In a day and age in which society would like to think women’s rights are at least close to equal to that of a man’s, a recent study reminds us that traditional expectations around men and women are still very much ingrained. The study, published in the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, revealed that when a man’s girlfriend or wife was more successful than them in the workplace or even in their social life, their self-esteem was effected.
Is the drop in self-esteem due to male partners wanting less for their female partners? Fortunately, in one sense, the answer is no. Instead, the success of their partner simply serves as a reflection of their lack of success.
One aspect of the study, which was held in Netherlands where the gender-equality gap remains the narrowest in the world, revealed that after having both male and female members in a couple take a test, the men were informed how well their girlfriends did on the test compared to them. “How their girlfriends performed didn’t affect men’s reported self-esteem — what they told researchers — but when given a test to determine how they felt subconsciously,” reports the New York Daily News, “it was clear men whose partners performed well experienced a drop in self-worth.”
Leading the study, Kate Ratliff of the University of Florida, explained, “It makes sense that a man might feel threatened if his girlfriend outperforms him in something they’re doing together, such as trying to lose weight. But this research found evidence that men automatically interpret a partner’s success as their own failure, even when they’re not in direct competition.”
In another experiment, participants were told to recall an event during which their partner had experienced either success or failure. The results were clear: when recalled moments of their partner’s success, the men felt subconsciously worse about themselves.
Ratliff continues to explain her own impressions on the study’s results, saying, “It makes sense that a man might feel threatened if his girlfriend outperforms him in something they’re doing together, such as trying to lose weight, tut this research found evidence that men automatically interpret a partner’s success as their own failure, even when they’re not in direct competition.”
Women, however are not exempt to having seemingly backwards subconscious reactions of their own, revealed by Dr. Shiri Cohen of Harvard Medical School. Cohen’s study found that wives and girlfriends actually revealed a sense of pleasure and happiness when their partner was upset, and additionally, that when the wife or girlfriend was upset themselves, they gained pleasure merely from the husband acknowledging those emotions.
In fact, the status and success of their partner appeared to be a crucial aspect of their own self-esteem. In other studies, women were shown to actually have increased satisfaction when a male partner was making an effort to identify their negative emotions, even if their accuracy in assessing those emotions was subpar.
Cohen, though, did not appear to be surprised by the results, explaining that, “Seeing that their male partner is upset reflects some degree of the man’s investment and emotional engagement in the relationship, even during difficult times. This is consistent with what is known about the dissatisfaction women often experience when their male partner becomes emotionally withdrawn and disengaged in response to conflict.”
In the end, both studies further exemplify that men and women are very different creatures in a variety of ways, and yet, are endlessly drawn to each other for heterosexual coupling.
Written by Ginger Vieira