Many societies assign sharply distinguished roles to men and women. Personality differences, as well as physical differences, between men and women are used to justify these different sex roles, and women are seen as more emotionally and interpersonally sensitive than men, while men are said to be more competent, achievement oriented, and assertive than women. A widely held view is that not only do men and women differ but that possession of "masculine" characteristics precludes possession of "feminine" characteristics. This bipolar conception has led to the definition of masculinity and femininity as opposites. Acceptance of this idea has caused social scientists and laypersons to consider men and women who possess cross-sex personality characteristics as less emotionally healthy and socially adjusted than those with sex-appropriate traits. Previous research by the authors and others, done almost exclusively with college students, has shown, however, that masculinity and femininity do not relate negatively to each other, thus supporting a dualistic rather than a bipolar conception of these two psychological dimensions.
Spence and Helmreich present data showing that the dualistic conception holds for a large number of groups, varying widely in age, geographical location, socioeconomic status, and patterns of interest, whose psychological masculinity and femininity were measured with an objective instrument, the Personality Attributes Questionnaire, devised by the authors. Many individuals are shown to be appropriately sex-typed; that is, men tend to be high in masculinity and low in femininity and women the reverse. However, a substantial number of men and women are androgynous—high in both masculine and feminine characteristics—while some are not high in either. Importantly, the authors find that androgynous individuals display more self-esteem, social competence, and achievement orientation than individuals who are strong in either masculinity or femininity or are not strong in either.
One of the major contributions of the work is the development of a new, multifaceted measure of achievement motivation (the Work and Family Orientation Questionnaire), which can be used successfully to predict behavior in both males and females and is related to masculinity and femininity in both sexes.
In addition to investigating the correlates of masculinity and femininity, the authors attempt to isolate parental factors that contribute to the development of these characteristics and achievement motivation. The book includes analyses of data from students on their perception of their parents, which enable the authors to examine the influence of parental masculinity and femininity and parental behaviors and child-rearing attitudes on the development of masculinity and femininity and achievement motivation characteristics in their children. The important implications of these findings for theories of sex roles, personality development, and achievement motivation are examined.