The Psychology of Gender – Part II

Gender Identity and Gender Expression

Gender expression refers to the ways in which each individual manifests masculinity or femininity. It is usually an extension of ones Gender identity i.e. our innate sense of being male or female. Each of us expresses a particular gender every day – by the way we style our hair, select our clothing, or even the way we stand. Our appearance, speech, behaviour, movement, and other factors signal that we feel – and wish to be understood – as masculine or feminine, or as a man or a woman.

It is important to note that for some, their gender expression may not match their biological sex. That is, while other people see them as being male or female, they may or may not fit the expectations of masculinity or femininity.

In the contemporary times, the line that once was like the iron curtain in regard to gender expression is getting blurred. One may not have to stress much to bring it to the mind the ways it is happening. Today there is a notion that men and women lead strikingly similar lives, cohabiting, receiving same education, having equal legal rights and also same employment opportunities. But the irony is that, despite the intermixing of gender roles and similarities in gender expression, still the psycho-social realities around the world in general and in India in particular are on opposite ends of the spectrum. We must realise that the core reasons for unequal status of the two genders are more due to psychological characteristics which have been passed on, generation after generation, thus becoming deep rooted in the societies.

Despite the echoes of equality and women empowerment being heard all over, we are facing so many gender specific issues arising in such complex forms that they have the potential of creating waves of upheaval to shake the basic foundations of society’s views on gender. But equally astonishing is the fact that, even in modern Morocco, women are not concerned with equality. The distinct roles of men and women are not questioned in Morocco (Hessini, 1994). The man is the leader of the family and works outside the home to provide for the family; the woman is responsible for the household, which includes the education and religious training of children.

Although the cultural code (in Morocco) for men is to support the family financially, economic necessity has led to an increase in the number of women working outside the home. This is creating some tension because both women and men believe that women’s primary responsibility lies inside the home and that women should not work outside the home. So there are differences that occur world over with respect to gender roles and the expectancies, but for now let us see some of the manifestations generally encountered in our own society and culture.

To analyse female identity in India, let us first start by enlisting some  contemporary manifestations of gender discrimination observed in various spheres of life.

 Manifestations in social sphere

  • Little or no role of women in religious rituals.
  • Restricted entry of women in sanctum sanctorum of temples and mosques.
  • Medieval age practices of triple talaq and polygamy.
  • Existence of practices like dowry, child marriage.
  • Eve teasing, sexual harassment , rape, acid attack, delayed justice.
  • Selective abortion of female foetus and female infanticide.

Manifestations in professional sphere

  • Existence of glass ceiling
  • Wage disparity
  • Subtle sexism at work place.
  • Maternity leave and child rearing are important markers for hiring a woman employee.
  • Patriarchal societal framework which restricts personal, social and occupational advancement of women.

Does all these external manifestations somehow lead to inequality in status between women and men? The obvious answer is ‘Yes’. Let’s have a brief look on it: There are a number of indices of gender inequality. The higher illiteracy rates of women, less access to medical care for women, a lower earnings ratio of women compared to men, and the legitimization of physical abuse of women in some countries are all manifestations of men’s higher status relative to women’s. In India and China, some female fetuses are aborted because they are less valued than males. The one-child policy in China has led to the abortion of female fetuses even though sex-selective abortion is prohibited by the government. These are only few examples to point towards the inequality as far as status is concerned.

All these manifestations lead to male dominance and make them as a ” Privilege group“. We say privileged because, historically, women were not allowed to vote or own property. At one time, only men were allowed to serve in the military. Today, men have greater access than women to certain jobs and to political office.

The problem doesn’t stop here, its a reaction which ones initiated gets new forms, and in consistency with this, these outward and external discriminations lead to internal manifestations i.e. internalization of these discriminatory behaviors into a woman’s psyche. This is the time when fragmentation of psyche begins which has a strong bearing on her adjustment in the society. This fragmentation leads to imbibing some of the negative aspects in her self concept such as :


Hence, it is clear that the cumulative impact can be muti -dimentional, depending on personality characteristics of a female, ranging from inter personal mal-adjustment to mental health problems to role confusion to lower achievement drive to identity crisis and also to seeing discrimination as legitimate. In low self efficacy females this gets manifested in social isolation and unmitigated communion, which has a ripple effect and can be seen and understood from the below diagrammatic representation:

 Model of the relation between unmitigated communion and depression. 


                      Source: Adapted from Fritz and Helgeson (1998).     

So coming back from where we started, ” The Psychology of Gender” is more about the context, social and cultural forces that influences men and women in the society. This leaves us with the message that primary focus, when dealing with the psychology of gender, should not be on biology alone, although their contributions are accepted and registered.

This is all for Now !