Men who fall short of masculine ideals tend to overcompensate by playing up their manliness and rejecting anything feminine, a study has found.
Researchers from the University of Washington were looking to find out exactly how men respond when their masculinity is threatened – looking specifically at two possibly strategies: playing up their manliness or snubbing things they considered feminine.
Published in the journal Social Psychology, the authors say their findings have important implications for the identification of strategies men use when they feel their masculinity is threatened. For example, previous studies have shown men who scored low on masculinity tests tend to behave more aggressively, harass women and belittle other men.
Unemployed men are more likely to instigate violence towards women, while men with 'baby faces' are more likely to have assertive and hostile personalities than those with more chiselled features.
The Washington researchers told male college students they were participating in a study on how exertion impacts decision making and were asked to carry out a handgrip test.
They then marked the scores on a sheet with bogus results showing male and female scores – the female curve was clearly lower than the males. The participants were scored either in the middle of the female or male curve – suggesting those marked in the female section were weaker.
Participants were then asked to fill out a questionnaire about their height, number of prior relationships, personality traits and how interested they were in products generally considered male or female.
Findings showed that men who were given falsely low results exaggerated their height, said they had more romantic relationships, claimed they were more aggressive and athletic and showed less interest in 'female products' than men who were given average score results.
Lead author Sapna Cheryan explained: "We know that being seen as masculine is very important for a lot of men. We discovered that the things that men were using to assert their masculinity were the very things that are used as signals of identity."
Researchers say the results show the pressure men feel they need to live up to and the ways they reinstate their masculinity when it is threatened. Cheryan said she was particularly surprised at the exaggeration of height: "Height is something you think would be fixed, but how tall you say you are is malleable, at least for men.
"Men have a lot of power in our society, and what this study shows is that some decisions can be influenced by how they're feeling about their masculinity in the moment."