A study published in Sex Roles posits that men experience a double standard in gender rules. Gathering data from 62 countries, the research team determined that there is evidence for the precarious manhood theory. The theory states “that manhood, relative to womanhood, is widely conceptualized as a social status that is hard to win, easy to lose, and must be proved repeatedly via action.”
In other words, one is not born a man, they must become one. Once achieved, the “man” label must be earned repeatedly. In contrast, women once labeled female have the flexibility of behavior that does not require consistent proof they are “woman” enough to have the label. Responses from all over the world indicate universal disdain for male weakness compared to female dominance, two non-traditional gender roles.
Researcher Jennifer Bosson and her colleagues believe gender roles may be significantly less flexible for men than for women. Gender roles are a set of rules determined by culture that intend to control gender-related behavior. Gender roles can differ from culture to culture. There has been little research on what gender roles are common to cultures worldwide. Bosso and colleagues attempted to discover what gender roles were universal and if males experienced less flexibility with their gender roles.
Participants were undergraduate students from 62 different countries who attended universities that had agreed to participate in the study. All participants consented to participate. In total, 27,343 individuals participated in the study, and 3% were women. The study asked participants to rate personality traits based on how desirable it was for a man or a woman to have them.
There were both positive and negative traits to analyze. The positive trait for men was “agency,” meaning they were competent and confident. For women, the positive trait examined was “communion,” intended to infer compassion, helpfulness, and sympathy. The negative male trait was weakness and, for women, dominance.
Results point to a double standard for men, most powerfully when considering the negative trait of weakness. Results from the positive trait comparison found that only 58% of the countries identified that “agency” was a more necessary trait for men than “communion” for women. The countries with this double standard for men (the 58%) have low equality for men and women.
The more equality a country demonstrated between the binary genders, the less of a double standard was found with the positive traits. Participants in these countries did not see the male trait of “agency” as more desirable than the female trait of “communion.”
This did not hold for the negative traits of “weakness” and “dominance .”In 95% of the 62 countries participating, weakness was seen as less desirable than women’s dominance. Bosson and colleagues state the following regarding the consequence of this finding, “gender rules may translate into more powerful socialization pressures on male peers and children. In this way, precarious manhood beliefs might be passed along via beliefs about the greater importance of men’s, versus women’s conformity to trait-based gender roles.”
The study is correlational and cannot claim cause and effect between gender role attitudes and gender equality in a country. Additionally, the participants were all undergraduates at universities, and the opinions of this cohort may not reflect the population as a whole.
The study, “Harder Won and Easier Lost? Testing the Double Standard in Gender Rules in 62 Countries”, was authored by Jennifer Bosson, Mariah Wilderson, Natalia Kosakowska-Berezecka, Pawel Jurek, and Michal Olech.