Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Positives and Negatives: Reconceptualising Gender Attributes within the Context of the Sex Role Identity and Well-Being Literature: An Examination within the South African Context

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Positives and Negatives: Reconceptualising Gender Attributes within the Context of the Sex Role Identity and Well-Being Literature: An Examination within the South African Context

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the past four decades there has been tremendous interest in and research on sex role identity (SRI) and individual and organisational well-being. However, this literature has been plagued with equivocal findings. Inconsistencies and contradictions may be attributable to the fact that research has only examined positive gender attributes ignoring the possible confounding influence of negative gender attributes (Wajsblat, 2011). The article by virtue of reviewing the appropriate literature and empirical findings across seven different samples argues that research needs to broaden the conceptualisation of SRI to include gender attributes that are positive and negative, or alternatively phrased, socially desirable and socially undesirable, to fully explore the relationship between SRI and well-being. The article outlines the central problem in the literature on SRI, that is, an approach in which only socially desirable, positive sex role identities are examined. It has been argued that whilst socially desirable positive identities may have positive implications for health and well-being, negative socially undesirable identities may not (Woodhill & Samuels, 2003, 2004). Research that does not take into account these negative identities could mask or completely confound research findings that explore the well-being implications of positive identities only (Wajsblat, 2011). Evidence that has been counterintuitive or lacking in studies examining positive gendered attributes only may well be attributable to extraneous negative gender attributes and the extent to which they may be contributing to the variance in well-being indicators (Ghaed & Gallo, 2006; Woodhill & Samuels, 2003, 2004). In addition, research that does not measure negative identities fails to address the negative implications these identities may have on health and well-being indicators. The measurement of both positive and negative gender attributes may therefore be crucial in providing greater clarity with regard to findings within the SRI literature.

Consequently, the article proceeds to argue for broadening the SRI approach within the theoretical framework of the differentiated model, which encompasses both positive and negative gender attributes. Within the article, the empirical support for the argument is provided by findings obtained from seven different studies in the South African context (n = 3462). These findings indicated that almost half of each of the samples under study endorsed negative sex role identities. The discussion within the article focuses on implications of these findings for research on SRI and recommendations for future research are made.

Literature review

An historical review of the research literature on SRI

A vast research literature has developed since the 1970s, which indicates that SRI, that is, the sex role behaviours that individuals adopt as part of their gender identity have implications for well-being (Heilman, 2012). In this regard, research has described four identities, that is, the masculine identity, the feminine identity, the undifferentiated identity and the androgynous identity (Bem, 1975, 1981). The masculine identity describes individuals who have predominantly adopted masculine traits as part of the gender role identity with these individuals scoring high on masculine traits within inventories designed to measure SRI. Masculine traits are referred to within the literature as agentic or instrumental traits and examples of such traits are independence, assertiveness, competitiveness and decisiveness. Typically those who are masculine have an individualistic orientation, are capable of taking control and adopting leadership roles and are high on self-confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy. The feminine identity describes individuals who have predominantly adopted feminine traits, scoring high on feminine items within sex role inventories. Femininity, interchangeably referred to in the literature as expressiveness or communion, contains within it traits such as helpfulness, warmth, caring for and concern for others, nurturance and kindness. …

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