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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Precarious Manhood

"I can forgive Alfred Nobel for having invented dynamite, but only a fiend in human form could have invented the Nobel Prize." - George Bernard Shaw

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Precarious Manhood
Addendum: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2008, Vol. 95, No. 6, 1325–1339

Abstract: "The authors report 5 studies that demonstrate that manhood, in contrast to womanhood, is seen as a precarious state requiring continual social proof and validation. Because of this precariousness, they argue that men feel especially threatened by challenges to their masculinity. Certain male-typed behaviors, such as physical aggression, may result from this anxiety. Studies 1–3 document a robust belief in (a) the precarious nature of manhood relative to womanhood and (b) the idea that manhood is defined more by social proof than by biological markers. Study 4 demonstrates that when the precarious nature of manhood is made salient through feedback indicating gender-atypical performance, men experience heightened feelings of threat, whereas similar negative gender feedback has no effect on women. Study 5 suggests that threatening manhood (but not womanhood) activates physically aggressive thoughts."


"Manhood, in contrast to womanhood, is seen as a precarious state requiring continual social proof and validation. Because of this precariousness, they argue that men feel especially threatened by challenges to their masculinity. Certain male-typed behaviors, such as physical aggression, may result from this anxiety... when the precarious nature of manhood is made salient through feedback indicating gender-atypical performance, men experience heightened feelings of threat, whereas similar negative gender feedback has no effect on women...

The lack of institutionalized rites of passage in the United States today may make the status of manhood troublingly ambiguous, uncertain, and problematic (cf. Herek, 1986). Lacking formal manhood rituals, men may prove themselves with informal— and sometimes harmful—demonstrations of masculinity.

Conversely, although many cultures also have rites of passage for womanhood, girls and women do not seem to have the same requirements of social proof to achieve and maintain their essential status as women... It might be said that womanhood happens to girls, via a series of inevitable physical and biological changes, but manhood is something that boys must make happen, by passing certain social milestones...

A woman’s actions may damage her reputation and that of her family, and she may be deemed a “bad” woman, but these shortcomings will not usually threaten her (socially constructed) status as a woman as easily as a man’s actions can threaten his (socially constructed) status as a man...

“Real men” are made, not born...

Why should manhood be seen as more elusive and tenuous than womanhood? Evolutionary and social role theories provide some plausible clues. One possibility is that these notions derive from evolved dispositions that have their origins in men’s competitive acquisition of social status and resources to gain access to women...

If manhood is viewed as elusive and tenuous, two implications are that (a) challenges to men’s manhood will provoke anxiety and threat-related emotions among men and (b) men will often feel compelled to demonstrate their manhood through action, particularly when it has been challenged... men who underwent challenges to their masculinity showed decreased liking for other nonprototypical members of their gender in-group (Schmitt & Branscombe, 2001), projected assumptions of homosexuality onto a male target (Bramel, 1963), sexually harassed a woman (Maass, Cadinu, Guarnieri, & Grasselli, 2003), took stronger levels of electric shock (Holmes, 1971), and overestimated their height and sexual experience (Cheryan, Cameron, Katagiri, & Monin, 2008)...

Participants interpreted the statement about lost manhood in primarily social terms (“He no longer fits society’s definition of a man”), whereas they interpreted the statement about lost womanhood in primarily physical terms (“She had an operation and is no longer a woman”)...

A potential criticism of the studies presented thus far is that we have not given adequate attention to the possibility that womanhood status is also dependent on social actions, but in ways we have not addressed. Specifically, in many cultures a core component of womanhood is the ability to successfully birth and raise children... If true womanhood is dependent on being able to bear children, then a woman who cannot bear children should lose her status as a woman and be seen as just a girl. Our results, however, did not support the idea that real women must bear children and instead suggested that producing offspring is more often seen as a condition for manhood...

These findings are consistent with the notion that women who fail to meet standards of womanhood may be seen as “bad” women with unattractive characteristics, but they are unlikely to lose their status as women (unlike infertile adult men, who are seen as merely boys)...

We propose that physical aggression is part of men’s, but not women’s, cultural script for restoring a threatened gender identity. It is well established that men are more likely to use physical aggression and women are more likely to use relational aggression (social exclusion, gossiping, and rumor spreading; Bjo¨rkqvist, 1994; Crick & Grotpeter, 1995; Lagerspetz, Bjo¨ rkqvist, & Peltonen, 1988), so it would not be surprising if the two genders reacted with different forms of aggression to a gender identity threat. However, our hypothesis goes beyond this to argue that women’s use of relational aggression is not linked as directly to gender threat as is men’s use of physical aggression. Indeed, relational aggression seems to result more from perceived threats to women’s close interpersonal relationships (Lento-Zwolinski, 2007) than from threats to their gender identity or status as women per se...

Many acts of male aggression are best understood as responses to anxiety about living up to standards of masculinity and the continual pressure to prove oneself...

Women who do not live up to cultural standards of femininity may be punished, rejected, or viewed as “unladylike,” but rarely will their very status as women be questioned in the same way as men’s status often is...

Men’s gender threats should be especially troubling in front of other men, as male audiences constitute the most harsh—and punishing—critics of others’ masculine performance"


In other words: men are more affected by notions of masculinity than women by femininity - and women are not really pressured to have children.


Keywords: men are made, women are born, whether a woman had given birth, become a man, becomes a man, rite of passage

Related: Male vs Female Rites of Passage
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