Masculinity and Femininity: Do Sex, Race, and Social Class Matter?

Topics: Gender, Middle class, Gender role Pages: 6 (1900 words) Published: November 21, 2011
Nillisen, Young

UW-L Journal of Undergraduate Research X (2007)

Masculinity and Femininity: Do Sex, Race, and Social Class Matter? Brianne Nillissen and Caitlin Young Faculty Sponsor: Betsy L. Morgan, Department of Psychology ABSTRACT Little empirical research explores the intersections of sex, race, and social class. In the current study, we expected to find that participants would rate Black men highest in masculinity and White women highest in femininity, and working class males would be seen to have higher levels of masculinity and middle/upper class women would be seen to have higher levels of femininity. Two hundred and three participants responded to a scenario where three independent variables were manipulated in the portrayal of the individual: race (Black or White), social class (working or middle/upper), and sex (male or female). Participants then rated the individual in the scenario using adjectives from the Bem Sex Role Inventory to assess masculinity and femininity. Black individuals were rated more masculine than White individuals. Men were rated more masculine than women. There was a sex and social class interaction where middle/upper class men were rated highest overall in masculinity. Women were rated higher in femininity than men and a sex and social class interaction was found indicating that middle/upper class women were rated highest overall in femininity. The findings suggest that working class individuals are seen as more balanced in femininity and masculinity than are middle/upper class individuals who represent more extreme notions of femininity for women and masculinity for men.

Human cognition reflects a remarkable ability to process large amounts of information as well as an ability for complex thought and problem solving. However, in order to process large amounts of information, human thought is also marked by a need to quickly categorize information (Myers, 2003). Research suggests that three primary categories are used when assessing the physical characteristics of someone new – sex, race, and age (Zebrowitz, 1997). Each category is associated with stereotypes (Nelson, 2002); however, since individuals fall into more than one category variation in stereotypes should exist. But, stereotypes tend to be based on perceptions of White, middle class individuals (Niemann, O’Connor, & McClorie, 1998). In the past several decades, both the political and academic analysis of gender and racial oppression has asserted that race, gender and class are inextricably interlinked (Rothenberg, 2003). The current study explored the relationship between race and class in terms of gender stereotypes. Gender Stereotypes In general, there is strong agreement cross-culturally on stereotypes of men and women. Men are seen as active and aggressive; whereas women are seen as nurturing and caring (Williams & Best, 1982). Psychological research has explored stereotypes of sex categories (male and female) as well as perceptions of the characteristics of femininity and masculinity. The term femininity refers to the characteristics associated with the female gender. Some characteristics attributed to females include “compassionate,” “love children,” and “tender” (Hoffman & Borders, 2001). Conversely, the term masculinity refers to characteristics associated with the male gender. Such characteristics attributed to males according to the Bem Sex-Role Inventory include “assertive,” “strong personality,” and “aggressive” (Hoffman & Borders, 2001). Originally, masculinity and femininity was conceived of as a one-dimensional trait, meaning if an individual was high on one characteristic, it suggested that they were low on the other. For example, if an individual had high levels of masculinity, he or she must have low levels of femininity. However, more recent research on masculinity and femininity suggests a two-dimensional measure is more accurate. Thus, an individual can be high or low on both dimensions...
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