Breaking News: Guys and Dolls
Guys and dolls
In his research on âprecarious manhood,â assistant psychology professor Kenneth Michniewicz explores what it means to be seen as masculine and how fragile that perception can be.
By: Meghan Kita
Friday, November 5, 2021 9:02 AM
Assistant professor of psychology Kenneth Michniewicz poses with the mannequin head he uses in his research. Photos of Ryan Hulvat
Assistant professor of psychology Kenneth Michniewicz has a mannequin head. He has large brown eyes, a makeup face, and long synthetic black hair. He bought it from Amazon, which markets it as a teaching tool for cosmetology students. Michniewicz uses it in his research in social psychology.
âHaving men’s hair braided is considered feminine,â he says. “A very simple way to induce a threat of manhood is to have a man’s hair braided.”
Some of Michniewicz’s research focuses on the concept of âinsecure virility,â the idea that a man’s masculinity depends on the behaviors he adopts and avoids. If even braiding a model’s hair in front of a single researcher is enough to threaten his manhood, it has implications that extend to more consistent behaviors. For example, ânot doing what other people sayâ is seen as masculine. Thus, men have been less likely to wear masks during the pandemic, especially in socially conservative areas where traditional masculinity is highly valued.
“What speaks to me personally about manhood is this idea that we all go around as if we are cogs in a machine and manhood works in a certain way,” says Michniewicz. âIt is important to test these hypotheses.
One way to do this with your students is to show up to class once a semester with your fingernails painted. When someone inevitably asks “what’s wrong with nail polish?” or comments on “beautiful nail polish,” he uses it to start a conversation about how male teachers are supposed to present themselves and what happens to those who violate standards.
âThe expectations we have are often overwhelming and can hurt people,â he says. âAll we have to do is question them and be open to considering something different. “
Michniewicz teaches the Special Subject Course Research in Psychology of Masculinity.
Michniewicz became interested in social psychology – the study of how situational behavior is, especially when other people are involved – when he took a course with a social psychologist after being transferred from a community college at the University of Central Florida. Before that, he only associated psychology with clinicians and did not consider the teaching and / or research paths that a psychology student might follow.
âI am a first generation student. My story of going through and realizing that I wanted to be a teacher is based on making a bunch of mistakes and not understanding what psychology was, âhe says. âAs a Muhlenberg faculty member, I really appreciate being able to get to know the students because I can provide that kind of mentorship. “
In his graduate studies at the University of South Florida, he worked with a mentor on research related to precarious virility, an interest he developed with students at Muhlenberg. For example, he and students collaborated on research examining how people perceive men and women differently depending on the breed of dog they own.
âPeople expect men to gravitate towards big dogs,â says Michniewicz. âMen are motivated to avoid owning smaller dogs or to find explanations for it. If you see a man walking a little dog in a park, or a Yorkie or something, he might say, “Oh, that’s my girlfriend’s dog.” The men move away from the dog. This has implications later for the value people place on certain types of dog breeds, and it informs their choices about the potential for adoption.
He is currently recruiting students to continue his research exploring men and feminism, including the gap between what a feminist really is (someone who believes in the pursuit of gender equality) and what people believe. that a man who identifies as a feminist must be (ânot a traditional, heterosexual, masculine man,â he says). The assumption is that a man who says he’s a feminist must have a reason for it – he has a daughter, for example – and Michniewicz wants to better understand why. The aim is to learn how to change the perception of women and gender studies, which are often seen as a discipline reserved for women or people with other minority identities.
More broadly, Michniewicz is interested in the dynamics of status, power and privilege; this is the subject of his senior seminar, which requires majors in psychology to produce a related group project. He brings this interest to his work with the College’s Resource and Bias Education (BRET) team. He is part of the BRET Bias Assessment Team, which identifies patterns of bias incidents that may increase on campus in order to suggest campus-wide intervention and action. He helps design a survey that will be sent to students, faculty and staff to help BRET understand what types of programs would be most beneficial to offer. Michniewicz, who is gay, joined BRET after suffering micro-attacks on campus linked to his sexual orientation.
âI want students to know that if they have any questions or concerns or have gone through something like this on their own, I will listen to them and do my best to be an ally for them and stand up for them,â he says. . âI hope the investigation is a message that we care about ourselves and believe these things are happening and we think they are painful. We validate this, but we also want to do more than just validate it. We want to make Muhlenberg a more inclusive place. The survey is just a drop in the bucket in terms of the types of things we’d like to do about it.