A 2015 University of Washington study revealed that men exaggerate about their most masculine traits when they interpret tests results that imply that they are more feminine. In this context, “feminine” meant, literally, weaker.
Weakness, in this particular study, was measured by a physical hand gripping test that indicated to the male subjects how they measured up compared to other men on their hand strength. Subjects then filled out questionnaires about their dating history and experience, their consumer habits (displaying attitudes about what may be considered more “feminine” products), and their self-reported height.
Men with lower hand-grip scores, were self-reported as taller than the high-scoring males, an easily verifiable contradiction as revealed by a tape measure, post intake.
Men measure themselves against perceived masculinity
Statistically relevant data shows that the men consistently exaggerated about these three areas.
The men, as with most all men, were found to be unconsciously biased toward thinking that societal preferences about masculinity defined their assumed “weakness.”
This study, of course was looking at just one form of strength — hand-grip — and said nothing about strength such as stamina, over all fitness, pain tolerance, or even other muscle power.
Why would just one small measure of masculinity, or specific strength, make men so willing to go to such lengths to hide their supposed “weakness?”
Enter toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity, best described as the unforgiving male box where we trap little boys on their journey toward manhood, exerts a steady and unrelenting pressure on males to be as least female as possible.
Despite all the science and revelation of the last one hundred years, counter-acting attitudes about maleness and femaleness has proved very challenging. For centuries, and even in quite recent decades, much has been written about male and female brains.
However, most hard science in these areas disputes that there is any such thing. Are there male behaviors quite distinct from female behaviors? Yes. There are even clusters of traits that can be mapped on male brains that display differences, over all.
Say it together, “ we are all individuals”
But on an individual scale, researchers, such as Daphna Joel and colleagues from Tel Aviv University, have found all human brains show a mosaic of features and traits that do not neatly correspond to the particular gender of an individual brain.
Mosaic studies of the brain examine selective forces that interact with specific areas of the brain, whereas traditional concerted brain studies look at how evolution shapes interconnected and physiological functioning. These ways of understanding the human brain are not mutually exclusive, nor are they by any means definitive in neurobiology.
Cultural attitudes that are well established and often stereotypical still rule in these areas of public understanding of the brain.
People can clearly see that little boys like rough and tumble fighting more than little girls, or they can point to countless examples where “men are from Mars, and women are from Venus.”
But these, too, are far too often convenient boxes we created that over simplify both the origins and outcomes of male behavior.
The primary takeaway is that it is easy to find group trends in maleness, or femaleness, but each and every one of us is an individual. And, as individuals, each and every one of us experiences a unique societal environment. This environment, which cannot ever be separated from our genetic gifts of gender at birth, is full of roles, expectations, traditional and religious dogma, and of course, centuries of science that sought to continually find differences.
Males are more influenced to mask emotions
More recent studies show that as infants, male babies are more reactive emotionally, as well as more expressive of those emotions. This may help explain why, when men stuff down, or mask, their true feelings, most notably sadness, society suffers the consequences. When they do so, internalized pressure has more potential to erupt negatively.
Cultural conditioning about how males and females feel and think often point to males being more “thing” oriented, and females being more “person” oriented.
Yet, the very fact of males having been conditioned to have so much to prove about their masculinity suggests that they are quite interested, indeed, in human and personal perceptions.
A Psychological Science, (2018) study found that men with a slighter build, are more likely to overcompensate with more aggressive, sometimes violent, and even criminal profiles. Recent data also, on baby-faced, types of facial features induce some men to have more to prove than their square-jawed mates. There is much more to be investigated here, but suffice to say, that teaching males they are inadequate due to body or appearance being less rugged, or massive, is hardly innocuous.
The pattern of a little Napoleon, or less square-jawed slight kid having a tendency to become a bully, bad cop, or neighborhood vigilante surfaces here.
Trying to pinpoint “Manliness and Manhood” on a moving target
In no way should we assume that all “less feminine” men fall into these categories. Times, and attitudes are changing. And, historically, there has always been some encouragement for boys and men to see manhood, and manning up, as open to kindness, gentility, emotional sensitivity, and full humanity. It’s just that these teaching are as yet not universal, nor consistent.
The human brain, it should be noted, has, continual hormonal interactions, environmental pressures, constant physiological input, and is very adept at taking cues which allow us, but especially poker-faced males, to mask their emotions.
Yet, in our tumultuously changing times, having feminine and masculine traits is a moving target, and studying the human brain is likely to take precedent over trying to distinguish differences between the “male” or “female” brain.
As attitudes change, a more equal acceptance of all genders will entirely re-shape civilization, and hopefully encourage a greater appreciation of our uniquely magnificent, not just our toxic, traits and behaviors.