Fragile Masculinity: Operationalizing and Testing a Novel Model of Identity Fragility

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In this dissertation, I propose, operationalize, and test a novel model of identity fragility using fragile masculinity as a case study. To date, identity research has largely focused on understanding how people’s membership in different social categories (e.g., gender, race) shapes their experiences, self-concept, and behavior. I contend that when (i) a social category is high-status and (ii) its corresponding norms are especially rigid—as is often the case with masculinity—people in this category may feel pressured to uphold its norms in order to maintain their status. To the extent that identities are pressured, I argue that they are “fragile”, in turn eliciting compensatory, stereotypical responses (e.g., male aggression) to perceived threats aimed at maintaining status. Supporting the proposed model, I found that young men’s (Study 1) and post-pubertal boys’ (Study 3) aggressive cognition post-threat was directly related to the extent to which their masculine behavior was extrinsically motivated (pressured). In Study 2, I found that straight men’s anti-gay bias was again predicted by a combination of extrinsic pressure and threat, which was partially mediated by men’s endorsement of gender-inversion stereotypes (e.g., gay = feminine). Finally, as one possible pathway to reduce these adverse pressures and compensatory aggression, in Study 4, I found that identity-salient events like U.S. presidential elections can loosen masculinity norms from the “top-down” to mitigate certain men’s sociopolitical aggression.





Stanaland, Adam (2022). Fragile Masculinity: Operationalizing and Testing a Novel Model of Identity Fragility. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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