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The masculine/feminine dimension

March 12, 2008

Hello again,
When thinking about the extent to which a culture may be said to be more masculine or feminine we have to remember that the cultural values...

...are shared by both sexes. More masculine cultures tend to emphasize competitiveness, assertiveness, and ambition, and value wealth and material possessions. On the other hand, more feminine cultures see relationships and the quality of life as more important. Not surprisingly, masculine cultures have a more rigid view of male and female roles, whereas feminine cultures see men and women as able to be very flexible in the roles they play. Japan is shown by Hofstede to be the most masculine culture (rating 95 on the scale) and Sweden the most feminine (rating 5).

If you are working in a culture that is more masculine than your own, you may find you are expected to put work goals before personal ones. Thus working overtime, allowing work to encroach into personal time, and not developing personal relationships may be normal. You may have the sense that people live to work.

If you are working in a more feminine culture, then relationships, avoidance of conflict and concern for the welfare of others will be more noticeable. People work to live and probably have better understanding of the need for a work/life balance.

It strikes me that there is a particular significance in these dimensions for the classroom. As a teacher I feel that a classroom is intrinsically more feminine in that the assertive, competitive style is not best suited to learning. So what happens if you find yourself teaching in a masculine culture that also pervades the classroom? In such an event you might like to consider the following points:
• How competitive is the learning environment?
• What motivates your students?
• Is group opinion more or less important than individual opinion?
• Is the teacher seen as a friend or a leader?
• Do normal activities emphasize individual or cooperative work?
• How do you reward learning?

You may have to adapt your teaching to fit the cultural expectations of the group but you can also try to broaden your students’ awareness of cultural difference. If the group is highly competitive, try exercises that require team effort to achieve a single goal. If they are motivated by high marks and praise from the teacher, try to get them to assess their own and each others’ work. If they vie to make their individual voices heard, try to get them to reach consensus on a topic. If they normally work alone, give them groupwork and if they like individual marks as rewards, try assessing them in groups. I am not advocating a negation of their cultural norms but merely an occasional challenge to them so that they can become aware of a different learning style.

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  1. Jeff Hall Says:

    What silly nonsense: cultures are neither masculine nor feminine.

    Unsurprisingly, you offer no advice to teachers who work in an environment which, to use your
    absurd terminology, is too feminine.

    Incidentally, was Nazi Germany a more or less feminine culture than Third Republic France? In Germany, women voted for Hitler in considerably larger numbers than did men, in France, women did not have the vote at all.

    Students are individuals, that'S all.

  1. AQM Khairul Basher Says:

    I must appreciate the ideas discussed in this article. Special thanks to the writer. What I personally feel is wherever we go, we should go with an open eye. It really helps us work in a new place with ease and comfort. In fact, being prepared for different working atmosphere like different weather is always helpful.

  1. Diane Says:

    This was an interesting article. Ignore Jeff Hall; he must be so weighted down by his masculine cultural messages that he's not even open to considering the article with an open mind. I'd like more information on where I, as a woman, would feel most comfortable teaching. Where would I be safe AND appreciated.

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:

    In reply to Jeff and Diane I will make the following points. The masculine/feminine dimension is Hofstede's distinction not mine. He states on his website:

    Masculinity (MAS) versus its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The IBM studies revealed that (a) women's values differ less among societies than men's values; (b) men's values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women's values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women's values on the other. The assertive pole has been called 'masculine' and the modest, caring pole 'feminine'. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men's values and women's values.

    I find this a useful dimension but I have no wish to foist it on anybody who is not convinced.

    Hofstede found Japan to be the most "masculine" country and Sweden the most "feminine". Holland also scores high on femininity. But bear in mind that "feminine values" (i.e. relationships are more important that tasks and achievement) are held by both sexes in more feminine cultures, and cultures with more feminine values do not necessarily have a higher respect for the equality of women. Thus the Arab world scores higher for feminity than the UK but is not renowned for championing women's rights!

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:

    A further point to Jeff.

    Why not tell Professor Hofstede that you find his masculine/feminine dimension silly? I am sure he would be interested in hearing your considered opinion. Tel the UN too, as they made a comparison of 48 countries using this scale.

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