Does trait masculinity relate to expressing toughness?

A study recently published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity found that men expressed increased toughness when they were faced with a threat to their masculinity.

It is often reported that men feel pressure to exhibit gender specific characteristics such as masculinity, invulnerability and toughness. As a result of this gender expectation men die at younger ages and experience more injury and illness across their lifetime compared to women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that men are 24% less likely to have been to the doctors in the last year and 30% more likely to be taken to hospital for a preventable condition than women.

The pressure that men feel to uphold a masculine identity is thought to fluctuate depending on the circumstance. A threat to the male identity happens when men are made to feel incompetent. The commonly used phrases ‘not man enough’ or ‘man up’ are good examples of threats to masculinity, resulting in defensive or compensatory behaviours (such as binge drinking and reckless driving) to retain their masculine identity. The extent to which a man will compensate after a threat towards his masculinity varies depending on how strongly that man identifies with masculine traits.

The study conducted by Stephanie Fowler and Andrew Geers (University of Toledo) recruited 95 male participants who completed a general knowledge task and were then told that their score fell into the feminine knowledge range (threat to masculinity) or a general knowledge range (neutral). Participants were then asked to set the amount of voltage that would be administered to their arm whilst a physiological assessment was carried out

The results showed that men set a higher voltage when they had experienced a threat to their masculinity, which in this case was being told they had a lot of feminine knowledge. It was further reported that men with higher trait masculinity set the voltage higher than men who were less masculine, suggesting that trait masculinity moderates the need for compensatory behaviour following a threat to masculinity.

The authors state ‘experiencing a threat to a core aspect of the self-concept can create a state of defensiveness thereby leading to compensation’. The overall result highlights how social convention puts pressure on males to prove their masculinity and how male responses to gender expectations vary depending on their level of trait masculinity.