OECD defines the ‘masculinities’ that restrict dads choices

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development publishes report defining masculinities in the hope it’ll drive more gender equal policies

Middle age man looking serious


Freeing men from restrictive gender stereotypes, including expectations around paternity leave, is key to gender equality according to a new report from the OECD.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is the gold standard policy body among developed nations. As part of its March on Gender series it has just released a report called Man Enough? Measuring Masculine Norms to Promote Women’s Empowerment.

The report defines masculinities as ‘social constructs, shared by both men and women, that relate to perceived notions about how men behave and are expected to behave’.


Diverse forms of masculinities coexist across cultures, geographical locations and time. The report focuses on more than just the economic considerations that shape the roles mums and dads play. Instead it looks at social norms reinforced by formal and informal laws and cultural practices. The report says some masculinities directly hinder women’s empowerment and gender equality. However there is also evidence that more men feel constrained by strict definitions of masculinity. That can have an impact on male mental health.

The report aims to give policy makers the ability to measure masculine norms across cultures and geographies. They can then use those statistics to drive more gender equal policies. For instance, with the right data, policy makers can better understand the way norms of masculinities are influencing the low uptake of paternity leave.

It analyses two different types of masculinities. ‘Restrictive masculinities’ are rigid and promote inflexible notions and expectations of what it means to be a real man. On the other hand ‘gender-equitable masculinities’ allow men to take on diverse roles and behaviours, while not limiting women’s agency.

‘Real’ men

The Man Enough? report identifies ten norms that characterise restrictive masculinities and produce direct consequences for women’s and girls’ empowerment and well-being.

Within the public sphere, especially economic and political, the report singles out five norms that characterise restrictive masculinities and are widely accepted across cultures. A “real” man should:

  • Be the breadwinner, working for pay to provide for the material needs of the household
  • Be financially dominant at work and at home
  • Work in “manly” jobs, those professions that society defines as “men’s work”
  • Be the “ideal worker”, prioritising work over all other aspects of life
  • Be a “manly” leader by cultivating an assertive and space-occupying leadership style

While the domestic sphere has traditionally been treated as the domain of women, restrictive masculinities promote male dominance in the home too. A “real” man should:

  • Not do unpaid care and domestic work, considering this work as generally “women’s work”
  • Have the final say in household decisions, being the one at the top of a hierarchy at home
  • Control and administer household assets specifically productive assets
  • Protect and exercise guardianship of family members especially women and girls within the household
  • Dominate sexual and reproductive choices, initiating sexual encounters and making reproductive decisions

In the economic sphere, for example, these norms undervalue women’s economic contribution and support the view that men’s labour is more important and valuable than theirs. As such, these norms justify women’s exclusion from the labour force, high-status jobs and decision-making positions.


In the political sphere, these norms uphold the view that leadership is a masculine characteristic and that men inherently make better leaders than women.

In the private sphere, norms defining men’s roles as decision makers minimise women’s and girls’ agency and decision-making power over their time, bodies and resources.

Juan Yemo, OECD Chief of Staff said, “Policies and legal frameworks alone cannot break the gender-stereotyping: we must tackle the hidden drivers of gender inequalities. Measuring and exposing restrictive masculinities can transform the way societies approach the systemic challenges facing women.”

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