Gender Stereotypes among University Students towards Masculinity and Femininity

M Sultana Alam

Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI), Malaysia

Volume 7, Number 3, 2015 I Full Text PDF



The main aim of this study was to examine gender stereotype and behavior among students towards masculinity and femininity at higher education institutions (HEI) in Malaysia. The study was conducted in two higher education institutions, namely International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) and University Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) in Malaysia. A total of 300 students (77 males & 223 females) was selected as the respondents from the selected study areas using purposive sampling method. A survey research design was employed in this study. Questionnaires were completed in a supervised set­ting by the research protocol. The first objective of this study was to exam­ine the student’s masculine and feminine behavior at higher learning insti­tutions using traditional and nontraditional scales. The results revealed that the highest numbers of respondents provided traditional masculine behav­iours towards their gender norms in terms of” Dominating family” (92.02 percent) while the lowest percentage was in terms of “ Not sharing problem with others”(26.0 percent). Similarly, the study examined female student’s attitudes towards femininity from the traditional and non-tradi­tional perspectives. The results revealed that the highest numbers of re­sponses were nontraditional on the aspects of caring and nurturing (96.0 percent), patience (50.05 percent), controlled by others as a natural (52.0 percent) and selfless (57 percent) respectively. By examining both male and female student’s attitudes towards masculinity and femininity, it could be summarized that male students were more traditional than female students. Given the importance of student’s attitude towards equality as the social and economic prosperity, several suggestions are made.

Keywords: Masculinity, Femininity, Gender Stereotype, Higher Educa­tional Institutions, Traditional, Nontraditional, Cultural Norm.


Construction of gender within the society creates different patterns of expectation for both men and women, which lead to different be­haviors (Zahra, 2013, Stibbe, 2004, Van Hoven and Hopkins, 2009). Femininity and masculinity are de­fined as the degree to which persons see themselves as masculine or feminine what is given to be a man or woman of the society (Burke, Stets and Pirog-Good 1988; Spence 1985). Masculine and feminine roles are not opposite instead of two sepa­rate dimensions (Bem, 1977). Femi­ninity and masculinity are usually seen as the quality, nature or state of the female or male sex. From the physiological context, these terms designate a collection of character­istics of each sex, including appear­ance, gender identity, gender roles, sexual object preference and cultur­ally determined social behavior. Femininity and masculinity are rooted in the social (one’s gender) rather than the biological sex (Burke, et al., 1988; Spence, 1985). Masculinity and femininity are seen as the relational concepts, which only have meaning in relation to each other. It is believed that mas­culine are configurations of practice structured by gender relations that are inherently historical and political process affecting the balance of in­terests in society and the direction of social change (Connell (1995).

Gender stereotypes of mascu­linity and femininity play an im­portant role in positive values and norms. As the development of gen­der identity, there are two psycho­analytic theories could be related which were invented by Freud (1927) and Kohlberg (1966). Ac­cording to psychoanalytic theory invented by Freud (1927), one’s gender identity develops through identification with the same-sex parent. Generally, the child develops a strong sexual attachment to the opposite-sex parent. Boys come to learn masculinity from their fathers and girls learn femininity from their mothers. Cognitive developmental theory is another psychological the­ory on gender identity development that is invented by Kohlberg (1966). According to the author gender identities take place in stages such as acquiring a fixed gender identity and establishing gender identity consistency. The first stage begins with the child’s identification as male or female when hearing the labels ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ applied to the self. By about age 3, the child can apply the appropriate gender label to the self. This is when gender iden­tity becomes fixed. After the devel­opment of gender identity, male and female child performs differently. Historically, men and women have had different expectations; women’s roles were defined as care-givers. Women were expected to perform domestic work while men were de­fined by their strength and ability to complete physical labor (Aye­nibiowo, 2010).

Moreover, men and women’s gender roles are classified as traditional and egalitarian or nontraditional. Roles attributed to women in traditional roles consist of non-egalitarian accountabilities such as being responsible for domestic affairs and not being active in pro­fessional life. On the other hand, roles attributed to men in traditional roles consist of accountabilities such as being the head of the house and also responsible for bread winning (Simge, 2011). In other words, from a traditional perspective, masculin­ity is often associated with charac­teristics such as aggressiveness, competitiveness, dominance, strength, courage and control (Sul­tana & Lazim., 2011). From the traditional views, men are more assertive, com­petitive, decisive, confident, ambi­tious, and instrumentally oriented, whereas women are more nurturing, empathetic, helpful, sympathetic, gentle, affectionate and expressively oriented (Lueptow et al., 2001; Hoffman & Borders, 2001). These characteristics result from a combi­nation of biological, cultural and social influences that would effect on fam­ily and society.

Similarly, from the traditional views of feminine roles the woman performs housework and engages in child care, is associated with low levels of prestige and negative values in comparison to the role of men as men’s role in the many societies is a person who is a bread winner that provides them to be involved them in a competitive earning (Riley, 2003). These notions of masculinity prevalent in much of the world con­done or attach status to men who exhibit dominance over women (Abramsky et al., 2012, Santana et al., 2006, Raj et al., 2006). Further­more, according to the traditional gender role perceptions, women should behave in ways that are nur­turing, and men should be the head of their household and should pro­vide financial support for the family. However, modern gender role sug­gest an alternative view. According to modern approach individuals’ behavior should not be determined only by their sex and that there should be more egalitarian relation­ships between men and women. Individuals should have the right to choose the roles they want to oc­cupy and to what extent these roles are associated with their sex (Black­stone, 2003).

Thus, traditional masculinity and femininity are characterized by unequal power with classroom; household as well as public domain. Power inequalities between women and men and the negative masculine culture are the major sources of this violence. It could be said that the traditional ideology of masculinity and femininity are the important reason for violence against women (Williams & Best, 1982; Sultana & Lazim., 2011). A number of studies (Asli 2001; Keith & Jacqueline 2002; Kimberly & Mahaffy 2002; Rosenkrantz 1986; ) conducted with the aim of determining their thoughts about gender roles of high school and university students; statements including traditional gender roles such as ‘woman’s main duty is to take care of home and the family’, ‘man should be the head of the household’, ‘breadwinning should be the man’s responsibility’, ‘man should be successful in profes­sional life’ etc. were addressed to the students. The findings of these studies showed that female students were found to be embracing the tra­ditional roles less than male stu­dents. From these findings, it is ap­propriate to determine the compari­son between male and female stu­dent’s gender stereotype and norms towards their masculine and femi­nine behaviours.

In the developing countries like Malaysia, gender related vio­lence, including sexual violence, rape are common phenomena. In line with the present study examines to what extent students tend to have non-traditional stereotype towards masculine and feminine behaviors, traits and norms at universities in Malaysia. Research on educational environments showed that educa­tional institutions foster traditional gender roles by reinforcing submis­sive roles for girls, who are domi­nated by boys in the classroom (Hartman 2010; Ayseh & Bruce, 2013). It is important to know the appropriate characteristics of mas­culinity and femininity among stu­dents who are the future leaders of the country. Moreover, there is lim­ited empirical research in Malaysia on student’s stereotype and attitudes towards masculinity and femininity. The present study investigates how young people play their gender role about their masculine and feminine behaviours. Although the im­portance of egalitarian masculinity and femininity in positive values and norms as well as equality has been widely discussed in the litera­ture, little is known among students in higher education institutions in Malaysia. As for the research objec­tives, the following objectives were determined: (1) to examine stu­dent’s behaviours and stereotypes towards masculinity and   femininity at educational institutions in Malay­sia ; (2) to assess the comparison between male and female student’s attitudes towards masculinity and femininity…Full Text PDF

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