Femininity / Masculinity
Jan E. Stets and Peter J. Burke
Department of Sociology, Washington State University
Pp. 997-1005 in Edgar F. Borgatta and Rhonda J. V. Montgomery (Eds.),
Encyclopedia of Sociology, Revised Edition. New York: Macmillan.
[Excerpt from text]
Femininity and masculinity or one’s gender identity (Burke, Stets and Pirog-Good 1988; Spence 1985) refers to the degree to which persons see themselves as masculine or feminine given what it means to be a man or woman in society. Femininity and masculinity are rooted in the social (one’s gender) rather than the biological (one’s sex). Societal members decide what being male or female means (e.g., dominant or passive, brave or emotional), and males will generally respond by defining themselves as masculine while females will generally define themselves as feminine. Because these are social definitions, however, it is possible for one to be female and see herself as masculine or male and see himself as feminine.
It is important to distinguish gender identity, as presented above, from other gender-related concepts such as gender roles which are shared expectations of behavior given one’s gender. For example, gender roles might include women investing in the domestic role and men investing in the worker role (Eagly 1987). The concept of gender identity is also different from gender stereotypes which are shared views of personality traits often tied to one’s gender such as instrumentality in men and expressiveness in women (Spence and Helmreich 1978). And, gender identity is different from gender attitudes that are the views of others or situations commonly associated with one’s gender such as men thinking in terms of justice and women thinking in terms of care (Gilligan 1982). Although gender roles, gender stereotypes and gender attitudes influence one’s gender identity, they are not the same as gender identity (Katz 1986; Spence and Sawin 1985).
From a sociological perspective, gender identity involves all the meanings that are applied to oneself on the basis of one’s gender identification. In turn, these self-meanings are a source of motivation for gender-related behavior (Burke 1980). A person with a more masculine identity should act more masculine, that is, engage in behaviors whose meanings are more masculine such as behaving in a more dominant, competitive, and autonomous manner (Ashmore, Del Boca, and Wohlers 1986). It is not the behaviors themselves that are important, but the meanings implied by those behaviors.
Beginning at birth, the self-meanings regarding one’s gender are formed in social situations, stemming from ongoing interaction with significant others such as parents, peers, and educators (Katz 1986). While individuals draw upon the shared cultural conceptions of what it means to be male or female in society which are transmitted through institutions such as religion or the educational system, they may come to see themselves as departing from the masculine or feminine cultural model. A person may label herself female, but instead of seeing herself in a stereotypical female manner such as being expressive, warm, and submissive (Ashmore, Del Boca, and Wohlers 1986), she may view herself in a somewhat stereotypically masculine fashion such as being somewhat instrumental, rational, and dominant. The point is that people have views of themselves along a feminine-masculine dimension of meaning, some being more feminine, some more masculine, and some perhaps a mixture of the two. It is this meaning along the feminine-masculine dimension that is their gender identity, and it is this that guides their