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Masculinity and femininity in Japanese culture: a pilot study

Culture defines gender roles. In all cultures, biological sex is not the only factor to define being male or being female. Societal values and expectations perpetuate gender role stereotypes in a culture, and mandate males to be "masculine" and females to be "feminine." Stereotypes of gender roles created by a culture govern our way of life throughout our existence. These stereotypes vary among different cultures as well as among different ethnic groups (Franklin, 1984; Landrine, 1985; Harris, 1994).

Cross-cultural studies on gender roles and gender role ideology have been conducted to investigate similarities and differences among the countries. Williams and Best (1990; 1994) discussed the cross-cultural variations of gender roles and gender stereotypes. Although Berry, Poortinga, Segall, and Dasen (1992) cautioned against generalization in gender stereotypes across cultures, it is plausible to assume the universality of gender stereotypes across cultures due to the different psychological characteristics of males and females derived from the gender division of labor in patriarchal societies. Williams and Best (1990) also found that the variance of gender stereotypes between males and females was smaller in highly developed countries and that it was larger among the cultures where there was a great gap between the educational achievement of men and women.

Other studies have also attempted to examine gender roles in different countries by using measures developed in the English language. Some demonstrated that gender roles proved to be universal (Basow, 1984; Spence & Helmerich, 1978; Pitariu, 1981; Torki, 1988; Nishiyama, 1975) and others failed to measure gender roles because of the different set of values and emphases in the target culture (Kaschak & Sharratt, 1983; Ward & Sethi, 1986; Lara-Cautu & Navarro-Arias, 1987).

Although previous studies have attempted to investigate gender roles in different cultures, only a few studies on gender roles have been done in Japan. This study, therefore, attempts to examine gender roles in Japanese culture.

Masculinity and Femininity in Japan

Historically Japan has upheld rigid traditional gender roles in its culture. Males were taught to be strong and tough and encouraged to have control and dominance over children and women. Japanese women, on the other hand, were taught to be reserved, subservient and obey their husbands in their marriages and act similarly to their male children in their old age. The Japanese also embrace the traditional idea of gender division or gender roles where a man provides for his family and a woman stays at home doing housework and caring for the children. It seems that these traditional gender roles are still alive in Japanese culture, although they have been shifting in the direction of egalitarianism.

Comparing 14 countries, Williams and Best (1990) ranked Japan 11th on egalitarian attitudes toward gender roles. Japanese people valued and encouraged traditional gender role ideologies. Men were considered more important, more in control and more dominant than their female counterparts. Williams and Best also discussed the idea that gender role ideology is closely related to socio-economic development, with gender role ideology being more progressive in more developed countries. They also found the variables of religion, urbanization, and high latitudes to be related to gender role ideology. Nevertheless, although Japan is considered to be one of the most developed and urbanized countries in temperate Asia, Japan seems to maintain a more traditional gender role ideology compared to other less developed, urbanized or climatically-favorable countries in the region.

In Japan, most of the literature discussing gender roles comes from studies conducted in the United States (Azuma, 1979; Azuma & Ogura, 1982). Only a few empirical studies have been done in Japan. Shimonaka, Nakazato and Kawaai (1990) utilized the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) to investigate masculinity and femininity among the elderly population in Japan. They found that both Japanese men and women in their 60s or 70s scored higher on the Femininity scale than on the Masculinity scale of the BSRI. They explained their findings of reversed gender role personality among elderly men as a process of adult development, thus supporting Gutmann's theory (1975). This explanation, however, has some limitations. To begin with, their sample was limited to an elderly population. Therefore, there is no way of knowing if they had more masculine personality traits when they were young. This reversed gender role might be true for men of all ages in Japanese culture. Moreover, the study did not clearly describe the translation process of the BSRI. The results might be influenced by the process of translating the BSRI into a different language. Cross-cultural research often involves translating questionnaires and scales into the language of the target culture. It is common knowledge that literal translation is not always possible due to a frequent lack of semantic equivalents in the target language. Even when an equivalent word or phrase may be available, it may not convey the exact same meaning.

Despite an extensive cross-cultural investigation of gender roles, findings seem to be inconsistent. This may be due to the fact that gender roles in cultures have been changing (Tweng, 1997; Pleck, 1981) and that there is a greater discrepancy between gender role ideologies and actual gender-related personalities (Pleck, 1981). The findings in gender role studies conducted 10 or 15 years ago may not be relevant or applicable to the present day. Gender roles that are overly weighted by cultural values and expectations seem to influence many aspects of our lives. It is important and valuable to have a good understanding of gender roles and know how they affect our lives at present. It is, therefore, necessary to replicate studies and update knowledge of gender roles in Japanese culture, a place where cultural values and traditional rules have been rapidly changing.

This study attempts to examine masculinity and femininity among Japanese college students to obtain a current perspective on gender roles in Japanese society. On the basis of previous cross-cultural findings, we hypothesized that Japanese college students would still hold traditional gender specific personality traits. Specifically, we assumed that Japanese female students would score higher on the Femininity and lower on the Masculinity scale of the BSRI than their male counterparts and that Japanese male students would score higher on the Masculinity and lower on the Femininity scale of the BSRI.



The subjects consisted of two hundred sixty-five college students (male = 104; female = 161) in Southern Japan. All students were ethnic Japanese who were born and raised in Japan. No other races were included. They were asked to participate in this study voluntarily. Two hundred sixty-nine college students responded by filling out the BSRI and providing other pertinent demographic information. Four students did not fill out the demographic information. Those students were omitted from the subject pool of this study. The mean age of the male college students was 20.2 years of age (SD = 2.0) and the mean age of female students was 19.5 years of age (SD = 1.4).

Seventeen percent of the male college students (18) lived with their parents and the rest (86) lived alone or with roommates. Forty two percent of the female students (71) lived with their parents and the rest (90) lived alone or with roommates.

Measure: The Bern Sex Role Inventory (BSRI)

The BSRI was developed by Sandra Bem in 1974 to measure masculine, feminine and androgynous personality traits among men and women. The BSRI consists of sixty personality characteristics including 20 feminine, 20 masculine and 20 non-gender related characteristics.

The BSRI manual (1978) reports internal consistencies of between .75 and .90. Test-retest reliabilities for Femininity and Masculinity of the original BSRI were .82 for Femininity and .94 for Masculinity among females and .89 for the Femininity and .76 for Masculinity among males.

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