Why real men ZUMBA?

Mostly, it’s great to be a man. (Thinking about the convenience of peeing anywhere!) The challenge starts when we buy into what we think a real MAN does, and how he should behave. For example, real men do Cross Fit (not Zumba); drive Dusters (not Nanos); expect the meals cooked, and the home looked after (and really not do much here); plan for the kids’ future (but not help with nappies or homework)…you get the picture. A lot of this possibly worked for us in the ‘old’ days but strong adherence to this ‘masculinity ideology’ can have some major consequences for men in today’s organizational and personal contexts.

According to literature, masculinity ideology is defined as an internalization of cultural beliefs about the masculine gender role; it seeks to explain male socialization in cultural contexts. Masculinity – as traditionally understood -values strength, resilience, courage and personal sacrifice in the face of difficulty or danger. Masculinity is socially programed in men from a very young age as boys are taught that to be a man means toughness, independence, emotional control, and solving life problems without assistance. By the time they are adults, this code of masculinity requires men to be aggressive, dominant, achievement-oriented, competitive, and self-sufficient – irrespective of the cost in terms of their relationships or for themselves.

     Now the bad news: Recent studies demonstrate that high levels of adherence to this ideology is associated with alcohol intake, use of drugs, increased sexual risks, loneliness, less relationship satisfaction, and a reluctance to seek help (either from a co-worker, boss, coach or even a friend or relative).

A man is very unlikely to admit in front of his co-workers (especially women) that he does not know what to do, or that he needs help. Often, we struggle when working for a woman boss – we swing between treating her as mother-goddess or just mother. How many of us are comfortable receiving feedback from a woman at work? (Yeah, right!)

Simply put, our beliefs about what men should do and not do puts our physiological and psychological health at risk. Research shows that it creates social stressors at work, especially in occupations that have large population of female workers. Social stressors include bad group climate, social conflicts, personal animosities and so on; these stressors are related to psychological strain for the men.

What causes this strain on men? There is substantial evidence that men adhering to the masculine gender role type have certain restrictive beliefs and behaviors that lead to intrapersonal and interpersonal problems for them. Think about the emotional overhead for a man who has to behave in one way with his female colleagues at the work place, but his true belief system is reflected in the way he treats the woman in his home!

Gender role theory suggests that men go through various transitions as we struggle to integrate the differences between what we’ve been brought up to believe and how we actually need to behave at the workplace. Many of us make the transition and integrate a healthier belief and behavior system; and many of us do NOT! This transition process itself, causes distress and anxiety as we go through it, and can often get amplified if it is combined with identity confusion.

So as a man how do you know where you are? Where are your blind spots? Adapting from gender role conflict theory, here is a quick, self-check to see how much of a MAN you are (hint: the stronger your belief, the more you are likely to struggle! Don’t cheat. Remember you’re a MAN!): Rate yourself on a scale of 1 – 5, with 1 being not so strong, and 5 being a very strong belief.

I believe that as a man:

  • I must be successful – success defines me.
  • I want to have position in which I can lead
  • I enjoy competition, and I love to win
  • I don’t like to demonstrate my feelings openly
  • I’m uncomfortable talking about my feelings
  • My focus is on my work and career
  • It’s very hard to balance work and personal time, work wins!
  • My wife and family need me to be a strong provider
  • People respect a leader who is seen as strong and decisive
  • No one likes a weakling on the team!

A high score demonstrates a strong adherence to masculinity ideology. So, how do you think your score impacts you at work? At home?

For most of us, we don’t really know the true answer because we don’t know how to ask for this feedback. Even if our 360* feedback data screams at us, many of us would not seek help, because for us, seeking help is socially unacceptable. I’m in emotional pain but working with a coach or reaching out to a friend demonstrates weakness and failure; it is against my concept of strength through success and self-control.

By now you’re probably feeling bad about being a man. Hang on! All is not lost! There are more benefits to being a man than peeing convenience. Strength and resilience, for a man, means bouncing back up from a setback. Research data on masculinity points to the challenges that a man faces, but it also points to evidence based solutions. One solution is to work with an executive coach! All the top athletes work with one, why not you? Another solution is to create a supportive network of colleagues/friends who support you with honesty while maintaining confidentiality. A really great one (and possibly the best one!), is to let go one’s pride and false beliefs, get vulnerable and ask one’s spouse for feedback, support and encouragement! Do this – if you’re a real MAN!

Would you like to MAN up and work with an executive coach? Connect with us on ajayglobalcoach@gmail.com for details.

(Dedicated to the AWESOME, Zumba instructors at TheTribeFitness in Indiranagar, Bangalore!)


Cox, D. W. (2104). Gender differences in professional consultation for a mental health concern: A Canadian population study. Canadian Psychology, 55(2), 68-74. doi:10.1037/a0036296

Danforth, L., & Wester, S. R. (2014). Gender-sensitive therapy with male servicemen: An integration of recent research and theory. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(6), 443-451. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0036759

McDermott, R. C., & Schwartz, J. P. (2013). Toward a better understanding of emerging adult men’s gender role journeys: Differences in age, education, race, relationship status, and sexual orientation. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 14(2), 202-210. doi:10.1037/a0028538

Sobiraj, S., Rigotti, T., Weseler, D., & Mohr, G. (2105). Masculinity ideology and psycholgocial strain: Considering men’s social stressors in female-dominated occupations. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 16(1), 54-66. doi:10.1037/a0035706

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