Sex Roles

, Volume 78, Issue 1–2, pp 52–66 | Cite as

Women’s Ideals for Masculinity Across Social Contexts: Patriarchal Agentic Masculinity is Valued in Work, Family, and Romance but Communal Masculinity in Friendship

  • Michael Quayle
  • Graham Lindegger
  • Kirsty Brittain
  • Neesa Nabee
  • Charlene Cole
Original Article


The present study explores women’s ideals for masculinity in different social contexts (work, family/romance, and friendship) and compares how traditional (agentic) and non-patriarchal (communal) masculinity are valued in each context. Survey data were collected from one international (N = 159) and three South African samples (Ns = 86, 100, 161) of women. Results show that although women value patriarchal ideals for masculinity, agentic and communal versions of masculinity are valued differently across contexts. Specifically, traditional agentic versions of masculinity were most valued in the contexts most important to the long-term production of viable identity (family/romance and work). It was only in friendship that non-patriarchal communal masculinity was consistently idealized over traditional agentic masculinity. The results are discussed in relation to hegemonic masculinity (HM) and system justification theory (SJT). Congruent with SJT, women idealized versions of masculinity that may not be in their own or their group’s best interests, but in line with HM, the results emphasized the fluidity of masculinity and that the same individual can simultaneously idealize different versions of masculinity depending on the context. Because stereotypes are both explanations for the status quo and warrants for behaving in one way or another, these collective ideals for masculinity and contextual boundaries may be important obstacles to achieving gender equity.


Masculinity Gender identity Romance Family Professional identity Friendship Sex role attitudes 



The present research was supported by funding from the South African National Research Foundation (grant #TTK1206141295).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

All studies reported on in this paper received full ethical review and approval from the responsible ethics committee prior to data collection.

Conflict of Interest

None of the authors have any conflicts of interest to declare.

Informed Consent

All participants participated voluntarily, with clear information about the risks and benefits of participation and fully aware of their right to terminate participation at any time.

Supplementary material

11199_2017_772_MOESM1_ESM.docx (35 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 34 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Social Issues Research, Department of PsychologyUniversity of LimerickLimerickIreland
  2. 2.School of Applied Human SciencesUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa

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