Sexual Roles and androgyny

“Although the masculine and the feminine have been the two sides of the great radical dualism, in reality, they are always intermingling. The liquid solidifies and the solid melts. There is no man entirely male or woman completely female.

-Margaret Fuller

Sexual roles refer to personality characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors that each culture attributes to the Sexes. Differences in the behavior of men and women have largely been attributed to close interactions between socio-cultural pressure and specific inheritance.

Generic identification (identity) is usually solidly established in adolescence and is a complex phenomenon, because it corresponds to a wide range of variables, such as individual psychological characteristics, biologically determined anatomical and physiological structure, a social group in which the individual develops, educational patterns, and current cultural influences with among others. On the other hand, identification as a man or woman (roles) presents a more dynamic aspect that leads individuals to assume typical male or female behaviors in different everyday situations.

For many years masculinity and femininity were treated as a single dimension, with two opposite poles, which made it possible to place individuals on one side or the other of that dichotomous classification. I mean, these could be to a greater or lesser degree male or female, but never be both at once.

The patriarchal and rationalist society is where the Age of Modernism was located on certain expectations and social prescriptions for both sexes. Men were characterized by exhibiting instrumental behavior, possessing superior intelligence, strength, analytical skill in problem resolution and agility. The interests of men were focused on the design and development of theories, economics, and politics.

The male personality highlighted the features of independence, dominance, leadership, and inexpressiveness, and also exhibited powerful, active sexuality with a tendency to seek out several sexual partners. Women were characterized by expressive behavior and a special interest in aesthetic, social and religious values. As for the personality, the main features of dependence, affectivity, adaptability, expressiveness, empathy and in the sexual sphere were attributed to the woman a passive and little exploratory role.

This categorization was seriously questioned in the 1970s by feminist movements and the concept of androgyny resurfaced from Social Psychology.

Thus, so-called psychological androgyny is defined as the ability of an individual to express instrumental or typically masculine traits and behaviors and also expressive or typically feminine behaviors.

This new conception no longer considers masculinity and femininity as dichotomies, but as a continuum, so that all individuals might be able to externalize to a greater or lesser degree those two traits. In this way, the term androgyny has been positioned, to designate those individuals who present in a proportional and balanced way male and female traits in their attitudes and behaviors.

Postmodernism reveals radical changes in Civilization, questions the traditional rule-governed society and facilitates the transition to more holistic thinking. This postmodern perspective allows the emergence of a society in which the traits or attributes previously assigned to each sex are presented interchangeably in both genders.

From this perspective, androgyny takes on special importance, since it allows individuals to present a wide range of possibilities that make it easier for them to adapt to the convulsed contemporary environment in which traditional roles and stereotypes cease to be functional.; it is not only the profusion of external images already common in our culture (men with long hair, earrings, or women with short hair, scrawny bodies and former male outfits), it can also show some discomfort of embodying a binary model “man “or” woman “, the clear rejection of prefixed identities, and the need to develop multiple and varied strategies of operation.

Postmodernism As A Facilitator Of Androgyny

Androgyny and Postmodernism

At the dawn of the Twenty-First Century, humanity is undergoing an accelerated process of transformations of all kinds: political, social, economic, scientific and cultural. It has been argued that we are in the postmodern era, called by Lipovetsky‘’The era of void’’, where the established order, tradition, the avant-garde, the stereotypes, the commitments, and rigid disciplinary processes have lost their virtue-generating stimuli and it is suggested that equality between the genders and the weakening of the religious moral and have facilitated the resurgence of androgyny among the individuals of this new society.

Postmodernism also highlights the democratization of hedonism, the widespread consecration of consumerism, personalization and holistic thinking, establishing a clear predominance of the individual over the universal, of the psychological over ideologies, of communication over-politicization, of diversity over the homogeneous.

To illustrate a bit about the ontology of postmodernism, we bring up a fragment of the work The Perpetual Euphoria of the philosopher Pascal Bruckner who expresses in a forceful way the contemporary feeling? They throw themselves into existence eagerly to exercise their individual rights and above all to build their lives as they understand them, each one sure that life reserves a promise of fulfillment. And everyone will have said from their tender age: Be happy, because now you do not have children to transmit values, roles or a spiritual heritage, but to multiply the number of people made in the world?

In these times of cultural relaxation and techno-scientific reproduction, art also takes other directions and aesthetics has become a display of globalization, in a need to constantly produce new waves of shocking appearances. It speaks of an aesthetic of standardization of objects, which imposes on the collective taste; a kind of aesthetics of repetition. The so-called standardization brings together several morphologies that construct instabilities and metamorphosis in most consumer artistic products.

They drive particular aesthetic categories from the notions of the chaotic and the monstrous, such as instability, the dynamic, the unpredictable, the indecision in the forms, the turbulence, the discontinuity, the random, the bricolage, the amorphous between others and There is talk of a prevailing teratology (from the Greek term: monstrosity) that places us in the aesthetic categories of the ugliness and the grotesque and tries to capture the social reality as euphoric, sinister and ambiguous.

The traditional standard and rigidity of the aesthetic value judgment is broken and excessive, informed and unpredictable results. Faced with these morphological mutations of postmodern art, it is opportune to insinuate that the notions of the monstrous and chaotic flow in the midst of mass society, consumerizing and passive, and subversive attitudes to the norms of the aesthetic, moral and social order.

When referring to the meaning that the body has for contemporary man, he assumes it as a changing entity and generator of multiple conflicts and aesthetic possibilities.

Starting from the idea of Donna J. Haraway of the human nature, has lost its naturalness in postmodernism, it is important to highlight the increasingly prevalent trends of the transgressions of the body of female bodybuilding, tattoos, piercing, transsexualism, transvestism – and other acts not natural that require us to rethink ideas about sex, gender, and the human body.

The original forms and features are no longer respected. The technology through the morphing (proceedings of computer graphics that allows you to transform a few of the ways in other using digital techniques) offers a menu of physiognomic possibilities, which after being outlined in a computer, will be reproduced in the body by surgical techniques (prosthesis, silicone implants, liposculpture) giving as a result to the so-called ‘’morphs’’ or mutants. In the work, The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf points out that in cyber-culture, digital systems have created post-human, changing and undifferentiated models of aesthetics. The body has become for many a permeable membrane whose integrity is compromised by convenience, erasing the traits that defined its origins.

In general terms, when reference is made to postmodernity, three important features should be included.:

  1. Polymorphism: where various faces and nuances born in culture appear and are expressed
  2. Accumulation: it makes a critique of history, keeps empirical evidence, does not deny history and tries to assimilate and renew it
  3. Ambiguity: it presents antagonistic and complementary paths of human development.

Thus, postmodernity facilitates the reconstruction of a more complete image of the individual. Today it is plausible that men are loving, peaceful and compassionate; similarly, it is well seen that women’s attitudes can be identified with so-called male values, such as competition, aggressiveness, and rationality.

In summary, the integrative perspective of the holistic thinking, the ambiguity, the polymorphism, empiricism, equality between the genders, and cultural relativism, among other factors, facilitate the expression of behaviors androgynous.

Androgyny Definition

Androgyny Definition

The term androgynous is taken from the Greek and results from the combination of the roots ‘andro’ (male) and ‘gyn’ (female).

In the work Plato’s banquet, Aristophanes recounts the existence of a particular class of human being called androgynous that had a rounded shape, had four arms, four legs, two faces, a head and brought together the female and male sex; such bodies were vigorous and Zeus decided to divide them into two parts. Once this split has been made, each half strives to find its other part.

It is important to note that etymologically the word sex comes from ”secare”, which means sectioning, (this derivation seems to reflect the drama that occurred in the androgynous myth). Although this myth of ancient Greece is quite widespread, some polytheistic religions, Kabbalah, alchemy, gnosis, taote king, among others, have defined and worshipped bisexual deities, which seems to indicate that since ancient times man has experienced fascination and uneasiness for harmony and unity of feminine and masculine attributes.

The term androgyny is used in various medical and psychological contexts, as there are some situations in which the main dilemma focuses on the personal conflict generated by the being possessing the male and female sexual attributes in itself. Here I refer to some of those terms that may be framed in this issue.

In medicine, the term androgyny refers to a human individual who possesses female external sexual characters and also has testicular tissue that has not descended. The terms hermaphrodite and intersex alludes to individuals who possess testicular and ovarian tissue in their gonads, generating somatic abnormalities that give them the outward appearance of bringing together both sexes. In this context, the terms androgynous and hermaphrodite and intersex could be corresponding.

When an individual transcends conventional definitions of men and women, it is called ‘’transgender’’ and within this group are the transsexuals (Gender Identity Disorder), transvestites, drag queen, male women, female men, among others. So that the transgender is a term used to describe a wide range of individuals who experience and/or express their gender differently from what you would expect the majority of the population, but this would not be the present dilemma in the androgynous, hermaphrodite, or intersex (biological).

Psychological Androgyny

Since the seventies and under the leadership of feminist movements and social psychology, a large amount of research has been carried out on the incidence of sexual roles (masculinity, femininity) in the configuration of personal identity, self-schemes, performance within society and mental health. In this same period, the concept of psychological androgyny was developed within social psychology.

Traditional research on the psychological differences of sex had studied masculinity and femininity as polar opposites. In these initial studies, it was observed that ‘’male’’ types were most successful in instrumental activities where a display of aggressiveness and assertiveness was required, while ‘’female’’ types were much more successful in activities where sensitivity and expressiveness were needed.

Since good professional performance had traditionally been associated with male skills, one conclusion that could be deduced from the rigidity of these marked stereotypes was that women would have fewer opportunities for professional success if they did not sacrifice their female side. This generated a wave of protests that led to reevaluating the concept of gender and changing its perspectives.

Psychologists such as Bem (1974,1975), Spence and Helmreich (1975,1978), Gilbert (1981), Kaplan (1976) and Nickerson (1977) appearedwho challenged the assumption that women’s ability to compete in traditionally male efforts is to significantly sacrifice their female side.

It was then postulated that successful women in the field of Labor had integrated into their repertoire of behaviors instrumental elements, in addition to expressive ones, and it was given the opportunity to lecture about psychological androgyny.

It was postulated that psychologically androgynous individuals combine in a balanced way traditional male traits (such as assertiveness) and female traits (such as sensibility) in their way of acting.

androgyny psychology

The individual androgynous is not viewed as a hybrid psychological that is located in the middle of the road between masculinity and femininity extreme, it is more a case of the individual who possesses both masculine and feminine qualities are well defined and available. Research points to the value of psychological androgyny as it shows how androgynous people ‘’men and women’’ are more likely to succeed in both male and female tasks.

Dualism in the gender vision has not contributed much at the scientific level and has apparently generated inequalities and major conflicts among populations. In order to go further and overcome that vision, this integrative model (androgyny) was developed to demonstrate that the various components of masculinity and femininity can be combined in any way, according to individual differences, preferences, traits and needs, thus allowing the expression of a great diversity and individual variation of strategies.

At this time when many dilemmas have to be resolved along the way, there are no longer many guides or areas demarcated by canons that somehow force us to act in one way or another. That is why individuals with greater plasticity are needed in their global functioning, which favors greater adaptation to each new and unexpected situation of contemporary life.

The advantages offered by the model of psychological androgyny are clear. However, there are some studies that indicate that Instrumental or male behaviors are more determinant than psychological androgyny for the social adaptation and psychological well-being of populations.

There is still a lot of controversy about these results.

In order to evaluate psychological androgyny, Sandra Bem created in 1974 an instrument called: Inventory of Sexual role (Bsri) Bem sex role inventory. This measure was designed to conduct empirical research on psychological androgyny. The sexual role inventory includes sixty personality characteristics.

Twenty of them are stereotypically female and twenty are stereotypically male. Also includes 20 features neutral. It is a self-decrypting test in which the subject is asked to point out of each item to what degree that trait is given in it, having as reference a scale from 1 to 7 that allows him to indicate whether a certain personality characteristic is given always or almost always or never or almost never in it.

Each subject obtains, according to his answers, a score of masculinity and femininity, and based on the method of scoring the division by the median is his gender typology. It’s a self-administered scale and it’s not synchronized. It takes approximately 15-20 minutes to be answered. The items are noted in independent dimensions of masculinity and femininity, as well as classifications for androgyny and undifferentiated are defined.

  • High score on masculinity and femininity — androgynous.
  • Low score on masculinity and femininity — undifferentiated.
  • High score in masculinity and low in femininity — ” male
  • High score in femininity and low in masculinity– “feminine

Some interesting conclusions have been drawn from the various work carried out using the model of psychological androgyny, which should be taken into account when designing strategies for promotion and Prevention in gender-related mental health and psychological and social adjustment.

  1. Individuals who have the ability to behave androgynically tend to be psychologically healthier and develop a better self-concept, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.
  2. Androgynous people are more likely to select behavior that is more appropriate to the requirements of each situation.
  3. Androgyny is a good indicator of social adjustment in adulthood.
  4. Androgynous has a wide repertoire of behaviors, allowing great flexibility and plasticity in global operation and facilitating adaptation to different environments.
  5. Male and androgynous people score significantly higher in self-esteem than undifferentiated and female people.
  6. Androgynous people have a higher perception of good quality of life than men or women.
  7. The population with male or androgynous traits present a more positive body image of the body and are more satisfied with its sexuality than the female or undifferentiated typology.

For a long time, culture was responsible for exaggerating the differences between the sexes and little attention was paid to the similarities. In addition, the traits traditionally assigned to each gender have largely been derived from the processes of socialization and enculturation within the framework of patriarchal society.

Postmodernism, by allowing the development of‘’ integration ” as the basis for individualism and diversity, opens up greater possibilities for traits (female/male) to present themselves interchangeably in both genders and it is considered desirable that this should happen.

As discussed throughout the article, androgyny can be taken into account as a feature that will allow the beings of the new millennium to respond effectively to the changing situations of a complex world and obtain a good adaptation to the environment by improving global functioning.

In today’s psychiatry, we face various dilemmas originating within the culture. The knowledge in our area is condensed and organized in electronic media and in ever smaller and virtual spaces, our discipline and the technologies evolve at accelerated rates and the information flows at such a high rate that assimilating it is an important effort, as it is the choice of the material that overwhelms us.

For the same reason, the psychiatrist needs to introduce himself in the various areas of human knowledge (philosophy, sociology, anthropology, psychology), which allows them to make a more comprehensive approach to the mental disorders and behavior that develop in this postmodern scenario. Psychological androgyny can be a useful tool to be included in the arsenal of possibilities for addressing gender in the third millennium.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here