HOUSTON, Texas — Homophobic slurs don’t just target people in the LGBTQ community, a new study finds some men also use these offensive terms to attack other straight men as well. According to researchers from the University of Houston, many heterosexual men who question their masculinity use anti-gay slurs against other straight men.
“Our results suggest that using anti-gay slurs may serve a status-protecting function for heterosexual men: When their masculinity is threatened, they may be more likely to punish other heterosexual men by calling them the f-word,” says study author Nathan Grant Smith, an associate professor of counseling psychology and chair of the Department of Psychological, Health, and Learning Sciences, in a university release.
Men react to hearing they’re acting feminine
The research team set out to investigate whether straight men use anti-gay slurs more often when facing a challenge to their masculinity. Study authors gathered a group of 139 heterosexual male college students and randomly assigned them to receive different degrees of “gender role feedback.”
Researchers told some of the men that they displayed mostly male gender role tendencies, while telling others that their gender role leaned more feminine.
“We then presented them with vignettes of heterosexual men engaging in behaviors that go against traditional masculinity, like being emotionally expressive or not being physically strong or sexually virile and asked how likely they would be to use an anti-gay slur against the man in the vignette,” Prof. Smith explains. “We found that those who had their status threatened by receiving the ‘average female range’ feedback were more likely to say they would use an anti-gay slur against the man in the vignette.”
Changes in social norms play a role
After examining their data, study authors conclude that in most instances straight men targeted each other with anti-gay slurs for reasons entirely separate from sexuality. Instead, men utter these phrases when they perceive offenses against traditional male social dynamics and norms.
“Using anti-gay slurs to put other men down may be a way to try to maintain status when men’s status is threatened,” Prof. Smith concludes. “These findings highlight a significant problem in our culture and offer insights into ways that we can help men strive for status in pro-social rather than anti-social ways. It is our hope that our research can help men to develop healthy masculinities that lift up all men, gay and straight alike.”
The findings appear in the journal Current Psychology.