Gender-schematic

Gender-schematic people use gender stereotypes to organise information in their world. People who identify strongly with their gender stereotype adopt attitudes and behaviours consistent with it, and use it to judge others. That seems me to fit trans folk. We imagine that “masculine” and “feminine” have meaning. Trans women I know tried desperately to fit the masculine stereotype, perhaps even ultra-masculine, and then become ultra-feminine, at least in presentation.

Cordelia Fine did not say how the Attitude Interest Analysis Survey decided what was masculine and what was feminine. Hundreds of specimen attitudes, emotions, personality traits and occupational choices were put before American school-children. Those which elicited strongly different responses from one sex were included in the survey. So it is a test of conformity: those who score as particularly masculine or feminine are those who want to conform. Trans people can report that does not mean we accurately estimate who we are.

The Bem Sex Role Inventory, made by S.L. Bem, asked adults about the desirability of traits in men and in women. It had separate scales, one for masculinity, one for femininity, and so could produce results as masculine, feminine, androgynous (both) or undifferentiated (neither). I found this pdf for the Personal Attributes Questionnaire, which indicates the scores with the questions. I scored myself high feminine, low masculine, though wondered whether others would score me the same. Would their estimation of me equal mine? For this test, to be “excitable”  in a major crisis is thought feminine, to be calm, masculine. But the weaker person with less control might be resigned, rather than excitable. Excitable might go with panic and fruitless activity or passion and directed activity. One might think it “British” to be calm, and “Italian” (well, we are talking stereotypes) to be excitable.

The source I looked at said PAQ measured “desirable” traits. I don’t see excitability in a crisis to be desirable, but then I am British, and conform to that stereotype to a great extent. Also, it said “feminine” in the test meant expressive, and “masculine”, instrumental. It says it is masculine to be competitive, but not feminine to be uncompetitive. Fine says that women can be competitive, in sports and for academic advancement.

PAQ says women are sensitive, in the negative sense that their feelings are easily hurt and the positive sense that they are aware of the feelings of others. I feel these traits go together.

I don’t know what I would have said when I was struggling so gamely to make a man of myself. I know that I was not aware of my feelings, and might have been similarly unaware of my attributes. I remember claiming not to be easily hurt, and Moira incredulously denying that. I would deny it myself, now.

I feel my self-perception now- that I am easily hurt- is more accurate than it was then. This seems a matter of learning about myself as I age, but could equally be conforming to a feminine stereotype. One does not feel as one ought to feel, but as one feels, and that can be difficult to understand. I find the idea of what feelings are appropriate can be a barrier to knowing what one actually feels. I remember being surprised in the hour of my mother’s death that none of us were crying.

It could then be that trans people are just particularly gender-schematic, that we understand people through the concept of gender. Unable to fit as men, trans women transition. This may go along with arousal at cross-dressing, not as a prime cause but as a factor making transition more likely. The end of the concept of gender, as a way of understanding others or ourselves, would liberate us to find out who we really are.

Psychology Research and Reference on masculinity and femininity.

6 thoughts on “Gender-schematic

    • Justified resentment that Bem would not be able to understand the complexities of your character, and would apply such a one word summary. “Pshaw”, you say, and throw the book across the room.

      Or you could go to him and say “Does this mean I am worthless, unmanly and unfeminine, fit only to be laughed at by proper men and real women?” And he would say, “No, no, undifferentiated does not mean that! Of course, some undifferentiated people go on to lead reasonably worthwhile lives.”

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      • I actually took the test a second time and answered a few of the questions differently. Yes, as a child I did burn a few things with a magnifying glass and disassembled machines to see how they work. My rating on the second test was “masculine,” but still near the “undifferentiated” border. So, if I average the two results, then I am borderline undifferentiated/masculine. I expected “androgynous,” but on the Bem test that is above the mean on both masculine and feminine traits.

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        • Mmm. “Answered them differently”. So when were you lying?

          That is the point of “gender-schematic”- I now have a concept to describe why some people do not know themselves. They happen to be men, so they value qualities which happen to be called “masculine” by their culture. That means they devalue their own qualities and beat themselves up because they do not fit a caricature. “NO!!” says the sensitive intuitive. “I need to be rational!” But sensitive intuitive is so much better.

          As for androgynous being above the mean, that shows how arbitrary the test is. Writing it involves so many choices. Perhaps Bem thought people would take exception to being called “androgynous”, or perhaps he thought androgyny a bad thing and wanted clear evidence of it before he would ascribe it to anyone.

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