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Social Psychology

Women higher in masculine honor beliefs are more likely to endorse their own use of deception to reject romantic advances

A study recently published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships provides new insights into the relationship between masculine honor beliefs and women’s endorsement of various rejection-related behaviors.

The findings indicate that these beliefs are also related to expectations of men’s retaliatory aggression in response to being rejected.

“We first became interested in this topic due to unsettling news reports we have read over the past few years regarding women being assaulted –ranging from verbal abuse to physical violence, even death — by men for rejecting or not reciprocating his romantic interest,” said study author Evelyn Stratmoen of Kansas State University.

“While there may be several factors that would explain why men may choose to engage in aggression when responding to romantic rejection, we research social phenomena influenced by adherence to masculine honor beliefs — cultural norms based on the American Southern culture of honor which consist of expectations that men use aggression to defend and uphold their reputation against threats and insults.”

“Therefore, we questioned specifically how adherence to masculine honor ideology influences men’s choices to engage (or not engage) in aggression as a response to being romantically rejected.”

“Furthermore, we were also interested in how specifically women’s adherence to masculine honor ideology influenced her own behaviors in situations where she does not reciprocate and thus may need to reject a man’s romantic interest – do they choose to be direct in telling a man she’s not interested? Or, do they choose to not be direct, but rather choose to use other ways to avoid rejecting him directly, such as ignoring him, or giving him a false phone number?”

“These are avoidant rejection strategies that women tend to use when navigating these types of interactions, and we were interested in examining how their own adherence to masculine honor ideology influenced their use of various rejection strategies.”

Stratmoen examined these questions in two studies with 517 undergraduate students in total.

In the first study, the researchers assessed the masculine honor beliefs of 194 female undergraduate students before examining how the participants would respond to a hypothetical situation in which they wanted to reject an unwanted romantic advance from a man. The researchers also asked how they thought the man would respond to the rejection.

Participants who scored high on the measure of masculine honor beliefs agreed with statements such as “It is important for a man to be able to take pain,” “A man should be embarrassed if someone calls him a wimp,” and “If a man is insulted, his manhood is insulted.”

In the second study of 323 undergraduate students, Stratmoen and her colleagues examined the participant’s beliefs about a hypothetical scenario in which a woman rejected a man’s unwanted romantic advance by stating she has a boyfriend.

In one version of the scenario, the man learns through a friend that the woman had lied about having a boyfriend. In another version, the man learns that she did not deceive him and was being truthful.

“We found people higher in masculine honor beliefs perceive a man being romantically rejected as a threat to his honor (i.e., an insult to him and a threat to his reputation), and women higher in masculine honor beliefs are more likely to endorse their own use of passive/avoidant rejection techniques — including deception (i.e., falsely stating she has a boyfriend),” Stratmoen told PsyPost.

“We also found men higher in masculine honor beliefs are more likely to perceive women’s use of deception as a rejection technique as a greater threat to a man’s honor. Furthermore, people overall (regardless of their MHBs) expect men to engage in retaliatory aggression after being rejected when the woman used a deceptive rejection technique.”

“Additionally, we found women higher in masculine honor beliefs expressed greater expectations of men to engage in retaliatory aggression against other women when they reject men, regardless if a deceptive rejection technique was used,” Stratmoen said.

The researchers were particularly surprised to find that women high in masculine honor beliefs expressed lower expectations of men’s aggression after rejection in the first study, but expressed higher expectations in the second.

“An interesting finding — and one that needs to be addressed in future research — was the seemingly contradictory results between our two studies,” Stratmoen explained.

“When we examined women’s first-person perspectives in the first study — by asking them what they would do when rejecting a man’s romantic interest — we found women higher in masculine honor beliefs were less likely to expect men to react aggressively against her when she rejects him. However, when we examined third-person perspectives in the second study, we found women higher in MHBs were more likely to expect men to react aggressively against another woman.”

“Therefore, this apparent contradiction may be produced by a possible disconnect in personal experiences versus expected potential for men’s retaliatory aggression: perhaps women higher in masculine honor beliefs may not have personally experienced men’s retaliatory aggression when rejecting him, but they do perceive the potential for his aggression, nevertheless,” Stratmoen continued.

“This may then explain their endorsement for using deflective — even deceptive — rejection strategies: by not rejecting his romantic advances outright, they are lessening the potential for his retaliatory aggression against them. This is a key question for future research that holds interesting implications.”

The study, “‘Sorry, I already have a boyfriend’: Masculine honor beliefs and perceptions of women’s use of deceptive rejection behaviors to avert unwanted romantic advances“, was authored by Evelyn Stratmoen, Emilio D. Rivera, and Donald A. Saucier.