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Unformatted text preview: Precarious Manhood Joseph A. Vandello and Jennifer K. Bosson University of South Florida Dov Cohen University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign Rochelle M. Burnaford and Jonathan R. Weaver University of South Florida The authors report 5 studies that demonstrate that manhood, in contrast to womanhood, is seen as a precarious state requiring continual social proof and validation. Because of this precariousness, they argue that men feel especially threatened by challenges to their masculinity. Certain male-typed behaviors, such as physical aggression, may result from this anxiety. Studies 1–3 document a robust belief in (a) the precarious nature of manhood relative to womanhood and (b) the idea that manhood is defined more by social proof than by biological markers. Study 4 demonstrates that when the precarious nature of manhood is made salient through feedback indicating gender-atypical performance, men experience heightened feelings of threat, whereas similar negative gender feedback has no effect on women. Study 5 suggests that threatening manhood (but not womanhood) activates physically aggressive thoughts. Keywords: manhood, masculinity, aggression, gender role threat In some cultures, the idea that men are made, not born, is taken quite literally. Among the Samburu and Maasai herders of East Africa, men cannot marry or father children until they kill their first ox. To become men, boys from these tribes must also undergo a circumcision ritual in which no anesthetic is used and no display of pain can be shown (Saitoti, 1986; Spencer, 1965). Similarly, !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in southwest Africa must kill an antelope before they are considered men (Thomas, 1959), and Sambian highlanders of New Guinea undergo a bloody, painful scarification ritual to earn manhood status (Herdt, 1982). On Pentecost Island in the South Pacific, young men prove their manhood by tying vines to their ankles and jumping from tall wooden platforms until they (with luck) dangle inches from the ground (Muller, 1970). The Satere-Mawe Amazonian Indians demonstrate their readiness to become men by placing their hands in a glove filled with stinging, poisonous tucandeiras ants for 30 min (Hogue, 1987). Although these cultures differ in many ways, what they seem to share is a common preoccupation with active, public demonstra- tions of manhood. These manhood rituals might seem strange and anachronistic to contemporary Westerners, as few formalized “rites of passage” into manhood exist in most industrialized cul- tures (at least outside of certain subcultures such as gangs, frater- nities, or the military). Although the absence of formalized man- hood rituals might suggest that concerns with proving manhood are outdated or irrelevant in “modern” Western cultures, we argue instead that a preoccupation with the precarious nature of manhood is shared by men in many cultures around the world (Gilmore, 1990; Vandello & Cohen, 2008), including contemporary Ameri-...
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- Spring '09
- The Land, manhood, Dov Cohen