Masculine or Feminine … or Neither?

Over the summer, I had one homework assignment for AP Psychology. It was to read Forty Studies That Changed Psychology and write two paragraph summaries for ten of the forty studies that caught my eye. In normal fashion, I read only ten of the studies and wrote the paragraphs the night before the due date. One of the studies that caught my eye was a study called Masculine or Feminine … or Both? that explored gender in psychology and proposed the idea that instead of masculinity and feminity being measured separately based on sex, they would be two variables on the same graph. Not only did this study introduce the idea of androgyny, but it also completely changed how psychologists studied gender.

The study was done by a professor who gave her students a list of positive attributes and asked her them which ones she felt were desirable to the opposite sex. This made it so that it strictly abided by gender norms in society. She then took the list and turned it into a test in which different attributes were listed with an “agree-disagree” spectrum with masc attributes contributing as negative variables and femme contributing as positive variables. She then made scoring guidelines: anyone -.05 or under was on the masc spectrum, anyone 0.5 or over was on the femme spectrum, and if the score ranged from -0.49-0.49, the person would then be considered “androgynous”.

In 1974, this was one of the most progressive gender studies in human history as it suggested that gender attributes weren’t exactly tied to sex. However, this study was done in 1974, not only have gender studies come a long way, but some of the research methods are outdated. For example, the attributes that are labeled “masculine” or “feminine” are only based on hetero-normativity and do not consider same-sex or other forms of attraction. Although it is likely a lot of the attributes will stay the same, some might change which is very important if something like this is to be measured. Then there’s the possibility that androgyny as a measurement of gender is outdated as well.

I’m not saying that we should all remove androgyny from our vocabularies altogether, as it is a good adjective for someone who has physical attributes of both sexes. What I do think, is that it limits psychological studies of gender as it still somewhat adheres to the idea that there are only two real classifications/identifications of gender. Realistically, a study such as this is really more useless than anything. In today’s world, there are so many gender identifications such as non-binary that completely exclude masculinity and femininity altogether. It might even be better to exclude gender identification in psychology altogether as it is extremely difficult to study something that has an actively growing number of variables.

Art by Frida Kahlo

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