Adult narratives of masculinity and femininity: The communication of sex-role socialization and gendered identity

Lorin Basden Arnold, Purdue University


"Male" and "Female" are the sex labels we are given at birth. These social categories greatly impact the way we see ourselves and are treated from an early age. After the assignation of these labels our social structure and communication interactions with others begins to affect our gendered identities. Research concerning the processes surrounding sex-role socialization typically focuses on the child. In addition, most research in this area is accomplished with little direct input from the individuals who constitute the subject groups. The present study looks at sex-role socialization and the creation of a gendered identity in a different population and a different way. Adults were asked to discuss their lives as men and women. The narratives they supplied became the data of analysis in this study. From consideration of the narratives of twenty-five adults regarding sex-role socialization and gendered identity creation in the adult years, five themes emerged clearly. First, these adults considered the extent to which their ideal images of self as man/woman were or were not compatible with their actual enactments of sex role behaviors. Second, constancy and change in thoughts and behaviors related to gendered identity during the adult years were addressed. Third, narratives were related to issues of following or rebelling against the models and expectations of sex-role behavior encountered by the participants. Fourth, the relationship between public expectations and social structure in relation to men and woman and private enactments of sex roles and gendered identity was considered. Finally, adults spoke of the similarities and differences between men and women, both in terms of natural characteristics and traits and social positioning. These five thematic tensions were interconnected within each participant's narrative and formed the foundation for that narrative. The stories of these adults exhibit the communicative, active, creative process of sex-role socialization and development of gendered identity. These narratives also exhibit the lifelong nature of this communicative venture. ^




Major Professor: William K. Rawlins, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Speech Communication|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

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