The Malleability of Men's Gender Self-Concept

Men’s self-perceptions of the degree to which they fulfill stereotypically masculine traits change when they are placed in either subordinate or superior social positions.


In the last century, the role of men in society has stayed far more static than that of women. For example, women’s participation in the workforce has dramatically increased while men often show limited engagement in domestic roles. As a result of such changes, stereotypes about women have been much more dynamic than those of men, which tend to be more stable. Some evidence suggests that men tend to comply more with gender stereotypes than women, and that men mention gender-related qualities in self-descriptions more frequently when they are a part of mixed-sex groups. Additionally, research suggests that the degree to which men describe themselves in accordance with stereotypically masculine traits can depend on the social situation. For example, men in the workplace may exhibit more stereotypically masculine self-descriptions while men in sexual situations may prompt less masculine self-descriptions. This study focuses on the effect that different social statuses, as defined by either low (subordinate) or high (superior) status, have on men’s automatic (implicit) and controlled (explicit) self-concepts in order to better understand in which contexts men’s self conceptions show flexibility. Changes in men’s self conceptions were assessed by exposing men to situations in which they either had low (subordinate) or high (superior) social status.


Men with a subordinate status expressed automatic self-concepts that were more stereotypically masculine than men who were in a high-status position.

  • Male participants in the subordinate condition were 142 milliseconds faster at associating themselves with leadership traits (stereotypically associated to men) than with learner-like traits (stereotypically associated to women) in an implicit association test.  Males in the superior position were equally as fast in associating themselves with learning as with leadership qualities.
  • Male participants who were paired with a female partner in the study were more likely to exhibit stereotypically masculine self-concepts than males who had a male partner.
  • Participants’ implicit and explicit beliefs were consistently associated with their assigned social position, so that those who were subject to low social status were also more likely to compensate by describing themselves as having leadership traits.   

In this lab experiment, fifty-eight males were randomly assigned a subordinate or a superior role relative to a male or a female partner. In the subordinate case, they had to perform a public speaking assignment and were then evaluated by their (male or female) partner who was presented as an expert in public speaking, while in the superior case, they had to evaluate the public speaking performance of their (male or female) partner, who was presented to them as a graduate student. Subsequently, implicit and explicit self-concepts of their leadership and learning abilities were evaluated with an implicit association test (IAT) and a self-rating test respectively. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to test if the status of the participant and the gender of their partner had an impact on their implicit and explicit beliefs, as measured by the IAT tests and self-reported rankings respectively.

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