Men's Gender Role Conflict: Psychological Costs, Consequences, and an Agenda for Change

Book cover for Men's Gender Role Conflict: Psychological Costs, Consequences, and an Agenda for ChangeBy James M. O'Neil, PhD

Publisher: American Psychological Association
Item #:4318128
List Price:$79.95
Member/Affiliate Price:$49.95
Publication Date: November 2014
Format: Hardcover

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Men's gender role conflict (GRC) is a psychological state in which restrictive definitions of masculinity limit men's well-being and human potential. GRC is a problem for boys and men, girls and women, transgendered people, and society at large. It is related to numerous problems, such as sexism,
violence, homophobia, depression, and substance abuse. Combining over 30 years of research in men’s psychology and the author’s own experience in conceptualizing GRC, this book promotes activism and challenges the status quo, calling on researchers and clinicians to confront GRC and reduce its harmful effects.

James O'Neil is a pioneer in men's psychology who conceptualized GRC and created the Gender Role Conflict Scale. In this book, he combines numerous studies from renowned scholars in men's psychology with more than 30 years of his own clinical and research experience to promote activism and challenge the status quo.

He describes multiple effects of men's GRC, including

  • success, power, and competition issues;
  • restricted emotionality;
  • restricted affectionate behavior between men; and
  • conflicts between men's work and family relations.

O'Neil also explains when GRC can develop in a man's gender role journey, how to address it through preventative programs and therapy for boys and men, and what initiatives researchers and clinicians can pursue.

Chapter Abstracts

Introduction, p. 3-5
In this book, I make a call to action for greater involvement by psychologists and other human services providers in developing the psychology of men. Even though much has happened in this area over the past two decades, this call to action is needed because there still are very few theoretical paradigms about men’s gender role socialization, and the research studies that are conducted often are not very useful to practicing psychologists with clients. On the positive side, research findings now exist on the serious consequences of restrictive gender roles for men. These findings need to be more widely disseminated if they are going to make any differences in people’s lives. The GRC research program is one of the only theoretically based and empirically focused areas of study in the psychology of men. What I provide in this book is a summary of studies and implications of the GRC data for therapy, preventive programming, helping diverse groups of men, and eradicating oppression that will be valuable for practicing therapists, psychoeducators, and research psychologists who are committed to advancing the psychology of men and gender. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 1: A call to action to expand the psychology of men, p. 9-28
A paradigm shift is occurring in America with regard to our definition of masculinity, the most visible sign of which is the men who are active, engaging fathers with their sons and daughters (Pleck, 2010). As the incidents recounted above vividly demonstrate, something significant is also happening with how U.S. society perceives male emotions. More than ever before, men are being allowed to be vulnerable, emotional human beings. This transition is hopeful and important, but painfully slow. This book represents a call to action for practitioners, researchers, professors, and all human services providers to accelerate this process and help men overcome gender role conflict (GRC), a psychological state in which socialized gender roles have negative consequences for oneself or others. GRC occurs when rigid, sexist, or restrictive gender roles lead to personal restrictions, devaluation, or violation of others or oneself (O’Neil, 2008b). The ultimate outcome of this kind of conflict is the loss of the human potential of the person experiencing the conflict or someone else. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 2: My personal gender role journey with the Gender Role Conflict Research Program, p. 29-38
My study of men began with my first professional position as a professor and psychologist in the University Counseling Center at the University of Kansas. From that time on, men’s gender role conflict (GRC) became a major part of my professional life and my primary research program. I wanted to develop a theory and research program that explained how sexism and gender roles interact to produce oppression for both sexes. During those early days, I felt that both sexes were victims of sexism. Women as victims of sexism could be easily documented, but men as victims was harder to document and harder still to conceptualize. The GRC construct was one way to theorize about sexism against men. Those heated discussions with feminists in the 1970s were the primary stimuli for creating research on men’s GRC. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 3: New contextual paradigms for gender role conflict theory, research, and practice, p. 41-77
In this chapter, I discuss the complexity of gender role conflict (GRC) by moving beyond the history I discussed in Chapter 2. Here, I address the past definitions and the early theoretical concepts of GRC (O’Neil, 1981a, 1981b, 1982, 1990, 2008c; O’Neil, Good, & Holmes, 1995; O’Neil, Helms, Gable, David, & Wrightsman, 1986). I follow the presentation of these concepts with a discussion of past criticism of the GRC paradigm and the Gender Role Conflict Scale (GRCS; O’Neil et al., 1986) and argue for more contextualization of GRC to continue to move the paradigm forward. Next, I present two new contextual models that explain the complexity of men’s experiences with GRC. One model is contextually descriptive and the other focuses on understanding men’s behaviors in functional, microcontextual, and situational dimensions. Fourteen assumptions about GRC are enumerated at the end of the chapter to provide contexts for the major themes of this book. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved

Chapter 4: Scale development and measurement in the Gender Role Conflict Research Program, p. 79-93
In this chapter, I describe the different versions of the GRCS. The GRCS was first published in the journal Sex Roles, and it was followed by adaptations for use with adolescents (GRSC–A; Blazina, Pisecco, & O’Neil, 2005); women (Borthick, 1997; Borthick, Knox, Taylor, & Dietrich, 1997); Korean men (J. Kim, Hwong, & Ryu, 2003); and, most recently, Chinese men (Zhang, Blashill, et al., 2014). On the basis of psychometric criticism of the GRCS (Norwalk, Vandiver, White, & Englar-Carlson, 2011; J. R. Rogers, Abbey-Hines, & Rando, 1997), a short form of the GRCS also was developed (GRCS–SF; Wester, Vogel, O’Neil, & Danforth, 2012). Practical GRC checklists (O’Neil, 1988b, 1988c) were developed to assess GRC in therapy, classes, and workshop settings (O’Neil, 1996; O’Neil & Roberts Carroll, 1988; Robertson, 2006). Full psychometric details about the GRCS can be found on the GRC Research Program web page:; in this chapter, I provide only basic information about the reliability and validity of the scale. I first provide a brief summary of the evolution of GRCS-focused studies and describe the different kinds of studies. Next, I present basic information on the psychometric properties of the GRCS and the GRCS–SF. I then describe the GRCS–A and discuss the GRCS’s adaptation for women and its adaptation to checklist formats for use in therapy and workshops. Finally, I describe the Gender Role Journey Measure (GRJM; O’Neil, Egan, Owen, & Murry, 1993) as a scale to help people resolve GRC and understand gender role transitions. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 5: A developmental model of masculinity: Gender role transitions and men's psychosocial growth, p. 95-119
My goal in this chapter is to present a developmental framework that uses the concepts of GRC and gender role transitions (O’Neil & Egan, 1992a) to explain boys’ and men’s development. First, I discuss the lack of study on gender role transitions and define them in the context of demonstrating, resolving, reevaluating, or integrating aspects of masculinity ideology. Second, I introduce gender role schemas, including distorted ones, as critical concepts in understanding gender role transitions. Next, to establish a developmental foundation to understand men’s lives, I integrate a summary of B. Newman and Newman’s (2015) psychosocial theory with gender role constructs. I introduce a conceptual model grounded in psychosocial theory that describes how GRC, masculinity ideology, and gender role transitions relate to developmental tasks and psychosocial crises. Numerous theoretical assumptions about male development over the life cycle are specified to give greater clarity, depth, and utility to men’s gender role transitions. I also discuss two inhibitors of gender role transitions: (a) the fear of femininity (FOF) and (b) homophobia. Next, I use the gender role journey and five transformational processes to describe how gender role transitions can be facilitated. The chapter closes with a brief case study of one of my clients who experienced delayed psychosocial development, GRC, and then gender role transitions that allowed him to transform himself. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 6: A multicultural psychology of men model: Reviewing research on diverse men's gender role conflict, p. 123-164
In this chapter, I review research on diverse groups of men and explain how GRC and restrictive masculinity ideology relate to men’s psychological problems, discrimination, oppression, and social injustice. My goal is to present a multicultural psychology of men model and review the GRC research related to it. The studies I review connect the macrosocietal level of oppression to men’s personal experience of it at the microinterpersonal level. I report evidence that diverse men’s GRC relates to psychological problems, discrimination, and internalized oppression. I close the chapter with a perspective on why resistance exists in discussing diversity, multiculturalism, and societal oppression. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 7: Summary of the Gender Role Conflict Research Program, p. 165-206
In this chapter, I provide an update of gender role conflict (GRC) research conducted since the publication of a special issue of The Counseling Psychologist in 2008 (O’Neil, 2008b). That special issue summarized 232 studies, but now more than 350 have been completed. I combine the new studies with the earlier findings to provide a new synthesis of what is known about men’s GRC. Overall, the complexity of GRC is apparent from the research, and the challenge now is how to interpret the results for future researchers and clinicians who are helping men. This review of men’s GRC is important for several reasons. First, research reviews of men’s psychological problems have been lacking in the literature, and those that have been published have been based on small numbers of studies (Levant & Richmond, 2007; O’Neil, Good, & Holmes, 1995). In the current review, I summarize men’s GRC by evaluating many empirical studies, published over a 30-year period. Second, lacking has been a comprehensive review of empirical studies that assess whether GRC relates to men’s mental health problems. Empirical research has not fully confirmed that men’s psychological problems relate to conflicts with their socialized gender roles. Little has been known about how men’s gender roles relate to depression; anxiety; violence; suicide; poor health care; homophobia; academic failure; bullying; racial/ethnic oppression; and dysfunctional relations with women, men, and children. These problems negatively affect the quality of people’s lives and the overall soul of our society. Very little is known about the contexts of GRC in terms of the historical, situational, developmental, and immediate experiences of men’s lives. Enns (2000) discussed GRC as an important area for future research in psychology but did not specify the particular areas to study. In Chapter 8 of this volume, I provide recommendations for future research on these contexts. Furthermore, diagnostic models are needed to assess GRC in therapy, and therapy approaches based on GRC are needed (see Chapters 9–12). Finally, summaries of the GRC studies are needed to guide future research paradigms on men. New ideas and more expansive measures of GRC are also needed. In the review I provide in this chapter, I challenge readers to improve the GRC construct through future research, therapeutic interventions, and preventive programming. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 8: Four contextual paradigms for gender role conflict research, p. 207-223
In this chapter, I discuss future contextual research on gender role conflict (GRC) with these limitations in mind. In Chapter 3, I presented a full description of contextualism along with both a descriptive and functional model explaining contextual perspectives. Those models are directly relevant to the research paradigms discussed here. I discuss four research paradigms that can move the research closer to a more comprehensive contextual research paradigm: (a) GRC as a predictor and GRC moderators, (b) GRC as a predictor and GRC mediators, (c) situational contexts of GRC with GRC as mediators, and (d) situational contexts of GRC with GRC as outcomes (see Figures 8.1–8.4). According to the correlational research, GRC is significantly related to both intra- and interpersonal variables. One of the primary limitations of the past research has been the simplicity of the correlational studies. Complex relationships among independent, dependent, and intervening variables (moderators and mediators) have not been frequently tested. Only 23 studies have assessed how moderators affect GRC, and only 37 have examined the mediators of men’s GRC. Currently, too little research exists on the moderators and mediators of men’s GRC to develop a robust theory explaining how gender roles negatively affect men and others. Heppner (1995) stated the need for moderator and mediator studies when he indicated that “it would be most informative to examine more complex relationships between GRC and psychological maladjustment by investigating moderating and mediating relationships” (p. 20). (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 9: Therapeutic assessment of gender role conflict in counseling and psychotherapy, p. 227-248
In this chapter, I respond to Glicken’s (see record 2005-06150-000) criticism that the assessment of men is ambiguous by providing two specific appraisal schemas that apply to therapy with men. One schema is global (see Figure 9.1), and the other is specific to assessing gender role revaluations, restrictions, and violations (see Table 9.1). Furthermore, the two models respond to Cochran’s (2005) recommendations that assessment paradigms be based on clinical experience and empirical research. Using theory and empirical evidence from the GRC research program (see Chapters 6 and 7, this volume), and my own clinical experience, I discuss a 13-part diagnostic schema and present an evidence-based assessment model that can be used with individual clients. No assessment approach is complete without a consideration of how multicultural and diversity variables and societal oppression affect clients and their therapies (O’Neil, 2008c; Wade & Rochlen, 2013; Wester, 2008a); therefore, I also summarize the GRC research that specifically supports the evidence-based model for diverse men. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 10: Gender role journey therapy with men, p. 249-278
The gender role journey metaphor has been used in psychoeducational workshops for many years (O’Neil, 1996; O’Neil & Roberts Carroll, 1988; see also Chapter 13, this volume), but it has not been fully discussed as a paradigm for counseling men. In this chapter, I discuss a new way of conceptualizing men’s therapy using the gender role journey and GRC. First, I define the gender role journey in terms of the three phases and aspects of the transtheoretical therapy approach (Brooks, 2010; Prochaska & Norcross, 2001) and the deepening framework (Rabinowitz & Cochran, 2002). Next, I identify three critical contexts of gender role journey therapy (GRJT) by conceptualizing GRC as a diagnostic and process variable. On the basis of the theories and contexts, I discuss six principles of GRJT as the theoretical foundation for facilitating men’s change during therapy. Next, I discuss the therapeutic process of GRJT, using the stages and processes of change (Brooks, 2010; Prochaska & Norcross, 2001) and the gender role journey phases, along with how therapists can respond to clients’ symptoms. I close the chapter with suggestions on helping clients move from one stage of therapy to another and therapeutic strategies to resolve GRC. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved

Chapter 11: Using gender role journey therapy: The case study of Thomas, p. 279-300
In this chapter, I present a case study of Thomas (a pseudonym), whom I currently see as a client. The case study provides an example of using gender role journey therapy (GRJT), the concept of deepening (Rabinowitz & Cochran, 2002), and transtheoretical theory processes and methods (Brooks, 2010; Prochaska & Norcross, 2001). The therapy comprised a process of deepening to find portals to Thomas’s overt wounds as well as his buried wounds. Assessing Thomas’s stage of change and determining the processes of change were a central dynamic in therapy. Like most men, Thomas had unresolved issues with power, control, and authority, so the multimodal treatments that promoted self-understanding and regulation were central to my therapeutic processes (Robertson, 2012). The two assessment paradigms I described in Chapter 9 were used in the therapy, and the case study illustrates the use of concepts discussed in Chapters 3 (gender role conflict [GRC] theory), 5 (psychosocial development), 6 (diversity and vulnerable men), 9 (assessment) and 10 (GRJT). The case study has an ordered sequence and includes the following parts. First, I summarize Thomas’s background and history, followed by my overall impressions of his presenting problem. Second, I detail my diagnostic process using GRJT processes and the assessment paradigms presented in Chapter 9. Third, I discuss the therapy process in a general way, and I close the case with a discussion of eight dynamic interventions or events that were part of the therapy. Thomas has read this case study, verified its accuracy, and has given me his permission to use it in this book. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 12: Theoretical and empirical justification for psychoeducational programming for boys and men, p. 301-312
In this chapter, I present a theory, conceptual model and research on gender role conflict (GRC) that justify expanded psychoeducation services for boys and men in public schools and institutions of higher education. Psychoeducation is a pedagogical approach that uses psychological and learning principles to promote people’s personal, emotional, and intellectual development in a classroom or group setting (O’Neil, 2001). It is an excellent way to educate men and women about gender roles and other areas of diversity. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 13: Prevention of gender role conflict using psychoeducation: Three evaluated interventions, p. 313-335
In Chapter 12, I established a theoretical and empirical rationale for psychoeducational programming with boys and men. As Robertson (2012) pointed out, psychoeducational programming for men is in reality teaching the psychology of men. In this chapter, I discuss a 10-step action-oriented preparation process and present a programming delivery model that promotes the development of comprehensive preventive services for men at colleges and universities. Next, I describe three examples of psychoeducation programs that used gender role conflict (GRC) theory, and describe concepts of the psychology of men and present evaluation data. One preventive program is for college men and student affairs staff (Braverman, O’Neil, & Owen, 1992), another is for middle-school urban boys (O’Neil, Challenger, Renzulli, Crapser, & Webster, 2013) and the third intervention is for both men and women (O’Neil, 1996; O’Neil & Roberts Carroll, 1988). (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Chapter 14: Call to action revisited: Personal reflections, contextual summary, and action plans, p. 339-351
I opened this book by discussing the current U.S. president, Barack Obama, and I close it by mentioning the man who was president when I grew up, John F. Kennedy (JFK), and his brother Robert F. Kennedy (RFK), my U.S. senator from 1966 to 1968. When I was 12, JFK became president of the United States, and his election was a significant event for me. His challenge to the nation to become more involved in improving society really excited me. JFK was my male role model: a young, articulate, energetic, strong, outspoken, and Irish Catholic man. These qualities were a perfect match for my religious and ethnic heritage, and I admired the human values he represented. I always thought my attraction to JFK and RFK was based on their charisma and charm, and on their calls to take action against the problems in the world. I know now that it was deeper. They were men to emulate during my gender role transition of puberty and the development of my masculinity ideology. As a young boy, I was not conscious of this masculine identification with the Kennedys, but now it is quite clear. The dark days of their respective deaths in November 1963 and June 1968 made me sad and angry, and they still haunt me when I dream of the good that could have occurred in our country had we not lost them. These memories returned to me when I was searching the literature on masculinity ideology for this book, and they have crystallized the last context of gender role conflict (GRC) I will present here: domestic and foreign policy. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Table of Contents



I. An Overview of Gender Role Conflict and Its History

  1. A Call to Action to Expand the Psychology of Men
  2. My Personal Gender Role Journey With the Gender Role Conflict Research Program

II. The Theoretical Foundations of Gender Role Conflict

  1. New Contextual Paradigms for Gender Role Conflict Theory, Research, and Practice
  2. Scale Development and Measurement in the Gender Role Conflict Research Program
  3. A Developmental Model of Masculinity: Gender Role Transitions and Men's Psychosocial Growth

III. Empirical Research on Gender Role Conflict in Boys and Men

  1. A Multicultural Psychology of Men Model: Reviewing Research on Diverse Men's Gender Role Conflict
  2. Summary of the Gender Role Conflict Research Program
  3. Four Contextual Paradigms for Gender Role Conflict Research

IV. Practical Applications for Gender Role Conflict in Therapy and Preventative Programs

  1. Therapeutic Assessment of Gender Role Conflict in Counseling and Psychotherapy
  2. Gender Role Journey Therapy With Men
  3. Using Gender Role Journey Therapy: The Case Study of Thomas
  4. Theoretical and Empirical Justification for Psychoeducational Programming for Boys and Men
  5. Prevention of Gender Role Conflict Using Psychoeducation: Three Evaluated Interventions

V. A Call to Action: Future Directions in Addressing Men's Gender Role Conflict

  1. Call to Action Revisited: Personal Reflections, Contextual Summary, and Action Plans



About the Author

James M. O’Neil, PhD, is a professor of educational psychology and family studies in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut as well as a licensed psychologist in private practice in South Windsor, Connecticut. In 1975, he received his doctorate from the Department of Counseling and Personnel Services at the University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA) in Divisions 17, 35, 43, 51, 52, and 56. He is one of the founding members of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity (APA Division 51) and was named Researcher of the Year in 1997 for his 20-year research program on men’s gender role conflict. Dr. O’Neil’s research programs relate to men and masculinity, gender role conflict, the psychology of men and women, and violence and victimization. He has published more than 100 journal articles and book chapters, and his most recent book, coauthored with Michele Harway, What Causes Men’s Violence Against Women? (1999), has been translated into Japanese and Korean. In 1991, he was awarded a Fulbright Teaching Scholarship by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, to lecture in the former Soviet Union. In 1995, he was awarded Teaching Fellow status, the most prestigious distinction for a professor at the University of Connecticut, for his outstanding excellence and dedication to the university teaching. In 2008, he received the Distinguished Professional Service Award from APA Division 51 for his 25-year research program on men’s gender role conflict and his advocacy for teaching the psychology of men in the United States. He has advocated for professional activism with gender role and social justice issues throughout his 40 years as a counseling psychologist.


What Others Are Saying About Men’s Gender Role Conflict: Psychological Costs, Consequences, and an Agenda for Change:

In the midst of popular claims about a war on masculinity, this book brings a balanced and nuanced perspective to the ways in which men’s gender role conflict can restrict the lives of both men and women and offers a practical and positive call to action that is grounded in 35 years of theory and research. This engaging and comprehensive volume mirrors themes that permeate feminist, multicultural, and gay affirmative scholarship and weaves together narrative and case study material with in-depth reviews of theory and research. It offers evidence-based approaches for transcending gender-related problems through prevention, research, activism, and psychotherapy. This volume is an invaluable resource for researchers, psychotherapists, social activists, students, and prevention specialists.

Carolyn Zerbe Enns, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychology, Cornell College, Mount Vernon, IA


A deeply thoughtful book, by a scholar with both rigor and heart. O’Neil is a true revolutionary scholar whose work on gender role conflict over the past four decades culminates in this profound volume.  Recommended to anyone seeking an understanding of the lives of boys and men.

Puncky P. Heppner, PhD, Distinguished Curator’s Professor, and Mary J. Heppner, PhD, Professor, Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology, University of Missouri, Columbia


Jim O’Neil’s work over four decades has revealed that our cultural definitions of masculinity are incoherent, inconsistent, internally contradictory and thus the source of stress, anxiety and other psychological torments. Here, he empirically documents the psychological costs of gender role conflict and offers a blueprint for a new coherent definition of masculinity—one that more closely confirms with the lived realities of American men.

Michael Kimmel, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, and Executive Director, Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, Department of Sociology, Stony Brook


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