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Healthy Relationships in Adolescence: Studies in Masculinity and Femininity Ideologies

PI: Deborah Tolman; RAs: Brian Davis & Christin Bowman

The data collected for this project is being used for two separate papers. In the first paper (Tolman, Davis & Bowman, 2016), we used a mixed-methods design and a feminist theoretical lens to examine gender inequity in adolescents’ heterosexual relationships. Our theoretical lens conceptualizes gender as hierarchical and complementary ideologies – masculinity and femininity – that are fundamental constituents of institutionalized heterosexuality. In Study 1 of this paper, we conducted separate analyses for girls and boys to evaluate whether masculinity ideology for boys and femininity ideology for girls account for boys’ endorsement of male coercion and for girls’ endorsement of feminine conventions in heterosexual relationships with a sample of 250 tenth-grade students (n = 144 girls). Masculinity ideology proved to be as strong or stronger than femininity ideology in predicting these respective outcomes. In Study 2, we sought to understand this pattern through a thematically informed narrative analysis of interviews with 53 of the Study 1 participants (n = 35 girls) on their beliefs about and experiences with sexual expression and heterosexual relationships. Girls described the dual task of managing boys’ masculinity as well as their own femininity. Boys, by contrast, described girls’ femininity in instrumental terms for the management of their own masculinity. Integration of these results provides greater insight into how institutionalized heterosexuality is reproduced through the functioning of these hierarchical complementary gender ideologies.