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'Man Up': How A Fear Of Appearing Feminine Restricts Men, And Affects Us All

In a study conducted by psychologist Jennifer Bosson, some men reported that ordering a drink with a cocktail umbrella felt like a gender violation.
In a study conducted by psychologist Jennifer Bosson, some men reported that ordering a drink with a cocktail umbrella felt like a gender violation.

What comes to mind when you imagine a "girly" drink? Is it pink and fruity? Does it have lots of whipped cream? A tiny umbrella?

If you're a man reading this, you might hesitate to order such a drink. Psychologist Jennifer Bosson studies gender, and once conducted a studywith about 200 men and women. She asked them to write about a time when they violated gender norms.

Some of the women talked about being called a tomboy. Others mentioned times when they worked in male-dominated fields and were made to feel uncomfortable by coworkers.

But men?

"Men say things like, 'I wore a pink shirt to work,' or 'I held my girlfriend's purse while she ran into the bank,' or 'I ordered a drink at a restaurant, and when it came out to me, it had a little cocktail umbrella in it,'" she says.

Why would men make such a big deal out of trivial things?

"My collaborators and I argue that the male gender role itself is kind of conceptualized as a precarious status. Manhood is something that is hard to earn and easy to lose, relative to womanhood."

This week on Hidden Brain, we explore the bounds of masculinity. What behaviors do men consider to be too feminine, and therefore off limits? And how can men be convinced to question those boundaries?

Additional resources:

  • Jennifer Bosson and Kenneth Michniewicz, "Gender Dichotomization at the Level of Ingroup Identity: What It Is, and Why Men Use It More Than Women," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
  • Jennifer Bosson, Joseph A. Vandello, Rochelle M. Burnaford, Jonathan Weave, and Syeda Wasti, "Precarious Manhood and Displays of Physical Aggression," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
  • Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, Thomas Lu, and Laura Kwerel. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. Camila Vargas-Restrepo is our intern. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain , and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

    Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
    Parth Shah is a producer and reporter in the Programming department at NPR. He came to NPR in 2016 as a Kroc Fellow.
    Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.
    Rhaina Cohen is a producer and editor for NPR's Enterprise Storytelling unit, working across Embedded, Invisibilia, and Rough Translation.