The Role of Sex Role Self-Concept in Masculine and Feminine Product Perceptions

Linda L. Golden, University of Texas at Austin
Neil Allison, University of Cincinnati (student), University of Texas at Austin
Mona Clee,
ABSTRACT - The impact of respondents' sex role self-concept, sex, product use and self-esteem on masculine and feminine product perceptions is investigated for five representative sex-role stereotyped products. Sex role self-concept appears to be more important for feminine product perceptions than masculine product perceptions. However, the respondent's sex and product use is at least as important for product perceptions as sex role self-concept.
[ to cite ]:
Linda L. Golden, Neil Allison, and Mona Clee (1979) ,"The Role of Sex Role Self-Concept in Masculine and Feminine Product Perceptions", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 599-605.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 599-605

THE ROLE OF SEX ROLE SELF-CONCEPT IN MASCULINE AND FEMININE PRODUCT PERCEPTIONS

Linda L. Golden, University of Texas at Austin

Neil Allison, University of Cincinnati

Mona Clee (student), University of Texas at Austin

ABSTRACT -

The impact of respondents' sex role self-concept, sex, product use and self-esteem on masculine and feminine product perceptions is investigated for five representative sex-role stereotyped products. Sex role self-concept appears to be more important for feminine product perceptions than masculine product perceptions. However, the respondent's sex and product use is at least as important for product perceptions as sex role self-concept.

INTRODUCTION

Females have become the focus of intensive marketing investigations. However, attempts to differentiate working and non-working women, as well as women with traditional and non-traditional attitudes has not resulted in clear distinctions in behavior. An alternative approach would be to differentiate women on the basis of sex role self-concept. Further, consideration of sex role self-concept is not only germane for females, but relevant tone other 49 percent of our population: Males.

Sex role self-concept has been studied within the psychology literature in a wide variety of contexts ranging from success orientation to male and female attraction (Bem 1972, Bieliauskas and Milesell 1972, Deusch and Gilbert 1976, Feather and Rephelson 1973, Gordon and Hall 1973, Jordan-Viola, et. al. 1976, Kravetz 1976, Seyfried and Hendrick 1973, Shaffer and Wegley 1973, Tolor 1976). Marketing investigations, however, have been limited. Three studies were found in the marketing literature which operationalized some measure of sex-role self-concept. Gentry, Doering and O'Brien (1978) found weak support for a congruency between sex role self-concept and the use of products with a neutral sexual identity or a sexual identity opposite from their own. Fry,(1971) also found that behavior was consistent with masculine-feminine self image. And, Morris and Cundiff (1971) found that males with a relatively high feminine identity and a high level of anxiety expressed strongly unfavorable attitudes toward the use of hair spray (perceived as feminine).

Marketers have more extensively studied the relationship between consumer behavior and the global self-concept (Birdwell 1968, Dolich 1979, Grubb and Hupp 1968, Grubb and Grothwohl 1967, Hamm and Cundiff 1969, Hughes and Geurrero 1971, Landon 1974). The relationship of self theory to buying behavior is based on the assumption that there is an interaction of the buyer's personality with the symbolic image of the product purchased (Levy 1959). In the midst of varying methodologies and different focuses, some studies support the congruence while others do not. However, the potential relationship between self-concept and consumer behavior cannot at present be negated.

Focus upon a specific aspect of the self-concept for both the product and the respondent may reveal relationships indiscernible by global congruency attempts. For example, examination of the congruency between the respondent's sex role self-concept and the perception of a product as having masculine and feminine dimensions.

Following from self theory and buyer behavior it would be expected that there would be a congruency between sex role self-concept, product perceptions on masculine and feminine dimensions and product use. Further, the sex of the respondent may impact upon this congruency. A male who perceives himself as having primarily stereotypical masculine traits may tend to use products perceived as high in masculinity (the products may be used because they're perceived as masculine, or some may be perceived as masculine because they're used--no cause and effect relationship is implied). Similarly, a person whose self-perceptions contain large amounts of both masculine and feminine traits (androgynous ) may use products perceived as being of either sex-type.

In instances where an individual's sex role self-concept does not agree with the sex (cross-sex typing) a congruency relationship is not so clearly predicted. Will product perceptions and use tend to be congruent with the sex of the respondent or the sex role self-concept? The self-esteem of the individual may provide insight into this question (again, no cause and effect relationships implied).

Self-esteem has been shown to be related to sex role self-concept (Spence, Helmreich and Stapp 1975). For both males and females, androgynous persons were highest in self-esteem, followed by high masculine low feminine persons, then low masculine high feminine persons, and lowest in self-esteem were persons with no strong identity with either sex. Although in this study the cross-sex typed persons were not the group with the lowest self-esteem, within cross-sex typed groups of people variances in self-esteem may help to explain the relationship between sex-typed product perceptions, product use and sex or sex role self-concept.

Purpose and Objectives

This is an exploratory study designed to investigate the influence of sex role self-concept upon product perceptions. In addition, this study investigates the influence of sex, product use and self-esteem upon masculine and feminine perceptions of products. Five products are included in the investigation: pocket knife, cuff links, nylon underwear, hair spray and key ring. These products represent masculine-typed products, feminine typed products and a neuter-typed (low masculine and feminine identity) product. Due to the exploratory nature of this research, the following research objectives are advanced in lieu of formal hypotheses:

1. To investigate the congruency between sex role self-concept and sex-typing of products;

2. To determine the individual and combined effects of sex, use and self-esteem upon sex-typing of products;

3. To determine differences in the relationships between sex role self-concept, sex, use and self-esteem for varying types of products, and

4. To investigate self-esteem differences across sex role self-concept categories.

METHODOLOGY

In order to determine the sex-typed perceptions of products to be tested, a pre-test sample of 80 male and female business students were administered a questionnaire listing 125 generic product categories ranging from nylon underwear to brief case. Under the name of each product were two scales: one for masculine product perceptions and one for feminine product perceptions. The horizontal five-point scales had extremes labeled extremely (masculine and feminine) and not at all (masculine and feminine). The purpose of this pre-test was to sort products into nine groups: 1) high masculine and high feminine, 2) high masculine and medium feminine, 3) high masculine and low feminine, 4) medium masculine and high feminine, 5) medium masculine and medium feminine, 6) medium masculine and low feminine, 7) low masculine and high feminine, 8) low masculine and medium feminine, and 9) low masculine and low feminine.

The results of this pre-test indicated that the products fell into one of three groups: high masculine-low feminine, low masculine-high feminine, medium masculine-medium feminine. In addition, respondents indicated difficulty in understanding that the mid-point on the scale was "moderate" (masculinity or femininity), not "neuter", and in being able to keep track of their frame of reference when both the masculine and feminine scales were presented together underneath the product. Due to these comments and because the vast majority of the products fell into the medium masculine-medium feminine group, a second pre-test was conducted.

On the second pre-test a few product changes were made, but the questionnaire was altered considerably. Seventy-eight male and female business students were administered a two-part questionnaire. The first part of the questionnaire asked the respondent to indicate the extent to which he/she felt each product had a masculine image, according to a nine-point horizontal scale with extremes labeled "not at all masculine" (1) and "extremely masculine" (9). The mid-point was labeled "moderately masculine" (5). The second part of the questionnaire elicited identical information for feminine image. Respondents had no difficulty with the second pre-test, and the range of scores was wider. The results, however, indicated that products fell into the same three image categories, but with more products in the high masculine-low feminine and low masculine-high feminine categories. Products were assigned to categories on the basis of a cluster analysis and inspection of mean scores.

A third pre-test on a much smaller sample of students collaborated the results of the second pre-test. On the basis of the pre-test results the study was redesigned to include products in three categories: high masculine-low feminine, medium masculine-medium feminine, and low masculine-high feminine. It is interesting to note that for the 125 products tested there was no such thing as an androgynous (high masculine-high feminine) or neuter (low masculine-low feminine) product.

Final Questionnaire and Administration

A four part questionnaire was administered to 307 male and female business students. The first part of the questionnaire elicited the masculine image of 24 products representative of the three image categories from the pre-test results. The scale was exactly the same as that of the second and third pre-test. The second part of the questionnaire obtained the feminine image of the same 24 products.

The third part of the questionnaire consisted of the measure of sex role self-concept. The measure used was Bem's (1974) which consists of 60 adjectives representing extensively tested stereotypical masculine and feminine traits. The respondent indicates on a horizontal seven-point scale the extent to which each adjective describes him or her.

The final section of the questionnaire was a measure of self-esteem (Helmreich and Stapp 1974). This measure has been an effective predictor of behavior in normal situations and tested in a variety of contexts. In addition, it is less related to masculinity than traditional measures, and differences between the sexes are nonsignificant. For these reasons the Texas Social Behavioral Inventory Form B was chosen to measure self-esteem. Finally, respondents' sex was elicited.

Final Questionnaire and Administration

Respondents were assigned to one of four groups on the basis of their sex role self-concept inventory: androgynous (high masculine-high feminine), masculine (high masculine-low feminine), feminine (low masculine, high feminine), or neuter (low masculine-low feminine). The scoring for Bem's inventory (1974) allows for three categories of sex role self-concept: masculine, feminine, androgynous (where androgynous is defined as equal amounts of masculine and feminine orientation, high or low). However, according to the conceptualization of androgyny offered by Spence, Helmreich and Stapp (1975),this study divided what Bem calls androgynous people into two groups: high identification with traits of both sexes and low identification with traits of both sexes. Thus, the low identification group was termed "neuter". Traditionally, sex role self-concept has been measured on one bi-polar scale. The technique and conceptualization used here (for both persons and products) allows masculinity and femininity to be independent constructs. Bem (1974) provides an excellent discussion of this approach.

For subsequent analyses respondents' self-esteem scores were divided into tertiles. Prior to this breakdown, self-esteem scores were submitted to analysis to determine significant differences by sex, sex role self-concept, and combined sex by sex role self-concept, separately.

Masculine and feminine image scores on the 24 products were used to assign products to one of the three previously determined groups. The groups elicited from the final instrument were identical to the product assignments determined by the pre-tests. T-tests between masculine and feminine mean scores for each product revealed significant differences for 23 of the 24 products. Key ring was the only product for which masculine and feminine image did not differ significantly at the .05 level. Nylon underwear had the highest mean feminine rating (7.90) and the second lowest masculine mean score (2.26). Scarf had a lower masculine rating (1.68) and a high feminine rating (7.85); however, due to previous research for the product (Morris and Cundiff 1971) hair spray is discussed here as the second high feminine (7.38) low masculine (2.79) product. The masculine and feminine means for key ring were 4.42 and 4.50, respectively. It constitutes a moderately feminine, moderately masculine product. Pocket knife had the highest masculine mean (7.71) and the lowest feminine mean (1.86). Cuff links had the second highest masculine mean (7.30) and a low feminine mean (2.74). Thus, pocket knife and cuff links represent high masculine-low feminine products.

Each product was submitted to analysis of variance (Nie, et. al. 1975) for masculine and feminine perceptions separately. Sex-typed product image constituted the dependent variables and sex role self-concept, sex, use and self-esteem constituted the independent variables which were categorized as previously described. The remainder of the discussion focuses upon the results of these analyses for the five sex-typed products, following the self-esteem analysis.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Significant differences occurred for mean self-esteem scores between the four sex role self-concept groups, (alpha = .000) but not between males and females. The ranking of sex role self-concepts for self-esteem were: androgynous (48.89, n=74), masculine (47.20, n=80), feminine (40.12, n=83), and neuter (37.94, n=83). The probability of F was again .000. Combining sex and sex role self-concept yielded the following mean self-esteem scores (alpha = .000): androgynous females (51.51, n=31), androgynous males (47.60, n=43), masculine males (47.35, n=65), masculine females (46.80, n=15), feminine females (40.57, n=63 neuter females (40.29, n=24), feminine males (39.35, n=20), and neuter males (36.78, n=46). These results are very comparable to those of previous research (Spence et. al 1975) with a reverse ordering of masculine females with masculine males and feminine males with neuter females.

TABLE 1

SUMMARY OF ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE FOR MASCULINE AND FEMININE PERCEPTIONS OF POCKET KNIFE

Table 1 presents the results of the analysis of variance for masculine and feminine perceptions of pocket knife, and Table 2 exhibits mean scores for sex role, sex and use and significant two-way interactions. In general, the variables tested appear to have a stronger impact on masculine image of the masculine sex-typed product than upon feminine image.

As can be seen from Table 2 for the main effect of sex role upon both masculine and feminine perceptions, feminine persons perceive the product as more masculine than other sex role self-concepts, and androgynous persons perceive the product as most feminine. A significant main effect of sex and use occurs only for feminine product perceptions. Females and people who use the product perceive it as more feminine than do males and non-users. Self esteem is not an important influence on product perceptions; however, in interaction with other variables, it becomes an important variable for masculine product perceptions.

TABLE 2

MEAN SCORES FOR SIGNIFICANT EFFECTS ON MASCULINE AND FEMININE IMAGE OF POCKET KNIFE

The significant interaction of sex and sex role for masculine perceptions indicates that masculine, feminine or neuter females are likely to perceive the product as less masculine than do males of any sex role self-concept Androgynous females perceive the product as more masculine than do feminine or neuter males.

As Table 2 further indicates, for the significant masculine perception interaction of sex role and self-esteem, medium self-esteem feminines have the most masculine perceptions of the product, and high self-esteem neuters have the lowest. No clear pattern is discernable, however,

For the significant interaction of sex and self-esteem females with low, medium and high self-esteem, respectively, have the highest masculine perceptions. The lowest masculine perception occurs for medium self-esteem males.

Due to cell size difficulties and the resulting instabilities, mean scores are not presented for the significant masculine image interactions of sex role by self-esteem by use or the four-way interaction. It appears that for this product masculine perceptions are influenced by combinations of variables rather than individual variables; thus, these perceptions are not easily explained. There is a slight pattern which tends to indicate that opposites (in terms of sex or sex role) may have stronger masculine perceptions. Feminine perceptions are more straight forward, being influenced by sex role self-concept, sex and use.

The summary of the analysis of variance for the other high masculine-low feminine product, cuff links, is presented in Table 3. Mean scores for significant main effects and two-way interactions are exhibited in Table 4.

Sex role self-concept is only significant for feminine perceptions of cuff links. Unlike the feminine perceptions for pocket knife, the means for sex role self-concept groups for feminine perceptions of cuff links indicate the strongest female perceptions occur for feminine self-concepts and the weakest for neuter self-concept. Females have the strongest sex-typed image for both masculine and feminine perceptions, perceiving the product as both more masculine and more feminine than do males. For masculine perceptions, persons who use the product perceive it as more masculine than do those who do not use cuff links. This was consistent with feminine image results for pocket knife.

TABLE 3

SUMMARY OF ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE FOR MASCULINE AND FEMININE PERCEPTIONS OF CUFF LINKS

Again, interactions appear to be more important for masculine perceptions than for feminine perceptions. The interaction of sex and use is significant for both masculine and feminine perceptions for cuff links. It was previously insignificant for both perceptions of pocket knife. For masculine perceptions, females who do not use the product perceive it as most masculine, followed by males who use, females who use and males who do not use. Males who do not use perceive cuff links as most feminine, followed by females who use, females who do not use, and males who use. These results provide some support for the congruency between sex, product use, and product perceptions.

TABLE 4

MEAN SCORES FOR SIGNIFICANT EFFECTS ON MASCULINE AND FEMININE IMAGE OF CUFF LINKS

The three-way interaction of sex, self-esteem and use is significant for masculine perceptions, as it was near significant (alpha = .05) for pocket knife. In order to increase the sizes of some cells a much larger sample is needed (307 used here). Although there are interpretation difficulties, the prevalence of significant and close to significant results for three and four-way interactions on masculine perceptions indicates that this may merit further investigation. The relationships among these variables for masculine perceptions appears complex.

Table 5 and 6, respectively, summarize the analysis of variance and present mean scores for nylon underwear. Sex role is significant only for feminine perceptions with feminine persons perceiving nylon underwear as most feminine and androgynous persons perceiving the product as least feminine. Males perceive the product as more masculine than do females, and although not within an alpha level of .05, females perceive the product as more feminine than do males. Again, people who use the product perceive it as more masculine, but unlike earlier results, people who do not use perceive the product as more feminine. Similar to the masculine sex-typed products, interactions are more important for masculine perceptions of nylon underwear than for feminine perceptions.

For masculine perceptions, the interaction of sex role and self-esteem is significant. As was the case with pocket knife, a pattern is difficult to discern. The highest masculine perceptions occur for low self-esteem androgynous and the lowest occur for low self-esteem masculine.

The significant interaction of sex role and use indicates that masculine, neuter and androgynous persons using the product perceive it the most masculine, with little difference between androgynous people who use and who don't use. Males who do not use, feminine persons and neuters who do not use perceive the product as least masculine. There is some intuitive congruency between product perceptions, use and sex role self-concept.

TABLE 5

SUMMARY OF ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE FOR MASCULINE AND FEMININE PERCEPTIONS OF NYLON UNDERWEAR

For the interaction of sex and self-esteem, medium and high self-esteem males perceive the product as most masculine, respectively, and low self-esteem males and females perceive it as least masculine. The pattern was different for pocket knife where females had a tendency to see the product as more masculine. The results are consistent, however, that "opposites" see the product as more strongly the opposite. Differences in results may be due to differences in the sex-typing of products.

High self-esteem persons who use nylon underwear perceive the product as most masculine, and low self--esteem people who do not use perceive the product as least masculine. For medium self-esteem persons there is no significant difference in masculine perceptions if they use or don't use the product.

Tables 7 and 8 present the summary of the analysis of variance for hair spray and mean scores, respectively. For the main effect of sex, males perceived hair spray as both more masculine and more feminine. The effect of sex appears to be tied to the product and not necessarily to the sex-type of the product.

Use was not significant for feminine perceptions, but people who use hair spray perceive it as more masculine than persons who do not. In all but one instance (feminine perceptions of nylon underwear) where the effect was significant, people using a product perceived it as having more masculinity or femininity than did people who did not use the product.

Males and females who use hair spray perceive the product as more masculine than do males and females who do not use. Males using the product perceive it as most masculine. Males who do not use the product perceive hair spray as most feminine and females who do not use perceive it as least feminine. Again there is indication of a congruency between sex, use and product perceptions.

TABLE 6

MEAN SCORES FOR SIGNIFICANT EFFECTS ON MASCULINE AND FEMININE IMAGE OF NYLON UNDERWEAR

Hair spray may be a different type of product than the previous three. It is a product which has recently been accepted by more males, although it was sex-typed as high feminine-low masculine. The importance of three-way interactions for feminine perceptions is unique to this product. Although there is some consistency between results for sex, use and sex by use across products, the results for similarity sex-typed products still tends to be product specific. Sex role self-concept does appear to influence product perceptions and self-esteem appears only to be important in interaction with other variables.

Key ring was the only product for which there was not a perceived difference between masculinity and femininity. This medium masculine-medium feminine, but really "neuter" product is distinctly different from the sex-typed products.

TABLE 7

SUMMARY OF ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE FOR MASCULINE AND FEMININE PERCEPTIONS OF HAIR SPRAY

TABLE 8

MEAN SCORES FOR SIGNIFICANT EFFECTS ON MASCULINE AND FEMININE IMAGE OF HAIR SPRAY

Table 9 presents the summary of the analysis of variance for masculine and feminine perceptions of key ring. The only significant variable was self-esteem for feminine perceptions of key ring. Medium esteem persons saw the product as most feminine (4.786), followed by high self-esteem (4.609) and low self esteem (4.061). This is the only product for which self-esteem was significant as a main effect. If generalizations can be made from one product, this data indicates that for non-sex-typed products (which according to the pre-test and results are very rare) sex, sex role self-concept, and product use have little influence on masculine and feminine product perceptions. This result is intuitively appealing since the product is not sex-typed these variables would not be expected to be extremely important.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

Several conclusions can be drawn from the results of this research. First, products have very definite masculine and feminine sex-typed image. However, the sex-typing of people and products is very different. Although it is possible to have masculine, feminine, androgynous and neuter people without forcing an analysis of extremes, this apparently is not the case with products. For products, sexual image is still a bipolar construct for strong masculine and feminine identity, or an equally weak one. Further, masculinity and femininity of products appears to be related to which sex is most often thought of as using the product. This conclusion does not emerge clearly from the data provided here; however, it is an implication worthy of further investigation. If product images are derived from the sex perceived as using the product most frequently (a suggested methodological approach), then the marketer interested in changing product perceptions should change the sex featured as using the product. Hair spray may be an example of a product in the process of change. There may be learning involved in product sex-typing. And, sex role self-concept does appear to be an important influence on the sex typing of products.

TABLE 9

SUMMARY OF ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE FOR MASCULINE AND FEMININE PERCEPTIONS OF KEY RING

In addition, there appears to be something different operating among the variables sex, sex role self-concept, use and self-esteem for masculine and feminine perceptions. Across sex-typed products, feminine perceptions appear to be more related to individual variables than combinations of variables. The opposite is true for masculine perceptions which almost seem more complex. However, sex, sex role self-concept, use and self-esteem do, individually and collectively, influence product image. For sex-typed products, self-esteem is only important in conjunction with other variables.

Although there are consistencies in the variables which were important across products, directionality appears to be product specific. There is limited support for the conclusion (cuff links and hair spray) that males will perceive a feminine-typed product as more sex-typed for both masculine and feminine perceptions and females will perceive a masculine-typed product as more sex-typed for both masculine and feminine product image. Also, the more extremely typed the products (e.g. pocket knife and nylon underwear), the more the variables tested appear to influence product image.

A strong, systematic relationship among product perceptions and sex, sex role self-concept, use and self-esteem across products could not be identified from the results of this study. It can be concluded, however, that the variables investigated do impact upon masculine and feminine product perceptions. Further investigation into the nature of the relationship between these variables, operationalized in other contexts, may provide the marketer with another perspective on the consumer behavior impact of changing sex roles for women--and, more importantly, for both sexes.

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