Masculinity/Femininity Essay

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Masculinity/femininity  is  one  of  the  five cultural dimensions  identified by Geert Hofstede in his book Cultures  and  Organisations: Software of the  Mind, where he presents the results of research on cultural variability or national  cultural differences using survey data collected from IBM in 50 countries. Hofstede argues that this dimension  is fundamental  to understanding  how societies cope with the duality of the sexes, suggesting that  coping strategies  would indicate how sex roles are distributed  in the division of labor and how they impact hierarchies of work goals at the national level. He states that the decision to use masculinity/femininity as a label for this dimension is rooted in the findings, which indicate that this was generally the only dimension where men and women surveyed scored consistently differently. Nonetheless, it must be highlighted that the main trait is masculinity, which can be identified in the use of the Masculinity Index (MAS), where feminine is the low or nonmasculine, used to construct  the dichotomy.

In theoretical terms, the dimension draws on ideas about how people “do” sex differences in organizations or  how  dynamics  of gendered  normative  are  constructed around understandings of sex roles. In operational terms, it refers to the degree of value placed on behaviors associated with masculinity or femininity. It could be said that the use of the dimension aims to illustrate  the interaction  between understandings of masculinity/femininity, culture,  and  behavior  by focusing on how specific orientations reveal differences  in emotional  roles, cultural  constructions of gender, and traits of “national character.”

In that  respect,  both  masculinity  and  femininity behaviors are categorized based on socially accepted sex-role patterns in traditional societies. For instance, Hofstede suggests that the main associations with masculinity and femininity can be identified as male assertiveness and female nurturance. He argues that masculinity  stands  for a society in which  social gender roles are clearly distinct: Men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success; women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.

On the other hand, femininity stands for a society in which social gender roles overlap: Both men and women are supposed to be modest,  tender,  and concerned  with the quality of life.

Based on the previous understandings, the dimension opposes ego-goals (masculinity) to social goals (femininity), therefore suggesting that masculine behaviors prioritize the self while feminine behaviors prioritize  the  social. Masculinity  behaviors  include assertiveness,  wealth  acquisition,  and  achievement, and femininity behaviors include offering social support,  focus on quality of life, and caring for others. The impact and presence of these behaviors on culture norms would indicate the level of masculinity or femininity, hence the cultural orientation for this particular dimension.

Hofstede’s Evidence

Using a Masculinity  Index  (MAS) based on socialego factor scores, 14 work goals items were scored, asking participants  to think about factors that would be important to them  in their  ideal job (regardless of whether these factors were present  at their actual job). The score  results  represented the  importance attached to these factors. In line with what was previously mentioned about the traits associated with masculine and feminine, results were classified based on importance  given to earnings, recognition,  advancement, challenge, relationship with manager, cooperation, living area, and employment  security. Earnings, recognition,  advancement,  and challenge were considered masculine, while relationship  with manager, cooperation,  living area,  and  employment  security were considered feminine.

The index  used  a range  between  zero  and  100, where zero was the feminine or nonmasculine  score and indicated high importance  of manager and cooperation and low importance  of earnings. Conversely, lower importance  of manager  and cooperation  and high  importance   to  earnings  increased  the  score, hence a higher masculinity.

Findings suggested that the country with the highest MAS was Japan with a score of 95, and the country with the lowest MAS was Sweden, with a score of 8. In the case of the highest-scoring countries, the top positions after Japan comprised  a mix of countries  from different geographical  and cultural  regions, namely, Austria scoring 79, Venezuela scoring 73, Italy scoring 70, and Switzerland scoring 70. On the other side of the spectrum,  at the lowest end, Nordic countries dominated, with Norway scoring 8, Denmark scoring 16, and Finland scoring 26. The middle scores of the index presented  a combination  of regions scattered throughout the scale; for example, South Africa (63) and the United States (62), Canada (52), Pakistan (50), and Iran and France both with a score of 43.

Countries  with high MAS, such as Japan, Austria, Venezuela, Italy, and Switzerland, give importance  to manliness and masculine traits, behaviors, and products. As such, in these countries,  it is expected that national cultures stress tougher values in men and tender values in women. Countries with low MAS, such as Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands,  Denmark, and Costa Rica, have a closer degree of equality between men and women and behaviors are less prescriptive in regard to gender roles.

In view of the general patterns of masculine/feminine  orientation,  Hofstede  explains how dynamics operate in the workplace, within occupations, in the family, and at school. He stresses the importance  of socialization as a key instance where understandings of individual sex/gender roles are learned and then continuously  reenacted  by individuals  in  different contexts.

Nonetheless, it is important to highlight that Hofstede  suggests that  a country’s location  within  the masculinity/femininity dimension is relative and mainly reflects prioritization of specific work goals. Furthermore, for some dynamics gender is not considered  a relevant  variable for values. This in itself raises issues pertaining  not only to the exact nature of Hofstede’s work (what are the theoretical  foundations of Hofstede’s work in terms of gender dynamics, masculinities and femininities?), but also to its focus (is the study about national cultures or organizational cultures?) and the relevance of the data collected to illustrate the dimensions  identified (can it be argued that the masculinity/femininity dimension illustrates gender normative?).


The work of Geert  Hofstede  has been  both  widely praised and severely criticized. Brendan McSweeney and Rachel Baskerville-Morley are the sharpest  critics; they argue that the two main fundamental  flaws in Hofstede’s work are its methodology and theoretical foundations.  In that sense, several points can be highlighted; for instance,  methodologically,  the lack of representativity  of the sample in each of the countries raises questions about the possibility to speak of “national” cultures.

The research  assumes  that  generalizations  about entire national  populations  can be made based on a few questionnaire  responses,  that  occupational  cultures are universally the same, and that findings are situation ally  nonspecific. Furthermore, the research does  not  consider  issues pertaining  to  the  nation-state debate, such as dynamicity, variability, and complexity. This last point brings to light issues about the theoretical  outdatedness of Hofstede’s model. Lastly, the simplicity of Hofstede’s model is particularly important as the bipolarity of Hofstede’s dimensions is  problematic   because  it  obscures  that  organizational reality is not dichotomous; for instance, there are masculinity  and femininity, and it is not  always masculinity versus femininity.

The main theoretical  criticisms that can be made broadly pertain  to culture  in terms  of assumptions that  it is measurable,  objectively observable, immutable, shared, and homogenous  and to organizational culture in terms of assumptions that it is uniform and monopolistic. This is particularly important in terms of how masculinity and femininity are understood,  as understandings of masculinity/femininity vary across cultures and reflect wider matrices that include combinations of national culture, institutions,  structures, occupations, and individuals.


  1. F. Baskerville, “Hofstede Never Studied Culture,” Accounting,  Organisations  and  Society (v.28/1, 2003);
  2. F. Baskerville-Morley, “A Research  Note:  The Unfinished Business of Culture,” Accounting, Organisations and  Society (v.30/1, 2005);
  3. Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: International  Differences in Work-Related Values (Sage, 1984);
  4. Hofstede, Cultures  and  Organisations: Software of the Mind  (HarperCollins,  1994);
  5. Hofstede et al., Masculinity and Femininity: The Taboo Dimension of National Cultures (Sage, 1998), B. McSweeney, “Hofstede’s Model of National Cultural Differences and Consequences: A Triumph of Faith—A Failure of Analysis,” Human  Relations (v.55/1, 2002).

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