Friday, July 6, 2012

Masculine, Feminine, Androdynous & Sexual Orientation

Continuing the previous post on gender and sex and how we are identifies, I though I would tackle the personality side of the issue. Oftentimes people are classified by others based on their behaviors more than their actual biology. This is an important aspect of our social nature, as behavior is all we can really see on the outset of things. The rest is all inferred from there. Sometimes the inferences are wrong, though. So, let's take a look at personality from a gender perspective.
Sandra Bem is the main researcher to credit here. I highly recommend looking up her work for more details beyond my explanations in this relatively limited post.

Masculine: in essence this is what we think it means to be male. It is often used synonymously with maleness or anti-feminine. It is a personality term encompassing a variety of characteristics and traits that our western, androcentric, society typically assigns to male humans. Among these traits are (from a version of Bem's androgyny scale):
  • self-reliant
  • defends own beliefs
  • independent
  • athletic
  • assertive
  • strong personality
  • forceful
  • analytical
  • has leadership abilities
  • willing to take risks
  • makes decisions easily
  •  dominant
  • masculine
  • willing to take a stand
  • self-sufficient
  • aggressive
  • acts as a leader
  • individualistic
  • competitive
  • ambitious
You can probably see a pattern here. In most western societies, it is considered masculine to be dominant and forceful, defensive and aggressive, and an individualistic independent leader. Students of personality psychology can probably identify other personality theories mapped on to this idea, though those theories did not see personality through a gendered lens. Perhaps that's why The Big Five theory is so enduring. But I digress.

Feminine: in essence this is what we think it means to be female. It is often used as a direct antonym for masculine and is typically thought of as inferior between the two, even for females. Again, this is primarily in the androcentric western cultures. Among these traits (from the same version of Bem's androgyny scale):
  • yielding
  • cheerful
  • shy
  • affectionate
  • flatterable
  • loyal
  • feminine
  • sympathetic
  • sensitive to the needs of others
  • understanding
  • compassionate
  • eager to soothe hurt feelings
  • soft-spoken
  • warm
  • tender
  • gullible
  • childlike
  • does not use harsh language
  • loves children
  • gentle
Again, I bet you can see a pattern here. This list tends to emphasize the nurturing, submissive expectations placed on womanhood. Also notice that there seem to be a couple more descriptive phrases instead of single word traits in this list. Typically, these tend to be seen as lesser characteristics on the desirability scale.

To be complete, the other third of this particular scale is made up of gender-neutral terms that can be applied to either a male or a female.
  • helpful
  • moody
  • conscientious
  • theatrical
  • happy
  • unpredictable
  • reliable
  • jealous
  • truthful
  • secretive
  • sincere
  • conceited
  • likable
  • solemn
  • friendly
  • inefficient
  • adaptable
  • unsystematic
  • tactful
  • conventional
Feel free to argue the inclusion of any particular word from any list to generate your own masculine/feminine/neutral scale. My point is still made, however. When it comes to behaviors and personality characteristics, we have certain expectations for each of the genders. Once an individual is identified as a male or a female, we expect them to also fit the prescribed personality typology. So what happens when someone has strong characteristics from BOTH the masculine and the feminine? Well, this is what we call androgyny.

Androgynous: having high levels of many masculine traits, along with high levels of many feminine personality traits. The androgynous individual tends to be more adaptable to the slings and arrows, the trials and tribulations that life throws around. Why? Well, the idea is that they pull from their known resources of independence and understanding in order to foster greater social support networks and a willingness to roll up the sleeves and get down to work.

Okay, what happens if you are low on all these characteristics? In other words, what do we call your personality if you have neither masculine nor feminine traits? This is known as undifferentiated.

Undifferentiated: An individual who shows low levels of masculine traits, coupled with low levels of feminine traits. This person is usually not thought of along gender lines due to the fact that their behavior does not typically fit any expectations for either gender.

Cross-gendered: an individual who shows high levels of personality characteristics from the opposite gender and low levels of personality characteristics from their own level. For example, a cross-gendered male would be male in sex, male in gender (identifies himself as male), and yet exhibit mostly feminine traits, such as being affectionate and tender and yielding, while not exhibiting very many masculine traits. In my experience, I have come across more cross-gendered females than cross-gendered males. Part of this is due to the fact that an androcentric society values male characteristics over female characteristics, so we discourage our boys from crossing over but accept our girls for doing so. After all, what parent does not want a strong and independent child with leadership potential?

Okay, does personality affect sexual orientation? Absolutely not necessarily. Remember (from my previous post), sexual orientation is a matter of who draws you romantically, emotionally, and physically/sexually. Your personality does not necessarily affect your gender identity, either. You can have a male who is feminine in his behaviors who happens to be attracted to females. He would still be heterosexual, albeit one who would often be questioned because he doesn't fit standard expectations. The same thing goes for masculine females. Not every woman who is strong and forceful is a "butch lesbian" in nature. She may simply naturally behave in a way we expect most males to behave, forgoing expected feminine behaviors, and yet be attracted to males. Androgynous is NOT synonymous with bisexuality, either. Having personality traits and exhibiting behaviors from both genders does not automatically mean that you are attracted to both genders. Sexual orientation is a separate issue from personality typology.

This may be the last I post on this subject for a while, unless I receive comments or requests to the contrary. There is still much to explore or clarify, I'm sure, but I hope this is a good start for many who may have been confused.