Prototypes and dimensions of masculinity and femininity

Abstract

Researchers have criticized existing measures of masculinity and femininity, largely on the basis of their unidimensional nature. The purpose of the present research was twofold: first, to determine the features most central to the categories of masculinity and femininity (prototypes), and second, to identify the dimensions of masculinity and femininity. Instead of relying upon a priori notions of the features that constitute masculinity and femininity, lay conceptions of masculinity and femininity were obtained from college students and their parents. Approximately half of the subjects who participated in this research were Caucasian. To distinguish gender role from gender, subjects were asked to describe one of six stimulus persons: masculine male, masculine female, masculine person, feminine male, feminine female, feminine person. Contrary to previous claims, subjects were able to articulate their conceptions of masculinity and femininity, physical features did not dominate their descriptions, and a number of personality traits named did correspond to conventional inventories. These features were rated by a second group of subjects in terms of how well they described the same set of six stimulus persons. Factor analyses revealed what could be described as lay conceptions of the dimensions of masculinity and femininity. The utility of these dimensions for future research is discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Antill, J. K. (1983). Sex role complementarity versus similarity in married couples.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45 145–155.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bakan, D. (1966).The duality of human existence. Chicago: Rand McNally.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Batlis, N., & Small, A. (1982). Sex roles and Type A behavior.Journal of Clinical Psychology, 38(2), 315–316.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Bem, S. L. (1974). The measurement of psychological androgyny.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42 155–162.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Blascovich, J., Major, B., & Katkin, E. S. (1981).Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 7(4), 600–604.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Brannon, R. (1976). The male sex role: Our culture's blueprint of manhood, and what it's done for us lately. In D. David & R. Brannon (Eds.),The forty-nine percent majority: The male sex role. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Cantor, N., & Mischel, W. (1979). Prototypes in person perception. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.),Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 12). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Constantinople, A. (1973). Masculinity—femininity: An exception to a famous dictum?Psychological Bulletin, 80 389–407.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Deaux, K., & Lewis, L. L. (1984). Structure of gender stereotypes: Interrelationships among components and gender label.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46 991–1004.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Deaux, K., & Major, B. (1987). Putting gender into context: An interactive model of gender-related behavior.Psychological Review, 94(3), 369–389.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Doyle, J. A. (1983).The male experience. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Frank, S. J., McLaughlin, A. M., & Crusco, A. (1984). Sex role attributes, symptom distress, and defensive style among college men and women.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47 182–192.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Garfinkel, P. (1985).In a man's world. Scarborough, Ontario: The New American Library.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Gough, H. G. (1952). Identifying psychological femininity.Educational and Psychological Measurement, 12 427–439.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Gross, A. E. (1978). The male role and heterosexual behavior.Journal of Social Issues, 34 87–107.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Guilford, J. P, & Guilford, R. B. (1936). Personality factors, S, E, and M and Their Measurement.Journal of Psychology, 2 109–127.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Hathaway, S. R., & McKinley, J. C. (1940). A multiphasic personality schedule (Minnesota); Construction of a schedule.Journal of Psychology, 10 249–254.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Helgeson, V. S. (1990). The role of masculinity in a prognostic predictor of heart attack severity.Sex Roles, 22 755–774.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Helgeson, V. S., Shaver, P., & Dyer, M. (1987). Prototypes of intimacy and distance in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 4 195–233.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Holahan, C. K., & Spence, J. T. (1980). Desirable and undesirable masculine and feminine traits in counseling clients and unselected students.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 48 300–302.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Jones, E. E., & Nisbett, R. E. (1972). The actor and the observer: Divergent perceptions of the causes of behavior. In E. E. Jones, D. E. Kanouse, H. H. Kelley, R. E. Nisbett, S. Valins, & B. Weiner (Eds.),Attribution: Perceiving the causes of behavior. Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Kurdek, L. A., & Schmitt, J. P. (1986). Relationship quality of partners in heterosexual married, heterosexual cohabitating, and gay and lesbian relationships.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51 711–720.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Lau, C. (1989). Sex role orientation and domains of self-esteem.Sex Roles, 21 415–422.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Lewin, M. (1984a). Rather worse than folly? Psychology measures femininity and masculinity, 1. In M. Lewin (Ed.),In the shadow of the past: Psychology portrays the sexes. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Lewin, M. (1984b). Psychology measures femininity and masculinity, 2. In M. Lewin (Ed.),In the shadow of the past: Psychology portrays the sexes. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Locksley, A., & Colten, M. E. (1979). Psychological androgyny: A case of mistaken identity?Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37 1017–1031.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Lundy, A., & Rosenberg, J. A. (1987). Androgyny, masculinity, and self-esteem.Social Behavior and Personality, 15(1), 91–95.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Murstein, B. I., & Williams, P. D. (1983). Sex roles and marriage adjustment.Small Group Behavior, 14(1), 77–94.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Myers, A. M., & Gonda, G. (1982). Utility of the masculinity-femininity construct: Comparison of traditional and androgyny approaches.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43 514–523.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (1987). Psychological distress, problem-solving, and coping reactions: Sex role differences.Sex Roles, 16 205–214.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Nichols, J. (1975).Men's liberation: A new definition of masculinity. New York: Penguin Books, Ltd.

    Google Scholar 

  32. O'Heron, C. A., & Orlofsky, J. L. (1990). Stereotypic and nonstereotypic sex role trait and behavior orientations, gender identity, and psychological adjustment.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58 134–143.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. O'Neil, J. M., Helms, B. J., Gable, R. K., David, L., & Wrightsman, L. S. (1986). Gender-role conflict scale: College men's fear of femininity.Sex Roles, 14 335–350.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Peterson, C. D., Baucom, D. H., Elliott, M. J., & Farr, P. A. (1989). The relationship between sex role identity and marital adjustment.Sex Roles, 21 775–787.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Rosch, E. (1978). Principles of categorization. In E. Rosch & B. B. Lloyd (Eds.),Cognition and categorization. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Shaver, P., Schwartz, J., Kirson, D., & O'Connor, D. (1987). Emotion knowledge: Further exploration of a prototype approach.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52 1061–1086.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. Snell, W. E., Jr. (1986). The Masculine Role Inventory: Components and correlates.Sex Roles, 15 443–455.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Snyder, M., Tanke, E. D., & Berscheid, E. (1977). Social perception and interpersonal behavior: On the self-fulfilling nature of social stereotypes.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 656–666.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Spence, J. T. (1984). Masculinity, femininity, and gender-related traits: A conceptual analysis and critique of current research. In B. A. Maher & W. B. Maher (Eds.),Progress in experimental personality research (Vol. 13). Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Spence, J. T., Helmreich, R. L., & Holahan, C. K. (1979). Negative and positive components of psychological masculinity and femininity and their relationship to self-reports of neurotic and acting out behavior.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37 1673–1682.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. Spence, J. T., Helmreich, R. L., & Stapp, J. (1974). The Personal Attributes Questionnaire: A measure of sex-role stereotypes and masculinity-femininity.JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 4 127.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Spence, J. T., & Sawin, L. L. (1985). Images of masculinity and femininity: A reconceptualization. In. V. E. O'Leary, R. K. Unger, & B. S. Wallston (Eds.),Sex, gender and social psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Strong, E. K. (1936). Interests of men and women.Journal of Social Psychology, 7 49–67.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Tavris, C., & Wade, C. (1984).The longest war: Sex differences in perspective. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Terman, L., & Miles, C. C. (1936).Sex and personality, studies in masculinity and femininity. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Tolson, A. (1977).The limits of masculinity. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Verbrugge, L. M. (1985). Gender and health: An update on hypotheses and evidence.Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 26 156–182.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. Wheeler, L., Reis, H., & Nezlek, J. (1983). Loneliness, social interaction, and sex roles.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(4), 943–953.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. Whitley, B. E., Jr. (1983). Sex role orientation and self-esteem: A critical meta-analytic review.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44 765–778.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Whitley, B. E., Jr. (1984). Sex-role orientation and psychological well-being: Two meta-analyses.Sex Roles, 12 207–225.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vicki S. Helgeson.

Additional information

The author is grateful to Phillip Shaver, Michael Scheier, and the anonymous reviewers for comments on a previous draft of the manuscript.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Helgeson, V.S. Prototypes and dimensions of masculinity and femininity. Sex Roles 31, 653–682 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01544286

Download citation

Keywords

  • College Student
  • Social Psychology
  • Physical Feature
  • Personality Trait
  • Gender Role