Precarious Manhood Theory 2019
Not a chapter yet, but yes, work in progress on, Thank God We Got Rid of the Men; A Story of Restoration for SpaceShip Earth
I found an astonishingly insightful article about failed masculinity. The below is excerpted, adapted and revised for clarity from “Toxic Masculinity Is a Myth, but Insecure Men Lash Out at Women” Full text: https://www.fatherly.com/health-science/toxic-masculinity-fake-male-insecurity/
“The idea manhood is something which has to be earned is fairly widespread,” says social psychologist Joseph Vandello. Along with his colleague Jennifer Bosson at University of South Florida, he proposed an alternative to toxic masculinity in 2008: Precarious Manhood Theory.
Bosson and Vandello concluded many men view masculinity as a sort of currency which has to be earned and can be taken away rather than as a fixed trait.
They found most young boys working hard to earn manhood. they found a smaller population of men preoccupied with protecting their perceived valuable social status. These men, the ones worried about their masculine status being taken away, demonstrated a tendency to lash out; especially when, they did not receive external validation.
By contrast, girls tended to view the transition to womanhood as physical rather than social.
Questioning their femininity was unlikely to trigger much more than a laugh.
Bosson and Vandello posited men are more anxious about gender than women. But why? The answer seems to be more cultural-mythic than biological.
In almost every culture, boys begin to police each other as they approach manhood, deeming specific macho behaviors more acceptable. They also demand, in many cases, aspirants to masculinity to perform terrifying or life-threatening initiatory rituals of social and/or physical strength and endurance.
For women, gender is performative not a belief, not as much something you earn. Women certainly experience social pressures and create hierarchies among themselves. This said, because there’s less status attached to the feminine, women may enjoy more freedom to be fluid than men.
Feminists lampooned by their enemies for being too masculine — Lady Gaga has, for instance, been accused of hiding a secret penis — tend to shrug off the jokes. Men, acting as if they have more to lose, either flee the conversation or prepare to fight.
The logic of Precarious Manhood Theory goes like this. If the precariousness of male identity is more feared than destructive male behavior itself, one would expect the most toxic behavior to occur in the most precarious male groups.
This is exactly what happens. Males most worried about “losing their masculinity,” are the ones doing the online trolling, White Supremacy and other brutish behaviors.
Crime statistics support this conclusion. Roughly three-quarters of violent crimes in America are committed by men, and the peak age for every form of criminal activity surveilled by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program is under 25. (The exception is gambling.) The median age for most crimes is under 30.
Who is engaging in the most dangerous “risky business” and toxic behavior? Young men, the people most worried about claiming and preserving their gender status advantage.
Males unconscious logic goes like this also, “If I lost my masculinity, I also lose status in local culture where the norm is ‘men are better than women.’ If I lose my (fictitious, therefore precarious) masculine status, then I am competing only as a woman among women, where I’m not likely to come out of top, since I have no uterus.”
Privileged young men have more resources and opportunities to demonstrate manhood in constructive ways, by excelling academically, professionally, intellectually, athletically.
Poor and marginalized young men have fewer resources and opportunity to make displays of healthy male achievement. Where can they receive external validation?
Communities with a high density of underprivileged young men without access to validation tend to be high crime communities. Here “earning manhood” is expressed through getting girls pregnant, risky substance abuse, homophobia, sexism, harassment, other violent risk-taking.
The problem is also separate from healthy masculine ideals. Kids in America’s toughest neighborhoods and Afghanistan’s toughest provinces all have positive (heroic) male role models more similar than different. Somehow ideals and role models differ from an internal sense of male gender stability.
Too much testosterone tends to shoulder the blame for poor male behavior. It is true higher testosterone levels are linked to attraction to risk, aggression, and violent tendencies. Men with higher sex hormone levels are also more sensitive to masculinity threats.
Vandello is reluctant to blame biology for men lashing out when their manhood is threatened. Feeling your manhood is suspect is not an innate anxiety; it’s not biological. It’s social, socially constructed, culturally constructed. It’s a Boys Club rule, “Us boys have to stick together (to preserve our arbitrary, fictitious and therefore fragile superiority over women). We have to defend it together.” This is what we saw Brett Kavanaugh do in his 2018 Supreme Court interview.
Brett showed us — he wasn’t able to talk about it, but he showed us — how distorted males is define themselves by disavowing the feminine inside of himself. Where was Brett’s self-compassion? Healthy humility? Self-empathy? Self-connection? Nothing. Nada.
If males define maleness in opposition to femaleness, this is robs males of access to crucial inner (yin) intelligences.
We have much more language for discussing this re women: girls and women who define themselves in opposition to men and crucial male (YANG) intelligences, disavow their voice, speaking up, assertiveness and courage.
I think Brett K. would be comfortable advising women to be more assertive in appropriate situations. Would Brett be equally comfortable listening to a women advising him to connect with himself and uncover his capacity for self-empathy? I’ll let you decide.
Men’s arbitrary, fictitious, imagined superiority over women is necessarily fragile. Is necessarily open to doubt, attack; and therefore, must be defended. The male unconscious believes in win~lose. It wishes not to lose.
Consider how in cultures, like the West, where “men are better than women” is a value and a norm. This means constructing healthy gender identity for men is much more fragile than for women.
In less distorted cultures, “one is born a woman — and one becomes a man,” psychotherapist, podcaster, and author Esther Perel recently wrote on her well-trafficked personal site.
Perel, the mother of two boys, was teasing a conference dubbed “The Paradox of Masculinity,” at which she spoke to a packed room of therapists in Midtown Manhattan (and to an international audience via a video link) about the need for a better understanding of what makes men tick.
One of five pillars of male identity she discussed in her keynote was trauma. She explained to her majority female audience most men experience rejection tied to masculinity at some point in their lives. This often leaves a profound mark. To illustrate this point, she shared a clip of the documentary The Work, about men in group therapy in a prison. In the clip, a man describes being sent away by his engineer father for not understanding how to help work on a car. He was told to go find his mother. Decades after the wound is still clearly fresh. He cries.
Precarious masculinity seems to show up everywhere. Where we most commonly encounter it is in verbal humor. Research indicates men do not typically prefer sexist and homophobic humor. But psychologist Thomas Ford has found men who believe masculinity can be taken away are more likely to respond positively to sexist and homophobic jokes. Why? The jokes subtext is to reinforce arbitrary male values as “normal.”
That’s the low-stakes stuff. The high-stakes stuff is more disturbing. Perceived threats to masculinity lead to higher incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Despite having some of the highest rates of gender equity in Europe, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden have the highest rates of intimate partner violence and sexual assault in the EU. Dubbed the “Nordic Paradox,” this troubling phenomenon may also be occurring in the United States. One study of more than 4,000 families found:
- When their male partners held more traditional beliefs about gender roles,
- if the woman was the primary breadwinner,
- they were more likely to become victims of domestic violence.
Male Mafia Mentality conceives of gender as a win~lose game. A women’s advancement must come at a cost for one or more men. It’s not reality, but it’s the over-charged fiction of superiority males use to compensate for their under-charged grief and low self-esteem (paraphrasing and expanding on Vandello).
The data indicates it’s not the “toxicity” of maleness which is real and bothersome Rather it’s the precariousness of the illusion, the social-cultural construct “men are better than women” which is falling apart, has been falling apart since the 1970s.
This leads to the question, “Why do males create, need and cling to a fiction, “men are better than women”? The core answer is too many boys and men come out after puberty with low self-esteem, too little to build much healthy self-concept on top of. Because healthy self-esteem + healthy self-concept = healthy self-confidence, many males after puberty look to outside crutches, outside sources, outside support to bolster their self-worth.
Based on results, many are so damaged, they cannot thrive or do sell without the outside support of the cultural fiction of “men are better than women” and the Club of Betters all Boys Clubs assume themselves to be. “No Gurls Alowed.”
To paraphrase and expand on psychotherapist Hanalei Vierra, toxic masculinity is more the tail of the dog. The whole dog is male biographies lacking experiences of healthy self-esteem, and healthy self-concept.
Hanalei, who’s counseled men for over three decades, told Fatherly. “Underneath all this instability and anger is a wounded little boy who was never taught to value his authentic and genuine experience of himself.”
To learn more on this, check out the classic piece in both the book and movies of Freakonomics, where unwanted boy children are the origin of much early low self-esteem. The evidence for this? When abortions were legalized in the USA in the 1970s, the the 1990s the crime rate plummeted everywhere in the USA. To Learn More: http://freakonomics.com/2005/05/15/abortion-and-crime-who-should-you-believe/