Masculinity and Femininity as Separate Dimensions - Masculinity and Femininity: Gender Within Gender

Gender, Nature, and Nurture - Richard A. Lippa 2014

Masculinity and Femininity as Separate Dimensions
Masculinity and Femininity: Gender Within Gender

By the early 1970s, the concept of bipolar M-F was beginning to show its age, and attitudes toward gender were changing dramatically. In the era of Women's Liberation, psychologists began to rethink what they meant by masculinity and femininity.

Cracks in Terman and Miles' Edifice

A 1973 article by Vassar psychologist, Anne Constantinople, marked a sea change in attitude toward the M-F tradition begun by Terman and Miles. Mincing no words, Constantinople wrote that "both theoretically and empirically [masculinity and femininity] seem to be among the muddiest concepts in the psychologist's vocabulary" (p. 390). Her words unintentionally echoed Sigmund Freud, who 70 years earlier had written: " ... the concepts of 'masculine' and 'feminine' whose meaning seem unambiguous to ordinary people are among the most confused that occur in science" (Freud, 1905/1962, p. 219).

Unlike Freud, however, Constantinople based her conclusions on hard research evidence. Some of her criticisms were directed at the haphazard content of M-F scales. By selecting items solely based on gender differences in response, Constantinople argued, the creators of M-F scales had created a grab bag of M-F items. To illustrate, consider the following, which are all similar to items from actual M-F scales:

· "I would like to be a truck driver."

· "Uncouth and vulgar language disgusts me."

· "I think a lot about my motives and feelings."

· "I prefer a bath to a shower."

· "Thunder and lightning storms terrify me."

· "I like to attend theater and dance performances."

· "The sight of a bug crawling on the wall fills me with disgust."

· "I like to hang out with people who play lots of practical jokes on one another."

What do such items have in common at a conceptual level? Constantinople's answer: Not much.

Because of their diffuse content, M-F scales often do not hang together statistically. A statistical technique called factor analysis is often used to analyze people's test answers to determine whether the items of a test measure a single dimension (i.e., a single factor) or many different dimensions (i.e., multiple factors). A factor analysis could he conducted on people's responses to IQ questions to determine whether the test measures a single dimension (i.e., general intelligence) or several different dimensions (e.g., verbal ability, math ability, visual-spatial ability). Constantinople reviewed factor analytic studies of M-F scale items and concluded that they showed multiple factors, not the single bipolar M-F dimension claimed by early researchers like Terman and Miles. In other words, M-F seems not to be a single either-or dimension but rather a number of loosely related and sometimes even unrelated dimensions.

Constantinople criticized M-F research in still other ways. Various M-F scales did not correlate strongly with one another, she charged, and this raised questions about the coherence of M-F measures. Again, think of the analogy to intelligence, if people's scores on a number of different intelligence tests failed to correlate with one another, wouldn't you question whether all the tests were measuring the same thing (i.e, general intelligence)? Constantinople argued that M-F scales were often based on cultural stereotypes rather than on real differences between men and women. Empirically, M-F scores proved to be linked to people's social class and education levels. Typically, higher class and educational levels were associated with less extreme levels of masculinity in men and femininity in women. Thus, M-F may reflect demographic factors more than personality. Finally, Constantinople noted that M-F scores were often linked to age, becoming less extreme as people get older. After assembling all the evidence, Constantinople asked, in essence: Is a trait that is diffuse, multi-dimensional, and linked to a host of demographic factors truly a coherent personality trait? Or is it really just a conceptual mess, which should be abandoned by psychologists?

The Rise of Androgyny

The late 1960s and early 1970s marked the beginning of the modern Women's Movement. In this turbulent time of civil rights demonstrations and anti-war protests, feminist scholars offered devastating critiques of society's gender roles and began a process, which continues to this day, of identifying pervasive biases against girls and women in the worlds of education, government, and work. With the changing times came new views of masculinity and femininity.

Drawing upon the work of Constantinople and others, Stanford psychologist Sandra Bem (1974) (now at Cornell University), combined feminist values with empirical research to create a dramatically new approach to masculinity and femininity. The old bipolar approach had viewed masculinity and femininity as opposites, whereas Bem argued that they were instead separate and independent dimensions. And whereas the older M-F scales included motley collections of items that men and women answered differently, Bem focused her attention on a more limited domain, items that assessed gender-stereotypic personality traits.

Bem's conception of masculinity and femininity did not arise in a vacuum. Beginning in the 1950s, sociologists and social psychologists had noted that one set of personality traits—labeled as instrumental or agentic traits—is more associated with men, whereas another set—labeled as expressive or communal traits—is more associated with women (Bakan, 1966; Parsons & Bales, 1955). Instrumental traits, on the one hand, are goal-oriented, focused on the external world of work, and getting the job done. Examples of such traits are independence, assertiveness, dominance, and leadership ability. Expressive traits, on the other hand, are people-oriented, focused more on the private worlds of family and personal relationships; they are related to people's desire to nurture others and establish intimacy. Examples are warmth, sympathy, compassion, and sensitivity to others.

Bem (1974) drew upon this existing distinction between instrumental and expressive traits when she developed a new test—the Bem Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI)—which measured masculinity (M) and femininity (F) as two separate dimensions. People who take the BSRI are asked to rate how much various instrumental and expressive traits are self-descriptive. They are then assigned separate M and F scores based on their mean self-ratings on sets of instrumental and expressive personality traits.

To identify traits for inclusion in her M and F scales, Bem initially asked large groups of Stanford students to rate how socially desirable it was for a man and for a women to possess various traits (e.g., to be warm, aggressive, dominant, and so on.) If students rated a trait to be significantly more desirable for a man than for a woman, then it was classified as a masculine trait. Conversely, if students rated a trait to be significantly more desirable for a woman then for a man, then it was classified as a feminine trait. Unlike the developers of earlier M-F scales, who chose items because they were answered differently by men and women, Bem in contrast selected trait items that were stereotypically judged to be relatively more desirable for men or for women. Bem's resulting M and F scales closely approximated the instrumental and expressive dimensions of personality described previously.

At about the time that Bem developed her inventory at Stanford, a group of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin—Janet Spence, Bob Helmreich, and Joy Stapp (1974)—developed a similar test called the Personal Attributes Questionnaire (or PAQ for short). The PAQ masculinity items comprise socially desirable personality traits that are stereotypically judged to be more true of men than women (e.g., aggressive, independent, competitive, never gives up easily), and the femininity items comprise socially desirable personality traits that are judged to be more true of women than men (e.g., emotional, gentle, kind, very understanding of others). Like Bem's scales, the M and F scales of the PAQ primarily tap instrumental and expressive traits, and indeed, many studies suggest that the M and F scales of the BSRI (particularly its short version; Bem, 1981a) and PAQ are quite similar in content (Lenney, 1991).

What was gained by measuring M and F as two separate dimensions? Bem argued that the two-dimensional approach permitted a new way of conceptualizing sex roles and of classifying people on gender-related traits. Bem's research indicated that M and F were indeed relatively independent of one another. In other words, a person's level of M is unrelated to his or her level of F. After a period of debate with the Texas group, Bem applied a four-way classification scheme to people, based on whether they scored low or high on M, and low or high on F. (Table 2.2.) In this context, think of low and high as meaning below or above the median, the middle value for a given group of people.

People who are high on M but low on F were considered to be stereotypically masculine. These people report that they are independent and dominant, for example, but not kind or compassionate. People who are high on F but low on M were considered to be stereotypically feminine (e.g., kind and compassionate, but not independent or dominant). However, there are additional possibilities. People can be high on both M and F (e.g., independent and dominant, and kind and compassionate). Bem labeled such people androgynous (i.e., having both male and female characteristics; from the Greek roots andro [male] and gyn [female]). Finally, people could score low on both M and F. In the research literature, such low-low individuals are referred to as undifferentiated.

Taking an explicitly feminist perspective, Bem argued that androgynous individuals might serve to define a new standard of mental health and adjustment. According to her, stereotypically masculine people (high-M, low-F individuals, usually men) and stereotypically feminine people (high-F, low-M individuals, usually women) are restricted by their gender roles. Masculine men may do well at instrumental tasks (e.g., being assertive); however, they may fail at expressive tasks (e.g., being nurturant). Conversely, feminine women may do well at expressive tasks but fail at instrumental tasks. Androgynous individuals, however, can be flexibly masculine or feminine, depending on the situation. Thus the androgynous person can be an assertive and forceful boss at work and a tender and supportive parent at home. The androgynous person has the best of both worlds.

By focusing attention on the androgynous individual, Bem broke radically with the values underlying older M-F scales, which held that it is good for men to be masculine and for women to be feminine. For Bem, it was best to be androgynous.



Bipolar Masculinity-Femininity Versus the Two-Dimensional Conception

Putting Androgyny to the Test

In a series of early studies, Bem attempted to demonstrate that sex-typed individuals are restricted in their gender-related behaviors, whereas androgynous individuals are more flexible. In one study, Bem (1975) measured whether college men and women would stand up against group pressures to conform. Participants were asked to make judgments about how funny cartoons were in the face of peers who strongly disagreed with them. Bem found that stereotypically feminine people showed relatively high levels of conformity, whereas masculine and androgynous people showed lower levels. Bem concluded that masculine and androgynous people showed what she considered good behavior (they stood up for what they believed in), whereas feminine people showed less admirable behavior (they caved in to group pressure).

In other studies, Bem and her colleagues (Bem, Martyna, & Watson, 1976) investigated stereotypically feminine behaviors, such as nurturing others. In one of these, college men and women were individually placed in a waiting room with a baby. Researchers watched through a one-way mirror and observed how the students interacted with the baby. Feminine and androgynous individuals tended to interact more warmly and playfully with the baby, whereas masculine individuals tended to be more distant and offish. In a conceptually similar study, researchers observed college men and women in conversation with another student (who was actually a confederate). During the course of the conversation, the confederate shared some personal problems ("I'm have difficulty making new friends"), and the researchers observed how warm and supportive the students were to this troubled peer. The findings showed that feminine and androgynous individuals tended to be more warm and supportive and masculine individuals less so. Bem concluded from these studies that feminine and androgynous people can show good feminine behaviors when the situation calls for it. But masculine people often cannot; they are constrained by their masculine gender roles to be relatively cold and distant.

Sandra Bem and Ellen Lenney (1976) tested the sex-role flexibility of androgynous individuals more directly in a study in which college students had their pictures taken while they performed everyday activities, some of which were stereotypically masculine (e.g., nail two boards together), while others were feminine (e.g., iron cloth napkins) or gender neutral (e.g., play with a yo-yo). Participants received a small amount of pay for each photo taken, and at times, they were allowed to choose which photographed activities they would perforin. The results suggested that sex-typed individuals were more likely to choose activities that matched their gender, even if this meant giving up pay. Androgynous individuals, on the other hand, were more comfortable being photographed performing both masculine and feminine activities. Bem argued that the sex-typed man says to himself, "If it's masculine I'll do it, but if it's feminine, forget it! I'd rather lose money than do that 'sissy' stuff!" The androgynous person, on the other hand, says, "Who cares whether it's masculine or feminine? I'll do whatever makes me the most money!" In other words, the sex-typed individual is constrained by traditional gender roles; the androgynous person is not.

A number of attempts to replicate Bem's early findings on androgyny and behavioral flexibility yielded inconsistent results (Cook, 1985). In a review of many early studies, Marylee Taylor and Judith Hall (1982) concluded that M scales predict instrumental behaviors reasonably well (e.g., being assertive and resisting pressures to conform) and F scales predict expressive behaviors reasonably well (e.g., being nurturant to lonely peers). However, this might be expected simply based on their content. After all, M scales measure instrumental traits (e.g., assertiveness), and F scales measure expressive traits (e.g., nurturance).

A recent study by Andrea Abele (2003) further illustrated Taylor and Hall's point. It used the PAQ instrumentality and expressiveness scores of almost 2,000 German university graduates to predict their career success and their degree of participation in romantic partnerships. Instrumentality tended to be the strongest predictor of career success, whereas expressiveness tended to be the strongest predictor of romantic partnerships (although for men, instrumentality was also a predictor). Certainly, it makes sense that possessing traits such as assertiveness, independence, and self-confidence helps career success, and possessing traits such as warmth, sensitivity, and compassion helps relationship success. And perhaps for young men, both warmth and assertiveness are necessary for them to establish romantic relationships. After all, they have to be assertive enough to approach the woman they are interested in and to ask her out, but then they have to be warm and charming enough to win her over. But are PAQ scales assessing masculinity and femininity, or are they simply measuring assertiveness and warmth?

Despite Bem's early research and advocacy for the ideal of androgyny, the jury is still out on whether androgynous individuals—people who are high on both M and F—truly show greater sex-role flexibility than other kinds of people.

Masculinity, Femininity, and Psychological Adjustment

Sandra Bem stated that androgyny defined a new standard of psychological adjustment, a standard that was liberated from gender. Some studies tried to test this directly by examining androgyny's relation to various self-report measures of adjustment (e.g., measures of self-esteem, depression, and anxiety). This research did, in fact, show that androgynous people tend to be high on adjustment (i.e., high in self-esteem and low on depression and anxiety).

However, because androgyny was defined by two separate traits (M and F), it was not always clear why androgynous people reported being more adjusted. Was it because of their instrumental traits (high M), their expressive traits (high F), or a combination of the two? The possibility that there is some emergent property of high M and high F, in combination, that fosters psychological adjustment and flexibility seems closest to Bem's original conception that androgyny is best.

However, research did not offer much support for the combination theory of androgyny. Many studies on the relationship between androgyny and adjustment suggested that M contributes to psychological adjustment more than F does (Bassoff & Glass, 1982; Whitley, 1983, 1984). This means that all high M individuals (high M-low F as well as androgynous individuals) tend to score high on self-esteem and low on anxiety and depression. The real difference then is between high M people (androgynous and masculine individuals) and low M people (feminine and undifferentiated individuals). M's greater power than F to predict adjustment has sometimes been referred to as the masculine superiority effect (Cook, 1985).

Why does M correlate with measures of adjustment better than F does? One hypothesis is that people in the United States live in an individualistic society, which values instrumental traits more than expressive traits. (Most early androgyny research was conducted in North America.) In a dog-eat-dog, free enterprise society, assertiveness, independence, competitiveness, and leadership ability are all traits that foster success. Another and perhaps more fundamental explanation for the linkage between M and adjustment is that the content of M scales overlaps significantly with the content of many adjustment scales. This can be seen most clearly for measures of self-esteem, which show some of the strongest correlations with M (Whitley, 1984). The PAQ M scale includes items such as self-confident and feels very superior. It makes sense that people's scores on such a scale would correlate with their scores on a self-esteem scale, which after all is simply a measure of the person's general sense of self-worth and self-confidence.

If you believe at this point that F seems to have been neglected in research on adjustment, you can take heart from a number of studies showing that F is linked to certain kinds of positive adjustment. Specifically, high levels of F are related to being a good friend, lover, and marriage partner (Abele, 2003; Antill, 1983; Kurdek & Schmitt, 1986) and being empathetic (Spence & Helmreich, 1978). Again, perhaps this is to be expected, given the nature of F scales, which measure expressive traits (e.g., being nurturant, warm, sympathetic, and compassionate). Aren't those the kinds of traits you would want in a friend or romantic partner?

Whither Androgyny?

The two-dimensional model of M and F (and the closely related concept of androgyny) was supposed to vanquish the older bipolar model of M-F. But instead, it was soon itself subject to a host of new criticisms. Janet Spence and Bob Helmreich (1980), two of the original developers of the PAQ, argued that M and F scales are really just instrumentality and expressiveness scales. Although such scales predict instrumental, agentic behaviors (e.g., independence, assertiveness) and expressive, communal behaviors (e.g., nurturance in close relationships) reasonably well, they do not necessarily predict other gender-related behaviors, such as .stereotypically masculine or feminine activities or gender-role flexibility. But these are exactly what we would want M and F scales to predict! Many research studies have supported Spence and Helmreich's contention that M and F are, at best, weakly related to various gender-related attitudes and behaviors. In essence, Spence and Helmreich warned that labeling these scales masculinity and femininity may constitute a violation of truth in advertising.

There were additional criticisms of M and F scales. Usually, when psychologists develop new personality measures, they try to demonstrate that they do not simply measure what has already been measured by previous scales. This might be termed the old wine in new bottles problem. When M and F scales were first developed in the early 1970s, there was no consensus about what the fundamental dimensions of personality actually are. Today, however, there is growing consensus that there are five broad, fundamental dimensions to human personality, which are often referred to as the Big Five (Wiggins, 1996; see discussion in Chapter 1). The Big Five dimensions are extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. Are M and F independent of the Big Five? The answer from a number of studies is, clearly, No (Lippa, 1991, 1995b, 2005). M overlaps strongly with extroversion and neuroticism, and F overlaps strongly with agreeableness and to a lesser degree with conscientiousness. In other words, M and F scales do not measure new personality traits.

Like Spence and Helmreich, Bem too revised her conception of M and F. Bem's original notion was that the androgynous individual might come to define a new standard of mental health. However, upon reflection, she came to believe that just as older conceptions of M-F were unduly prescriptive ("it's good for men to be masculine and for women to be feminine"), so too was the newer notion of androgyny ("it's good for everybody to be androgynous"). With a touch of irony, she could note that in the bipolar tradition, people had one trait to worry about; men could feel inadequate for being insufficiently masculine and women could feel inadequate for being insufficiently feminine. However, in the brave new world of androgyny, men and women could feel inadequate for two reasons: for being insufficiently masculine and for being insufficiently feminine. Paradoxically, sex role liberation brought with it a kind of double jeopardy.

Bem eventually came to believe that M-F, M, and F scales are all guilty of trying to make something real out of what are really just mental concepts. According to Bem's (1981b, 1985, 1993) gender schema theory sex typing is not a matter of fixed, inner personality traits; rather, it results from a person's tendency to conceptualize the world too much in terms of male and female, masculine and feminine. Gender schematic people, according to Bem, promiscuously apply the category of gender to everything: to themselves, to their actions, to other people, and even to abstract concepts and objects (e.g., they see petunias as feminine and tigers as masculine). Gender schematic individuals are often aided and abetted by society at large, which makes gender gratuitously salient in all areas of life and socializes people to pay attention to gender and to believe that all behavior is gendered. (Consider, for example, how in our society the clothes you wear, the way you move your body the occupations you choose, and the hobbies you engage in are often seen to have a gender.) Gender aschematic people, on the other hand, do not apply an imperialistic gender schema to everything they see and do. They do not organize and monitor their own and others' behavior always in terms of gender.

Thus Bem came to see sex-typed individuals as being gender schematic, and androgynous individuals as being gender aschematic. In gender schema theory, Bem shifted her focus from the traits of individuals (M and F) to society's tendency to make gender a central and salient category. The ideological conclusion was obvious to Bem: "The feminist prescription, then, is not that the individual be androgynous, but rather that the society be gender aschematic" (1985, p. 222).

Thus Bem moved to a strong social contructionist position. Masculinity and femininity are not psychological realities at all. They are not real traits of the individual. Rather, they are cultural fictions, by which an arbitrary hodgepodge of traits, behaviors, and social roles are labeled masculine and feminine respectively. In Bem's (1987) words, "... masculinity and femininity do not exist 'out there' in the world of objective realities.... [they] exist only in the mind of the perceiver" (p. 309).