Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Hostile Masculinity

  • Tiffany D RussellEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1827-1


A latent personality construct comprised of aggressive, defensive, and narcissistic traits and a tendency to derive sexual gratification from dominating and controlling women. Hostile masculinity predicts sexual and nonsexual violence against women, and it is one of the two proximal trait constellations directly predicting male sexual violence against women in Malamuth et al.’s (1991) Confluence Mediational Model of Sexual Aggression.


The Confluence Mediational Model of Sexual Aggression (CMM or Confluence Model) is a multifactorial, evolutionary-based model of sexual violence perpetration first proposed by Malamuth (1986). This groundbreaking model has proven robust in cross-sectional, longitudinal, and laboratory studies, and it has been replicated in a variety of populations, including incarcerated, university, and community samples of men (for a review, see Malamuth and Hald 2016). The central premise of the CMM is that two major constellations, hostile masculinity and sexual promiscuity/impersonal sex, are synergistic (interactive) and predict sexual violence perpetration better than an exclusively additive model of the individual risk factors. In the absence of the sexual promiscuity constellation, hostile masculinity predicts nonsexual violence against women (Malamuth et al. 1991).

Factors Contributing to Hostile Masculinity

Hostile masculinity is conceptualized as an antagonistic, insecure, grandiose personality profile exemplified by manipulative, callous, distrustful, and hostile attitudes against women (e.g., Malamuth and Hald 2016). Although seemingly similar to constructs like hypermasculinity, men with high levels of hostile masculinity direct their aggression toward women specifically, whereas hypermasculine men are less discriminating when selecting their targets of aggression (Malamuth et al. 1996). Childhood maltreatment (e.g., abuse, neglect, domestic violence) appears related to the development of psychopathic/narcissistic traits and hostile masculinity. There are several hypotheses for the development of the malevolent personality styles that lead to hostile masculinity. These involve men modeling the violence against women that they witnessed in childhood, as well as engaging in antisocial activities at an early age (e.g., Malamuth and Hald 2016; Malamuth et al. 1991, 1996). Additionally, neglectful maternal relationships lead to anxious maternal attachments and cognitive distortions, which contribute to the perception that women are unreliable and unworthy of respect (Russell and King 2016). These early life experiences, along with living in subcultures encouraging the expression of stereotypically masculine traits (e.g., dominance, competitiveness) and punishing the expression of stereotypically feminine traits (e.g., kindness, empathy), foster attitudes supporting violence against women and hostile masculinity (e.g., Malamuth and Hald 2016; Malamuth et al. 1991, 1996).

From a statistical perspective, the CMM is a structural equation model, and hostile masculinity is an endogenous latent variable with a direct path to sexual violence perpetration. Hostile masculinity serves as a mediator between broad, general personality types (e.g., psychopathy, narcissism) and sexual aggression. Observed variables loading on hostile masculinity include scales assessing hostility toward women, sexual dominance, and rape myth acceptance. Exogenous personality predictors of hostile masculinity relate to narcissism, psychopathy, and sadism. Hostile masculinity also mediates the relationship between childhood maltreatment and sexual violence (e.g., Malamuth et al. 1991; Russell and King 2016). In an answer to Malamuth and Hald’s (2016) call for research to “elucidate more precisely the mechanisms that link ‘higher order’ general hostile/antisocial factors…to the ‘narrower,’ more proximate factors predictive of sexual aggression” (p. 66), Russell and King (2017) found hostile masculinity mediated specific facets of psychopathy and narcissism. These lower order facets included grandiosity, cognitive/perceptual dysregulation, traditional/conventional beliefs, and interpersonal suspiciousness.

Evolutionary Theory and Hostile Masculinity

Comparing and contrasting the evidence for sexual violence being an adaptation or a by-product of an adaptation is beyond the scope of the current entry (for a discussion of this topic, see “Aggression for Sexual Access”). However, Malamuth et al. (2005) make a convincing case for sexual arousal to force being a specialized psychological adaptation motivating sexual violence that can be briefly summarized. Malamuth et al.’s (2005) contention is that, in order to be an adaptation, sexual violence must have contributed to some men’s fitness increases some of the time, and it had to occur often enough to overcome fitness costs (e.g., injury, death). If that occurred, and assuming all humans evolved with common psychological mechanisms, then a sexual violence mechanism could have evolved. Implicit in these assumptions is that all men have the potential to become sexually violent when individual experiences (e.g., childhood maltreatment, anxious maternal attachment) “activate” the evolved psychological mechanism. The factors loading on hostile masculinity (sexual dominance motives, hostility toward women) seem to be a manifestation of this evolutionary specialization. Thus, men with sufficient levels of the sexual violence mechanism exhibit a relatively persistent hostile masculinity trait, as opposed to transient states of hostile masculinity.

There is empirical support for the sexual violence adaptation hypothesis. Beyond the considerable evidence for the CMM and hostile masculinity, laboratory research has demonstrated men can be primed for sexual arousal to force by simulating female rejection of sexual advances. For example, college men who were insulted by a woman became more sexually aroused by non-consensual sex descriptions than consensual sex descriptions (Yates et al. 1984). Baumeister et al.’s(2002) development of a narcissistic reactance theory for rape and coercion also described numerous studies involving narcissistic men becoming sexually violent when rejected by women. Indeed, there seems to be support for an evolutionary adaptation related to sexual arousal to force in the sexual violence literature, although it is premature to discount the possibility of a by-product at this time.


The present summary described factors contributing to hostile masculinity, as well as evolutionary concepts associated with this cluster of personality traits. Hostile masculinity is a latent construct in the Confluence Mediational Model of Sexual Aggression. It directly predicts sexual violence perpetration in men who have co-occurring traits associated with the sexual promiscuity/impersonal sex constellation, and it predicts nonsexual violence against women when sexual promiscuity is absent. Hostile masculinity manifests as hostility toward women and sexual dominance motives, and it mediates the relationship between broad personality traits (e.g., narcissism, psychopathy) and sexual violence perpetration. Hostile masculinity may be the manifestation of sexual arousal to force, a potential evolutionary adaptation for sexual violence, although additional research in this area is required.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryHarvard Medical School/McLean Hospital, Harvard UniversityBelmontUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Brian B Boutwell
    • 1
  1. 1.Saint Louis UniversitySaint LouisUSA