Overdoing Gender: A Test of the Masculine Overcompensation Thesis

“The 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb depicts the initiation of World War III as a great act of overcompensation by a sexually impotent general [General Jack D. Ripper]. […]


Image result for jack d ripper gif
General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove (1964)


The masculine overcompensation thesis asserts that men react to masculine insecurity by enacting extreme demonstrations of their masculinity. Men’s pursuit of masculinity in the face of threats is driven by desires to recover masculine status both in their own and others’ eyes. The overcompensation dynamic is different from mere compensation. Where compensation would lead men to behave roughly as they would normally, their behavior apparently unaffected by the threat, overcompensation suggests a dynamic of relatively extreme reaction, over and above men’s behavior in the absence of threats. In this way, men may inadvertently reveal feelings of threat by behaving in a more extremely masculine way than they otherwise would. If true, the thesis implies that extreme, caricatured demonstrations of masculinity among men may in fact serve as tell-tale signs of underlying insecurity, not self-assured confidence. Those men who exhibit the most masculine traits may actually be seeking cover for lurking insecurities, their outsized masculine displays in fact strategic claims at masculine status, efforts to pass as something they fear they are not.


Image result for jack d ripper dr strangelove
Jack Ripper in Dr. Strangelove (1964)



Masculinity theorists emphasize that sensitivity and responsiveness to masculinity threats are common in men (e.g., Kimmel 1994). The social pressure to maintain an esteemed masculine gender identity is strong, though it is different from other forms of normative pressure in that total conformity is likely impossible. Indeed, the standards of true masculinity are so exacting as to be virtually unattainable, leading men to continually strive to satisfy them (Connell 1987, 1995). As a result, though certain circumstances may be more emasculating than others, the feeling that one is insufficiently masculine is far from an occasional event. Instead, insecurity, feelings of emasculation, and the suspicion of inadequate masculinity are ubiquitous for men. These concerns and feelings of deficiency instigate the enactment of masculinity in everyday life. Because true masculinity is narrowly defined, esteemed, and unattainable, a strain always exists, and the result of that strain is overcompensation and the continual striving for ever greater masculinity.”

Willer, Robb, Christabel L. Rogalin, Bridget Conlon, and Michael T. Wojnowicz. 2013. “Overdoing Gender: A Test of the Masculine Overcompensation Thesis.” American Journal of Sociology 118(4):980–1022. [Emphasis added. References below:]

Connell, R.W. 1987. Gender and Power. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Connell, R.W. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Kimmel, Michael S. 1994. “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.” Pp. 119–41 in Theorizing Masculinities, edited by Harry Brod and Michael Kaufman. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.

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