necessarily result in 'homogeneity;' often it can give rise to new cultural adaptations. For example, we saw examples of this in a recent study of business to business relationships in Poland, which often merge elements of both German and Russian culture.