Tough Guys

A new study has found that men who are insecure about their masculinity are more inclined to support war, buy an SUV, and be homophobic.
Cornell University researcher Robb Willer used a survey to sample undergraduates. Participants were randomly assigned feedback that indicated their responses were either masculine of feminine. The women had no discernable reaction to either type of feedback in a follow-up survey. But the guys's reactions were "strongly affected," Willer said today. "I found that if you made men more insecure about their masculinity, they displayed more homophobic attitudes, tended to support the Iraq war more and would be more willing to purchase an SUV over another type of vehicle," said Willer said. "There were no increases [in desire] for other types of cars." Those who had their masculinity threatened also said they felt more ashamed, guilty, upset and hostile than those whose masculinity was confirmed, he said.
Aside from the obvious duh factor here, it’s telling to see how masculinity is defined by our culture. Clearly, there are associations with strength, but it’s a very particular kind of strength, isn’t it? Sheer brawn, really. And yet the kind of strength which informs one’s character, what might be described as emotional strength, doesn’t seem to play much of a role at all in many men’s own definitions of masculinity—the kind of strength that means walking away from a fight, or being conscientious, or showing empathy.

The kind of strength someone usually means when they say, “She’s a strong woman.”

I know plenty of men who are strong like this, too. One of them happens to be my husband, and while the fact that he can move a couch by himself is handy, it’s hardly the reason I married him.

The greatest irony in brawny fellows ratcheting up the homophobia as a show of strength is that some of the strongest men I know are gay men. In spite of a lifetime spent serving as the foil for brute’s displays of manliness, even those of my gay friends who could bench press an ox have cultivated a compassion and resiliency that can’t be measured in pounds or enemy kills or miles to the gallon. And while many of the physical attributes of masculine strength will pass with time and age, and aging men who support a war they would never have fought themselves begin to appear silly, that compassion and resiliency will not fade.

(Hat tip to The Green Knight.)

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