Congruence Between Gender Stereotypes and Activity Preference in Self-Identified Tomboys and Non-Tomboys

Abstract

The major goal was to examine a central tenet of cognitive approaches to gender development, namely, that congruence exists between personal gender stereotypes and behaviors. Item-by-item comparisons of girls’ stereotypes about activities and their preferences for activities were conducted, for both girls who claimed to be tomboys and those who did not. Congruence was expected for all girls, but because of their gender non-normative interests, tomboys may exhibit less congruence. A secondary goal was to examine factors that might influence congruence, specifically, whether tomboys develop more inclusive stereotypes and develop greater understanding of stereotype variability. Participants included 112 girls (7–12 years old, M age = 9). Girls were interviewed about their activity preferences, beliefs about girls’ and boys’ activity preferences, understanding variability of stereotypes, and identification as tomboys. Tomboys (30% of the sample) and non-tomboys did not differ in their liking of or in the number of liked feminine activities. However, tomboys showed more interest in masculine activities than non-tomboys. Tomboys and non-tomboys did not differ in stereotype inclusiveness, although tomboys showed a trend toward more inclusive stereotypes. Both groups showed high levels of congruence between stereotypes and preferences. Congruence was stronger for nontomboys (14 times more likely to exhibit responses congruent with stereotypes vs. incongruent ones), as compared to tomboys who were four times more likely to exhibit responses congruent with stereotypes versus incongruent ones. Implications of these findings for cognitive approaches to gender development are discussed.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by funding from ASU Women’s Studies program. We would also like to thank Stacie Leonard and Heidi Wyman for their efforts on this project. We owe special thanks to the directors of the Tempe After-School Program and the girls who participated in this project. Support for this project was provided by the T. Denny Sanford Foundation. Portions of this research were presented at the meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development (2003, Tampa; 2011, Montreal). The authors equally contributed to this research.

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Correspondence to Carol Lynn Martin.

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Martin, C.L., Dinella, L.M. Congruence Between Gender Stereotypes and Activity Preference in Self-Identified Tomboys and Non-Tomboys. Arch Sex Behav 41, 599–610 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-011-9786-5

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Keywords

  • Tomboys
  • Gender stereotypes
  • Gender role behavior
  • Gender schema theory