I have long had a pet theory. It goes like this: Many if not most of the world’s troubles can be traced to men — specifically, men overcompensating in response to perceived threats to their masculinity. (There are addendums; for instance: many men have absent or emotionally distant fathers, and thus either receive a warped picture of what masculinity is or have to forge one of their own, or get it from their peers.)

Traditionally — and, arguably, in nature — masculinity means strength, assertiveness, bravado, willingness to take risks and adventure and defend home and hearth and blah blah and so on. In the kind of hunter/gatherer societies where humankind evolved for millions of years, this worked out OK. But in a highly complex, densely populated, interdependent world, it doesn’t always go so great.

Evidence for my pet theory just emerged in the form of a new study:

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"I found that if you made men more insecure about their masculinity, they displayed more homophobic attitudes, tended to support the Iraq War more and would be more willing to purchase an SUV over another type of vehicle," said Robb Willer, a sociology doctoral candidate at Cornell. …

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Willer administered a gender identity survey to a sample of male and female Cornell undergraduates in the fall of 2004. Participants were randomly assigned to receive feedback that their responses indicated either a masculine or a feminine identity. While women’s responses were unchanged regardless of the feedback they received, men’s reactions "were strongly affected by this feedback," Willer said.

" Masculinity-threatened men also reported feeling more ashamed, guilty, upset and hostile than did masculinity-confirmed men," states Willer’s report, "Overdoing Gender: Testing the Masculine Overcompensation Thesis."

Peace. Cooperation. Compromise. Voluntarily buying a smaller car. Burning less fossil fuel. Listening to treehuggers. These things are for chicks.

Masculinity-threatened participants also showed more interest in buying an SUV. "There were no increases for other types of cars," Willer said.

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What? No hybrids?