Gender Roles

Gender Roles

the differences in emotional meanings and societal expectations between those born male and those born female

This dimension can be a bit tricky, and it is essential to understand the distinction here between gender and sex. Gender (how a person identifies on the spectrum of masculinity versus femininity) is not to be confused with a person’s physiological birth sex (male versus female). This distinction allows the possibility for men to be feminine and women to be masculine (or any other combination).

To make this perhaps more confusing, Hofstede uses the terms “feminine” and “masculine” to refer to the amount of separation in emotional meaning between those born male or female. For example, a masculine society is one in which emotional gender roles are more distinct (there is a large separation between what it means to be male versus female), and a feminine society is one in which emotional gender roles are less distinct (the lines are blurred between what is expected of males and females).

Below is a comparison of some of the characteristics found in feminine versus masculine cultures:


  1. Emphasis on Work/life balance
  2. Both parents deal with feelings
  3. Jealousy of the strong
  4. Sympathy for the weak
  5. No one should fight / either gender can cry
  6. Religion – focus on fellow human beings
  7. Sexuality as a means for couples to relate to one another


  1. Work takes precedence over family
  2. Father should deal with facts, Mother with feelings
  3. Admiration for the strong
  4. Disdain for the weak
  5. Boys fight and should not cry
  6. Religion – God the Authoritarian father
  7. Sexuality as a means to perform (man as subject, woman as object)

Much like Social Dependence, a culture’s gender roles can only be measured in relation to other cultures. Hofstede measured this on the Masculinity Index (MAS) on a scale of 1-100, finding that cultures with greater femininity tended to be more literate, had fewer people below the poverty line, spent more on aid to poor countries, and had greater leisure time. Cultures with greater masculinity tended to be less literate, had more people below the poverty line, spent less on foreign aid, and spent more time working. He also observed a difference in the perception of poverty, with masculine societies perceiving poverty as the result of laziness and feminine societies perceiving it as the result of bad luck. However, there appears to be no relationship between masculinity and degree of wealth. It is also worth noting that this is the only data set where Hofstede’s results differed when polling men versus women.

Disrupt This!

Our contemporary understanding of gender has undergone tremendous changes in recent years. LGBTQ and Women’s rights movements are continually calling into question the balance between sex, gender, and identity. We are more sensitive than ever to the social forces which reinforce gender norms and stereotypes. Because of this sensitivity, Hofstede’s take on gender roles will likely seem oddly binary. I believe this dimension would be more useful to practicing designers if we dispel Hofstede’s masculine/feminine terminology and instead focus on some fundamental questions like:

  • What fixed gender roles exist and what cultural expectations follow them?
  • How do people conform to or rebel against these roles, and what are the social ramifications for doing so?

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