Open Access Research article

Perception of masculinity amongst young Malaysian men: a qualitative study of university students

Zahra Fazli Khalaf1*, Wah Yun Low1, Behzad Ghorbani2 and Effat Merghati Khoei3

Author Affiliations

1 Medical Education and Research Development Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur 50603, Malaysia

2 Avicenna Research Institute, ACECR, Tehran, Iran

3 Iranian National Center of Addiction Studies (INCAS): Risk Behavior Institution, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:1062  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-1062

Published: 11 November 2013



Perception of Masculinity plays an important role in men’s lifestyles and health behaviors. Although, the importance of masculinity has been widely discussed in men’s health literature, very little is known about the meanings of masculinity in the Malaysian setting. This research aimed to explore the meanings of masculinity among Malaysian university men.


This qualitative study utilized in-depth interviews with 34 young Malaysian university men, aged 20–30 years from three main ethnic groups in Malaysia (Malay, Chinese and Indian). Thematic analysis approach was used to extract data. NVIVO v8 qualitative software was used for data management.


From the data collected several concepts emerged that reflected the meanings of masculinity from the participants’ view points. These meanings were associated with a combination of traditional and non-traditional norms that generally benefit men who behave according to culturally dominant role expectations. These included: “Having a good body shape”, “being respected”, “having success with women”, “being a family man”, and “having financial independence”. Socio-cultural factors, such as family environment, religion, public media and popular life style patterns helped to shape and reinforce the meanings of masculinities among university men.


This study revealed that the university context provided a particular culture for construction and reinforcement of the meanings of masculinities, which should be considered by the educators to help in development of healthy masculinities.

Masculinity; Men’s health; Social construction; Qualitative study; University men