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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Masculinity and Femininity

Masculinity and femininity refer to a person’s gender identity.  This is whether a person sees themselves as a man or woman and what this means in our society.  This is different from “gender” which is biological, gender roles that are social differences, and gender stereotypes.  Gender role is how a person is supposed to dress, act, think, and feel, based on whether they are a man or woman.  Gender identity is how someone think’s of one’s own gender.  While masculinity and femininity are on opposite ends of a scale, most people find themselves somewhere in the middle depending on certain traits that are attributed to either males or females.  This is the masculinity-femininity continuum.

Among the characteristics that may be considered more masculine are: defending an opinion or belief, being a provider, sexually aggressive, unemotional, logical, rational, intellectual, stoic, adventurous, competitive, playing team sports, being a leader, being forceful, self-sufficient, being an organizer, and being independent.  Chafetz also identified seven areas of traditional masculinity.  Those are physical, functional, sexual, emotional, intellectual, and interpersonal.  The characteristics listed previously fall into one of these areas. 
Characteristics considered more on the feminine end of the scale include: caring for children and others, being empathetic, being indecisive, caring, affectionate, not following through on tasks, and not speaking up when being challenged.
Physical features also play in a role in gender identity.  This does not mean the presence or absence of reproductive organs but of secondary sexual features.  For female attributes, person is considered more feminine if she has large cleavage and a high pitched voice.  More masculine features may include a hairy chest, large muscles, and a deep voice.
Several factors determine gender identity.  Even before birth, gender is an important factor.  This can be seen when expectant parents anxiously wait to hear from the ultrasound tech if they are having a boy or girl.  It is affected by biological factors such as genetics and hormones, and social factors such as family.
While several tests have been developed to determine how masculine or feminine a person is, none have been able to come up with a test that works for all ages, classes, and cultures.  Arbitrary statements about gender role tend to bias the results.
For myself, I consider myself to be much closer to the feminine end of the continuum.  Some of the characteristics I feel I possess that are feminine are caring for others.  I like to volunteer for charities and spend time with my family.  I do not always speak up for myself in a discussion.  I am not a good decision maker.  Physically, I do have cleavage and “feminine” figure.  However I do possess some masculine traits.  I like to be outside and go hiking. I enjoy nature and do not like violence.  I do not consider myself vain and do not spend a lot of time worried about my physical appearance.  I consider myself independent and self-sufficient.   I do not like to go shopping.
I think a lot of things influenced my gender identity.  Obviously my feminine physical traits played a role, though I did not “develop” until a little later than other girls.  My mother played the largest role in my upbringing and she was the oldest of three daughters.  Gender roles were important to her in that women are expected to be certain things like homemakers, stay at home moms, demure, and submissive.  While society has changed, the impact of that upbringing has definitely had an impact on my life.  According to my upbringing, woman is seen as more feminine if she is quiet and caring.  On the contrary, my father raised me to think that anything a boy could do, I could do too.  This may have been in part to the fact that he only had daughters.  This probably played some of the masculine traits of my gender identity such as independence and self-sufficiency. 
In conclusion, I think that masculinity and femininity are things that can only be described in terms of degree and not absolute.  There is no such thing as 100% masculine or 100% feminine.  Everyone has characteristics of both and there are many factors that can influence where people fall along the continuum.
Dr. Vishwanath Bite

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