It is commonly known that threats to masculinity can lead to very negative reactions from men, but do gender threats have similar outcomes when directed toward women? A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology aims to answer this question and measure emotional effects of gender threats.
Masculinity is a construct that many men take very seriously and can be dangerous to challenge. It is associated with dominance, power, and status. Threats to masculinity can result in physical aggression, social or economic punishment, sexual aggression, subtle sexism, or dominance ideology. Research on gender threats regarding men is well documented, but similar research has not taken place for women.
Theresa K. Vescio and colleagues created multiple experiments to test if gender threats caused emotions in men that were significantly different than the emotions gender threats cause in women. They recruited 171 US residents to serve as their participant pool through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Participants completed a gender knowledge test and were provided with fake feedback based on the condition they were assigned to. They were then shown average scores for both men and women, and their fake score fell either with their gender in-group or gender out-group.
Participants were asked to imagine their scores were going to be made public and then rated how they would feel about that and what they were feeling in the moment. Additionally, they completed scales on shame, guilt, and pride. Vescio and colleagues found that the groups that faced gender threats experienced higher levels of public discomfort, and that men showed higher levels than women. Interaction effects showed that men in the threat condition had higher levels of public discomfort, anger, guilt, and shame, while women’s emotions did not vary between the gender assurance and gender threat conditions. In the gender assurance conditions, men and women’s emotions did not differ significantly.
Vescio and colleagues also measured empathy and perspective-taking. Similarly to the other variables, men in the threat condition reported higher anger, less perspective-taking, and feeling less empathy. Women in the threat condition did not show these same effects. In the gender assurance groups, men and women did not significantly differ on these constructs. Lastly, this study added a threat/assurance that was generational in addition to the already existing one for gender. Results showed that a generation threat yielded less anger, less public discomfort, and less guilt than a gender threat. This shows that threats to masculinity evoke an especially negative response from men that is different from other types of threat.
This study made strides in showing that masculinity is important to men in a different way than femininity is important to women. Men are more likely to experience strong negative emotions in response to gender threats. A limitation of this study is that it only accounts for one specific type of gender threat and more nuanced threats were out of its scope. Another limitation is that gender threats were only compared to generational identity threats. Future research could explore similar topics with different social identities or gender threats.
The study, “The Affective Consequences of Threats to Masculinity“, was authored by Theresa K. Vescio, Nathaniel E.C. Schermerhorn, Jonathan M. Gallegos, and Marlaina L. Laubach.