Summary of Don Sabo’s “Masculinities and Men’s Health: Moving Toward Post-Superman Era Prevention”

“Traditional images of muscled, invulnerable, daring, unemotional, and risk-taking masculinity are still a big part of the culture. Each summer Hollywood pumps old patriarchal blood into the newest cinemagraphic renderings of superheroes like the Hulk, Iron Man, Spiderman, the X-Men, and Fantastic Four. It is ironic, however, that two of the best known actors who portrayed Superman met with real-life disaster. George Reeves, who starred in the original black-and-white television show, committed suicide, and Christopher Reeve, who portrayed the “man of steel” in recent film versions, was paralyzed by an accident during a high-risk equestrian event. Perhaps, one lesson to be learned here is that, behind the cultural facade of mythic masculinity, men are vulnerable. Indeed, […] some of the cultural messages sewn into the cloak of masculinity can put men at risk for illness and early death. A sensible preventive health strategy for men today is to critically evaluate the Superman legacy, that is, to challenge the negative aspects of traditional masculinity that endanger their health, while hanging on to the positive aspects of masculinity and men’s lifestyles that heighten men’s physical vitality. Hey guys, enjoy the movies, play with the myths, but don’t buy into messages about masculinity that put your well-being at risk.


The promotion of men’s health requires a sharper recognition that the sources of men’s risks for many diseases do not strictly reside in men’s psyches, gender identities, or the activities that they enact in daily life. Men’s activities, routines, and relations with others are fixed in the historical and structural relations that constitute the larger gender order. As we have seen, not all men or male groups share the same access to social resources, educational attainment, and opportunity that, in turn, can influence their health options. Yes, men need to pursue personal change in order to enhance their health, but without changing the political, economic, and ideological structures of the gender order, the subjective gains and insights forged within individuals can easily erode and fade away. If men are going to pursue self-healing, therefore, they need to create an overall preventative strategy that at once seeks to change potentially harmful aspects of traditional masculinity as well as meeting the health needs of lower-status men.”

Sabo, Don. 2013. “Masculinities and Men’s Health: Moving Toward Post-Superman Era Prevention.” Pp. 213-230 in Men’s Lives, edited by M. S. Kimmel and M. A. Messner. Boston: Pearson. [Article 19. From the section titled, “Summary,” pp. 225-226.]


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