Masculinity and Femininity Definition
The terms masculinity and femininity refer to traits or characteristics typically associated with being male or female, respectively. Traditionally, masculinity and femininity have been conceptualized as opposite ends of a single dimension, with masculinity at one extreme and femininity at the other. By this definition, high masculinity implies the absence of femininity, and vice versa. In other words, people can be classified as either masculine or feminine. Contemporary definitions propose that masculinity and femininity are separate dimensions, allowing for the possibility that individuals may simultaneously possess both masculine and feminine attributes.
The Single-Factor Approach to Masculinity and Femininity
The Attitude Interest Analysis Survey (AIAS) was the first attempt to measure masculinity versus femininity. To develop the test, hundreds of scale items—including measures of attitudes, emotions, personality traits, and occupational preferences—were given to American junior high and high school students in the 1930s. only items that elicited different responses from girls and boys were included in the final version of the measure. Items that the typical girl endorsed—such as ignorance, desire for a small income, and a fondness for washing dishes—received femininity points. Items that the typical boy endorsed—such as intelligence, desire for a large income, and dislike of tall women— received masculinity points. Because these items clearly reflect gender stereotypes and role expectations prevalent at the time the scale was developed, responses to these items may simply reflect the desire to be a “normal” man or woman. It is not surprising then that the AIAS was less reliable than other standard measures of personality and was not related to other criteria of masculinity and femininity (e.g., teachers’ ratings of students’ masculinity and femininity). Because of these methodological issues and a lack of theoretical basis, the AIAS is no longer used today.
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Multifactorial Approaches to Masculinity and Femininity
Contemporary scales of masculinity/femininity have abandoned the single-factor approach in favor of multifactorial models. In the 1970s, the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) introduced the concept of androgyny by allowing for combinations of two independent dimensions of masculinity and femininity. Importantly, the items on the BSRI were not developed using differences in the responses typical of males and females, as was the AIAS. Instead, the BSRI was developed by asking male and female respondents to indicate how desirable it was for an American man or woman to possess various traits. The final version of the scale is composed of 20 femininity items, 20 masculinity items, and 20 neutral items. Respondents indicate how much each adjective is self-descriptive. Based on these responses, people may be classified as feminine (high femininity, low masculinity), masculine (low femininity, high masculinity), androgynous (high femininity, high masculinity), or undifferentiated (low femininity, low masculinity).
The Personal Attributes Questionnaire (PAQ), another measure of masculinity/femininity developed in the 1970s, also assumes that dimensions of masculinity and femininity are independent dimensions. Scale items for this measure were developed in ways similar to the development of the BSRI. The scale consists of 16 socially desirable items designed to measure instrumental traits (e.g., competitive), often associated with males, and expressive traits (e.g., gentle), often associated with females. Although the BSRI and PAQ are similar in content, they differ in their theoretical implications.
Currently, the BSRI is used within the framework of gender schema theory as a measure of men and women’s degree of sex-typing. Sex-typed individuals (i.e., men classified as masculine or women classified as feminine) are said to be gender-schematic—or to use gender as a way to organize information in their world. Strong gender schemas develop through strong identification with gender roles, in turn leading to attitudes and behaviors consistent with gender role expectations. Thus, masculinity and femininity scores on the BSRI reflect a tendency to conceptualize the world in terms of male and female.
In contrast, the creators of the PAQ have rejected the notion that there is one underlying factor of masculinity and one factor of femininity. Instead, multiple gender-related phenomena, such as physical attributes, occupational preferences, and personality traits, contribute to multiple factors that contribute to gender identity—or one’s own sense of maleness and femaleness. From this perspective then, PAQ and BSRI scores do not represent the global concepts of masculinity/femininity or gender schemas. Rather, they are simply measures of instrumental and expressive traits, one of many factors contributing to gender identity. Thus, scores should only be related to gender-related behaviors to the extent they are influenced by instrumentality and expressiveness.
Correlates of Masculinity and Femininity
In support of gender schema theory, initial studies demonstrated that BSRI scores predicted gender-related behaviors such as nurturance, agency, and expressiveness. For example, in one study, students who were categorized as feminine or androgynous displayed more nurturing behaviors while interacting with a baby compared with masculine or undifferentiated students. However, the creators of the PAQ argue that BSRI scores are only predictive of instrumental and expressive behaviors. Empirical evidence supports this claim. Some studies have found little or no relationship between the BSRI and typical measures of gender attitudes and behaviors. Failure to predict related gender constructs may be indicative of psychometric flaws or problems with the underlying theory.
Measuring masculinity/femininity in a theoretically meaningful way continues to be problematic. Currently, the multifactor gender identity perspective of masculinity and femininity has received stronger empirical support than other models. Despite theoretical criticisms, both the BSRI and PAQ remain frequently used measures in gender research.
- Bem, S. L. (1974). The measurement of psychological androgyny. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42, 155-162.
- Lippa, R. A. (2005). Gender, nature, and nurture. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Spence, J. T., & Helmreich, R. L. (1980). Masculine instrumentality and feminine expressiveness: Their relationship with sex role attitudes and behaviors. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 5, 147-163.