9. Gender Characteristics - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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9. Gender Characteristics

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Born That Way- Termperament Rel

Born that Way, Temperamental Challenges in Relationships and Therapy
by Ronald Mah

Differences between male and female tendencies and variations within one gender or the other has been hypothesized to be indicative of marital content.  Helson and Roberts (1992) looked at women and work and influences on and from marriage.  For example, "marital problems may be explored in terms of the idea that career women tend to be individualistic women married to individualistic men" (page 595).  Their examination was of interest as they focused on women who had graduated from college in 1958 and 1960.  They considered these women as entering work and marriage in a transitional era shifting from more traditional and conservative standards of gender roles to more flexible and liberal options for women and marriage dynamics.  As a result, "we expected that openness to change, as opposed to conservatism and conventionality, would have led to an association between individuality in both the husband and wife and the wife's pursuit of a career" (page 577).  To have a career outside of the home was unusual at the time, thus considered an act of individuality for a woman.  For a man to have- that is, allow or accept a wife with a career outside of the home would also then be considered an act of non-conformity.  They found that the husband's young adult personality was significant in predicting the partner's work history, aside from the wife's characteristics and history.  A women who did a lot of volunteer work rather than worked tended to be married to a man low on individuality and high on affiliation.  Along with her college goals, the length of the marriage, and her husband's individuality scores predicted how much paid work a woman did.  Her and her husband's individuality scores predicted her status (Helson and Roberts, 1992, page 592).

It is not clear to what degree individuality for the women and men was consequential of innate temperament or the influence of culture- that is, of nurture.  An alternative or complementary theory may be that both the women and husbands had greater individual self-esteem or ego strength to be able to endure societal judgment against their economic-familial situation.  It is arguable that no matter how high a degree of individuality of either partner, that a generation earlier the relative lack of cultural support for women activating a career could have made it difficult or impossible.  Or, that a generation later, relative greater cultural support for women being economically self-sufficient would have bolstered women's career aspirations.  Individuality may be considered a relatively modern Western democratic cultural construct for both men and women, while conformity to established convention more pervasive in many societies and cultures.  Helson and Roberts study seems to imply that women who are value their own individuality should seek mates who are similar in personality, specifically if they wish to have professional or work careers.  It could possibly be generalized to finding partners who similarly value individuality so other forms of individualistic non-conformist behavior will be tolerated, accepted, and supported.  This seems to be an obvious recommendation.  Seeking a conservative conformist partner when one has non-conformist tendencies would seem clearly counter-indicated.  Avoiding other negative traits would be also obvious.  

Buss (1991) listed complaints between wives and husbands regarding what they found most negative.  "The most frequent complaint that wives have about their husbands is that they are inconsiderate.  The most frequent complaint that husbands have about their wives centers on their moodiness.  Women more frequently report anger and upset about their husbands being condescending, neglecting and rejecting, abusive of alcohol, and disheveled.  Men, in contrast, more frequently report anger and upset about their wives being possessive and dependent, physically self-absorbed, and sexually withholding" (page 672).  Inconsiderate, moody, condescension, neglect, rejection, alcohol abuse, disheveled appearance, possessiveness, dependence, being physically self-absorbed, and sexually withholding would join a list of other obvious negative indicators for choosing partners.  It is not clear if these are traits and behaviors central to unhappy relationships or are consequential of unhappy relationships.  It is also not readily apparent if these traits were evident in partners prior to their meeting.  Nor, is it clear if these are traits that may have developed during courtship or after the relationship began.  Moreover, what not to look for or accept does not always indicate what to look for that makes for a good relationship.  

Many studies have focused on partner similarities as the basis for positive or happy relationships.  Others have looked at differences in how women and men prioritize important qualities.  Women may be more particular in choosing mates based on procreation issues.  It has been hypothesized that this may be from the significantly greater mandatory parental investment in having children.  Women have a 9-month investment of fertilization, placentation, and gestation, along with a significant post-birth lactation period.  Men, in contrast, can produce offspring with a single ejaculation for fertilization.  And men can and have done little or nothing else to raise children.  High investing women therefore have much greater investment in being highly discriminating in choosing partners and discriminating among personality characteristics (Botwin, et al., 1997, page 109).  Women therefore would select discriminately based on men's ability and willingness to invest resources in themselves and their offspring.  Historical vulnerability based on social, cultural, economic, and political inequities as lower status individuals also create a greater urgency for women in mate selection.  Because men's resources are often closely connected with position in dominance hierarchies, women were predicted to place greater value on personality characteristics that lead to social ascendance and resource acquisition.  Several major conclusions about the role of personality in mating can be drawn from these studies:

1. Women are generally more exacting in personality mate preferences, desiring higher levels of a variety of socially desirable personality characteristics in potential mates;

2. These sex differences are especially strong and consistent across samples for Surgency and Intellect-Openness;

3. Couples show low levels of assortment for personality, significantly so for the dimensions of Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Intellect-Openness using the composite personality measures, but not significantly for the self-reports alone;

4. Men and women both desire mates who are similar to themselves in personality; men and women actually are mated with individuals who embody their preferences, although there are clear individual differences in the degree of such embodiment;

5. Individuals who have a mate high on Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, and Intellect-Openness are more satisfied with their marriage; and

6. Having a mate who is discrepant from one's ideal does not contribute any unique variance to marital satisfaction above and beyond the partner's personality. (Botwin et al., 1997, page 129)

Blum and Mehrabian (1999) found that partners with pleasant temperaments were much more likely to be satisfactorily married.  There was a gender difference that they explained as, "The happiness of men in marriage depends more on their own than on their mates' level of psychological adjustment-maladjustment, whereas the happiness of women tends to be a more equally balanced function of their own and their mates' adjustment levels.  A possible explanation of this difference is the greater emotional empathy of women than of men (see Mehrabian, Young, & Sato, 1988)" (Blum and Mehrabian, 1999, page 115).  Wives' marital satisfaction related positively their Trait Pleasure scores, irrespective of their dominance or submissiveness.  Trait Dominance seemed to matter only when they had unpleasant versus pleasant temperaments.  The combination of unpleasant and submissive temperament resulted in the lowest level of marital satisfaction for wives.  This is indicative of depression.  Unpleasant temperament and submissive temperament equally contributed to depression.  This is not clear if innate temperament is causal versus a contributing factor to depression.  Or, if an unpleasant temperament and a submissive temperament are expressions of depression; or whether the depression existed prior to or is a consequence of the unhappy relationship.  Is the unpleasant temperament a result of previous neglectful and abusive parenting or other experiences?  Is the submissive temperament a response to being dominated and controlled by authoritarian parents or a totalitarian regime?  Were and are the temperament traits influenced by oppressive sexist standards and experiences? For same sex couples, what is the relevance of the gender hypotheses based on heterosexual couples?  How universal are the findings versus what are the qualifications or nuances relevant to specific clients?  The therapist would need to investigate individual as well as couple's history to get a clearer picture of the interplay of dynamics.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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