Aggression is a significant problem in society. It occurs in child-parent relationships, intimate partner relationships, and among coworkers, peers, and even strangers. Individuals are often the victims of aggression because they are different from others. Racial, ethnic, and sexual orientation differences are at the root of many types of aggression and violence in today’s world. According to research, men are more likely to instigate aggressive acts than women. They are also more likely to be the victims of violence. But what motivates men to become aggressive? Could it be that men subscribe to masculine ideals of control, strength, and power? Or perhaps they view others as submissive, and in particular view women as weaker opponents? In an effort to understand how male ideology and gender influence the aggressive behaviors of men, Danielle S. Berke of the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia recently led a study involving men who were low and high in masculine conformity.
The participants were presented with videos and pictures of male opponents and female opponents. The females were comprised of women who conformed to traditional female gender roles and women who were nonconforming. Berke found that the men who were high in male conformity demonstrated higher levels of physical aggression to all of their opponents. Those participants who were low in male conformity were less aggressive to their male opponents than the high-conforming male participants. However, the low-conforming men exhibited nearly equal amounts of aggression to both conforming and nonconforming opponents, with just slightly more aggression directed toward the conforming female opponents.
These results suggest that men may view women through different lenses depending on their own level of male conformity. For the high-conforming men, they may view the women as either masculine or feminine, and not just as women. This classification could influence how they perceive the women’s vulnerability and how they view them as adversaries. The low-conforming men may see all women through a lens of female sexuality, regardless of whether they conform to feminine ideals. Berke believes that these findings prove that men are not aggressive merely because they are men. In sum, they are not victims of their own gender. “Thus, in the service of gender equality, the study of human behavior must move beyond the prescriptive constructs of masculinity and femininity to reveal the prosocial potential of all people,” Berke said.
Berke, Danielle S., Colleen A. Sloan, Dominic Parrott, and Amos Zeichner. Effects of female gender role and gender norm conformity on aggression in men: Does positive masculinity reduce the risk? Psychology of Men & Masculinity 13.4 (2012): 367-78. Print.
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