New research reveals what many of us have known for years - men who are insecure in their masculinity are more likely to commit intimate partner violence. This is article is particularly relevant to the killings at UCSB on Friday of last week. That young man was incredibly insecure in his masculinity, not to mention in his sense of self as a whole.
Granted, most men who fit this profile do not progress beyond beating and/or emotionally abusing their partners, but fueled by grandiosity and delusions, with some misogyny from the MRAs and PUAs thrown in to make it even more toxic, Elliott Rodger exemplifies the most extreme end of the violence curve - it's no longer a woman, it's all women; and it's no longer physical abuse, it's murder (and torture in his fantasies).
The article appears (will appear - this is an "online early" offering, likely due to the killings in Isla Vista) in Personality and Individual Differences (Volume 68, October 2014, Pages 160–164). The abstract is followed by a summary of the research from Pacific Standard (the article is pay-walled).
Reidy, DE, Berke, DS, Gentile, B, and Zeichner, A. (2014, Oct). Man enough? Masculine discrepancy stress and intimate partner violence. Personality and Individual Differences; 68, Pages 160–164. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2014.04.021
Dennis E. Reidya, Danielle S. Berkeb, Brittany Gentileb, Amos Zeichner
- Masculine socialization has been theorized to predispose men to IPV.
- However, gender role discrepancy stress has not been investigated.
- Gender role discrepancy stress and IPV were assessed via the M-Turk website.
- Discrepancy stress predicted psychological, physical, and sexual IPV.
- Implications for prevention are discussed.
Research on gender roles suggests that men who strongly adhere to traditional masculine gender norms are at increased risk for the perpetration of violent and abusive acts toward their female intimate partners. Yet, gender norms alone fail to provide a comprehensive explanation of the multifaceted construct of intimate partner violence (IPV) and there is theoretical reason to suspect that men who fail to conform to masculine roles may equally be at risk for IPV. In the present study, we assessed effect of masculine discrepancy stress, a form of distress arising from perceived failure to conform to socially-prescribed masculine gender role norms, on IPV. Six-hundred men completed online surveys assessing their experience of discrepancy stress, masculine gender role norms, and history of IPV. Results indicated that masculine discrepancy stress significantly predicted men’s historical perpetration of IPV independent of other masculinity related variables. Findings are discussed in terms of potential distress engendered by masculine socialization as well as putative implications of gender role discrepancy stress for understanding and intervening in partner violence perpetrated by men.
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By Tom Jacobs • May 28, 2014
A view over the University of California-Santa Barbara's lagoon to one of the Channel Islands. (Photo: Superchilum/Wikimedia Commons)
For some, the sense that they are not sufficiently masculine leads to stress, and ultimately to striking out at the women closest to them.•
Last weekend’s tragic events outside the University of California-Santa Barbara, have ignited an impassioned national conversation about misogyny, male anger, and violence against women. Timely new research suggests physical abuse against wives and girlfriends may be triggered by a specific psychological state: The emotional stress that can result when males perceive themselves as less masculine than their peers and cultural role models.
A research team led by Dennis Reidy, a violence-prevention scholar at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, refers to this as “discrepancy stress,” and defines it as “a form of distress arising from perceived failure to conform to socially prescribed masculine gender role norms.”
In the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the researchers present evidence of a link between this type of stress and interpersonal violence, even “independent of other masculinity related variables.”
Along with three colleagues from the University of Georgia, Reidy conducted a study of 600 heterosexual American men who were recruited online. Along with basic demographic information, study participants responded to a series of statements revealing how they view their own masculinity.
On a one-to-seven scale, they expressed their level of agreement or disagreement with such statements as “I am less masculine than the average guy,” “I worry that people judge me because I’m not like the typical man,” and “I wish I was more manly.”
In addition, they noted the extent to which they endorse traditional gender roles, and the “degree of conflict” they encounter when such roles are challenged. Finally, they reported the extent to which they have engaged in “psychological, physical, or sexually violent behavior” with their current partner, most recent partner, or past partners.
The key result: Men who felt stress over their perceived inadequate level of masculinity were more likely to have admitted abusing their partners, even after a variety of other factors were taken into consideration.
“Men who experience stress related to perceiving themselves as being less masculine than the typical man—or believing that they are perceived as such by others—may be more likely to interpret ambiguous interactions as challenges to their masculinity,” Reidy and his colleagues write.
“Thus, it would be reasonable to expect that these men would be more likely to respond in a manner intended to demonstrate and, perhaps, bolster their masculine status.”
Acts of physical violence, they chillingly add, are “common methods of demonstrating masculinity.”
The researchers found that men who did not fit into traditional masculine roles but felt comfortable about that were not, on average, more likely to abuse their partners. Rather, violent behavior was specifically linked to the “experience of distress” over one’s perceived lack of masculinity.
The researchers add several cautionary notes to their study. They concede that self-reports of interpersonal violence may not be entirely accurate, as some men surely underreported how often they engage in such activity. In addition, their study does not address women-on-men violence or violence among same-sex couples.
Finally, the correlation they found is not proof of causation. It’s conceivable (although not likely) that committing acts of violence against women led them to doubt their masculinity, rather than the other way around.
These caveats aside, their study provides new insights into the roots of male-on-female violence, and may point toward ways of preventing it. Such efforts “should focus on the role of masculine socialization, acceptance of gender norms, and how they may engender distress in adolescents and adult men,” the researchers write.
“Intervening at an early age to prevent violence in teen dating relationships may avert a series of consequences across the lifespan,” they conclude, “including the perpetration of interpersonal violence in future adult relationships.”
~ Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.
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