What is Masculinity and Femininity?

Woof. This is a question.

And here I go, trying to define what I’ve researched or read—and yet what I still know I need to learn more about. As someone who is very passionate and curious about the psychologies that surround masculinity and femininity, how each impacts society, how cultures perceive them, and how they affect our romantic relationships—and as someone who is very spiritual herself, I think this is important to talk about. Because I feel there are different definitions depending upon which angle you look at them, and yet they’re connected and linked in many ways.

I feel that in looking at these subjects through a scientific lens, while also considering the knowledge from various spiritual communities, we might be able to see better how masculinity and femininity play a greater role in our relationships. This is one of my passions, something I want to research more.

So, I’m gonna do my best to talk about what I mean here. Let this be a documentation of my studies in this area—however eclectic they get. That may mean scientific writing, but it also may just mean nerding out and jotting down ideas I have. But I can’t build theories and ideas without both research and exploring the different perspectives I get from each area. Let’s see where this take us.

Masculinity and Femininity

Because of the way these words appear, most assume they exclusively mean “male-like” and “female-like”. While there may be some gendered constructs associated with these words, masculine and feminine can simply refer to qualities, characteristics, or behaviors. Yes, usually these qualities, characteristics, or behaviors are associated with typical male or female traits, but it does not mean masculine or feminine are exclusive to each gender.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, we often associate these characteristics with strictly men and women. Part of this how we get gender characteristic assignments—e.g., men don’t cry or show emotions because emotions are strictly a feminine quality.

But masculinity and femininity—in my opinion—are beyond the binary male and female. When I think of masculine and feminine, I don’t think of strictly male or female, but these characteristics associated with them. Part of this is because I’m a pagan and I enjoy studying and working with tarot, which has a lot of these masculine and feminine characteristics to study. In some spiritual practices and circles, these can relate to qualities of the god and goddess—the divine masculine and divine feminine, as it were. But it can also relate to the elements: fire and air being masculine and water and earth being feminine.

Yet masculinity and femininity have been the subject of various psychological studies as well. As of now, there are two figures who stand out to me in having significant findings regarding masculinity and femininity. Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede noted six dimensions of culture; masculinity and femininity were one of the dimensions noted. In addition, psychologist Carl Jung also discussed aspects of the feminine and masculine in the anima and animus within men and women.

But in an attempt to find some consistency between the two, I’m currently considering this:

Masculine

Traits typically associated with maleness

Does not necessarily denote being male nor are they characteristics exclusive to men alone

Some characteristics may include:

  • Logical
  • Self-focused
  • Aggressive/Assertive
  • Analytical
  • Protective/Defensive
  • Adventurous
  • Rigid

Feminine

Traits typically associated with femaleness

Does not necessarily denote being female nor are they characteristics exclusive to women alone

Some characteristics may include:

  • Emotional/Creative
  • Community-focused
  • Receptive/Passive
  • Intuitive
  • Nurturing/Care-giving
  • Calm/gentle
  • Flexible

Disclaimers

Please note: THESE ARE NOT FULL LISTS. This is a topic I have so many thoughts and opinions about and it is very complex. I cannot cover it all in a single entry. So, I’m starting small and basic. I’ll grow from here as I continue my studies.

Moreover, these lists should not be indicative of “men are X” and “women are Y”. Plenty of men are community-focused and plenty of women are analytical. This is one of the reasons why we need to stop looking at these terms as strictly “male” and “female”.

But you should see there is a sense of duality here, as there are in many things in our world. Masculine and feminine are meant to be opposites, but equal in their value. In some instances, you need to be assertive, but in others, you benefit from being passive. I believe each person has these aspects within themselves and their job is to determine how to balance them. But I’ll dig into that more as I explore this topic in other entries; already this one is longer than I meant it to be.

Masculinity and Femininity in Psychology

My current knowledge includes some of the basics surrounding two figures who discussed masculinity and femininity: Geert Hofstede and Carl Jung. Both looked at these things in different ways and in different times. I’ll discuss both briefly and chat through some basics regarding their theories surrounding masculinity and femininity.

Hofstede

In Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, he discusses how different cultures possess different traits and characteristics. Each country is graded on their different dimension. In the masculinity and femininity category, the masculine is defined as a society’s preference for achievement, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. Conversely, the feminine is defined as a preference for cooperation, compassion, and connection to the community.

In societies that are more masculine, you do see both men and women attempting to adhere to these masculine characteristics. So, the women, too, will prioritize material achievements and aggressive behaviors. But these characteristics are not as dominant in women as they are in men. Women in society do still tend to adopt caring and compassionate behaviors, even if they are aggressive and competitive.

Jung

Jung’s theories regarding masculinity and femininity discussed these as inherent but unconscious sides within each of the sexes. For men, the anima was defined as their unconscious feminine side while for women, the animus was the term for their unconscious masculine side. He believed that these aspects of ourselves might be unveiled in our dreams or be revealed in how we interact and connect with others, especially the opposite sex.

Masculinity and Femininity in Spirituality

This is a hard one to define. Spirituality is different for each person. But here’s what I’ve found from my studies of this as well.

There is a balance and flow of masculine and feminine within each of us. These can be seen and defined in different ways, but they are inherent in the world around us.

One example might be the archetypes of the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine. Some might consider this god and goddess, the sun and the earth. Even the tarot cards and their archetypes—the emperor and the empress, the Kings and Queens of each suit—have their own masculine and feminine aspects.

And many of these aspects are dual traits I listed in the table above and more.

Shadows

But each of these aspects also has a shadow or dark side. Shadow is a term used by Jung a lot as well, meant to define the negative or dark aspects of these traits. Being assertive is a good thing, but being too aggressive causes a lot of conflicts. Being empathetic towards others and their needs is a great way to connect and build community, but if you do not practice any assertiveness, you run the risk of being taken advantage of.

This is why it is important to have a balance of masculine and feminine. Both are valid, necessary, and equal in importance. And when they are in balance, there is a harmony and flow, which many of us are striving for.

My Closing Remarks

I have written a lot here. Too much for a blog entry. But I wanted to get out some preliminary thoughts. Even if just to get some things out of my brain. This is a subject that is important to me—that I genuinely love thinking and nerding out about. But I’ve also been nervous about writing about it for fear that I don’t know enough to write.

But we all need to start somewhere. And that imposter syndrome will have you waste your entire life away for fear of not knowing enough.

So, here’s me jotting down some ideas I have so far. I plan on reading more and learning more, and using this section of my website to document my growth. Let’s see where this adventure in studies takes me.

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