December 11, 2023

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Opinion | How You Feel About Gender Roles Can Tell Us How You’ll Vote

In summary, she wrote, “The more ‘masculine’ an individual is, the more likely he or she is to affiliate with the G.O.P. and vote for Republican Party candidates.” Regardless of the sex of the individual, McDermott argued, “the more ‘feminine’ traits a person possesses, the more likely that person is to affiliate with, and vote for, the typically ‘feminine’” Democratic Party, adding that “‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ operate the same way in men and women, defying traditional research.”

In fact, McDermott observed that “once gendered personalities are accounted for, the longstanding sex gap in partisan preferences disappears.” She described what she calls a “femininity dimension” based on measures of such characteristics “as understanding, sympathetic, warm, loves children, compassionate, gentle, eager to soothe hurt feelings, affectionate, sensitive to needs of others and tender.” And she described a “masculinity dimension” based on measures of such traits “as willing to take risks, forceful, strong personality, assertive, independent, leadership ability, aggressive, dominant, willing to take a stand and defends own beliefs.”

Using these measures, McDermott notes that men, as expected, are higher in the “masculinity dimension” and that women are higher in the “femininity dimension.” More significantly, McDermott reports, there are large numbers of men and women who do not fit the stereotype: 41 percent of men score above the median on the femininity dimension, and 35 percent of women score above the median on the masculinity dimension.

While “the sex difference in Democratic leanings is nine points,” McDermott observes that there are

much larger gaps in relative party identification among different gendered personalities. On the femininity dimension, those with scores above the median level of femininity identify with Democrats more than Republicans by 23 points, while those below the median on this scale are one point more Republican than Democratic — an overall 24-point gap in relative party identification between low femininity versus high femininity. On the masculinity dimension, those with a greater number of masculine traits show only a three-point advantage in Democratic affiliation, compared to less masculine individuals who display a 21-point Democratic advantage — an 18-point gap by masculinity.

Over the past 50 years, McDermott notes, there has been a radical shift in public attitudes on the role of women. She cites changing results on a poll question that

asks whether women should have an equal role or whether their place is in the home, on a 1-to-7-point scale. Higher values indicate a more traditional role attitude. As the data show, traditional role attitudes — at least toward women — have dropped substantially, moving from a populace almost evenly divided in opinions in 1972 (3.5-point average) to one clearly in favor of an equal role for women (1.8-point average) in 2008.

At the same time, McDermott writes, “men’s possession of both masculine and feminine personality traits has increased. Both sexes are now, on average, more likely than in the past to possess the personality traits of the sex role opposite the one once dictated to them by tradition.”

Along parallel lines, Roland Levant, a professor of psychology at the University of Akron, noted in reply to my emailed query that there is a “relationship between men’s and women’s traditional male ideology and their endorsement of conservative political ideology.”

Traditional male ideology, Levant and five colleagues wrote in their 2021 paper, “The Politics of Men’s and Women’s Traditional Masculinity Ideology in the United States,” is “particularly evident through endorsement of hegemonic norms that condemn any thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for men that could be considered feminine.” Perhaps most significantly, Levant and his co-authors found that there was no gender gap between the political views of those men and women who favor traditional masculine ideology: “Women who believed that men should generally avoid traditionally feminine behaviors (e.g., be tough, stoic, dominant and hypersexual) were equally likely to endorse conservative political ideology as men who endorsed the same beliefs.”