The rigid form of masculinity has arguably become more restricted with gains in women’s rights (Banet-Weiser & Miltner, 2015). Accordingly, it is an important project in feminist psychology to identify the “particular political purpose of male [hostile] behavior: the silencing of women who dare to speak in the online public sphere” (Megarry, 2014, p. 53).
Masculinity describes the practices, behaviors, and expectations culturally associated with (though not limited to) people understood to be male (Coston & Kimmel, 2012; Pascoe & Bridges, 2016). Importantly, masculinity requires constant demonstration and social validation, driving men to “prove” their masculinity by performing behaviors associated with normative prescriptions of manhood (Vandello et al., 2008; West & Zimmerman, 1987). For example, men learn from an early age to avoid displays of femininity by enacting restrictive emotionality, toughness, and aggression during interpersonal interactions (Fenstermaker & West, 2002; Thompson & Bennett, 2015). Masculinity is therefore relational because it functions “…as an aspect of a larger [gender] structure” and as a result, has no meaning outside its relationship to femininity (Connell & Connell, 2005, p.67).
Although definitions of masculinity differ across contexts, men are typically appraised against a monolithic standard of hegemonic masculinity (Connell 1983). Hegemonic masculinity denotes the ideal conception of masculinity within a given culture by designating traits representative of archetypal manhood (Connell 1995; Willer, Conlon, Rogalin &Wojnowicz, 2013). Within an American context, men should embody aggression, competitiveness, physical strength, courage, risk-taking, assertiveness, heterosexuality, and the absence of feminine traits (Kimmel, 2008; Levant, et al., 2010; Pascoe, 2011). Importantly, hegemonic masculinity works to legitimate gender inequality by reconstituting hierarchical relationships between (and among) women and men (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005; Donaldson, 1993). Consequently, the stakes of maintaining gender relations are high for men since it validates their positions of power relative to women (Acker, 1990; Dahl, Vescio & Weaver, 2015).
Across the psychology of men and masculinities, the notion that manhood is a tenuous and socially constructed status is an important unifying assumption in the field (Eisler & Skidmore, 1987; Kimmel, 2004; 2008; Levant, 1996; Pleck, 1976, 1981, 1995; Vandello & Bosson, 2013). In its most recent iteration, Vandello and Bosson (2013) contend that much of the anxiety about men’s gender status emerge from three fundamental tenets that define the structure of manhood. The precarious manhood paradigm states that: (1) manhood is widely viewed as a precarious, achieved status that is earned during the social transactions of everyday life; (2) once achieved, manhood can be easily lost or taken away; (3) manhood must be consistently reasserted through public demonstrations, requiring social validation and recognition by others.
manhood is an esteemed social identity (e.g., Maass, Cadinu, Guarnieri, & Grasselli, 2003
Men may experience gender role discrepancy, or the perceived failure to live up to societal prescriptions that denote ideal manhood, and these self-evaluations may result in stress (Berke, Reidy, Miller & Zeichner, 2016
These results suggest that power relations between women and men are pertinent in incidences of harassment, as the former traditionally have power over women in society. Supporting this notion, several experiments have found that men were more likely to harass women who challenge gender power relations, such as feminists or women who defy gender norms (Dall’Ara & Maass, 1999; Siebler et al., 2008).