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Differences between male and female genders

Difference between the sexes is a trendy topic in popular psychology of which John Gray’s “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ (1992) is a case in point. Gray’s (1992) “Martians” and “Venusians”, he says, are only stereotypes. Therefore, according to various writers, men and women are shaped by specific gender stereotypes that govern their everyday lives (Bem, 1981; Sandys, 2008; Bengu, 2005). The construction of these stereotypes has its foundation in the tender years of the individual through the process of socialisation; mainly expressed by specific and different attitudes and attributes for each gender. Several theories have been put forward to account for the gender differences that characterise one’s life since childhood. Indeed, women and men are very much different from each other and such differences tend to make them vary on the way they construct their personalities- for example on their level of self-confidence (Skernivitz, 2010). Sex differences can also affect the way individuals are treated (such as in their workplace). On the other hand, one alternative to this view, such as Hyde’s (2005) gender hypothesis, would argue that actually men and women are more similar than different on most psychological domains. For example, Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) found that beliefs about sex differences were not empirically established. For example, beliefs such as higher sociability in boys and lower self-esteem in girls were not substantiated; more gender similarities were found.

There are traits that have usually been stereotypically associated to males and females. For example, there are masculine traits stereotypically related to males, mostly referring to self-assertiveness and instrumental attributes (such as independence, self-confidence) and, also socially desirable feminine traits concerning interpersonal-orientation and expressive qualities (such as kind and considerate). Since the last century, considerable changes in gender roles and the relationships between the sexes have been occurring. In relation to such changes, girls and women have been seen to possess particularly good interactive talents that reinforce collaboration and harmony in their close relationships. Yet, in out-of-home contexts, men’s social interactions and groupings appear to generate more power than women’s (Maccoby, 2000). It could be that depending on their traits people are more versed in some contexts than in others. In this vein, masculine traits are those desired traits most suitable in acquiring a healthy personality contrary to feminine traits. This might eventually yield some differences that make people with masculine attributes feel more superior from members possessing feminine traits. This study addresses the potential characteristics that individuals are more likely to possess depending on their traits. Based on their scores on the personal attributes questionnaire (PAQ) their degree of masculinity/feminity will be investigated. Accordingly, characteristics such as feeling more powerful or inferior, and, homely or worldly could be associated to either masculine or feminine traits. There is also a recent gender attribute that has come to characterise many individuals who could not fit into either the masculine or feminine type; namely, androgynity. Androgynous individuals are said to possess both masculine and feminine traits.

Gender traits contribute in many ways to how an individual might feel about himself/herself. Studies surrounding gender-role attributes and the differences that it fostered have been various in the psychological domain, especially regarding its influence on some psychological outcomes such as on verbal ability, visuo-spatial ability, mathematical ability and aggression (Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974). However, a study by Hyde (2005) has shown that males and females tend to be more similar than different on various psychological traits. Making use of meta-analysis, Hyde (2005) found that gender differences on many variables were very small, or close to zero. This was the case in, for example, moral reasoning, cognitive variables, communication and psychological well-being. Hyde contends that unsupported statements about gender differences could affect work opportunities for women and also affect studies about self-esteem in adolescents where the focus are on the alleged low self-esteem in girls; hence, ignoring the fact that boys can also have self-esteem problems. The focus of the present study will be the interrelation of gender-attributes with self-esteem and psychological well-being.

Self-esteem and satisfaction with life

The influence of gender attributes and gender differences in sources of self-esteem have been studied in adolescents as well as adults. Self-esteem is regarded by many theorists as a basic need. Self-esteem concerns how a person evaluates or judges his/her own worth. It is an attitude toward the self, which can either be positive or negative (Mruk, 2006). One main actor in self-esteem theories is Rosenberg who developed the Rosenberg self esteem scale (Rosenberg, 1965) assessing the potential level of self-esteem in a person. To be high on self-esteem means to be a happy, healthy and good enough individual, and to be low on self-esteem is to be unhappy and confused (Mruk, 2006). For the most part, self-esteem of adult males surrounds instrumental action, while female adults’ self-esteem is rooted in relationships (Spence, Deaux and Helmreich, 1985). Men’s self-esteem is derived from their location in a status hierarchy and such hierarchies are more likely to be created such that their self-esteem is enhanced. Conversely, women have been found to be more oriented towards relationships, affiliation and interpersonal harmony (Schwalbe and Staples, 1991).

Self-esteem also affects some psychological variables such as one’s psychological well-being (or subjective well-being). Psychological well-being can be defined as a healthy mental condition with positive mental health qualities such as unity of personality (Shek, 1992). Diener (1984) suggests that it can be seen as having more positive, rather than negative, affect and being globally satisfied with life. Furthermore, self-esteem can be used to predict this healthy mental condition- for example, being high on self-esteem would mean to be mentally healthy. In a study of Iranian university students, Joshanloo and Afshari (2009) found that self-esteem could better predict life satisfaction than the Big Five personality traits. It was also revealed that girls scored better on life satisfaction measures than boys; hence providing support for a gender difference hypothesis. Considering all of the above, sex differences among the gender attributes- namely, masculinity, feminity and androgynity- will be investigated along with its relationship with self-esteem and psychological well-being.

Different perspectives

Looking at the history behind the acquisition of gender traits, gender attributes are formed by the process of socialisation whereby a child learns how to behave as a boy or a girl by developing specific beliefs about the roles and expectations about sex groups- this is known as gender roles (which eventually produce sex-typed behaviours). In this process, gender identity is also established where the child, as a member of a particular sex group, achieves a self-identity (Stockard, 1999). Gender differences result from such process, mainly through the agents of gender socialisation- family, peer groups, schools and the media- who can reinforce gender stereotypes in their own ways (Crespi, 2004). Stockard (1999) further argues that the fact that different sex groups and different roles, expectations, rewards and values attributed to these groups exists is recognised everywhere around the globe such that every society is known to be gendered.

The main theory discussing on gender socialisation is the cognitive developmental perspective proposed by Sandra Bem (1981) - the gender schemata theory. Other theories have been proposed as well, such as the social learning theories focusing mainly on the notions of reinforcement and modelling which explain human behaviour, and also, Freud’s psychoanalytic view relying on children’s knowledge of their genitals which might result in the castration complex (a boy’s fear of losing his penis) or the penis envy (a girl’s coveted need of a penis). However, this latter perspective has not received much empirical support.

Investigating the processes involved in developing sex-typed behaviours, psychologists have come forward with the stimulus-response learning theory (S-R). This perspective argues on the positive and negative reinforcement of behaviour by socialisation agents. Attributes typical to sex groups are viewed as habits which parents, teachers or peers reinforce in children. In this vein, behaviours seen as feminine are shaped and encouraged in girls and typical masculine behaviours are reinforced in boys. Children displaying behaviours counter to the expected ones are punished and are subjected to more socialisation pressures. For example, Warshow and Parrot (1991) demonstrated that boys are encouraged to be physical when dealing with conflict, but empathy has been discouraged as weak and girlish. Learning of gender roles can also be done by imitation, hence, modelling. Bandura (1965) wrote that a child can learn by observing and imitating behaviours appropriate for his/her sex group from other children or from the media- for example, children imitating fictitious superheroes. However, the S-R learning theory is not the only theory explaining the development of gender-typed behaviours. The theoretical perspective most suitable to consider is Bem’s theory on how gender experiences and attributes are constructed, and how it can be related to subjective well-being mainly because it considers various aspects of gender attitudes.

Bem (1981), from a cognitive developmental perspective, wrote that children construct cognitive arrangements that categorise their gender experiences into a set of expectations that direct and classify their social perceptions. Hence, from this viewpoint, categorisation of people in terms of gender is a cognitive process which is inevitable, habitual and automatic- we all tend to determine an individual’s gender upon first meeting him/her. Applying the self-fulfilling prophecy, Coltrane (2004) argues that boys are treated differently as compared to girls- as people believe in a difference between them, they receive different treatment in terms of how they are socialised and, also, in terms of opportunities. As a result, behaviours and self-images that produce and reproduce the preconceived cultural stereotypes perpetuate (Coltrane, 2004).

Three assumptions stem out from Bem’s theory. The first one is gender polarisation where a central organising principle of social life is the differences between men and women. Male experiences are more valued than the female experiences, such as the importance of social roles and expression of emotion or sexual desire. (Moon, 2002).Androcentrism, a second assumption, states the superiority of males and their experience as being the normative standard. Also known as male-centeredness, it suggests that female experiences are seen as deviating from that of males. Thirdly, the biological essentialism assumption argues that biological differences between the sexes are the causes of the first two assumptions, providing justifications for gender polarisation and androcentrism by presenting them as the result of deep-seated biological natures of the two sexes- such as differences between the brains of men and women (for example, Sabbatini, 1997). Such natures perpetuate inequalities between them. These three gender lenses, as Bem called them, influence the ways individuals socially construct reality and produce gender attributes.

Bem (1975) also provided two models explaining the relationship between gender-role attributes and subjective well-being: the androgyny model and the masculine model. The former involves a boost in well-being due to possessing both masculine and feminine characteristics. The masculine model implies that individuals with masculine traits are more psychologically composed. The masculine model is the model for both men and women that have been found in most studies done (e.g. Whitley, 1983). On the other hand, Kagan (1964) suggests that an individual’s sex-role orientation will contribute in determining his/her subjective well-being depending on whether his/her orientation corresponds with his/her gender. Men abiding by their masculine roles and women abiding by their feminine roles are more likely to be high on psychological well-being than men who follows the feminine roles and women who act masculine.

Evidences in relation to self-esteem and psychological well-being

There is empirical evidence that masculine traits are largely correlated with self-esteem (Whitley, 1988). Whitley (1983), from a meta-analysis investigating the relationship between gender roles attributes and self-esteem found a mean correlation of .53 for masculinity. In the face of such large correlation, it was then suggested that the measures of masculinity and self-esteem might have been tapping the same construct. However, there are mixed evidence surrounding this relationship. For example, Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) found little correlation to conclude that higher self-esteem could actually be attributed to boys, unlike girls. Also, Epstein (1979), studying reported self-esteem, demonstrate that girls had more acceptance versus rejection (evoking worthiness) experiences and boys were more geared towards success versus failure reports (evoking competence). Block and Robins (1993) argued on the differences in the way boys and girls are socialised: girls learn how to get along and boys how to get ahead. Harter (1999) contends that girls are more likely to experience low self-esteem than boys. She argues that there exists a group of such girls who identifies themselves with roles based on traditional feminity, such as valuing dependence on social approval. In contrast, androgynous girls do not show significant drops in self-esteem.

In trying to explain the battle between the sexes from the lenses of Tajfel and Turner’s (1979) social identity theory, one study by Bond, Hewstone, Wan and Chiu (`1985) attempted to investigate the ways in which Chinese males and females justify the implied differences between the sexes in behaviours. Evidence was found for group-serving biases. The social identity theory suggests that individuals identifying with a particular group will be inclined to aspire for a positive view of the group vis-a-vis other groups. The group-serving strategy involves inflating the importance of one’s group activities and highlighting observed intergroup differences for proportions on which the ingroup is considered superior (van Knippenberg and Wilke, 1979). Members of both male and female groups displayed group-serving attributions in relation to their own relative group. Both groups admitted that the sex hierarchy was reluctant to change, and females, in an audience-absent condition, reported the status quo as being more biased and illegitimate than did males. Strong identification to a particular gender group might be seen in the degree of masculinity/feminity investigated using the PAQ. As such, the differences that exist between the sexes can be estimated by looking at the differences that might surface in the level of self-esteem between the groups. This perspective will, therefore, be helpful in explaining such differences.

James (1890) argued that a predictor of self-esteem, showing high correlation, is masculinity. Adolescents who valued masculinity, as found in his study, had higher self-esteem than those who devalued this attribute. James also found that cross-typed females valuing cross-typed gender roles (androgynous females) were associated with increased self-esteem. Yet, it was not the case for androgynous males; hence, pointing to the suggestion that the pressure for males to keep away from feminine gender-role might be significant. It should be noted that James’ research also considered the androgynous aspect of people’s gender roles in which individuals might be characterised as having both feminine and masculine characteristics. In the same vein, Bem (1977) argued that androgynous individuals are more behaviourally adaptable than others. These individuals have been seen to report both masculine and feminine sex-role behaviours on the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI, Bem, 1974). Sex-role androgyny, hence, has been concluded to contribute to favourable effects involving high self-esteem (Spence and Helmreich, 1980).Also, Cook (1987) found that masculinity is highly correlated to self-esteem as compared to feminity. Hence, according to Burnett, Anderson and Heppner (1995) self-esteem may be more directly associated with being male, whereas being female is more related to less traditional measures of well-being (e.g. intimacy and relationship satisfaction). One assumption that can be brought forward is that one’s self-esteem depends on the importance one places on masculinity and feminity. Hence, taking into account these findings, can we say that having masculine attributes (which is highly correlated with self-esteem) is healthier than having femine traits?

Conclusion

The present study will attempt to determine whether boys have problems in the construction of their self-concepts which will define their self-esteem and contribute to their psychological well-being. These two variables can actually be a problem for boys as for girls. The popular media’s focus on girls as the only ones with self-esteem problems has been over-emphasised. Moreover, it will also focus on how feminine and masculine traits can affect one’s self-esteem by comparing the self-esteem of women scoring high on feminine traits to that of women scoring high on masculine traits. From these, it can be established whether gender traits are the cause of these differences in variables.

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