A Status Formulation of Sex Differences

Sapin, Corlis R. (Ph.D., 1979)

Thesis directed by Associate Professor Peter G. Ossorio

This thesis presents the concept of status as a more comprehensive and compelling way of accounting for sex differences in behavior than present sex-role accounts.

Status, a concept explicated in Descriptive Psychology (Ossorio, 1974, 1976, 1978) can be thought of as a person's position in the world. A person has status and therefore behavior potential by virtue of his sets of relationships to the various elements of his world.

Some relationships can be described in terms of roles, i.e., sets of prescribed and concrete performances. Many more, however, e.g., being a friend, cannot be sensibly described concretely or performatively. Rather, these relationships can be better discussed in terms of the significances of the behaviors chosen by a person in that relationship.

The status formulation allows the limited distinctions of roles but also covers a larger range of facts about the behavior of persons. Further, it is proposed that the status formulation can make sense of sex difference distinctions by going beyond the concepts of sex roles.

The extent to which people treat sex differences and other behavioral domains as roles or statuses depends upon the extent to which they are competent in distinguishing behavioral performances from the possible significant behaviors they exemplify.

A person who makes a one-to-one correspondence between being masculine and performing assertively can be identified as having a performative orientation and referred to as a P-type person. The more competent person can distinguish between being masculine and acting assertively. This person can be identified as having a significance orientation to behavior and designated as an S-type person.

The formulation of competence in judgment generated several hypotheses including: S-type persons in contrast to P-type persons will be more: (1) sensitive to the lack of identical significance of "the same" behavior in the domain of masculine and feminine behavior; (2) successful in seeing how "the same" behavior can have different significances; (3) successful in generating alternative exemplifications of the same significant behavior; (4) successful in seeing how the same significant behavior can be exemplified by a variety of more concrete behaviors; (5) successful in distinguishing a behavior from the behavior which is its significance; (6) motivated to seek behavioral choices; (7) successful in negotiating differences competently.

Several procedures were used to test these hypotheses, including having subjects rate male and female characters on adjectives from Bem's Androgyny Scale; having subjects generate significant behaviors in response to identified critical behaviors for male and female characters; and having subjects negotiate differences in opinion.

The results showed support for all the hypotheses tested except Hypothesis 7.

P-type persons counter-stereotyped characters on obvious performative items and stereotyped characters on the more subtle significance-oriented items. In contrast, the S-type persons did not show evidence of stereotyping but showed a range of responses which mostly varied according to situations.

The conceptualization and results suggest several implications for clinical treatment of behavior problems. Problems related to restricted behavior potential such as not finding life meaningful, lack of trust in others, alienation, misunderstandings in heterosexual relationships, etc. can be explained in terms of the extent to which a person has a P-type rather than an S-type orientation to his behavior and that of others. [235 pp.]