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Precarious Manhood and Displays of Physical Aggression

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The results of three experiments demonstrate that physically aggressive displays are part of men's cultural script for restoring threatened gender status. In Studies 1 and 2, challenges to men's gender status elicited heightened physically aggressive displays, including punching a pad with greater force and selecting an aggressive boxing activity over a nonaggressive puzzle activity. Study 3 established that a public display of aggressive readiness reduced men's anxiety-related cognitions in the wake of a gender threat. This suggests that aggressive displays may function to downregulate negative affect when manhood has been threatened. The discussion considers past research on gender and physical aggression in light of the authors' thesis that manhood, relative to womanhood, is culturally defined as a precarious status that must be actively, even aggressively, defended.
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Precarious Manhood and Displays of
Physical Aggression
Jennifer K. Bosson
Joseph A. Vandello
Rochelle M. Burnaford
Jonathan R. Weaver
University of South Florida
S. Arzu Wasti
Sabanci University
aggressive readiness as a means of validating their pre-
carious gender status, especially when it has been chal-
lenged. The purpose of these studies is to test our ideas
about the link between precarious manhood and physical
aggression.
THE “WHAT” AND “WHY”
OF PRECARIOUS MANHOOD
Theorists working within a variety of disciplines—
including anthropology (Gilmore, 1990), sociology
(M. Kimmel, 1996), psychology (Pleck, 1981, 1995),
and political science (Ducat, 2004)—portray manhood
as a social status that is both elusive and tenuous. The
elusiveness of manhood lies in the fact that, in many
cultures, the transition from boyhood to manhood is
“not a natural condition that comes about spontaneously
through biological maturation but rather is a precarious
or artificial state that boys must win against powerful
odds” (Gilmore, 1990, p. 11). Compared to womanhood,
manhood is often viewed as a status that is earned via
the passage of social rather than physical or biological
milestones (Vandello, Bosson, Cohen, Burnaford, &
Weaver, 2008; Vandello & Cohen, 2008). Similarly, the
tenuousness of manhood lies in the fact that, once
Authors’ Note: We thank Joanna Goplen, Stacy Hall, Anh Hua, and
Lauren Keroack for their assistance with data collection, and we
thank Dov Cohen and several anonymous reviewers for their extremely
helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. Please address cor-
respondence to Jennifer K. Bosson, Department of Psychology,
University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., PCD 4118G,
Tampa, FL 33620; e-mail: jbosson@cas.usf.edu.
PSPB, Vol. 35 No. 5, May 2009 623-634
DOI: 10.1177/0146167208331161
© 2009 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
The results of three experiments demonstrate that phys-
ically aggressive displays are part of men’s cultural
script for restoring threatened gender status. In Studies
1 and 2, challenges to men’s gender status elicited
heightened physically aggressive displays, including
punching a pad with greater force and selecting an
aggressive boxing activity over a nonaggressive puzzle
activity. Study 3 established that a public display of
aggressive readiness reduced men’s anxiety-related cog-
nitions in the wake of a gender threat. This suggests that
aggressive displays may function to downregulate nega-
tive affect when manhood has been threatened. The
discussion considers past research on gender and physi-
cal aggression in light of the authors’ thesis that man-
hood, relative to womanhood, is culturally defined as a
precarious status that must be actively, even aggres-
sively, defended.
Keywords: gender roles; physical aggression; role violations;
self-threats; negative affect
To explain gender differences in the use of physical
aggression, gender role theorists often look to the
content of gender roles. Because physical aggression is a
behavioral ingredient of the male gender role, boys and
men are taught to use this behavior more frequently
than are girls and women. Here, we take a slightly dif-
ferent approach by considering a structural feature of
the male gender role that, we propose, can shed addi-
tional light on the links between gender and physical
aggression. We propose that manhood, relative to wom-
anhood, is defined culturally as a precarious social sta-
tus that can be lost fairly easily and thus requires
continual, active validation. We further propose that
men understand, use, and even benefit from displays of
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earned, this status can be lost relatively easily via a host
of social transgressions and shortcomings. For example,
when asked to explain how a person might lose his
manhood, students at a large university in the
southeastern United States had no difficulty generating
reasons pertaining to social shortcomings such as “losing
a job,” “being unable to support a family,” and “letting
others down,” to name a few (Vandello et al., 2008).
Conversely, when asked to explain how a person might
lose her womanhood, people found it more difficult to
generate responses, and when they did, they mentioned
relatively few social reasons and turned instead to
physical explanations such as “having a hysterectomy”
or “getting a sex-change operation.” These findings
illustrate that manhood, as compared to womanhood, is
perceived as an impermanent state whose legitimacy
may be challenged.
Why do many cultures define manhood as more
precarious than womanhood (Gilmore, 1990)? Whereas
a conclusive test of this question is beyond the scope of
this article, we offer some possible explanations. First,
the precariousness of manhood status might result from
evolved adaptations to a social environment in which
men competed, through public demonstrations of
physical prowess and dominance, for access to fertile
female mates (Buss, 1998; Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Geary,
1998; Trivers, 1972). Evolutionary theorists suggest
that ancestral males formed status hierarchies (Kenrick
& Trost, 2000), and that those with higher status were
more likely to attract mates and pass on their genes
(Symons, 1995). Given that such hierarchies were not
fixed, however, men’s position within them could be
challenged at any moment. If so, men may have evolved
a preoccupation with achieving and maintaining social
status along with a heightened sensitivity to social cues
indicating a potential or real loss of status. Conversely,
ancestral females’ reproductive success was presumably
less tied to their social status (because women had lower
fitness variance than men and less intense intrasex
competition for mates), which may explain their
relatively weaker preoccupation with the possibility of
losing status as a “real woman.” Thus, cultural beliefs
about the relative precariousness of manhood may stem
from evolved gender differences in attentiveness to and
participation in status hierarchies.
Another explanation can be found in the social roles
that men and women have occupied throughout history.
According to biosocial theories (Eagly, 1987; Eagly &
Wood, 1999; Wood & Eagly, 2002), cultural stereotypes
about the psychological underpinnings of manhood and
womanhood arise from long-established divisions of
labor. Because men have often occupied social roles that
involve status seeking and resource acquisition, manhood
itself has come to be associated with qualities such as
competitiveness, defensiveness, and constant struggling
to publicly prove worth and status. Conversely, because
women have often occupied less competitive and less
public social roles involving homemaking and childcare,
womanhood is not associated as strongly with a
motivation to achieve, defend, and prove status. A
belief that manhood can be lost, and that it requires
continual social proof, may thus reflect people’s tendency
to attribute psychological qualities to men and women
based on the role-relevant behaviors that are most
strongly associated with these groups (see Wood &
Eagly, 2002).
From our perspective, both evolutionary and biosocial
perspectives offer plausible explanations for the tendency
to define manhood as a relatively precarious state.
Indeed, it is likely that evolutionary and sociocultural
factors work in tandem, along with more proximate
situational and contextual factors (e.g., Deaux & Major,
1987), to shape cultural definitions of and beliefs about
manhood and womanhood. Our goal here is not to
pinpoint the cause(s) of precarious manhood but to
examine a particular consequence of the motivation to
prove manhood—physical aggression.
PRECARIOUS MANHOOD AND
PHYSICAL AGGRESSION
Although there are numerous actions that men can take
to validate or prove their manhood (for examples, see
Holmes, 1971; Maass, Cadinu, Guarnieri, & Grasselli,
2003; Schmitt & Branscombe, 2001), the most effective
strategies for proving or restoring manhood are those that
(a) involve risk taking (which signifies fearlessness), (b) are
difficult (and thus hard or costly to fake), and (c) are
public and thus visible to others. For these reasons,
physical aggression may serve as a highly effective character-
establishing behavior for men (Archer, 1994, 2004;
D. Cohen & Vandello, 2001). As such, we propose that
demonstrations of physical aggression—or at least displays
of readiness to aggress physically—are part of men’s
cultural script for maintaining and restoring a gender
status that is troublingly precarious (see also M. S. Kimmel
& Mahler, 2003; Malamuth, Linz, Heavey, Barnes, &
Acker, 1995).
This view of physical aggression as being part of
men’s, but not women’s, cultural script for asserting
gender status is consistent with ample research
documenting men’s more frequent use of physical
aggression in general (e.g., Bettencourt & Miller, 1996;
Eagly & Steffen, 1986; Hyde, 1984; Knight, Guthrie,
Page, & Fabes, 2002). More specifically, research has
shown that men often use physically aggressive displays
to save face and defend their personal honor following
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activity (Study 2). In Study 3, we examined whether a
public display of aggressive capability (relative to no
display) significantly alleviated men’s anxiety-related
cognitions following a public gender role violation. If
so, this would suggest that physical aggression following
manhood threats serves an emotion regulatory function
for men by effectively diminishing the anxiety elicited
by the threat.
STUDY 1
Our goal in Study 1 was to test the causal link
between manhood threats and physically aggressive
tendencies using more direct methods than past research
has employed (e.g., Vandello et al., 2008). Therefore,
we threatened some men’s gender status and measured
their subsequent displays of toughness and capability
for physical aggression. To threaten manhood, rather
than giving men negative feedback or explicitly insulting
their manhood, we took a subtler approach. Specifically,
we induced men to perform an ostensibly public,
stereotypically feminine hairstyling task. Past research—
as well as manipulation check data presented in the
current Study 3—demonstrates that men perceive this as
an emasculating task (Bosson, Prewitt-Freilino, &
Taylor, 2005). If physically aggressive posturing is part
of men’s cultural script for restoring threatened manhood,
we should observe an increase in men’s displays of
toughness and readiness to aggress following the gender
threat. To test this, we observed men’s choice of an
aggressive activity (punching a punching pad) versus a
masculine but nonaggressive activity (shooting a basketball),
and we measured the strength of men’s punches. We
predicted that men in the gender-threat condition
would be more likely to choose the punching task and
would punch harder than would men in the no-threat
condition.
Method
Participants and procedure. Thirty-two men partici-
pated in exchange for credit toward a course require-
ment (median age = 20). We deleted data from one man
who used the equipment improperly and thus had miss-
ing punch impact data, leaving a total of 31 men who
self-identified as White (41.9%), Latino (25.8%), Black
(16.1%), Arabic (9.7%), Asian American (3.2%), and
biracial (3.2%).
Participants arrived individually to an experiment
whose purpose was described as “assessing people’s
abilities with novel activities that involve physical
coordination.” A White, female experimenter explained
that the participant would be videotaped while he
threats (Archer, 1994; D. Cohen, Nisbett, Bowdle, &
Schwarz, 1996; D. Cohen, Vandello, Puente, & Rantilla,
1999; Felson, 1978, 1982; Vandello & Cohen, 2003).
The current studies extend past research by testing
whether men (a) increase their use of physically aggressive
displays in response to subtle manhood challenges, and
(b) benefit from (i.e., exhibit reduced anxiety following)
the use of such displays following a manhood threat.
Of course, as suggested above, not all aggression will be
equally effective in demonstrating manhood. Compared
with physical aggression, indirect or relational aggression
(e.g., social exclusion, gossiping, rumor spreading;
Björkqvist, 1994) is relatively less risky, grueling, and
visible, rendering it ill suited to the task of proving
manhood. Moreover, relational aggression is generally
used more by girls and women than by boys and men
(Archer, 2004; Crick & Grotpeter, 1995; Lagerspetz,
Björkqvist, & Peltonen, 1988), which suggests that the use
of this type of aggression in itself may constitute a gender
role violation for boys and men.
Consistent with this line of reasoning, Vandello et al.
(2008) found that feedback that threatened (versus
affirmed) men’s gender identity increased the accessibility
of their thoughts related to physical aggression (e.g., gun,
blood, punch) but not relational aggression (e.g., gossip,
tease, reject). In contrast, gender-threatening feedback did
not increase thoughts pertaining to physical or relational
aggression among women. This suggests that challenges to
their gender status uniquely activate thoughts related to
physical aggression among men. In turn, the heightened
accessibility of physical aggression–related thoughts and
other cognitive knowledge structures (e.g., goals related to
restoring manhood, scripts for how to use physical
aggression in a given context) may increase the likelihood
of actual aggressive behavior (Anderson & Bushman,
2002; Berkowitz, 1990). Although Vandello et al.’s findings
demonstrated that manhood threats increase men’s
thoughts related to physical aggression, they stopped short
of establishing a direct link between threatened manhood
and physically aggressive behavioral tendencies. Thus, two
of the studies presented here tested this link using more
direct methods.
THIS RESEARCH
We conducted three experiments that examine the
links between precarious manhood and men’s displays
of readiness for physical aggression. In Studies 1 and 2,
we tested whether a public challenge to their manhood
status—a videotaped gender role violation—heightened
men’s displays of physically aggressive capabilities by
measuring the strength of their punches (Study 1) and
their preference for an aggressive over a nonaggressive
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626 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
performed several activities and that his videotape
would later be viewed by “between 10 and 20 students.”
This was done to make the activity feel public; no one
actually viewed the videotapes. Participants picked a
slip of paper from a cup, ostensibly to determine which
activity they would do first. Based on random assignment,
the experimenter then retrieved either the hairstyling
task or the rope-reinforcing task.
For the hairstyling task, the experimenter placed a
wigged, female mannequin’s head on the table in front
of the participant along with a basket containing a
hairbrush, a comb, and several hair bands. For the rope-
reinforcing task, she placed a basket of rubber bands
and a frame made of wooden dowels on the table;
attached to the top of the frame were three long strands
of rope. Participants in both conditions also received
illustrated braiding instructions (see Bosson et al., 2005,
for additional details about the braiding tasks). Data
reported in Bosson et al. confirm that heterosexual men
perceive the hairstyling task as a gender threat and the
rope-reinforcing task as gender neutral. Before turning
on the video camera and leaving the room, the
experimenter explained that the participant would have
5 minutes to do the activity and that he should braid the
hair (rope) as many times as he could.
After 5 minutes, the experimenter returned and
explained that the participant would choose his next
activity from between “a boxing task, where you’ll
punch a punching bag, and a basketball task, where
you’ll shoot some hoops.” The experimenter recorded
the participant’s choice and then started him on his
chosen activity.
For the boxing task, the experimenter escorted the
participant to a lab room containing a video camera, a
punching pad that was mounted on a 4-foot-tall heavy
bag, and a pair of boxing gloves. The punching pad
consisted of a 275 × 200 mm, battery-operated pressure
sensor embedded in several layers of 650 × 400 × 20
mm foam rubber, covered with red vinyl. A digital
counter at the top of the pad displayed the impact
pressure (on a scale from 0 to 250 pounds per square
inch) of punches that fell within the designated area
above the sensor. The participant put a boxing glove on
his dominant hand and stood one arm’s length from the
punching pad, keeping his opposite foot planted on the
floor for the duration of the activity. The experimenter
then turned on the video camera and instructed the
participant to make one practice punch, followed by
three official punches. The experimenter recorded the
impact score for each punch, and we averaged the three
impact scores (α = .83). For the basketball task, the
experimenter escorted the participant to a lab room
containing a video camera and a plastic wall-mounted
basketball hoop. After the experimenter turned on the
video camera, the participant had 10 chances to shoot a
ball through the hoop from a distance of 7 feet. The
experimenter recorded the total number of baskets that
the participant made.
When the participant finished his chosen activity, the
experimenter explained that, because there was still
time left in the session, he would now do the other
(nonchosen) activity. All participants thus did both
activities, allowing us to compare punching impact
across conditions. After finishing the second activity,
participants completed a brief form that assessed
demographic information as well as their prior
experience with each of the tasks that they did.
Specifically, participants used scales from 1 (none or not
at all familiar) to 9 (a lot or very familiar) to answer
“How much prior experience do you have with that
particular activity?” and “How familiar are you with
that particular activity?” Participants were then probed
for suspicion (none expressed anything more than mild
suspicion), debriefed, and excused.
Results
Activity choice. We expected men whose manhood
was threatened to select the physically aggressive punch-
ing task more frequently than would those who were
not threatened. This hypothesis was not supported. Of
men who styled hair, 20% (n = 3) chose the punching
task, and of those who reinforced rope, 25% (n = 4)
chose the punching task, χ2(1, N = 31) < 1.
Punching impact. Regardless of which activity men
chose, we expected them to demonstrate more aggressive
tendencies (i.e., punch the pad harder) in the threat condi-
tion than in the no-threat condition. To test this, we sub-
mitted average punch impact scores to a one-way ANOVA
with threat condition as the independent variable. A sig-
nificant effect of threat condition emerged such that men
who braided hair (M = 38.29, SD = 5.30) punched the pad
harder than did men who braided rope (M = 33.85, SD =
5.64), F(1, 29) = 5.08, p < .04, and this difference corre-
sponded to a large effect size, d = 0.81 (J. Cohen, 1992).
Controlling for men’s prior experience with each activity
did not change these results, ps < .04.
Note, however, that a small subset of men in each
threat condition had a different experience than the
majority. Most (75 to 80%) of the men in each condition
performed the punching task after the basketball task,
whereas relatively few men did the punching task
immediately after they braided. To control for the
activity that men did prior to the punching task, we ran
two covariance analyses. First, when controlling for
men’s choice of activity (coded as punching = 1,
basketball = 2), the effect of threat condition on punching
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Bosson et al. / PRECARIOUS MANHOOD AND AGGRESSIVE DISPLAYS 627
masculine) to 7 (very masculine), confirmed that
punching is seen as more masculine than puzzles, Ms =
5.88 vs. 2.94, t(16) = 8.70, p < .001. We, therefore,
predicted that threatened men, given no masculine
alternative with which to restore manhood, would
choose the physically aggressive punching task more
frequently than would nonthreatened men.
Method
Participants and procedure. Forty-five men partici-
pated in exchange for credit toward a course require-
ment (median age = 19). Participants—who self-identified
as White (55.6%), Latino (20%), Black (15.6%), and
Asian American (8.9%)—were randomly assigned to
braid either hair or rope. The procedure was identical to
that used in Study 1 with two small exceptions. First,
after participants finished the braiding activity, a White,
female experimenter offered them a choice between “a
boxing task, where you’ll punch a punching bag” and “a
puzzle task, where you’ll rearrange several puzzle pieces
into the shape of a square.” Second, unlike in Study 1,
participants did not actually perform either activity; the
experimenter simply recorded participants’ choice of
activity and then debriefed and excused them.
Results and Summary
We expected threatened men to select the aggressive
punching task more frequently than would nonthreatened
men. A chi-square analysis on activity choice revealed
the predicted pattern: Among men in the no-threat
condition, only 22% (n = 5) chose the punching task;
however, among men in the threat condition, more than
twice as many (50%; n = 11) chose the punching task,
χ2(1, N = 45) = 3.92, p < .05, d = 0.62. Thus, when
presented with a choice between a masculine aggression
task and a nonmasculine puzzle task, gender-threatened
men were more likely than were nonthreatened men to
choose the aggressive task.
Note, of course, that only half of the gender-threatened
men chose to display their aggressive readiness with the
punching task. Indeed, collapsing across threat
conditions, almost two thirds of all participants opted
for the nonaggressive puzzle task. When considered in
conjunction with the findings from Study 1, these data
suggest that physically aggressive displays are certainly
not the default response among gender-threatened men.
Nonetheless, our findings thus far indicate that men’s
aggressive displays become substantially more likely to
the extent that other means of restoring manhood are
less attractive and/or effective.
impact still emerged, F(1, 28) = 4.82, p < .04, d = 0.79,
and choice was not a significant covariate, F < 1.
Second, to rule out the possibility that men’s performance
on the basketball task influenced how forcefully they hit
the punching pad, we controlled for the number of
baskets (out of 10) that men made. Again, the effect of
threat condition emerged, F(1, 28) = 5.00, p < .04, d =
0.80, and number of baskets was not a significant
covariate, F < 1.
Summary
As predicted, men demonstrated a heightened readiness
for physical aggression following a threat to manhood.
Specifically, men who publicly violated their gender role
by performing a stereotypically feminine activity subsequently
threw harder punches than did men who performed a
gender-neutral activity. Of course, hitting a pad does not
constitute an act of aggression, given that it does not
involve intention to harm another individual. Nonetheless,
we view the punching task as a highly face valid,
behavioral display of aggressive readiness and capability.
Although threatened men exhibited heightened
aggression on the punching task, they did not demonstrate
the predicted preference for the aggressive task over the
nonaggressive task. It is possible that men felt able to
restore their threatened manhood by choosing either task,
given that both punching and basketball are masculine
activities. Indeed, a separate sample of men rated both
“punching a punching bag” (M = 5.88) and “shooting
hoops” (M = 5.76) significantly above the midpoint on a
scale from 1 (not at all masculine) to 7 (very masculine),
ts(16) > 6.00, ps < .001, and as equal to each other in
masculinity, t < 1. We initially chose basketball as the
alternate activity because we wanted to test whether
gender-threatened men would prefer an aggressive task
over one that was equally masculine but nonaggressive.
Our findings, however, led to a refinement of our thesis: If
another viable (and familiar) route to re-establishing
manhood is available, men may choose not to aggress.
Conversely, if physical aggression is the only masculine
alternative available after a gender threat, men should
choose it. We tested this logic in Study 2.
STUDY 2
In Study 2, we threatened some men’s manhood with
the same hairstyling task used in Study 1, and then we
offered them a choice of two follow-up activities:
punching a punching bag or doing a brainteaser puzzle.
Pilot ratings of these tasks, on scales of 1 (not at all
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STUDY 3
The findings thus far demonstrate that reminders of
the precariousness of their manhood increase men’s
motivation to engage in displays of aggressive readiness.
An important question that remains, however, is whether
such displays successfully downregulate the anxiety that
arises among men who undergo manhood threats. If
aggression is indeed part of men’s cultural script for
restoring threatened manhood, then men who display
aggressive tendencies following a gender threat might be
expected to benefit from their actions. Having effectively
communicated their manhood to observers, such men
may feel less anxious than would gender-threatened
men who do not act out the cultural script for restoring
manhood.
To test these ideas in Study 3, we threatened men’s
manhood with the same hairstyling task used in Studies
1 and 2, and we allowed some of them to restore their
manhood by way of the punching task. Other men did
not punch after the hairstyling task. We then assessed
anxiety-relevant cognitions among participants in both
of these conditions as well as among a separate group
of control participants who neither styled hair nor
punched.
Our measure of anxiety-relevant cognitions was a
word-completion task in which several words could be
completed in either an anxious or a nonanxious manner.
We used a word-completion task rather than a more
straightforward measure of self-reported anxiety because
we suspect that admitting feelings of anxiety might, in
itself, threaten manhood. Moreover, past work suggests
that this word completion task effectively measures
people’s automatic, anxiety-relevant thoughts (Vandello
et al., 2008). We predicted that men who violated their
gender role and did not display their readiness to
aggress would reveal heightened anxiety-relevant
cognitions relative to baseline; in contrast, men who
violated their gender role and subsequently displayed
aggressive readiness should effectively downregulate
their anxiety to baseline levels.
Method
Participants and procedure. Sixty men participated
in exchange for credit toward a course requirement
(median age = 19). Participants self-identified as White
(45%), Latino (20%), Asian American (16.7%), Black
(8.3%), Arabic (5%), and biracial (5%). After signing
informed consent forms, participants were randomly
assigned to one of three conditions. In the threat–
aggression and threat–no-aggression conditions, men
learned that the purpose of the study was to “assess
people’s abilities with novel activities.” A White or
Asian American female experimenter then explained
that participants would be videotaped while they per-
formed several activities and that their videotapes would
later be viewed by others. Unlike in the prior studies,
there was no rope activity condition in Study 3; thus, all
participants in the threat–aggression and threat–no-
aggression conditions completed the hairstyling task.
After participants finished braiding, the experimenter
led them into an adjoining room to complete the next
activity, which was described as a boxing task. At this
point, the procedure differed for men in the threat–
aggression and threat–no-aggression conditions.
In the threat–aggression condition, men were
videotaped while they made one practice punch and
three official punches. The experimenter recorded the
impact of men’s punches, just as in Study 1. In the
threat–no-aggression condition, after learning about
the boxing task, men watched as the experimenter tried,
unsuccessfully, to turn on the punching pad’s digital
counter. The experimenter fiddled with the button on
the punching pad for a moment, and then said “The
sensor has been acting up for a while—I’m not sure how
to fix it, so I’ll just have you do the final task for
today.”
After either boxing or not boxing, men in the threat–
aggression and threat–no-aggression conditions did a
word completion task in which seven word stems (e.g.,
STRE __ __) could be completed in either an anxious
(e.g., STRESS) or a nonanxious (e.g., STREET) manner.
The seven words were stress, threat, shame, loser,
bother, weak, and upset (Vandello et al., 2008). Scores
were computed as a percentage of total possible words
that were completed in an anxious manner. Next,
participants rated their prior experience and familiarity
with the hairstyling task on scales from 1 (none or not
at all familiar) to 9 (a lot or very familiar), and they
indicated how masculine the hairstyling task was on a
scale from 1 (not at all masculine) to 9 (very masculine).
Men in the threat–aggression condition also used the
same scale to indicate how masculine the boxing activity
was. Finally, men in these two conditions provided some
demographic information and received a debriefing.
In the baseline condition, men arrived at the lab, gave
their consent to participate in the study, and then
immediately completed the word completion task. They
then provided some demographic information and were
excused.
Results
Manipulation checks. Men in the threat–aggression
and threat–no-aggression conditions did not differ in
their perceptions of how masculine the hairstyling activ-
ity was, Ms = 1.95 vs. 2.26, SDs = 1.27 and 1.49, t < 1.
Moreover, men in both of these conditions rated the
hairstyling activity significantly below the scale midpoint
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Bosson et al. / PRECARIOUS MANHOOD AND AGGRESSIVE DISPLAYS 629
threat–no-aggression conditions, t(35) = 2.03, p = .05,
d = 0.69.1 These two conditions also differed significantly
when the covariate was removed from the analysis,
t(37) = 2.03, p = .05, d = 0.67.
Partial test of the proposed mechanism. Our logic
suggests that men in the threat–aggression condition,
relative to the threat–no-aggression condition, revealed
less anxiety on the word completion task because they
restored their manhood via the public punching task.
Although we lack direct evidence that perceptions of
having restored their manhood reduced men’s anxiety in
the threat–aggression condition, a test of the correlation
between punching impact and anxious word comple-
tions allowed a partial test of our ideas about the pro-
posed mechanism. If our logic is correct, then men who
punched the punching pad with greater force—and
thereby demonstrated particularly impressive capacity
to aggress—should reveal fewer anxiety-relevant cogni-
tions on the word completion task. Indeed, the correla-
tion between men’s average punching impact across the
three videotaped punches (α = .95) and the percentage
of words they completed in an anxiety-relevant manner
was marginally significant, r(18) = –.38, p < .10.
Inspection of the scatterplot revealed that this correla-
tion was not driven by outliers. Thus, had our sample
been larger, this moderate correlation would likely have
reached statistical significance.
Moreover, when looking separately at men’s practice
punches and their three official punches, an interesting
pattern emerged. First, the correlation between punching
impact and anxious word completions was relatively
weak for the practice punch, r(18) = –.15, p = .52, but
in masculinity, ts > 8.00, ps < .001. In contrast, men in
the threat–aggression condition rated the boxing activ-
ity significantly above the scale midpoint in masculinity
(M = 8.26, SD = 0.87), t(18) = 16.13, p < .001. These
data indicate that participants perceived both the gender
threat and gender restoration activities in the manner
we intended.
Primary analyses. We predicted a pattern in which
gender-threatened men who did not display aggressive
capacity would reveal more anxiety on the word com-
pletion task than would both gender-threatened men
who displayed aggressive capacity and nonthreatened
men. To test this prediction, we conducted a contrast
analysis (J. Cohen & Cohen, 1983). The first contrast
code (+2, –1, –1) pitted the threat–no-aggression condi-
tion against the combined threat–aggression and base-
line conditions. The second contrast code (0, –1, +1)
compared the threat–aggression condition to the base-
line condition. Thus, the first contrast tested our specific
pattern of predicted means, and the second contrast
tested whether gender threatened men who successfully
followed the cultural script for restoring manhood dif-
fered from baseline.
We regressed the percentage of anxious word
completions onto the two contrast codes in a
simultaneous multiple regression analysis. As predicted,
the first contrast code was significantly related to
anxious word completions, t(57) = 2.02, p < .05, d =
0.53; conversely, the second contrast code was not
significant, t < 1. Figure 1 displays the average percentages
of anxious word completions for each condition:
Whereas men appeared relatively anxious when they
violated their gender role and did not subsequently
perform a public, aggressive activity, men who punched
after a gender threat displayed anxiety levels that did
not differ from baseline.
To ensure that the observed anxiety differences
following a gender threat did not merely reflect
differences in participants’ comfort or familiarity with
the hairstyling activity, we conducted another analysis
in which we controlled for prior experiences with
hairstyling. Men’s ratings of prior experience and
familiarity with the braiding task were strongly
correlated, r(36) = .71, p < .001, so we averaged them
to create a composite index. We then regressed anxious
word completions onto prior experience and condition
(coded 0, 1). Note that this analysis only included men
in the threat–aggression and threat–no-aggression
conditions, as these were the only participants who
completed the hairstyling activity and, therefore, rated
their prior experiences with it. Controlling for prior
experience, anxious word completions differed
significantly between men in the threat–aggression and
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
Hairstyling/Boxing Hairstyling/No
boxing
Baseline
% Anxious Word Completions
Figure 1 Percentage of anxious word completions as a function
of gender role threat (hairstyling) and aggressive display
(boxing).
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630 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
it became stronger during the three nonpractice punches.
This trend approached significance during the first
punch, r(18) = –.40, p < .08, and then weakened during
the second and third punches, r(18)s = –.35 and –.33,
ps < .13 and .16, respectively. Moreover, the association
between impact on the first “real” punch and anxious
word completions reached significance when impact on
the practice punch was partialled out, r(17) = –.54, p <
.02. Thus, although it would be premature to draw firm
conclusions based on these data, these patterns suggest
that men treated their first real punch as their most
important opportunity to restore threatened manhood.
To the extent that they demonstrated greater aggressive
capacity during this punch, they also exhibited fewer
subsequent anxiety-relevant cognitions.
GENERAL DISCUSSION
The results presented here provide converging
evidence for our thesis that physically aggressive displays
are part of men’s cultural script for maintaining and
restoring threatened manhood. Specifically, when their
manhood status was challenged by a public gender role
threat, men reacted with heightened aggressive tendencies
by punching a pad with greater force (Study 1) and
selecting a boxing activity over a nonaggressive puzzle
activity (Study 2). Moreover, Study 3 showed that
punching following a gender threat significantly
downregulated men’s anxious reactions to the threat.
Viewed from the perspective of our precarious manhood
hypothesis, these findings suggest that men understand,
use, and benefit from displays of physical aggression as
a means for demonstrating manliness.
Understanding Male Aggression
Several theories of masculinity emphasize the anxious
strain that men experience as a result of continual
pressures to prove their manhood (e.g., Eisler &
Skidmore, 1987; O’Neil, Helms, Gable, David, &
Wrightsman, 1986; Pleck, 1981, 1995). Like others
(e.g., Malamuth et al., 1995), we believe that many acts
of male aggression can be understood as a response to
this anxiety. Moreover, past research suggests that men
seem to understand their own aggression in these terms.
For example, whereas women tend to view their
aggression as a temporary loss of self-control that
erupts into an antisocial act, men tend to perceive their
aggression as a way of exercising control over their
situation, especially when provoked by challenges to
their self-esteem or integrity (Archer & Haigh, 1997;
Astin, Redston, & Campbell, 2003; Campbell &
Muncer, 1987, 1994). Moreover, compared to women,
men more often perceive resorting to violence as a
positive experience (Campbell & Muncer, 1987). Our
findings may shed light on why men sometimes view
their aggression as a positive means of imposing
control—they may recognize that by using aggression
they can achieve the goal of establishing or restoring
manhood. In doing so, they may also regulate their own
negative affective reactions to threatened manhood. As
such, the use of physical aggression, or even tough
posturing that indicates a readiness to aggress, may
provide temporary relief from men’s gender role
anxieties.
The results presented here are consistent with this
logic. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated that men exhibit
heightened aggressive tendencies when their own gender
status is called into question. Men in these studies
exhibited more aggressive posturing (i.e., they punched
harder and selected a punching task more frequently)
after performing, in public, a gender role–violating task
as compared to a gender-neutral task. Whereas being
induced to perform a hairstyling task might not, at first
glance, seem like a direct manhood threat, past research
suggests that men find this activity emasculating (e.g.,
Bosson et al., 2005; Prewitt-Freilino & Bosson, 2008).
Indeed, men appear to interpret this activity as just the
sort of manhood challenge that requires reparative
displays of physical toughness. Notably, men who styled
hair exhibited heightened aggressive tendencies even in
the absence of both a specific provoker and a specific
act of provocation, which suggests that their aggressive
displays were not retaliatory but rather instrumental
because they accomplished the goal of restoring
manhood.
The instrumental utility of aggressive displays was
demonstrated further by our findings from Study 3.
Here we found that gender-threatened men who displayed
physical toughness (the boxing task) exhibited less
anxiety than did gender-threatened men who did not
display toughness. Thus, completion of the cultural
script for validating threatened manhood successfully
restored men’s anxiety to baseline levels, whereas
disruption of the script left men experiencing heightened
anxiety-relevant cognitions. This suggests that displays
of toughness and aggressive capability serve an emotion
regulatory function for men by alleviating the negative
affect that arises when manhood is challenged. These
findings provide the first evidence, to our knowledge, of
the immediate psychological consequences to men of
physically aggressive displays following a gender threat.
Of course, it is important to note that we did not
measure actual physical aggression in the experiments
presented here but instead used a measure of physically
aggressive tendencies. In part, this design decision
reflects the obvious difficulties of measuring, in the lab,
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Bosson et al. / PRECARIOUS MANHOOD AND AGGRESSIVE DISPLAYS 631
and increased husband-to-wife abuse. For example,
occupational stressors—such as demotion, job loss, and
trouble with superiors—consistently emerge as predictors
of men’s violence toward their female partners (e.g.,
Barnett & Fagan, 1993; Cano & Vivian, 2003).
Moreover, in cultures in which men’s reputation and
honor are damaged by female adultery, husband-to-wife
violence occurs relatively frequently (e.g., Ellsberg,
Caldera, Herrera, Winkvist, & Kullgren, 1999) and is
viewed as an acceptable response to infidelity (e.g.,
Vandello & Cohen, 2003). These correlational findings
are consistent with our argument that men, at times, use
physical aggression to restore threatened manhood.
Thus, despite our reliance on markers of aggressive
posturing rather than direct aggression per se, we
believe that there are sound theoretical and empirical
bases for assuming that the findings presented here can
shed light on men’s use of actual behavioral aggression.
Limitations and Future Directions
Of course, several limitations of this work deserve
mention. Perhaps most importantly, the findings from
Study 1 compelled us to reformulate our thesis because
gender threatened men did not display a preference for
the aggressive boxing task over the nonaggressive (but
equally masculine) basketball task. And even among
gender-threatened men in Study 2, for whom the
physically aggressive boxing task was the only masculine
option, only half chose this task. Given our suggestion
that physically aggressive displays are part of men’s
cultural script for restoring threatened manhood, these
findings require some attention.
One possible explanation is that the cultural script
for restoring threatened manhood includes a variety of
behavioral options and that physically aggressive
displays become less attractive when men perceive that
other behaviors will do the job just as effectively. In
particular, nonaggressive means of restoring challenged
manhood may be preferred over aggressive ones if the
former are seen as more familiar, more predictable, or
easier to implement with competence. This may have
been the case with the basketball task in Study 1, given
that pilot participants reported significantly more prior
experience with shooting hoops than with boxing, Ms =
6.87 vs. 4.98, t(30) = 4.19, p < .001. If gender-threatened
men are motivated to convey an impression of
competence and control, then a familiar task may be a
safer bet than an unfamiliar one, no matter how
aggressive and manly the latter is.
Another possibility is that there was something about
the particular boxing task we used here that participants
found off-putting. Recall that the task required
participants to don boxing gloves and then punch a
behaviors that are intended to harm others physically.
Researchers have generated a host of clever methods for
measuring people’s aggressive tendencies toward specific
others—such as offering them hot sauce (Lieberman,
Solomon, & Greenberg, 1999), blasting them with
white noise (Peterson, Shackman, & Harmon-Jones,
2008), and showing them disturbing images (Mussweiler
& Förster, 2000)—but many of these lack the physicality
that we were interested in. In selecting the punching
activity, we prioritized the physical aspect of physical
aggression but sacrificed the (ostensible) target of the
aggression. Thus, although our findings reveal that men
respond to gender threats with physical displays of
aggressive capability, we do not know whether these
findings would generalize to situations involving real
opportunities for physical aggression against others.
Note, however, that broad cognitive-affective models
of aggression suggest that aggressive cognitions,
aggressive affect, and physiological arousal each
contributes directly and independently to increases in
the likelihood of actual aggressive behavior (Anderson,
1997; Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Berkowitz, 1990;
Lindsay & Anderson, 2000). Based on these models,
then, we suggest that the current findings should have
some bearing on behavioral physical aggression because
of the effects of both aggression-relevant thoughts and
physiological arousal on aggressive behavior.
First, our past findings illustrate that threats to their
manhood heightened the accessibility of cognitions
relevant to physical aggression among men (Vandello
et al., 2008). Specifically, men who received feedback
that challenged versus affirmed their manhood
subsequently completed more than twice as many words
in a physically aggressive manner (e.g., punch, stab,
murder) on a word completion task. Thus, if an unpleasant
situational experience—such as a threat to manhood—
activates cognitions related to aggression, it should also
heighten the likelihood of actual physical aggression
(Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Berkowitz, 1990; Lindsay
& Anderson, 2000). Second, if gender identity threats
increase the likelihood and intensity of physically
aggressive posturing, as the current results suggest they
do, then they may also increase the likelihood of aggressive
behavior through their effects on physiological arousal.
Consider that the punching task used here, along with
many of the behaviors that men use to restore or maintain
manhood, involves physical exertion and thus heightens
physiological arousal. Heightened arousal, in turn,
increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior, particularly
when situational factors provide a reason for releasing
such behavior (e.g., Zillmann, 1988; Zillmann, Katcher,
& Milavsky, 1972).
Furthermore, findings from the domestic violence
literature point to links between threatened manhood
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632 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
foam-rubber pad while an experimenter recorded their
impact data onto a clipboard. Perhaps the theatricality
of this task made participants self-conscious, and their
feelings of self-consciousness overrode the shame elicited
by the manhood challenge. If so, then the men who
chose the boxing activity may have been those for
whom the humiliation of the manhood threat exceeded
their shyness about playing the boxer role.
Regardless of why the punching activity was less
popular than we expected, our findings suggest that
physically aggressive posturing is by no means a
normative reaction to threatened manhood. Therefore,
an important direction for future research involves
clarifying the conditions under which threats to
manhood status compel men to pursue active displays
of readiness to aggress.
Another direction for future research involves
identifying whether some targets are particularly likely
to inspire aggression or aggressive displays among
gender-threatened men. Some past work suggests that
manhood threats might increase men’s aggression
toward gender-deviant targets—that is, people who
violate traditional gender role norms—more readily
than toward gender-normative targets. For example,
although they did not measure aggression, Glick and his
colleagues found that a manhood threat increased men’s
negative affective reactions toward feminine gay men
but not toward masculine gay men (Glick, Gangl, Gibb,
Klumpner, & Weinberg, 2007). More relevant to these
studies, Maass et al. (2003) found that gender-threatened
men subsequently exhibited more aggression (i.e., sexual
harassment) toward a feminist woman than a traditional
woman. Importantly, men appeared to benefit from
their sexual harassment of the feminist, in that those
who harassed subsequently reported stronger
identification with their gender ingroup. Thus, to the
extent that gender-threatened men retaliate against
gender-deviant targets more readily than gender-
normative ones, they may do so because they recognize,
on some level, that aggression against such targets will
most effectively accomplish the goal of restoring
threatened manhood. Of course, this possibility requires
additional investigation.
This brings us to another limitation of these studies.
Despite our speculation that threats to men’s gender
status motivate aggressive posturing via their effects on
men’s concerns about precarious manhood, we included
no direct index of these concerns. The closest we came
was the measure of anxiety-relevant cognitions in Study
3. Whereas the findings with this anxiety index make
the important point that aggressive displays alleviate
men’s anxious cognitions following a gender threat,
they fall short of establishing that concerns about
manhood status are the mechanism through which
public gender role violations increase men’s anxiety in
the first place. Documenting this link, therefore, remains
a profitable direction for future work. One promising
approach involves assessing gender identity with an
implicit measure such as the Implicit Association Test
(e.g., Rudman, Dohn, & Fairchild, 2007). For example,
threats to their manhood should weaken men’s cognitive
associations between the self and stereotypically
masculine stimuli, whereas physically aggressive
posturing should strengthen these associations. Such
findings would add considerably to researchers’
understanding of the links between precarious manhood
and aggressive displays.
Summary and Conclusions
The studies presented here build on recent research
on the precarious nature of manhood (Vandello et al.,
2008). Specifically, these findings show that men
understand, use, and benefit from physically aggressive
displays as means of maintaining and restoring their
manhood status, particularly when that status has been
challenged. An understanding of the precariousness of
manhood can help shed light on what might otherwise
be seen as irrational or excessive aggression arising
from seemingly trivial provocations. From our
perspective, the immediate proximal causes of male
aggression are often tied to broader concerns with
social status and self-worth. Given the precarious and
easily challenged status of manhood, it is not surprising
that men perceive a regular need to validate their
masculine credentials, sometimes by engaging in
physically aggressive displays. Future work should
examine the conditions under which such aggressive
displays translate into actual aggression.
NOTE
1. There are only 35 degrees of freedom for this analysis instead
of 36 because one participant did not rate his prior experience and
familiarity with the hairstyling task.
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... Gender roles guide and constrain what qualities and behaviors are considered feminine and masculine (Bem, 1974(Bem, , 1981Eagly & Wood, 1991). From early childhood, people are socialized to display qualities and behaviors consistent with gender roles (Bem, 1983;Bussey & Bandura, 1992;Egan & Perry, 2001;Raag & Rackliff, 1998), and learn the social consequences of not adhering to these roles (Bosson et al., 2009;Bussey & Bandura, 1992;Rudman, 1998;Rudman & Fairchild, 2004;Rudman & Glick, 2001;Rudman et al., 2012;Vandello et al., 2008). Moreover, despite continuous socialization pressures, gender role expectations are demanding, making it difficult for women and men to consistently conform to gender roles (Bosson et al., 2009;Pleck, 1981Pleck, , 1995Rudman & Fairchild, 2004). ...
... From early childhood, people are socialized to display qualities and behaviors consistent with gender roles (Bem, 1983;Bussey & Bandura, 1992;Egan & Perry, 2001;Raag & Rackliff, 1998), and learn the social consequences of not adhering to these roles (Bosson et al., 2009;Bussey & Bandura, 1992;Rudman, 1998;Rudman & Fairchild, 2004;Rudman & Glick, 2001;Rudman et al., 2012;Vandello et al., 2008). Moreover, despite continuous socialization pressures, gender role expectations are demanding, making it difficult for women and men to consistently conform to gender roles (Bosson et al., 2009;Pleck, 1981Pleck, , 1995Rudman & Fairchild, 2004). Consequently, the Gender Role Strain Paradigm (Pleck, 1981(Pleck, , 1995 emphasizes that the pressures traditional gender roles place on women and men, and the consequences of failing to conform to these roles, often cause people stress and strain, motivating thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can be harmful to the self and others. ...
... In addition to person-level associations, the effects of context-level gender role discrepancy strain on harmful outcomes have been illustrated by placing men in gender role discrepant contexts in order to undermine their feelings of masculinity. For example, men who are asked to complete feminine tasks, told they have been outperformed by women, or received feedback they are more like women than men, exhibit more hostile cognitions and aggressive behavior compared to control conditions (Bosson et al., 2009(Bosson et al., , 2012Cohn et al., 2009;Vandello et al., 2008). Other research has examined the effects of naturally-occurring gender role discrepant situations. ...
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Social pressures to adhere to traditional feminine roles may place some women at risk of experiencing gender role discrepancy strain, when they behave, think, or feel in ways discrepant from feminine gender role expectations. The current research examines how person-level propensity to experience feminine gender-role discrepancy strain-feminine gender role stress (FGRS)-and contextual experiences of discrepancy strain-feeling less feminine in daily or weekly life-combine to undermine women's self-esteem. After completing measures of FGRS, undergraduate women reported their feelings of femininity and self-esteem each day for 10 days (Study 1, N = 207, 1,881 daily records) or each week for 7 weeks (Study 2, N = 165, 1,127 weekly records). This repeated assessments design provided the first tests of whether within-person decreases in felt-femininity were associated with lower self-esteem, particularly for women who were higher in FGRS. Both higher FGRS and within-person decreases in daily/weekly felt-femininity were associated with lower self-esteem, but higher FGRS combined with daily/weekly decreases in felt-femininity predicted the lowest self-esteem (a person x context interaction). These results illustrate the importance of considering how person-level predispositions and contextual experiences of gender-role discrepancy strain combine to influence self-relevant outcomes for women. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s11199-022-01305-1.
... Furthermore, our sample is composed almost exclusively of older White men in their 70s who were raised in an era of greater male dominance and face unique threats to their sense of self as masculine-particularly their feelings of independence, strength, and power. Recent scholarship suggests that threats to masculinity are especially disturbing to men who cherish hegemonic masculinity ideals (Bosson et al., 2009;Taylor, 2014;Vandello & Bosson, 2012). Aging is often accompanied by declining physical health status and deteriorating health may threaten aging men's masculine ideals of strength and power (Pudrovska, 2010). ...
... Masculinity can be fragile and easily threatened (Bosson et al., 2009;Taylor, 2014;Vandello & Bosson, 2012). Taylor (2014) suggested men fear a "stigma of failed manhood," and argued that masculinity is so fragile that stress may result from threats to manhood (p. ...
... Furthermore, men may become aggressive when their masculinity is challenged, perceiving "aggressive displays as effective means of restoring manhood" (Bosson & Vandello, 2011, p. 82). Likewise, experimental studies of younger men find that when "manhood status" is publicly challenged, men reacted aggressively (Bosson et al., 2009). Vandello and Bosson (2012) argue likewise that manhood is constantly negotiated and threats against it can lead to distress. ...
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Millions of men in the US experience substance abuse and impulse control disorders, which is well researched. Far fewer scholars have studied the millions of men that also experience depression (which is traditionally associated with women). Drawing upon literature on fragile masculinity and masculinity threat, we evaluate the role of endorsing hegemonic masculinity ideals (e.g., men should be strong, unemotional, and financially secure) in both internalizing (depression) and externalizing (anger) mental health problems, focusing on older White men aged 70–74 in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey (N = 1,794). In addition to predicting mental health among older men according to their agreement with hegemonic masculinity ideals, we examine the impact of two potential threats to masculinity: health and wealth decline. We find that endorsement of hegemonic masculinity ideals is positively associated with externalizing and internalizing symptoms and that the association between hegemonic masculinity ideals and depressive symptoms is even stronger for men who perceive their health to be declining and those who have lost wealth. We conclude that endorsement of rigid hegemonic masculinity ideals negatively impacts older men’s mental health, especially when they experience challenges to their self-perception as strong, independent, and self-reliant. We provide suggestions as to how improving our understanding of the association between masculinity beliefs and mental health can inform clinical practice as well as public health and public policy.
... A "good man" must also consistently demonstrate toughness, as evidenced by his ability to withstand physical and mental pain, and emotional distress, without showing signs of stereotypically feminine emotions (e.g., fear, anxiety) and behaviors (e.g., uncontrolled tears; Shields, 2002). Good men are also nothing like women (Bosson et al., 2009;Dahl et al., 2015) or feminized men (see also Bosson & Michniewicz, 2013;Kite & Deaux, 1987;Lehavot & Lambert, 2007;Pascoe, 2007). ...
... Because men must repudiate all that is feminine while consistently demonstrating power, status, and toughness, potential threats to masculinity should emerge in situations where men are not differentiated from women and/or are low in power, status, or toughness, particularly relative to women (Vescio et al., 2010; see also Vescio & Dahl, 2013). In line with this idea, findings show that men experience threats to masculinity when they believe they have (1) demonstrated knowledge typically associated with women (Rudman & Fairchild, 2004); (2) shown a female personality type (Glick, Gangl, Gibb, Klumpner, & Weinberg, 2007;Willer, Rogalin, Conlon, & Wojnowicz, 2013); (3) performed like a woman (e.g., Vandello et al., 2008); (4) been outperformed by a woman (e.g., Dahl et al., 2015;Vescio & Dahl, 2013); (5) been mistaken as gay (Bosson, Prewitt-Freilino, & Taylor, 2005;Glick et al., 2007), or (6) if they engage in stereotypically feminine acts (e.g., braiding hair; Bosson et al., 2009). ...
... Men also report anger and hostility when they imagine themselves as violators of masculine gender roles (Jakupcak et al., 2005). Threats to masculinity also lead to compensatory acts of sexist dominance (e.g., subtle sexism, the sexualization of threatening women; Dahl et al., 2015); physical aggression (Bosson et al., 2009); social and economic aggression (Rudman & Fairchild, 2004;Rudman, Moss-Racusin, Phelan, & Nauts, 2012); and sexual aggression (Maass, Cadinu, Guarnieri, & Grasselli, 2003). Presumably, when masculinity is threatened, men become angry and reaffirm their manhood by engaging in stereotypically masculine thoughts and behaviors-including aggressive acts (Bosson et al., 2009;Bosson & Vandello, 2011;Lynn & Sawrey, 1959;Vandello et al., 2008). ...
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The present work examined whether men's and women's gender-identities and experiences of gender threats influenced their self-images. Findings across two studies (N = 567) revealed that masculinity in men appears to be more precarious than femininity is in women, but when similarly threatened in a given situation both men's and women's anger predicted their construction of gender compensatory self-images. Specifically, in Study 1, participants' definition of the self in terms of gender ingroup (vs. outgroup) traits (a) positively predicted the gender stereotypicality of men's and women's actual photographs and women's constructed self-images, but (b) negatively predicted the gender stereotypicality of men's self-images. Men whose self definitions least strongly prioritized gender ingroup (over outgroup) traits generated the most gender stereotypic self-images, as rated by independent judges. In addition, in Study 2, after being led to believe that they performed like average members of their gender outgroup (i.e., threat condition) on a gender knowledge test, men expressed more public discomfort and were angrier than women. Gender threat (vs. assurance) also indirectly predicted the generation of more gender stereotypic self-images for men, but not women; this effect was significant via serial mediation, through public discomfort and anger. However, extending prior findings, anger (but not public discomfort) was significantly associated with and predicted the construction of feedback contradicting self-images similarly. We discuss the implications of these findings for theory and research on gender-identity, self-image, and compensatory gender threat responses.
... This incessant contest creates a lasting state of anxiety and insecurity that can motivate men to adopt "risky and maladaptive behaviors" or to reject "adaptive and beneficial" behaviors in an attempt to secure their status as men (Vandello and Bosson 2013 p. 1). 2 Supporting the theoretical arguments proposed by precarious manhood and fragile masculinity, research that employs randomized primes across psychological fields demonstrates that negative attitudes toward others are shaped by personality insecurities. Specifically, among men, exposure to threats to masculinity can result in increased anxiety and aggressive ideation (Bosson et al. 2009), discomfort and anger (Dahl, Vescio, and Weaver 2015), stress (Berke et al. 2017;Caswell et al. 2014;Kramer, Himmelstein, and Springer 2017), and intolerant aggression (Bosson et al. 2012). For example, as Vandello et al. (2008) find, men, but not women, who are told that they underperformed on a knowledge task are more likely to feel threatened and, in turn, to have physically aggressive thoughts (Vandello et al. 2008). ...
... 2. As summarized by Vandello and Bosson (2013, 1), the reason why men but not women face precarity around their gender is that "womanhood is viewed as a status that follows naturally from biological changes and that, once earned, remains secure." This compares to manhood, which is in a state of jeopardy and must be earned, and then continuously "maintained through publicly verifiable actions." 3. Bosson et al. (2009) find that threats to men's gender status result in increases in the magnitude of physically aggressive displays, and, in turn, publicly aggressive displays reduce anxieties-a finding that suggests that the psychological motivation underlying aggressive displays is that they help regulate negative emotions in response to status threats. 4. For extended reviews on fragile and precarious masculinity, see DiMucccio and Knowles (2020) and Vandello and Bosson (2013). ...
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Political scientists recognize discriminatory attitudes as key to understanding a range of political preferences. Sexism is associated with both explicitly and non-explicitly gendered attitudes. But why do certain individuals display discriminatory attitudes, while others do not? Drawing from psychology, we examine the potential power of an underexplored set of personality traits— secure versus fragile self-esteem —in explaining gendered attitudes and preferences. With an online sample of ( N = 487) U.S.-based participants, we find that fragile self-esteem is an important trait underlying individuals’ attitudes: individuals who display a discordant view of self—explicitly positive but implicitly negative—are more likely to hold hostile sexist attitudes and prefer men in leadership; these individuals are also more likely to support the Republican Party and former U.S. president Donald Trump. While present in only a fraction of the population, our results suggest that this trait may be important for understanding the development of discriminatory attitudes toward out-groups.
... Research on gender and physical aggression has found that men view physical aggression and violent displays as effective means of demonstrating as well as restoring manhood, particularly when their gender status has been threatened Vandello et al., 2008). Across three experimental studies, Bosson et al. (2009) demonstrated that physical aggression is an active means to restore threatened gender status, linking manhood with action. Across all studies, threats to men's gender status evoked heightened physical aggression among men. ...
... The results further suggest that when men engage in stereotypically male behaviours, such as aggression, it helps them to down-regulate negative emotions which arise when their manhood is challenged (Bosson, Vandello, Burnaford, & Weaver, 2009; also see Vandello et al., 2008). ...
Thesis
Progress within the field of radicalisation is evident. Yet while research increasingly adopts a quantitative approach to studying radicalisation processes, there is no sound empirical evidence base on the risk and protective factors for violent extremism and much research is not fit for practice. Day-to-day risk assessment and management of individuals deemed to be a potential risk to national security forms a core component of counter-terrorism. Each phase of counter-terrorism risk assessment and management requires state-of-the-art science for the identification of putative risk and protective factors, and to understand how such factors are functionally linked to violent extremism. This thesis provides a unique contribution to these research endeavours in several important ways. First, in order to explain why individuals radicalise, we have to turn our focus towards those risk factors and underlying mechanisms, which explain why and how certain individuals come to develop extremist propensities. Thus, this thesis’ main aim is to study risk and protective factors for the development of violent extremist propensities. Second, terrorism studies is over-reliant on secondary data. By conducting two unique large-scale nationally representative general population surveys, this thesis contributes towards establishing a robust empirical knowledge base. These are one of the first such surveys conducted within the field of violent extremism research. Third, radicalisation trajectories and engagement in violent extremism are characterised by complex constellations of risk as well as protective factors. Risk factors for one risk specification may not equally apply to others and the conditional and contextual nature of various factors need to be taken into consideration, which necessitates more complex analyses of patterns of relationships. This thesis draws on a range of structural equation models, conditional mediation models and interaction analyses, which allow for a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms and complex configurations of various risk and protective factors. The analytical designs embedded throughout this thesis are some of the first to test such interactions in an empirical manner. Fourth, this thesis uses an integrative framework which examines not just risk but also protective factors for violent extremism and draws on a wide range of validated theories from different disciplines to strengthen the explanation of relationships between factors. By utilising models with several risk/protective factors, this thesis overcomes some of the 'problem of specificity', as it delivers plausible answers as to why the vast majority of individuals, who are experiencing particular conditions or grievances do not develop violent extremist intentions. Such research designs may be able to identify those factors that can inform prevention and intervention programs. Fifth, radicalisation is a complex and multifaceted process with diverse pathways and outcomes to it. This inherent complexity renders radicalisation, as a construct, difficult to operationalise. A key part of conducting quantitative research is the development of adequate and validated instruments. Thus, by developing and validating psychometrically sound instruments, this thesis contributes towards rigorous quantitative research on violent extremism. This thesis addresses these issues through a number of novel research designs. First, I conduct a systematic review and synthesise the existing evidence on quantitative risk and protective factors for different radicalisation outcomes. However, several gaps as well as conceptual and methodological issues are identified, which are addressed in the following chapters. Second, I conduct a German nationally representative survey on violent extremism, and I apply structural equation modeling to employ a conceptually integrated approach to studying the individual and environmental-level determinants of differential vulnerability to extremism. The findings demonstrate the profound effect of person-environment reciprocity and, thereby, highlight key individual, developmental and social mechanisms involved in the development of extremist propensities. Increasingly, we are witnessing a seeming convergence between belief in conspiracy theories and ideological extremes. However, there is a dearth of empirical research on the relationship between conspiracy beliefs and violent extremism. Therefore, third, this thesis conducts a unique quantitative analysis on this relationship and the findings highlight the contingent effects of risk and protective factors, which are defined as ‘interactive’ or ‘buffering’ protective factors. This has major implications in regard to prevention strategies of ‘at-risk’ populations. Fourth, based on a large-scale UK nationally representative survey, I develop and validate a novel psychometric tool to measure individuals’ misogynistic attitudes. Fifth, recent incidents have demonstrated that misogynistic beliefs can lead to acts of mass violence. This thesis provides the first survey-based study on the relationship between misogyny and violent extremism by examining the underlying mechanisms and contingent effects linking misogyny to (extremist) violence. Collectively, the dissertation’s results demonstrate that multiple factors likely contribute to individual pathways into violent extremism. No single risk or protective factor exists that can explain its genesis. This has significant implications for practice and policy. Preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) programs must take account of the constellation of multiple factors that interact with (and sometimes enable or disable one another) rather than solely focusing upon single risk factors. These findings stress the need to implement evidenced based prevention and interventions programs, which have to address these risk factors early on, before they properly take hold and become so deeply ingrained that they are almost intractable. Therefore, increased focus of P/CVE interventions should be put on the indirect, long-term and life-course oriented protective factors.
... Black men were also most likely to report spending a lot of time doing things to become more muscular. One explanation for this difference can be found in Precarious Manhood theory (Bosson, Vandello, Burnaford, Weaver, & Arzu Wasti, 2009), which has been applied to understand men's drive for muscularity and body image concerns Hunt, Gonsalkorale, & Murray, 2013;Lee-Won, Tang, & Ribbe, 2017). This perspective proposes that when men's masculinity is threatened, they feel anxious and attempt to reassert their masculinity with increased aggression. ...
Article
We examined how gender, body mass, race, age, and sexual orientation were linked to appearance evaluation, overweight preoccupation, and body image-related quality of life among 11,620 adults recruited via Mechanical Turk. Men were less likely than women to report low appearance evaluation, high overweight preoccupation, negative effects of body image on their quality of life, being on a weight-loss diet, and trying to lose weight with crash diets/fasting. Racial differences were generally small, but greater appearance evaluation was reported by Black men versus other groups and Black women versus White women. Across all measures, gay and bisexual men reported poorer body image than heterosexual men, with only small effect sizes observed for sexual orientation differences among women. Body mass, but not age, was strongly associated with body image. The prevalence of poor body image highlights the need for interventions. On the positive side, half of men and women reported high appearance evaluation. Examination of this group could identify factors promoting positive body image.
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Many researchers, in general, have approached the responses to sexism issues from women's perspectives and experiences. However, it is important to understand how men percieve sexism and their responses to sexism in the traditional gender system in order to achieve gender equality. Accordingly, the aim of the current paper is to review literature on men's reactions to sexism that women experience. In order to reach the aim, the following dimensions of Sakallı’s (2021) review article are used: (I) being unaware or having a low level of awareness of sexism and, accepting and justifying the existing gender system; (II) being aware of sexism and not taking action even if one has negative feelings about sexism; (III) being aware of sexism and responding sexist behavior and incidents individually; (IV) being aware of sexism and engaging in collective action. In addition, some social psychological variables that may be associated with men’s responses to sexism such as hostile and benevolent sexism, masculinity, manhood, masculine honor, stereotypes about feminist men, social dominance orientation, right-wing authoritarianism, system justification orientation and belief in a just world are examined. Possible future studies are suggested. Araştırmacılar genel olarak cinsiyetçiliğe verilen tepkiler konusuna kadın perspektifinden ve deneyimlerinden yaklaşmışlardır. Oysaki geleneksel cinsiyetçi sistem içerisinde erkeklerin cinsiyetçiliği nasıl algıladıklarını ve nasıl tepkiler verdiklerini anlamak cinsiyet eşitliğinin sağlanması açısından büyük önem taşımaktadır. Bu derleme makalesinin amacı kadınların maruz kaldığı cinsiyetçiliğe karşı erkeklerin verebileceği tepkileri derlemektir. Bu amaca ulaşmak için Sakallı’nın (2021) derleme makalesindeki şu boyutlardan yararlanılmıştır: (I) cinsiyetçilik farkındalığı olmayıp ya da düşük olup, var olan cinsiyet sistemini olduğu gibi kabullenme ve meşrulaştırma; (II) cinsiyetçilik farkındalığı olup, cinsiyetçiliğe ilişkin olumsuz tutumlara sahip olsa da harekete geçmeyip kendini suskunlaştırma; (III) cinsiyetçilik farkındalığı olup, cinsiyetçi tutum ve davranışlara bireysel olarak doğrudan karşı koyma yani cinsiyetçilikle yüzleşme ve (IV) cinsiyetçilik farkındalığı yüksek olup kolektif hareketlere katılma. Ayrıca, erkeklerin cinsiyetçiliğe tepkileri ile bağlantılı olabileceği düşünülen düşmanca ve korumacı cinsiyetçilik, erkeksilik, erkeklik, erkeklik onuru, feminist erkeklere dair kalıpyargılar, sosyal baskınlık yönelimi, sağ kanat yetkecilik, sistemi meşrulaştırma eğilimi ve adil dünya inancı gibi bazı sosyal psikolojik değişkenler ele alınmıştır. Gelecekte yapılabilecek çalışmalar için önerilerde bulunulmuştur.
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