Masculinity and Femininity Factors in Product Perception and Self Image

James W. Gentry, Kansas State University
Mildred Doering, Kansas State University
Terrence V. O'Brien, Kansas State University
ABSTRACT - Sex roles are changing in the United States and it has been hypothesized that such changes will be evidenced in new patterns of consumer behavior. This study investigates self image regarding masculinity and femininity, sex identifications of representative products and life style elements, and usage rates of products.
[ to cite ]:
James W. Gentry, Mildred Doering, and Terrence V. O'Brien (1978) ,"Masculinity and Femininity Factors in Product Perception and Self Image", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 326-332.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 326-332

MASCULINITY AND FEMININITY FACTORS IN PRODUCT PERCEPTION AND SELF IMAGE

James W. Gentry, Kansas State University

Mildred Doering, Kansas State University

Terrence V. O'Brien, Kansas State University

[The authors would like to thank Rene Klassen for his help in the data collection, Gail Holtman for her help in the data analysis, and the Bureau of General Research, Kansas State University, for financial support of the study.]

ABSTRACT -

Sex roles are changing in the United States and it has been hypothesized that such changes will be evidenced in new patterns of consumer behavior. This study investigates self image regarding masculinity and femininity, sex identifications of representative products and life style elements, and usage rates of products.

INTRODUCTION

Tucker (1976, p. 353) has pointed out the impact of changing sex roles on marketing: "During most of the rest of the century marketers will increasingly miss the center of their markets because they will not understand them. And the change in the relations of the sexes will be the primary cause." This trend was also noted by Stuteville (1971), Hawkins and Coney (1976), and Dickens and Chappell (1977). Stuteville (1971) discusses the cases of two products, one of which (cigarettes) was once used almost solely by males but is now used as frequently by females (Gentry and Doering, 1977), and the other (hair spray) was once used almost solely by females but is now used almost as frequently by males (Gentry and Doering, 1977).

That sex roles are changing in our society should be sufficient for the marketer to become less interested in the male-female dichotomy and more interested in the level of masculinity or femininity. As Sechrest (1976) states, "That a respondent is male is in itself of little psychological impact. What is of consequence are the patterns of attitudes or abilities or problems or interests that are presumed to go along with being male." Aiken (1963) was one of the first to relate masculinity-femininity to purchasing behavior. He found that more feminine women were more likely to belong to the "Decoration," "Interest," and "Conformity" clusters of female dress buyers. Masculinity-femininity was not related to membership in the "Comfort" and "Economy" clusters. Vitz and Johnston (1965) found that, within each sex, a person's masculinity (femininity) is positively related to the masculine (feminine) image of the cigarette smoked. Fry (1971) found that more feminine men were more likely to smoke cigarettes that were identified as being less masculine. Morris and Cundiff (1971) found that masculinity-femininity was not related to the rating of hair spray by males; however, a strong interaction between manifest anxiety and masculinity-femininity was found.

Thus Aiken (1973), Vitz and Johnston (1965), and Fry (1971) found that their subjects' behavior was consistent with their masculine-feminine self image. On the other hand, Morris and Cundiff (1971) found that males with a relatively high feminine identification and a high anxiety level expressed strongly unfavorable attitudes toward the use of hair spray, which was viewed as being relatively feminine.

Stuteville (1971) hypothesized that the consistency of purchase behavior with one's masculine-feminine self image may vary across sexes. He stated that it is easier for a male-oriented product to attract female buyers than the reverse situation, since our culture labels the boy who acts like a girl a "sissy," but the girl who acts like a boy is called a "tomboy." The latter is much easier for a girl to accept than the former is for a boy.

The purpose of this study is to explore male and female perceptions of a wide variety of products and leisure activities and to explore whether one's masculinity-femininity self image within each sex is related to the individual's product perceptions. Given the convergence of sex roles in our society, we hypothesize that purchase behavior will be consistent with the masculine-feminine self image for 1) sexually neutral items and for 2) items associated with the opposite sex, but that inconsistency will occur for 3) items identified with the respondent's own sex due to the less threatening nature of those items.

METHODOLOGY

The population chosen for study was college students. One reason was, of course, convenience; more important was the belief that changing sex roles in our society (and corresponding changes in purchasing behavior) might be more evident in college students than in their elders.

The selection of specific leisure activities and products to be evaluated was done through a three-stage process. First, a list was compiled of activities and products that were thought to be related to the lifestyles of the college student subjects. Second, a pretest was run concerning attitudes toward the stimuli and frequency of usage of them. A second pretest was run to establish the perceived masculinity-femininity of the stimuli. Stimuli were deleted if they were used very infrequently by most of the respondents. The third stage consisted of a final pretest of the instrument after the deletions were made. Then, additional stimuli were deleted because of similarity to other stimuli and because of the need to shorten the instrument. The specific leisure activities and products used in the study are listed in Tables 1 and 2.

Two hundred college students at Kansas State University (100 males and 100 females) were recruited through an advertisement in the student newspaper. While there was no attempt to randomly select subjects, the procedure did result in a representative mix of curricula. Further, the subjects' scores on a standardized personality instrument (the California Psychological Inventory Fe-scale) were nearly identical with results published for college students in Gough (1975). The mean and standard deviation for the females (23.22 and 2.85, respectively) and males (16.35 and 3.82, respectively) in our study closely approximate the CPI norms (23.16, 3.27; and 16.65, 3.73; respectively). Consequently, there is some evidence that the sample was fairly representative of college students.

Each subject was paid four dollars for completing the series of questionnaires dealing with their ratings of different consumer products and leisure-time activities.

The subjects also completed two masculinity-femininity scales, the CPI Fe-scale (Gough, 1975) and the Personal Attributes Scale (PAQ: Spence, et al., 1974). The last section of the instrument included demographic questions, usage measures of various media (not analyzed here), and ratings of the products and activities as to their perceived masculinity or femininity. Each subject was told to complete all forms, and each of the 56 sheets of information per subject was checked by a monitor before the subject was paid.

TABLE 1

USE OF PRODUCTS BY SEX OF RESPONDENT AND BY PERCEPTIONS OF PRODUCTS AS MASCULINE OR FEMININE

DISCUSSION OF SCALES

Gough's (1975) CPI Fe-scale consists of 38 true-false items. This procedure views "masculinity-femininity" as a continuum, and a low score indicates masculinity while a high score indicates femininity. This scale was chosen because of its long tradition, being published first in 1952 (Gough, 1952), and because it has been commonly used in marketing studies (Aiken, 1963; Fry, 1971; Morris and Cundiff, 1971; Vitz and Johnson, 1965).

The PAQ views masculinity and femininity as two distinct dimensions, which permits individuals to be identified as being "androgynous," or masculine and feminine. The androgynous classification is applied to those who are both independent and tender, assertive and yielding, tough but sweet. The first androgyny scale was developed by Bem (1974), but we preferred the PAQ because of the way "androgyny" is defined operationally. The Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) identifies someone as "androgynous'' if his/her score on the masculine and feminine scales are comparable. Thus the BSRI identifies respondents as masculine, feminine, or androgynous. The PAQ is more restrictive in the identification of androgynous individuals; only those who score high on both the masculine and feminine dimensions are identified as being androgynous. Those ranking low on both dimensions are grouped in a fourth category, labeled low-masculine, low-feminine. The only marketing study that we have seen that used the concept of androgyny was that by Tucker (1976), and he also used the PAQ rather than the BSRI.

TABLE 2

PARTICIPATION IN LEISURE ACTIVITIES, BY SEX OF RESPONDENT AND BY PERCEPTIONS OF LEISURE ACTIVITIES AS MASCULINE OR FEMININE

The attitude measures consisted, in part, of the four seven-point, bipolar scales used in the Morris and Cundiff study (1971): valuable-worthless, sociable-unsociable, nice-awful, and useless-useful. In addition, an overall product or activity attitude was obtained using a seven-point bipolar scale with very unfavorable attitude and very favorable attitude as the end points. Numerical frequencies were used where applicable, usually with the leisure activities. Most of the product usage questions required the subject to select a response such as "once a month" or "once a day."

ANALYSIS

The respondents were grouped in different masculinity-femininity categories based upon their scores on the two scales. For the CPI Fe-scale, boundaries were established at approximately the 33rd and 66th percentiles. The groups are labeled Masculine (60 males, 2 females), Neither (33 males, 39 females) and Feminine (7 males, 59 females). For the PAQ, the subject population was split at the median on both the male-valued and female-valued scales (59 and 50, respectively). The four resulting PAQ groups are low masculine and low feminine (32 females, 25 males), low masculine and high feminine (32 females, 13 males), high masculine and low feminine (10 females, 34 males), and high masculine, high feminine (26 females, 28 males).

Each respondent's ratings of the masculinity-femininity of the leisure activities and of the products were normalized to remove differential response-scale tendencies before aggregating over subject. Then each respondent was categorized as viewing the product or activity as being more feminine or more masculine than average. The respondents' usage of the stimuli were then related to their sex, their masculinity-femininity, and how masculine or feminine they viewed the stimuli through a series of analyses of variance. The particular approach used was the Least Squares program written by Kemp (1976), which is designed to handle unequal cell sizes.

The categorization of the groups as being consistent or inconsistent with their self images was based on the mean usages for the different items. The differences in the cells (for example, the difference between the mean usage for those males who viewed the stimulus as being more masculine and the mean usage for the males who viewed the stimulus as being more feminine) were tested using t-statistics.

RESULTS

Product stimuli are shown on the left side of Table 1. Note that only one product (cologne) has a statistically significant difference in the usage rate between masculine-feminine product perceptions. Those who view cologne as being masculine use the product more than those who view it as being feminine. One reason for the lack of statistical significance in usage by those with different masculine-feminine product perceptions may be that the products are essentially unisexual in nature. Another reason is the high variance in the usage rates of the different stimuli. Much greater differences exist, however, in product use by sex of respondent, with seven out of thirteen items showing marked differences. Beer, boots, and tennis tend to be used more by males, while cigarettes, deodorant, sandals, and soap are used more by females.

Similar findings (Table 2) resulted for leisure activities, in that only a few were engaged in differentially by those with different masculine-feminine product perceptions but most were, in fact, engaged in differentially by sex. Reported participation was higher for women in watching ballet, knitting, and attending G-rated and PG-rated movies; it was higher for men for car races, fishing, hunting, and attending X-rated movies. Neutral activities were basketball games, bicycling, ice skating, swimming, and attending R-rated movies. However, for only three items were usage rates different for those with different masculine-feminine product perceptions. Those who viewed basketball games and G-rated movies as being more masculine attended these activities more often. More frequent attendees of R-rated movies tended to view them as being more feminine. It may be that sex role guidelines are not relevant or usually salient for many activities or products, or there may be suppression of their perceived impact.

Table 3 shows product usage frequencies broken down by sex and by whether the product was viewed as being masculine or feminine. The interactions between sex and the perception of the product were significant for boots, shampoo, and soap. For boots and shampoo, the significant interaction indicated that both sexes were consistent with their self image; that is, males were heavier users if they viewed the product as being more masculine, while females were heavier users if they viewed the product as being more feminine. On the other hand, the interaction for bar soap finds that both sexes are inconsistent with their self-image.

TABLE 3

PRODUCT USAGE FREQUENCIES, BY SEX OF RESPONDENT AND BY MASCULINITY-FEMININITY PERCEPTION

The interaction term is most likely to be significant if both sexes are very consistent or if they are both inconsistent. If one sex is consistent while the other one is not, the interaction term is less likely to be significant. To investigate these situations more closely, the differences in the cell means were tested using t-tests. Males were found to be significantly consistent in their use of cologne, and females were found to be significantly consistent in their use of shampoo.

Table 4 shows the usage frequencies of the leisure activities, broken down by sex and by the masculinity-femininity perception of the activity. Attendance of G-rated movies yielded the only significant interaction; females were more likely to attend G-rated movies if they viewed them as being more masculine; males attendance did not depend on their sex-role perceptions. On the other hand, females were significantly more likely to attend R-rated movies if they viewed them as being more feminine.

TABLE 4

LEISURE ACTIVITY USAGE, BY SEX OF RESPONDENT AND BY MASCULINITY-FEMININITY PERCEPTION

Usage patterns were investigated as to self image differences by a standardized personality inventory. Table 5, results are shown from the California Psychological Inventory's Fe-scale for our product set and in Table 6 for the leisure activities. Again, usage pattern differences are not striking.

The ANOVA results indicate that the respondents were consistent with their self-image in the usage of bar soap and attendance of G-rated movies; for example, masculine respondents used bar soap more if they perceived it as being more masculine and feminine respondents used bar soap more if they perceived it as being more feminine. On the other hand, the respondents were inconsistent with their self-image in the usage of mouthwash. When the different CPI masculinity-femininity categories were analyzed by themselves, the statistically significant findings were that the masculine respondents attend G-rated movies more if they view them to be more masculine (consistent) while feminine respondents attend basketball games more if they view them to be more masculine (inconsistent).

TABLE 5

PRODUCT USAGE, BY RESPONDENT MASCULINITY-FEMININITY PERSONALITY SCORE AND PRODUCT PERCEPTION

Based on use and participation rates reported in Tables I and 2, products and activities were classified as masculine, feminine, or neutral, as shown in Table 7. In addition, two redefinitions of previous variables were also included to better measure their effects. In Table 7, quantity of beer consumed per time period is added to the frequency of consumption measure used thus far; also, a dichotomous smoking variable is added to the previous quantity measure. In addition, the results for two of the four PAQ categories are added: the group that scored low on the masculinity scale and high on the femininity scale (the feminine group) and the group that scored high on the masculinity scale and low on the femininity scale (the masculine group). A summary of the other two groups (low masculine-low feminine and high masculine-high feminine) is not provided as their self-images can not be classified as either masculine or feminine.

TABLE 6

LEISURE ACTIVITY USAGE, BY RESPONDENT MASCULINITY-FEMININITY PERSONALITY SCORE AND PRODUCT PERCEPTION

Entries in Table 7 refer to the consistency of the masculinity-femininity product or activity perception with sex of the respondent and with the respondent's masculinity-femininity personality disposition as measured by two different personality inventories. Again, our hypotheses were that consistency would exist for neutral items and when the product is associated with the opposite sex, but that inconsistency would occur for products and activities identified with the respondent's own sex--the latter because of a pull toward the center as sex roles loosen up and because of the less threatening nature of these items than of those identified with the opposite sex.

Findings for males in Table 7 tend to support expectations for sex of respondent and for the PAQ measure, but not for the CPI. For example, males were more likely to be inconsistent for masculine items (3 out of 7) than for feminine items (1 out of 6) and females were more likely to be inconsistent for feminine items out of 8) than for masculine items (3 out of 8). The feminine groups as categorized by both the CPI and PAQ scales tend to support the hypothesis; they were inconsistent for more feminine items (4 out of 8 for the CPI and 6 out of 8 for the PAQ) than for masculine items (2 out of 7 for the CPI and 3 out of 8 for the PAQ). The masculine group for the PAQ was inconsistent for 5 of the 8 masculine items, but only for 1 of the 8 feminine items. On the other hand, the CPI masculine group was more inconsistent for feminine items (4 of 8) than for masculine items (3 of 7).

TABLE 7

CONSISTENCY OF MASCULINITY-FEMININITY PRODUCT AND ACTIVITY PERCEPTION WITH SEX OF RESPONDENT AND WITH PERSONALITY ORIENTATION OF RESPONDENT, BY DOMINANT USER TYPE

In general, the expectations do have some support when the items categorized as masculine or feminine are considered. However, we hypothesized that the respondents would be consistent with their self-images in the usage of neutral items; no such general pattern can be observed in Table 7. The only group for which this appears to have support is for males; the other groups are apparently just as likely or even more likely to be inconsistent with their self-concepts in their usage of the neutral items. Aggregating over items, it seems that males tend to be more consistent with their self-image (17 of 25 cases) than do females (14 of 28 cases). We would have to conclude that the evidence is perhaps suggestive as to general trends but well short of persuasive, especially when the scarcity of statistically significant results is considered.

Finally, a comparison can be derived from Table 7 for the personality measures, which shows little correspondence between the two. For example, there are ten instances of consistency registering on both the CPI and PAQ scales, five of inconsistency, but eleven mismatches (plus on one and minus on the other) occur. It is not uncommon to find both the masculine and feminine groups from one scale to be classified as being consistent, while the counterparts from the other scale are both classified as being inconsistent. The two scales are measuring somewhat different phenomena and the differences are evident here.

CONCLUSION

This study looked at a demographic variable (sex) and two measures of masculinity-femininity self image, the California Psychological Inventory Fe-scale and the Personal Attributes Questionnaire, as these related to representative marketing stimuli. It was hypothesized that consumers will use products with neutral orientations or orientations opposite from theirs (for example, feminine products for males) as long as they perceive the products to be consistent with their self-image. It was further hypothesized that heavier users of products with similar orientations to their own (for example, feminine products and females) will perceive the product to be inconsistent with their self image. The results provide very weak support for the directions predicted by the hypotheses.

IMPLICATIONS

It may well be that the marketing stimuli and the leisure activities selected for this research were too "unisex" in nature, the result being not very striking findings on sex role differences. More extreme stimuli might have more strongly supported our hypotheses. We would expect, however, that a trend toward less stereotypic sex roles still could be identified, although the ideal research design for this purpose would consist of a demonstrably representative set of stimuli along with a longitudinal measurement structure. Future work in this area will hopefully include some of these features.

Our findings do lend weak support to the convergence of sex roles in consumer behavior. The lack of significant differences in the usages of products that were formerly sex-stereotyped (cigarettes, jeans, hair spray, and shampoo) lends support to the claims of developing unisexuality of many products. Also, the weak support for our hypothesis that consumer behavior will be inconsistent with the masculine-feminine self image when the stimulus is associated with the same sex and consistent when associated with the opposite sex lends support for the convergence of sex roles. However, as noted in Gentry and Doering (1977), the male-female dichotomy still explains more of the variability in consumer behavior than does masculinity-femininity.

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