Fragile Masculinity Hypothesis

Research shows that many men feel pressure to look and behave in stereotypically masculine ways — or risk losing their (perceived) status as “real men.” Masculine expectations are socialized from early childhood and can motivate men to embrace traditional male behaviours while avoiding even the hint of femininity. This unforgiving standard of maleness makes some men worry that they’re falling short. These men are said to experience “fragile masculinity.”
The political process provides a way that fragile men can reaffirm their masculinity. By supporting tough politicians and policies, men can reassure others (and themselves) of their own manliness[1].

The researchers wanted to see whether fragile masculinity was associated with how Americans vote — and specifically whether it was associated with greater support for Trump in the 2016 general election and for Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections[2].

But measuring fragile masculinity poses a challenge. You cannot simply do a poll of men, who might not honestly answer questions about their deepest insecurities. Instead DiMuccio and Knowles relied on Google Trends, which measures the popularity of Google search terms. People are often at their least guarded when they seek answers from the Internet.

The researchers began by selecting a set of search topics that they believed might be especially common among men concerned about living up to the ideals of manhood: “erectile dysfunction,” “hair loss,” “penis enlargement,” “penis size,” “steroids,” “testosterone” and “Viagra.”

Then, they measured the popularity of these search topics in every media market in the country during the years preceding the past three presidential elections. In the map below, darker colors show where these searches were most prevalent in 2016.
[Darker areas indicate a higher volume of search activity. Source: Google Trends]

The research showed that support for Trump in the 2016 election was higher in areas that had more searches for topics such as “erectile dysfunction.”

[1] DiMuccio, Knowles: Precarious Manhood Predicts Support for Aggressive Policies and Politicians in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin – 2021
[2] DiMuccio, Knowles: The Political Significance of Fragile Masculinity in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences - 2020

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