(NEW YORK) -- There are biological, as well as social, reasons why a man has to prove his manliness, and a woman does not.
A new effort to explain that difference between the genders concludes that the rights of passage for males at least partly explains why men are more aggressive than women. Manhood, according to psychologists Jennifer K. Bosson and Joseph A. Vandello of the University of South Florida, is a "status that is elusive (it must be earned) and tenuous (it must be demonstrated repeatedly through actions.)"
The Florida researchers are building on the global research of anthropologist David D. Gilmore of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, who found that certain male traits are present in diverse cultures around the world. A boy does not automatically become a man. He must earn it against what Gilmore called "powerful odds."
That most likely has an evolutionary basis. In the old days, before the Internet, males had to earn their status by protecting the hearth, proving they could be good material for mating, and even slaying an occasional beast. But when he could no longer slay the beast, he would lose that status, showing that manhood is indeed tenuous.
Womanhood, according to Gilmore, is biological but manhood is a "cultural construct."
The need to slay the beast may be less important today, but the Florida researchers show that males still feel the need to prove their manhood, which is not likely to surprise anyone, regardless of gender. But they take it a step further. It may not be an altogether bad thing.
Bosson and Vandello describe a series of experiments in a study published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science showing that when a man feels his manhood is threatened he will likely become very aggressive. But that aggressiveness might also relieve his anxiety.
Like so many studies in this field, all the participants are college students, and not necessarily representative of society as a whole.
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