Positive Masculinity Contributor - Dominique Lewis
Lead Content Writer for Positive Masculinity, Technical Writer in the medical device industry
All throughout the world there has been a shortage of male to male compliments. Due to cultural stigma and competition, traditional masculine standards seem to be the culprit. The average population of females are more likely to receive compliments frequently, while males remain at a deficit. It’s even more rare that the average male is complemented by another male due to traditional masculine ideals that view complimenting as feminine, and therefore discourage lifting male esteem. Women commonly receive compliments on a regular basis without societal judgment, while men rarely praise other men due to fear of judgment and societal pressure.
A New Zealand study by Nan Sun, "Gender-based Differences in Complimenting Behaviour: A Critical Literature Review”(2), publishes that of 500 delivered compliments, males complimented other males on appearance 36% of the time, and on ability/performance 32% of the time. This is 25% and 12% less than female to female compliments respectively (2). Traditional masculinity carries the weight of emotional repression through cultural disgrace and competition. Therefore, male to male compliments remain at a low percentage to men's misfortune as there are tons of cognitive and emotional health benefits attached to receiving and giving compliments. The practice of complementing one another can become a catalyst to improving the narrative of male esteem and creating a norm of lifting each other up.
Table 1: Interaction between compliment topic and sex of participants
Source: Amended from Holmes (1988).
Various societal standards block men from receiving the benefits of compliments. Evidentially, Husing, a licensed American psychologist claims, “There’s a cultural expectation that men are independent, to a point where they don’t expect others to reach out, or to reach out themselves, leading society to have appropriated ideas of traditional masculinity”(3). This cultural and societal assumption provokes a level of insensitivity that is inhumane and supports emotional suppression in men even in the simple, positive gesture of giving a compliment. All humans benefit from being appreciated, heard, and seen. Compliments embrace our humanity and our need for each other. Therefore, devaluing the needs of the entire male species and labeling them “independent” as if they don’t have human needs, in the name of traditional masculinity, is outrageously inhumane. This has become the status quo, and it’s not doing any justice for men. If society's goal is to decrease the value of men, we are supporting the problem by not encouraging male compliments.
Additionally, psychologist Husing describes the traditionally negative perspective carried with masculine compliments declaring, “historically, men giving and receiving compliments can be a sign of some sort of weakness, no matter how unfounded. This fear of weakness plays into the problematic nature of machismo that often permeates the male experience” (1). The machismo nature that’s “problematic” to masculine individuals is a traditional trait of men that is defined as, “strong, aggressive masculine pride”. Some synonymous terms that define “machismo” are toxic masculinity, toughness, and chauvinism. This conventional trait has been tied to men from the 1930s and still carries on to present generations due to the unproductive belief that men are self-reliant. If men are historically known to be so self-sustaining, and taught to portray an image of optimal toughness, how can it be easy to receive compliments from other men? Furthermore, masculine compliments are so demeaned by society that it’s commonly associated with emasculating men instead of its original intention to build self esteem and promote a sense of appreciation and admiration.
Moreover, it is proven that compliments promote dopamine release in the brain. A Harvard Business Review shows that, “Praise activates the reward circuit in the receiver’s brain, heightening their focus and motivation”(5). This positive, hormonal reward system is equivalent to monetary incentive which is proven to be a high motivator in the male brain. According to biology and psychology, compliments aid in giving men motivation to grow and be productive in their realms of influence. The Harvard Business Review states how important incorporating a positive environment for professional organizations so that employees feel valued and appreciated through compliments. This points to how highly advantageous the benefits of compliments are in the work place especially amongst males who feel most valued in the occupational setting and traditionally take the breadwinner role in the family.
An inspiring article from The Aggie states, “Compliments build self-esteem, nurture our mental health and remind us that we are, in fact, loved and appreciated by those around us”(1). This statement affirms our human need to be acknowledged and praised through compliments. It speaks to all audiences in a positive manner, although when it comes to men there is a staggering stigma hindering them from receiving compliments freely. While carrying the enormous burden of self-reliance and independence, there are practical remedies to breaking these unhealthy paradigms and traditional patterns. Finding new ways to compliment men and making it intentional and genuine is a high goal, but it is attainable. The result could involve the entire male species witnessing how powerful and vital compliments are helping demolish negative masculine perspectives in a society that discourages male to male compliments. There are a variety of ways in which most men enjoy receiving compliments and wholesome ways to give compliments that will not create uncomfortable situations.
When it comes to practicing compliments towards the male audience, it’s important to be intentional and target key areas of importance. The studies in the past focused on appearance and ability or performance. Although, after learning how multi-faceted the male species is despite traditional ideals, there are also other factors to consider such as addressing the male character, intentions, persistence and good will. Some practical examples of compliments meant to lift the male esteem and promote appreciation include the following:
You did a great job fixing that (describe item). It works amazing now.
I really like the way you thought of including that (specific accessory, care, point, etc). It really enhanced (your work, piece, presentation, the way I see you).
I appreciate when you make (a certain meal, craft, fill in what applies). I think it’s a great skill of yours.
You take care of yourself really well. I admire you for that.
You’re great at (certain skill). It must have taken you a while to develop that.
Shrayber, Ilya. “Men And Compliments: Traversing Masculinity in the Modern Age.” The California Aggie, Oct. 2022, www.theaggie.org/2020/02/26/men-and-compliments-traversing-masculinity-in-the-modern-age.
Sun, Nan. “Gender-based Differences in Complimenting Behaviour: A Critical Literature Review.” The ANU Undergraduate Research Journal, press.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/n1673/pdf/Nan_Sun.pdf.
Quinlan, Casey. “Why Men Can&Apos;T Take Compliments.” The Atlantic, 18 Dec. 2013, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/12/why-men-cant-take-compliments/282164.
“Why Compliments Are Amazing for Your Brain – and the World. – Kwik Learning.” Kwik Learning - Read Faster. Work Smarter. Think Better., www.kwiklearning.com/kwik-tips/why-compliments-are-amazing-for-your-brain-and-the-world.
“A Simple Compliment Can Make a Big Difference.” Harvard Business Review, 24 Feb. 2021, hbr.org/2021/02/a-simple-compliment-can-make-a-big-difference.
Kristenson, Sarah. “121 Compliments for Men That Actually Work.” Happier Human, 9 Dec. 2022, www.happierhuman.com/compliments-men.