Sexist people are more likely to have mental health issues, new study suggests

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If common sense isn't a good enough reason to stop being sexist, this new study offers some extra incentive.

Researchers led by Y. Joel Wong, an associate professor at the Indiana University Bloomington, conducted a meta-analysis on the relationship between people's conformity to "masculine norms" and their mental health outcomes. The paper, which looked at 78 studies with a total of 19,453 participants, was published by the American Psychological Association in the Journal of Counseling Psychology. 

Their findings, Wong told Popular Science, were "not rocket science." According to the paper, people who conform to stereotypically "masculine" behaviors are more likely to have poor mental health. 

Adherence to three specific "masculine norms" — "self-reliance," exerting "power over women" and acting like a "playboy" — were, to borrow the study's words, "unfavorably, robustly and consistently related to mental health-related outcomes," such as depression. Playboy mentalities and dominance were the "norms most closely associated with sexist attitudes." The study noted that heterosexual men aren't the only people who place value on promiscuity. And that's dangerous, the study warned:

"The robust and unfavorable association between conformity to these two norms and mental health-related outcomes underscores the idea that sexism is not merely a social injustice, but also has deleterious mental health-related consequences for those who embrace such attitudes." 

The researchers also found that people who perpetuated toxic masculinity were less likely to seek psychological help for their mental health issues.

Source: Giphy

It makes sense: Men who disrespect women might have a harder time forming relationships — professional, romantic or friendly — with those women; that, in turn, may lead to mental illness. For example, as the study notes, "heterosexual men who adhere strongly to norms associated with sexism might struggle in their relationships with women, leading to poorer mental health."

Sexists might also find themselves publicly shamed for their behavior, which would be all the more confusing for those who fail to understand why their behavior is wrong — which, apparently, is a lot of people. In this 2011 study, male participants were not only less able to recognize sexism in everyday situations, but also more likely to excuse it after it had been pointed out to them. This survey by the Pew Research Center, published in August, found that most male participants believed sexism to be over.

As Wong told Popular Science, sexist men might be more likely to feel alienated now that sexist bullshit is less socially acceptable than it used to be. 

"Perhaps 30 years ago you could behave in a sexist manner, you could do and say things that'd be inappropriate and get away with it," he said. "People would suffer in silence and not speak out. But that's changed a lot."

As Wong explained to Vocativ, the discovery that one is, in fact, a sexist can lead to isolation from — or by — one's peers, which in turn can lead to substance abuse and depression, none of which is helped by the aforementioned emphasis on self-reliance. It's a vicious cycle of bewilderment with real consequences — for everyone.

Solving the problem won't be easy. Not all sexists want to change their behavior — or even know they're being discriminatory in the first place. People who adhere to antiquated gender roles — who might equate being a "man" with being a strong, silent type, a powerful patriarch or a womanizer — don't always recognize their beliefs are sexist. As Wong told Popular Science, many men — and many women, who are also capable of being misogynists — believe that this is simply what being a man means. 

But, Wong noted, "Just because you've always behaved in a particular way doesn't mean you've got no choice."

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Claire Lampen

Claire is a staff writer at Mic who covers women's issues and reproductive rights. She is based in New York and can be reached at claire@mic.com.

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