Feminine and Masculine Attributes in the Actual and Ideal Person-Perceptions of Contemporary College Students
Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Educational Policy and Leadership
A sample of one hundred and fifty college seniors used the items of the Bem Sex-Role Inventory to describe: (1) themselves; (2) their own ideal selves; (3) their ideal person of the other sex; and (4) the ideal man or woman they envisioned the other sex to hold of them-for women, a man's ideal woman, and, for men, a woman's ideal man. The study was in response to recent arguments that we need to re-think our notions of what is appropriate behavior for men and women, and to encourage each sex to acquire the positively valued attributes traditionally considered the domain of the other sex. Of primary interest were the direct comparisons of the masculine and feminine attributes subjects endorsed as characteristic of themselves and of each other in their various descriptions, with particular concern for how the ideals envisioned by each sex compared with those actually given by the other sex. A three-way analysis of variance was computed in order to obtain error terms for the post hoc comparisons of means. For these comparisons, Sheffe's Contrast Allowances were used. The findings indicated that the women in the sample were less sex-typed than were the men, who remained traditional throughout their descriptions. Patterns endorsed by the women tended toward "androgyny," or a balance of masculine and feminine traits, whereas patterns endorsed by the men tended to conform to the respective stereotypes. Although the women described an androgynous ideal for themselves, they endorsed a traditional pattern for their own ideal man, but they differed from tradition in simultaneously endowing him with feminine attributes equal to their own. The men envisioned this general pattern when they described a woman's ideal man, but underestimated the masculine attributes the women assigned to this ideal. Patterns endorsed by the men showed a pervasive tendency toward the traditional sex-stereotypes, the men viewing one constellation of attributes as antithetical to the other. They described themselves, both actually and ideally, as significantly higher in masculine than in feminine attributes. Similarly, the ideal woman they described was feminine at the expense of her masculine propensities. This masculine view of the ideal woman was correctly envisioned by the women in their descriptions of man's ideal woman, but they exaggerated the magnitude of the discrepancy between masculine and feminine traits. The masculine view of the ideal woman was also widely discrepant with the women's actual and ideal views of themselves. An examination of the particular attributes endorsed by both sexes revealed that they both chose similar constellations of valued traits in all descriptions but one. In this one, the women showed a marked confusion about the feminine and masculine traits characteristic of a man's ideal woman, envisioning her as characterized by extreme sex-stereotypes. This view did not correspond with the description the men gave of their ideal woman. Rather, the men endowed her with masculine and feminine attributes closely resembling their own, and matching those by which the women characterized their own ideal selves. The findings of this study appear to be instructive for both women and men in that they clarify important aspects of their current perceptions of themselves and of each other. They also underscore some of the misperceptions of each with regard to the other.