RESEARCH QUESTION: Key Points from the Literature
In the literature review I outlined the destructive nature of group dominance and misogyny in relation to masculinity threat, toxic masculinity, and mass shootings. Munsch and Willer (2012) found that men who are exposed to an identity threat were more likely to exonerate perpetrators of sexual assault than participants whose gender identities were not threatened. These men felt they needed to compensate for their perceived lack of masculinity by trying to support other men in the sexual assault scenario. Additionally, men who experience a threat to their ingroup membership may respond by turning to more extreme displays of aggression toward women (Dahl et al. 2015; Messerschmidt 2017). We see this in incel culture: the men feel they are not measuring up to the hegemonic masculine standards (either in physical appearance or sexual experience with women) so they conform through other means like an aggressive online persona. Men who celebrate mass shootings like the one committed by Rodger perpetuate a culture of violence against women, one that may also include access to guns and aggressive fantasies.
Restatement of the Research Problem
This study is intended to understand the relationship between traits associated with the incel movement, masculinity threat, and gender role stress, and how these relate to attitudes towards guns, violence, and aggressive fantasies. There has been research on the “manosphere” and masculinity threat more broadly (Munsch and Willer 2012; Willer et al. 2013; Lilly 2016; Eisler et al. 2000; Ging 2017), while group position theory offers an explanation for group dominance attitudes in response to threat. By building on these literatures and theories, the current study examines the relationship between masculinity and aggression. I propose the following hypotheses:
Men who perceive the higher status gained by masculinity as being threatened (status threat) (1), who have greater stress in their masculine gender role (acceptance threat) (2), or who exhibit incel traits (3), will more positively endorse (a) the use of gun violence and aggression (b) and report more aggressive fantasies.
This research project uses self-reported survey measures to research the correlation of incel traits with approval of guns, violence, and aggressive fantasies. My sampling frame is United States adult men aged 18 to 30 with access to Centiment, a website that recruits survey-takers via social media such as Facebook, sends notifications to users who fit the demographic criteria of a particular study, and pays them for participation. The survey was self-administered and accessed online through Centiment. Approximately 76.6% of those who completed the survey (N = 612) are white; 12.8% are Black; 7.8% are Asian; 3.3% are Hispanic; 0.65% are Native American; and 2.1% identified as multiracial or mixed race. The majority are (88.6%) heterosexual; with only 4.7% identified as gay; 5.4% as bisexual; and 0.82% as asexual. For the current study, I only include white men interested in women (heterosexual and bisexual) because this is consistent with what the profiles of incels and mass shooters: young, white men who feel betrayed or rejected by—and target—women (Messerschmidt 2017; Everytown for Gun Safety 2015). This leaves us with a sample of 439 white men aged 18 to 30 who are interested in women.
Attitudes Towards Guns and Violence (Shapiro, Dorman, Burkes, Welker, and Clough 1997): Attitudes Towards Guns and Violence (AGVQ) refers to the likelihood that respondents imagine themselves using violence and aggression in hypothetical situations. Shapiro et al. (1997) developed and tested their measure on persons under twenty because of the higher rate of violence in this age group (citing U.S. Department of Justice 1991). They measured gun use because guns increase lethality of aggressive behavior, because people under the age of 18 are not allowed to purchase handguns, and because gun ownership indicates a more serious level of aggression than other actions (fist fighting for example; 1997:312).
The AGVQ is a 23-item measure with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.85. It has a 3-point Likert scale response (“agree,” “not sure,” “disagree”) for each statement. For example, “If somebody insults you, and you don’t want to be a chump, you have to fight” (See Appendix for full survey measure). Agreement with this statement indicates approval of the use of violence. This measure was chosen by the researchers because approval of violence may be seen as an attempt to overcompensate with overt hegemonic masculine traits like aggression and dominance when masculinity is threatened (Willer et al. 2013; Kupers 2005; Kalish and Kimmel 2012). Willer et al. (2013) found a stronger approval of the Iraq war (a state-endorsed act of violence) in respondents whose masculinity was threatened. I expect a similar response based on masculinity threat and the overcompensation thesis. Because the participants’ responses to all 23 items were averaged into a single scale, OLS regression is used when predicting AGVQ.
Aggressive Fantasies (Rosenfeld, Huesmann, Eron, and Torney-Purta 1982; Nadel, Spellmann, Alvarez-Canino, Lausell-Bryant, and Landsberg 1996): Aggressive Fantasies refers to daydreams of a violent or destructive nature. The Aggressive Fantasies measure was originally created by Rosenfeld et al. (1982) in a larger assessment tool called the Children’s Fantasy Inventory, developed using psychoanalytic theory. Their goal was to evaluate the differences between age and gender of children’s “imaginativeness and creativity in fantasy production” (1982:349). Nadel et al. (1996) later adapted the Aggressive Fantasies measure for school-based intervention and violence-prevention programs for youth. They use Aggressive Fantasies (along with other variables) to measure violence. It was chosen for this study because of its measure of imagined crimes like rape and murder. Collins (2015) finds that mass shooters often prepare for their attacks months beforehand by amassing arsenals and repeatedly imagining their acts. Imagining crimes like murder or rape are central to the issue of domination and control of others. These are also traits that are central to hegemonic masculinity (Kupers 2005).
Nadel et al.’s (1996) Aggressive Fantasies scale contains seven-items from the larger measurement tool. It has a 3-point Likert scale (“never,” “a little,” “a lot”) for each statement. This scale has a Cronbach’s alpha score of 0.83. Because participants’ responses to all 7 items are averaged into a single scale, OLS regression is used when predicting Aggressive Fantasies. Independent variables.
The independent variables include: Incel Traits, Masculine Gender Role Stress, and Threatened Masculinity. Both Masculine Gender Role Stress and Threatened Masculinity measure respondents’ perceptions of gender-identity threat, particularly acceptance threat and status threat. The measurement of incel traits was constructed by the researchers. Masculine Gender Role Stress is unchanged from its original form. Threatened Masculinity is adapted from Willer et al. (2013) and Pew Research’s American Values 2012 Survey.
Incel Traits: Incel Traits refers to the characteristics and emotions that journalists attribute to the incel movement using scaled descriptive words. This scale was created by the researcher and Dr. Kaitlin Boyle. To create a list of terms describing incel identity and traits, I did a small content analysis of Google News stories. I used the search term “incel movement” and selected the first eleven articles to analyze (one extra in case an article was off topic). I read through and noted every word that fit within two categories: incel traits/characteristics and emotions. Incel traits included terms like “misogyny,” “sexual frustration,” “lonely,” etc. Incel emotions included “anger,” “hatred,” and “resentment.” I collected the most common terms and collapsed similar terms into larger categories (“raw hatred” with “hatred,” “violent misogyny” with “misogyny,” etc.) This resulted in a list of thirty-one traits and emotions.
I then found antonyms for each word using an online thesaurus, and a few words were collapsed or discarded if they were too closely related to other terms or did not have a sufficient antonym (for example, “sexless”). This resulted in a final list of twenty-five pairs of words for the incel traits scale (see Appendix). Participants were presented with two opposing terms using a bipolar scale. For example, they were asked to rate themselves on scales from “paranoid” to “trusting,” or from “scorned” to “admired” (for full list of measures, see Appendix: Incel Trait measure). For the analysis, I averaged the individual items to create a single continuous measure. The Cronbach’s alpha for the Incel Traits scale is 0.93.
Acceptance Threat: The Masculine Gender Role Stress Scale (Eisler and Skidmore 1987) was chosen to measure acceptance threat, which refers to men’s emotional struggle in trying to meet the socially constructed expectations of hegemonic masculinity. Stress in one’s gender role may lead men to overcompensate in traditionally masculine traits (Branscombe et al. 1999; Willer et al. 2013). The Masculine Gender Role Stress Scale (MGRS) is described as: “men will experience stress when they judge themselves unable to cope with the imperatives of the male role or when a situation is viewed as requiring ‘unmanly’ or feminine behavior” (Eisler and Skidmore 1987:125). This measure is based on the cognitive-behavioral concepts of stress and coping (123).
MGRS is a fifteen-item measure with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.91. Respondents reply on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “not at all stressful” to “extremely stressful.” It measures the extent to which respondents are stressed in their gender role, and likely to be violent or aggressive. Reidy, Berke, Gentile and Zeicher (2014) used this scale to measure “discrepancy stress” in men. This is a form of stress that arises when men either are, or perceive to be, insufficiently masculine (2). While Reidy et al. (2014) refer to this as “discrepancy stress,” it measures the feeling of threat when one does not fit in to their expected social group. In this project, it is referred to as “acceptance threat.”
Status Threat: Men who feel their ingroup’s value is being undermined will experience a status threat, as seen in Willer et al.’s (2013) study. Willer et al. (2013) use the term “threatened masculinity” to refer to the challenging (or perceived challenging) of male gender identity.
However, only a narrowly defined display of masculinity is accepted. This requires men to threaten and put other men down in order to move up the hierarchy of power and status (Willer et al. 2013; Kimmel 1994). While Willer et al. (2013) used multiple questions to measure threat more broadly, we use his one question that ascertains status threat to men for our analyses: “Recent changes in our society often disadvantage men.” The response options are a 4-point Likert scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” (Pew Research 2012 Values Survey).
The self-report survey starts with demographic information including race, age, sexual orientation, income, employment, political affiliation, political party, religiosity, internet use, and hostile and benevolent sexism. Because of the high rate of mass shootings stemming from incidents of intimate partner violence (Messerschmidt 2017; Everytown for Gun Safety 2015), hostile and benevolent sexism are included as control variables.
Notions of Masculinity
Exaggerations of Gender Identity
Masculinity and Mass Shootings
Key Points from the Literature
Restatement of the Research Problem
Descriptive Statistics of Key Variables
Hypothesis 1a: Status Threat and AGVQ
Hypotheses 2a and 2b: Acceptance Threat, AGVQ and Aggressive Fantasies
Hypothesis 3b: Incel Traits and Aggressive Fantasies
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