Are Certain Groups More Masculine or Feminine?

By Max Dehon

In the age of #MeToo and calling out toxic masculinity, there has been a cultural revolution and debate over characteristics that contribute to masculinity and femininity. At this point, it seems like there is not uniform agreement on what either means, and perhaps nor should there be. While there is so much change, some suggest it doesn’t matter, but still these traits help individuals view themselves amongst others in society. How do Denison students assess these traits? Do they follow traditional perspectives?

When looking at how the Denison student body views these characteristics, it is evident that they are still gendered. On the March 2019 survey, we showed Denison students a scale ranging from 0-100, and asked the students to place themself somewhere along the scale to show how masculine and how feminine they feel (following this research). On the scale, 0 would indicate the least amount of masculine or feminine, and 100 would indicate the most. Unsurprisingly, Denison men view themselves as more masculine and Denison women view themselves as more feminine. Male respondents, on average rated themselves at 81 for masculinity and 17 for femininity. The female respondents rated themselves at about 79 for femininity and 21 for masculinity (no, participants were not encouraged nor forced to sum these scores to 100). The graph in the right panel below shows the diversity in trait identity – there are a few who feel neither trait describes them, a few who intensely feel that both do, and some who are balanced between the two (50/50). Most see masculinity-femininity as running on a linear scale and lean heavily toward one trait.

Now, do certain groups on campus feel stronger about how they perceive themselves as either masculine or feminine? On the March 2019 survey, we collected student demographics which included activities, athletics, campus engagement, and other extra-curriculars. For this study, we will use Varsity athletes and students involved in Greek life. With society’s emphasis on competitive sports, it would make sense for athletes to embrace a masculine identity, widely associated with aggression. Greeks are arguably seen as bastions of conservative gender roles, thus leading to more polarized feelings towards femininity and masculinity. Right?

The graph below compares Greeks with non-Greeks, varsity athletes compared with non-varsity athletes, separated by gender. Surprisingly, Greek men do not identify as more masculine than GDI men. Male varsity athletes do have higher scores, though, than all other groups, including Greek men.

Women who participate in Greek Life report lower feelings of masculinity than GDI women. This might be unsurprising, as the norms and constructions of sorority life within collegiate communities would support this notion. Female varsity athletes did not report significantly higher feelings of masculinity than non-varsity athletic females, though they score higher than Greek-affiliated women. Together, the evidence suggests that, by and large, men and women are not much different across campus despite the pervasive stereotypes. That is, we can find some expected statistically significant differences – especially among women – but they are not large.

What does this tell us? Most of gender trait identity at Denison can be explained by at-birth gender – men identify as more masculine, women as more feminine. However, there is ample variation and some differences seem to correspond to activity types that either reinforce (Greek life) or perhaps undermine (varsity athletics) this identity. As anticipated, this shows a link between characteristics of sport with the ideas of masculinity and femininity. This also tells us that participation in Greek Life does not have nearly the same level of effects and does not largely differ from the entire student body average.

Max is a senior Political Science Major from Kansas City who will be celebrating the Super Bowl all semester. When not writing for 127, he can be found working on his 5-Iron and chasing foul balls at Big Red Field.

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