A recent study conducted by researchers at Oregon State University found that men can become menacingly ornery when confronted by “gender threats” in the workplace.
You’re probably wondering, “what is a ‘gender threat?’” Overlooking your suspicious incredulity toward the incomprehensible lingua franca of the new professional class for the moment, a “gender threat” can be many things. The study’s abstract defines the gender threatened as those who encounter someone who calls their chromosomal makeup “into question.”
Now you’re likely thinking that this is an intuitive result. Who wouldn’t be irritated by a colleague who thinks your gender identity is a fragile construct and cannot be convinced otherwise? Of course, the study’s findings are a little more complex than that.
To measure male irritability, the study’s co-authors first presented a set of subjects with a questionnaire asking them, for example, if their “manhood or womanhood” had been questioned at work. In a second exercise, participants were asked to “write about memories of ordinary activities” during which “their gender status had been threatened.” They were then asked to participate in a “negotiation activity.” The researchers found that men who were made to recall and relate how their masculinity had been challenged were more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors during that activity.
Finally, researchers conducted a third study of employees at an industrial manufacturing plant who were “randomly assigned visions of the memory writing exercise” produced by participants in the second study. At the end of the workday, the subjects of that study were asked to point out how their co-workers had mistreated them or if they were “deliberately slacking off.” The researchers found that men were more likely than their female counterparts to be told on for acting out after this exercise.
In sum, this groundbreaking investigation concluded that men are more likely than women to react negatively when they are forced by their employer to ruminate on the nature of their sex, interrogate their pasts for perceived transgressions against their gender identity, and snitch on their colleagues. These contributions to the sum of human knowledge are incalculable.
Sarcasm aside, the fruits of this labor aren’t entirely without value. The study’s lead researcher determined that the fashionable misandry that has become ubiquitous in popular culture—concepts like “toxic masculinity” and the idea that male participation in dialogue constitutes “mansplaining”—do more to alienate men in the workplace than induce cooperation and complacency from them. Those concepts “imply these problems are endemic to manhood,” OSU’s College of Business Professor Keith Leavitt said. He added that it would be more productive to focus on stigmatizing behaviors like “sexual harassment” and “hyper-competition” without appealing to stereotypes.
That’s the sort of thing you might be able to intuit by just being a well-adjusted person who has logged enough hours in mixed social settings to pick up on anti-social behaviors and non-verbal cues. It’s nice to have a university study that confirms that basic socialization is important. Nice, but not entirely sufficient. Hopefully, the researchers await peer review before drawing any broader conclusions.