When I was in university one of my professors assigned my class to take the Bem Sex-Role Inventory. This is a questionnaire that roughly determines one’s ‘amounts’ of masculinity and femininity. After answering the questions I was intrigued to learn that my personality registers as being 60% feminine and 40% masculine. Being a person who identifies as a straight woman, I was suspicious to discover that I was almost as equally ‘masculine’ as I was ‘feminine’.
My professor went on to explain that not only is it common, but likely that many people in the class would score closer to the middle than they’d anticipated. She stated that masculinity and femininity have less to actually do with identifying as male or female than we have been lead to believe.
We spent the remainder the class discussing this concept, and one of the most interesting findings was that people who score closer to being 50/50 are referred to as being more ‘androgynous’, and studies have shown that these people tend to be happier. It has been observed that as we age and mature, we tend to gravitate more toward this androgynous centre. When we are younger, still developing and learning how to navigate the roles of being boys and girls, we tend to oversimplify these roles.
As adolescent and teenage boys and girls there is such a heavy emphasis on being a ‘girly girl’ and a ‘manly man’, and it can easily become implied that this is the most desirable to attract another heterosexual person. In the media, we see the characters of the jock and the cheerleader as being representational of what boys and girls are ‘supposed’ to be. I felt that pressure in high school too, of course. But I’ve been relieved to watch that pressure slowly dissolve as I become more confident in my own sense of individuality.
The force of masculinity is considered to be more practical and objective, going straight from point A to point B. There is truth to this method, as it is effective. Femininity is considered to be a more creative, subjective force, exploring various methods and options. There is truth to this method, and can be just as effective, but is valuable in a different way. Looking across the successful, happy, productive people in my life, I see a common thread of androgyny among them all.
These people tend to maintain a healthy balance of practicality and creativity, discipline and emotion, objectivity and subjectivity. For example, my boss is a woman who can very effectively make unbiased decisions, execute tasks, and for lack of better words, knows how to get shit done. Within that, I watch her incorporate creativity within her brainstorming and maintain attention to the emotions of those around her. Similarly, I find that my parents were an effective combination of disciplinary and loving. Often times, these are learned skills. And that’s where the stabilization of our personalities help us as we mature.
As we grow up and become parents, employees or spouses, we must learn how to fairly and realistically evaluate situations. While the masculine and feminine have little to do with gender, it has even less to do with sexual orientation. Whether a given man or woman significantly identifies as being more masculine or feminine, this is no indication of their sexual preference.
I’ve met many masculine women who undoubtedly identify as straight, and I’ve met many feminine men who confidently identify as straight. I have friends who are a part of the LGBTQ community who are very feminine women and very masculine men. This understanding is helpful in the advocacy for equality, seeing as it can help to dismiss assumptions or expectations made about people’s personalities, gender identities and sexual orientations. I found it intriguing that in reading the results of my Bem Sex-Role Inventory, that I interpreted my score as being a spectrum. As if humans were a flat, horizontal line, and I land somewhere roughly in the middle.
I believe that one of the great misinterpretations of masculinity and femininity is that they are opposing forces, rather than a spectrum. The opposite of female is not male. Rather, they are a means of duality.
And I believe that is can be irresponsible and damaging to assume that one is meant to combat or challenge the other, or that they are something we are able to compare. The true essence of masculine and feminine coexist so seamlessly that there is no way to even truly separate them. We cannot have shadows without the projection of light. But a shadow is not made of light.
We often see concepts such as ‘yin and yang’ associated with the masculine and feminine, and this is for good reason. This universal symbol represents the duality of many natural forces. Masculinity and femininity are both salt and sugar, different from each other, delicious in their own ways, and flavour enhancing.