2

'The antler dance', 'locking horns', 'butting heads': I don't think these are exactly the right way to describe what I'm thinking of.

What is it called when two men, both fairly dominant in their everyday lives, meet for the first time, maybe at a social event, maybe accompanied by their wives, and the men have a session of questioning and boasting to see which of them has higher status?

It's fairly subtle; nobody's raising his voice, losing his temper or swinging punches. Their wives probably notice what's going on (and 'hear the testosterone bubbling', as they say). The men may not even realize they're engaged in some sort of challenge or duel, and it may not stop the men becoming friends afterwards.

What's the right phrase for this?

4

As is often the case with male behavior, there are multiple rude ways of saying this.

The phrase pissing contest or pissing match is commonly used to describe two or more men attempting to establish social dominance.

Another crude expression is dick-measuring contest.

In both cases the emphasis is on behavior which is specifically associated with males and competition.

1

There are many ways to say this: chest thumping, establishing dominance, pissing contest, measuring up, dick-swinging, testosterone-fueled (and variations), all the others you mentioned and too numerous to remember. There's no right one because each depends on the context and level of informality and connotations you want to have.

1

Used since "The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship" the systematic and conscious practice of "creative intimidation", is commonly called

one-upmanship

A situation in which someone does or says something in order to prove that they are better than someone else.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-upmanship

0

I believe the word you are looking for is signalling. It's not a gendered term, but individuals display elements of their quality (however that's defined in a given situation) to demonstrate which of them "would" win if they actually got into a direct contest involving the relevant traits.

0

Scientifically, this is an example of intrasexual conflict leading to a dominance hierarchy. If the males are just "showing off" and not coming to physical blows, we might call their behavior "threat displays" or in general, agonistic behavior.

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