A Man's (Precarious) Place: Men's Experienced Threat and Self-Assertive Reactions to Female Superiors

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2015 Sep;41(9):1247-59. doi: 10.1177/0146167215593491. Epub 2015 Jul 10.


Across three studies, we investigate men's reactions to women in superior roles. Drawing from precarious manhood theory, we hypothesize that when a woman occupies a superior organizational role, men in subordinate positions experience threat, which leads them to behave more assertively toward her and advocate for themselves. In Studies 1 and 2, we demonstrate that men feel more threatened (relative to women) by women in superior roles (relative to men in superior roles) and, as a result, engage in more assertive behaviors toward these women. In Study 3, we investigate a boundary condition to this effect and demonstrate that a woman in a superior role who displays qualities associated with administrative agency (e.g., directness, proactivity) rather than ambitious agency (e.g., self-promotion, power-seeking) elicits less assertive behavior from men. We conclude by discussing implications as well as directions for future research.

Keywords: gender; leadership; precarious manhood; status; threat.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Assertiveness*
  • Female
  • Hierarchy, Social*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Masculinity*
  • Power, Psychological
  • Young Adult