Margaret Mead

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After reading Mead’s Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, in which Mead refutes the idea that there is a biological basis for masculine and feminine temperament, what temperament traits do you have, and are they linked to gender expression? How are gender-linked expectations of behavior reinforced by society?

When identifying your temperament traits, it is helpful to consider the Big Five model of personality traits, in women generally score much higher on Agreeableness and somewhat higher on neuroticism than men. Society reinforces this by equating disagreeableness with strength and authority in men but with stridency in women. Men who are highly agreeable tend to be perceived as weak, while the same level of agreeableness is seen as normal in a woman.

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In Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, Margaret Mead uses three anthropological studies of tribes in Papua, New Guinea to make the case that gender differences are conditioned rather than innate. Since Mead's study, many psychological models for evaluating temperament have been proposed, the most influential of which is currently that of the Big Five personality traits: Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness. Only two of these traits are strongly linked to gender expression. Women consistently score higher on both Agreeableness and Neuroticism than men, particularly the former. You might consider taking one of the many Big Five personality tests available online (most of which take between ten and thirty minutes) to give you an indication of what your dominant personality traits are. Be aware, however, that some of these require you to pay to see your results.

If you are high in Agreeableness, you will generally be perceived as having a more feminine temperament. Whereas Agreeableness is clearly a useful trait for both men and women, particularly in such fields as diplomacy and management, a high degree of Agreeableness is often seen as weak and indecisive in men. The same level of Agreeableness, however, would be seen as normal in a woman, while a man who occupies a high position in business, politics, or the military is often expected to be actively disagreeable in order to show strength and command respect.

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