“Boys don’t cry”. “Man up”. “Be a real man”. These are just a few everyday phrases that encourage, and perpetuate, toxic masculinity. And some men respond more aggressively than others when their manhood, their sense of masculinity, is threatened. Researchers from Duke University set out to discover exactly why this is — and which age group is more likely to be “triggered” over their masculinity.
Lead author of the study, Adam Stanaland, said: “Our results suggest the more social pressure a man feels to be masculine, the more aggressive he may be.” More specifically, “When those men feel they’re not living up to strict gender norms, they may feel the need to act aggressively to prove their manhood — to ‘be a man’.”
195 undergraduate students and a random pool of 391 men aged 18-59 participated in the study, and were asked a series of questions about “gender knowledge”. For male participants, they were asked about stereotypical topics including sports, mechanics and home repair.
To see how men would react, they were randomly told their score was higher or lower than that of the average male. Those who received a low score were told they were “less manly than the average man”, to simulate real-world threats to manhood.
As for when aggressiveness comes in? That came after they were given their scores. Participants were asked to complete a series of word fragments by adding missing letters, to reveal their state of mind. As in, they were given the letters “ki” and asked to complete the word. The results of this were striking and revealed aggressive thoughts.
Those with a more fragile sense of masculinity — who relied on others for their feelings of masculinity, and said they behaved “like a man” because of social pressures – they were more likely to create words with violent associations. Instead of “kind” or “kiss” as the ki-word…they wrote kill. Those whose sense of masculinity came from within were pretty unruffled.
As for the age group that was most aggressive? It was men between 18-29. The older the age, the milder the response. Proving that the study hit a nerve, some of the study designers received violent threats from those who received low scores after the study had concluded.