Summary - Masculinity and Femininity: Gender Within Gender

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

Masculinity and Femininity: Gender Within Gender

Research on masculinity and femininity took many twists and turns over the course of the 20th century. Terman and Miles conceived M-F to be a bipolar, unidimensional trait, comparable to intelligence, and they measured M-F with questionnaire items that showed sex differences. An implicit assumption of early M-F research was that it is good for men to be masculine and for women to be feminine. Early M-F scales suffered from heterogeneous content, and they proved to measure many traits rather than a single cohesive M-F dimension.

In the 1970s, a two-dimensional approach defined masculinity (M) in terms of instrumental traits and femininity (F) in terms of expressive traits. This approach held that the androgynous individual—high on both M and F—defined a new standard of mental health. Research on M and F as two dimensions showed that M predicted instrumental behaviors (e.g., independence in the face of group pressure) and F predicted expressive behaviors (e.g., interpersonal nurturance) reasonably well, but this was because M scales assessed instrumentality and F scales assessed nurturance, not because they assessed masculinity and femininity. In general, M predicts adjustment (as measured by depression, anxiety, and self-esteem scales) better than F does.

Lay conceptions hold that masculinity and femininity comprise many components including physical appearance, social roles, occupations, interests, and sexuality, as well as personality traits such as instrumentality and expressiveness. In terms of people's everyday conceptions, masculinity and femininity can be seen as fuzzy concepts that are defined by multiple attributes.

The GD approach offers a compromise between essentialist and constructionist views of masculinity and femininity. It assesses how male like or female-like a person is based on interests that are gender-related in a particular group at a certain time in history, GD predicts a number of socially significant criteria, including self-ascribed M-F, other-rated M-F, nonverbal M-F, sexual orientation, transsexual versus nontranssexual status, certain kinds of prejudice in men, certain kinds of adjustment and maladjustment in adolescents, academic achievement, and mortality risk.

All approaches to masculinity and femininity confirm one central point: Gender is not simply a matter of sex differences. It is also a matter of variations within each sex. Various masculinity and femininity measures are linked to consequential outcomes and traits in people's lives, including psychological adjustment, physical health, scholastic aptitude, intelligence, and sexual orientation. This adds significance to a fundamental question: What causes people to vary on masculinity and femininity: nature or nurture?