Men are STILL on Mars

Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes

It is 2013! We are supposed to be progressive and current and trendy, right? So tell me, why did a very recent study show that men’s subconscious self-esteem drop significantly based on the level of success or failure of their female partner?

Shy on earth should a well-established man of the 21st century feel threatened enough to let it impact how they feel about themselves, if the woman in their life succeeds or not? Maybe I’m missing something there but are we still involved in a battle of the sexes in which women need to prove that they are worthy of being able to fail or succeed independently of having an impact on their personal relationship.

Being more than 10 years into the 21st century, I would hope that gender prejudices don’t play a starring role in personal relationships, but based on a new study men may not really feel very good when their wives or girlfriends succeed. In fact, the study, which appeared in a recent American Psychological Association publication reported that men’s self-esteem is damaged when they find their spouse or girlfriend excels; whether the area is in competition with them or not.

I’m perplexed because I cannot relate to this but the study goes on to explain that women don’t feel this type of negativity toward themselves when their male counterpart succeeds. To me, I would feel happy and proud and want to encourage their further success. But men reported feeling threatened by their girlfriends even when it wasn’t a matter of outperforming. According to Kate Ratliff, PhD, of the University of Florida, and the study’s lead author, “this research found evidence that men automatically interpret a partner’s success as their own failure, even when they’re not in direct competition.”

The study was performed with 896 people in five separate experiments. The experiments measured explicit self-esteem and implicit self esteem; how respondents said they felt and then subconsciously how they felt about their partners’ performance.

Men Vs. Women

Men Vs. Women

Many times, male respondents reported or said they felt fine, even when they believed their romantic partner was successful. However, the results of the test of implicit self-esteem revealed very much otherwise.

Although I am not feeling great to learn about this very different reaction – something that more than likely will come up in some way in my personal relationship at some point; I feel as if my reaction is very predictable and ‘normal’ for a women.

Struggling Couple

Struggling Couple

I can’t help but get mentally drawn back to the image I used to get when my grandmother lovingly ‘warned’ me when she met my husband to be. She told me then that men don’t like losing to a girl and she advised me not to do my best if we went bowling or anything like that where I had the opportunity to better him. I guess, even after all these years, Granny knew what she was talking about.

Hopefully understanding how different and wide the gap between men and women are when it comes to something like this can help us prepare to bridge it and work on narrowing the differences.

Article: “Gender Differences in Implicit Self-Esteem Following a Romantic Partner’s Success or Failure,” Kate A. Ratliff, PhD, University of Florida, and Shigehiro Oishi, PhD, University of Virginia; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, online Aug. 5, 2013.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at Full Text Article.

Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!


3 responses »

  1. I’m not entirely sure that’s what the research shows. I think the research shows a different reaction in men when evaluating relative performance, but I don’t think it proves it’s specific to male/female couples. The only way it becomes discrimination is if it’s somehow specific to a male/female dyad, I think. Otherwise, it’s just gender differences not a battle of the sexes. Is the same thing present when comparing same-gender dyads at work? When comparing to parents? Furthermore, it doesn’t answer how much is cultural and, therefore theoretically changeable, versus what is just wiring and, thus, can only be accommodated.

    Finally, just because I’m a fussy statistician, it shows that, on average, this relationship, whatever it is, is true, not definitively in each and every person. Broad strokes may be called for, but, please, not overly broad.

    • David, I included the study on the post because I want people to draw their own conclusions rather than just latch onto my interpretation. Did you read the study in its entirety? I agree that overly broad strokes can be misleading. And I also agree that the research targeted specific cultures for the study. But I also believe that the feelings of being threatened and converting certain events into competitive events rather than cause for pride and celebration in achievement has been found in couples, not just coworkers.

      Great comment though and if you choose to strike up communication with the study’s authors, I would absolutely love to hear how it goes.


      • I did read the study and found it partially persuasive only in that there are clearly gender differences that can be measured in romantic partners. I had more of a problem with the next step: that this suggested bias. I am certain there is bias, but I didn’t see the research proving it.

        I won’t be following up with the researchers, though. The experiments themselves seemed just fine. To me, the procedures, data, and results are the main part of the research and I found nothing to quibble about for them. The conclusion of bias? That was my main issue.

        My secondary issue (“on-average” vs. “every single”) is legit and much smaller, but also motivated by the fact that I don’t want to be associated with behavior I find icky, even if I’m the icky behaving one. These issues trigger me more than they should!

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