Development Gender/Sexuality

Episode 87: Manhood: Are You A “Real Man”?


Why does it seem that males in many cultures have to prove their manhood? Do women have to prove their womanhood? Why is this and what happens when men feel like they are less than a man? In this review of a recent research article entitled, “Precarious Manhood“, we take a look at this intriguing issue.


    • Authors: Vandello, J.A., Bosson, J.K., Cohen, D., Burnaford, R.M. & Weaver, J.R. (2008). Precarious Manhood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95 (6), 1325 – 1339.
    • Abstract: The authors report 5 studies that demonstrate that manhood, in contrast to womanhood, is seen as a precarious state requiring continual social proof and validation. Because of this precariousness, they argue that men feel especially threatened by challenges to their masculinity. Certain male-typed behaviors, such as physical aggression, may result from this anxiety. Studies 1 – 3 document a robust belief in (a) the precarious nature of manhood relative to womanhood and (b) the idea that manhood is defined more by social proof than by biological markers. Study 4 demonstrates that when the precarious nature of manhood is made salient through feedback indicating gender-atypical performance, men experience heightened feelings of threat, whereas similar negative gender feedback has no effect on women. Study 5 suggests that threatening manhood (but not womanhood) activates physically aggressive thoughts.


About Author


  1. Avatar

    Nic greene

    February 27, 2009

    Michael I think your analysis is far too sophisticated. The problem lies within the unconscious representations we hold collectively of the nature of women and the mystery of birth that they engender.
    We were all once helpless but at the same time totally secure within the confines of the ‘mother’ and the leaving of this security is a necessary and traumatic process. This process of separation and loss of security endows the ‘mother’ with enormous psychic power and this situation is then buried deep within our subconscious and manifests itself as a fear of women. Now, women themselves overcome this by becoming their own ‘mother’ but men do not have that option so they will need to go through a process of transition form childhood to manhood to isolate this anxiety. This whole process gives women a far greater sense of psychic freedom but of course with that will come a greater level of insecurity. So what do they do, they look to men to provide that level of certainty and this is the basis of many traditional societies. The situation we now have is that people tend to think they do not have an subconscious, thus they look to sociology and other ‘ologies’ for answers which they never find!

  2. What Can We Do To End Anti-Gay Bullying in Schools? Episode 148 | The Psych Files Podcast

    February 27, 2009

    […] My episode on precarious manhood, Are You A Real Man? […]

  3. Avatar


    February 27, 2009

    I was searching about this issue everywhere,I was really curious about this…Really big thanks.I am thinking rent some episodes and movies soon.Looking for your next articles…

  4. Avatar


    February 27, 2009

    I am about a year late in listening to this. . . one of the perks of office jobs is catching up on old podcasts!
    I have to pick a bone with the study that had students consider either the man or the woman who could not impregnate/become pregnant. Obviously, I do not have research of my own to support my disagreement beyond personal interactions with people in real life situations.
    The students did not consider the woman being unable to bear offspring as damaging as for her as for the male. That may well be a true aspect of our culture.
    My problem is that it is different when it is personal. If YOU (a man) cannot bear offspring, how would you feel? I know women in this situation who do struggle with feeling less like women. Who struggle with the fear that their men, present or future, will desire someone who can bear their offspring. This transfers to other areas of womanhood, such as women who must ungergo a mastectomy. My great aunt would only let her doctor remove her breast that had the tumor, even though her insurance would fully cover the removal of both. Her reasoning? “I didn’t want to feel like even less of a woman.”
    Perhaps this topic has been/could be revisited using case studies. This way, we are getting more personal feedback. Manhood and womanhood are not just societal issues, but become deeply personal issues as well.

  5. Avatar


    February 27, 2009

    I just wanted to offer my input on this phenomena. If a woman is told she is less of a woman, then she must become more of a man. If a man is told he is less of a man, then he becomes more of a woman. Throughout history, our society has viewed men as the stronger and superior sex where women were viewed upon as inferior and weak. So calling one less of a man would be degrading him and making him seem weaker where a woman who is less a woman would be more of a man, in other words more of the stronger, superior sex. A correlation we see is that a tomboy (girl who likes sports and exhibits boy like characteristics) is viewed as cool whereas a boy who posses feminine characteristics is frowned upon by society.

  6. Avatar


    February 27, 2009

    Quite a few connections to animal behavior occurred to me while putting this episode together. What comes to mind is what we’ve observed in the behavior of animal species such as apes and dogs in which the males fight each other for access to the females. Here’s another example of how males need to prove their strength, their power, their “manhood” – in a social way. And yes I agree with you Halle: the most hurtful names to call a man usually involve some implication that he is “less than a man”.

  7. Avatar


    February 27, 2009

    This was an interesting podcast, I’d love to hear a follow-up about the sociological theories behind this. Society makes men feel that femininity is a bad thing– hence the reason men were offended when their “masculinity” ranking was closer to female than male. If you think of the worst names you can call a man (too derogatory to name here), they are all have female connotation.

    Anyhow, I wonder how much of this problem is evolutionary psychology and how much is society defining what it means to be a “man”.

  8. Avatar


    February 27, 2009

    Wow, this is an eye-opener podcast- the reason why i love psychology. Like what you said, there are several stereotypes about manhood and womanhood and oftentimes, these differences can only lead to acting as one but not his real self. Perhaps, many people are born with inevitable urge to judge someone’s identity based on one’s irrational observation. That’s a part of life and it is frustrating.

    That’s why; I thank you for this podcast and I get to understand the issue behind labeling and stereotypes.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like

Development Learning/Memory

Episode 2: Rewards and Punishments

Do you believe in spanking children to get to them to behave? There is a lot of controversy, discussion and

Episode 21: Erikson’s Eight Stages of Life

This week we take a stroll through the various phases of life: from childhood, to adolescence, into mid-life and then