Differential Reactions to Men and Women’s
Gender Role Transgressions:
Perceptions of Social Status, Sexual
Orientation, and Value Dissimilarity
SELCUK R. SIRIN
DONALD R. MCCREARY
Montclair State University
JAMES R. MAHALIK
This study examined the influence of gender role transgressions on
perceptions of men and women’s social status, homosexual orien-
tation, and value dissimilarity. Because past research has shown
that men who transgress gender role norms are punished more
harshly than women, it was hypothesized that male transgressors
would be perceived more negatively than female transgressors in
each of these domains. Participants read vignettes of two hypo-
thetical gender role transgressors, one described using gender role
personality traits and another described using gender role behav-
iors. The trait-based male gender role transgressor was perceived
to be lower in social status and was considered more likely to be
homosexual than the female transgressor. The behavioral-based
male gender role transgressor was perceived to be lower in social
status, and was perceived to be more value-dissimilar than the
female gender role transgressor.
Key Words: gender role transgressions, men’s social status,
women’s social status, homosexual orientation, value dissimilarity
Gender role norms are some of the most powerful social norms taught to individu-
als, who internalize them through the process of gender role socialization (Mahalik,
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Selcuk R. Sirin, Department of Psychol-
ogy, 258 Dickson Hall, Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043. Electronic mail:
The Journal of Men’s Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, Winter 2004, 119-132.
© 2004 by the Men’s Studies Press, LLC. All rights reserved.
SIRIN et al.
2000). Because social norms often determine our expectancies for the personality
traits and behaviors that men and women both adopt and enact (Deaux & Major,
1987; Eagly 1987), failing to conform to these socially prescribed gender roles may
result in being perceived and evaluated negatively (Mahalik, 2000). Thus, even
though men and women internalize and display both masculine and feminine charac-
teristics, people still expect men to be masculine and women to be feminine and
reward and punish them accordingly (McCreary, 1994).
EXPLAINING PEOPLE’S NEGATIVE REACTIONS
TO MALE GENDER ROLE TRANSGRESSIONS
Prior research examining gender role transgressions has generally observed that,
although both males and females are likely to be evaluated less positively when they
do not conform to gender role stereotypes, males tend to be viewed more negatively
than females when they transgress gender roles (Antill, 1987; Archer, 1984;
McCreary, 1994). To explain this phenomenon, a number of theoretical models have
been proposed. One approach, the social status model (SS), suggests that differences
in social status between male and female gender roles influence the way men and
women are viewed when they violate gender-based norms (Feinman, 1981, 1984;
Rosenkrantz, Vogel, Bee, Broverman, & Broverman, 1968). According to the SS
model, since men (and therefore the male gender role) generally have a higher level
of social status and prestige than women (and the female gender role), when men do
not conform to their socially sanctioned gender norms, they lose status and, as a
result, are perceived more negatively than women. Likewise, when women depart
from their gender-based norms, they are changing their behaviors in a direction that
is higher in status and prestige and therefore will be perceived in a more positive
manner than male transgressors. Evidence supporting the SS model comes from sev-
eral sources. For example, Feinman’s (1981, 1984) research has shown that a
woman’s movement into the more highly valued male role is more acceptable than a
man’s movement toward the less valued female role. Similarly, Sadalla, Kenrick,
and Vershure (1987) showed that men who act in a less dominant manner are per-
ceived to be significantly less desirable than men acting in a more dominant manner.
Herek (1984, 1994) proposed a second possible explanation for why gender role
transgressions are tolerated less in males than in females, what McCreary (1994) has
called the sexual orientation model (SO). The basis for this model comes from prior
research showing that feminine-typed gender role characteristics in men, as opposed
to masculine-typed gender role characteristics in women, increased the likelihood of
men, but not women, being perceived as homosexual (e.g., Deaux & Lewis, 1984;
Herek, 1984; O’Neil, 1981; O’Neil, Good, & Holmes, 1995). Furthermore, surveys
indicate that gay men are perceived more negatively than lesbians, heterosexual
men, and homosexual women in a variety of domains (Herek, 1994, 2000; Kite,
1994; Kite & Whitley, 1998; Whitley, 1988). Therefore, the SO model states that
male gender role transgressions are punished more harshly than female gender role
transgressions because cross-gendered roles are closely associated with being
labeled a homosexual for men and bring with them all of the negative evaluations
that accompany homosexuality in men (Herek, 1984; McCreary, 1994).
The perceived value dissimilarity (PVD) model provides a third explanation for
the harsher evaluation of men who transgress their gender-based roles. The PVD
model is based on Schwartz’s theory of the psychological structure of human values
and the extent to which people believe that members of an out-group differ from
themselves with regard to these values (see Schwartz & Bilsky, 1987). According to
this perspective, those who are thought to violate a group’s shared norms (i.e., by
holding, or being perceived to hold, a different set of values from those of the
observer) present a threat to the group and, as a result, will be perceived more nega-
tively than those who are thought to share the group’s norms (Esses, Haddock, &
Zanna, 1993). Haddock and his colleagues have examined attitudes toward gays (Had-
dock, Zanna, & Esses, 1993) and men’s attitudes toward women (Haddock & Zanna,
1994) using the PVD approach and found that individuals who perceived a greater
degree of value dissimilarity between themselves and either women or homosexuals
held more negative attitudes about those groups. Thus, because greater perceived
value dissimilarity is associated with more negative attitudes, it is possible that male
gender role transgressors are treated more harshly than female gender role transgres-
sors in part because they are perceived to differ from the perceiver vis a vis these uni-
Although these three theoretical explanations are presented separately here, it
should be clear that they are not mutually exclusive. For example, because both
homosexuals and people whose values are perceived to differ from the group’s are
perceived more negatively, they should both be seen as lower in social status. Simi-
larly, those lower in social status might be perceived to have values different from
certain referent groups. Thus, it is likely that those who violate gender role norms
will be perceived as lower in social status, homosexual in sexual orientation, and a
threat to the group’s values (as evidenced by greater levels of PVD).
COMPARISON OF THE MODELS
While no study to date has tested how gender role transgressions influence PVD,
McCreary (1994) examined how these transgressions influenced both SS and SO. In
this study, McCreary asked a group of college students to rate a male or female tar-
get, described in either a male- or female-typed manner, on variables assessing
social status and perceived homosexuality. Although the findings did not support the
SS model, strong support emerged for the SO hypothesis such that male gender role
transgressors were more likely to be perceived as homosexual than female gender
role transgressors (McCreary, 1994). This finding supports the notion that gender
role transgressions in males may be punished more harshly because people assume it
is symptomatic of a homosexual orientation, something that is perceived more nega-
tively for men than for women in North American society.
There are two important limitations, however, to McCreary’s (1994) study. The
first is that, when describing his targets, McCreary used stimuli that combined both
gender role traits (i.e., aggressive, rough, and strong for men and temperamental,
emotional, and neat for women) and gender role behaviors (i.e., likes outdoor sports,
likes team sports, for men and likes clothes and takes interest in cooking for
females). Given that research shows gender role traits and behaviors are only corre-
SIRIN et al.
lated moderately with one another (Archer, 1989; McCreary, 1990; Spence, 1993),
people’s reactions to transgressions in these two domains should be examined sepa-
rately. That is, people’s reactions to gender role transgressions may be different if
the transgression is trait- or behavioral-based. To date, however, this difference has
not been studied.
A second limitation to McCreary’s (1994) study was that he used target stimuli
that were gender diagnostic (Lippa & Arad, 1997), meaning the descriptors used
were meant to reflect common beliefs about what differentiates males from females.
Current gender role researchers use gender stereotypes, as opposed to biological sex,
to conceptualize and operationalize gender role norms (both traits and behaviors).
Conceptualizations of gender role development emphasize the notion that men and
women adopt both masculine- and feminine-typed personality traits and act in both
masculine- and feminine-typed ways. Self-report questionnaires such as the Per-
sonal Attributes Questionnaire (PAQ; Spence & Helmreich, 1978) and the Sex Role
Behavior Scale (SRBS; Orlofsky, 1981) operationalize this notion by selecting items
because they are more stereotypic of men or women, not because they differentiate
men from women. Thus, when assessing people’s reactions to gender role transgres-
sions, it is important to adopt the same paradigm as researchers studying gender role
socialization and use the appropriate stimuli.
By extending research exploring factors associated with why male gender role
transgressions are perceived more harshly than female gender role transgressions,
this study will contribute to the existing literature in four ways. First, it will offer
further evidence supporting the SS and SO models. Second, it will directly examine
the extent to which gender role transgressions influence PVD. Third, the study will
assess perceptions of how men’s and women’s gender role transgressions vary as a
function of whether the transgression is trait- or behavioral-based. Fourth, it will use
trait and behavioral stimuli taken from current measures of gender role socialization.
More specifically, the following hypotheses will be tested:
An adult male target described with feminine traits will be perceived to be
lower in social status, more likely to be a homosexual, and more value-dissimi-
lar than a female target described with masculine traits.
The male target described with feminine-typed behaviors will be perceived to
be lower in social status, more likely to be a homosexual, and more value-dis-
similar than a female target described with masculine-typed behaviors.
Participants were 59 undergraduate students recruited from a general course on
developmental psychology at a North American college. There were 30 women and
29 men. The participants were mostly White. All research material was completed in
This study employed a person perception paradigm. Each participant rated two
hypothetical target persons (TPs), one described using gender-typed personality
traits (TP1) and another described using gender-typed behaviors (TP2). The trait-
based descriptions for TP1 were taken from the agency (i.e., masculine-typed) and
communion (i.e., feminine-typed) subscales of the PAQ (Spence & Helmreich,
1978). Items from the PAQ were selected because they were equally desirable for
men and women, but more stereotypically associated with men (agency scale) or
women (communion scale).
The masculine-typed description read as follows: “I am independent, active, and
competitive. I can make decisions easily, I stand up well under pressure, and I never
give up without trying my hardest. I am very self-confident and I never feel inferior
to others.” The feminine-typed description was: “I am very kind, helpful, under-
standing, emotional, and gentle. I am very warm in my relations with others, I am
very aware of the feelings of others, and I am able to devote myself completely to
The behavioral-based descriptions for TP2 were a series of dominant and sub-
missive acts taken from McCreary and Rhodes’ (2001) research on the gender-typed
nature of these behaviors. Like the traits on the PAQ, these dominant or submissive
behaviors were equally desirable for both genders, as evidenced by equivalent social
desirability scores, but were more stereotypically associated with men (dominant
behaviors) or women (submissive behaviors). The masculine-typed, dominant TP
was described as follows: “I volunteer ideas that get group discussions going, I settle
disputes among my friends and co-workers, and I challenge other people to discuss
their opinions. I often refuse to change my mind, I am often unwilling to listen to
others’ points of view, and I have been known to embarrass people in front of a
group. I like trying to argue or bluff my way past guards or doormen, I am often the
one to make bold sexual advances with my partner; in fact, I never refuse to have
sex with my partner.” The TP with feminine-typed, submissive behaviors was pre-
sented as follows: “I tend not to enter into conversations until I am invited to speak,
I don’t start conversations at parties, and I tend not to defend myself when someone
is verbally putting me down. I don’t do things that anger my friends or parents, I
often allow my parents and friends to talk me into doing things, and I do things at
work because no one else will do them. I go out to places because others want to go,
not because I am interested in being there. I use my car to take my friends places and
don’t ask for gas money. I often let my partner choose which movies we will see.”
Past research has shown that men described in gender-typed ways are perceived
to be higher in social status than gender-typed women, and that gender-typed men and
women are more likely to be perceived as heterosexual (McCreary, 1994). Thus, the
purpose of this study was not to compare people’s perceptions of gender-typed and
non-gender typed individuals, but to compare people’s perceptions of male and female
gender role transgressors. To that end, the TPs in this study were described in a gen-
der-transgressed manner. Specifically, if the TP was a male, he was described as pos-
sessing communal personality traits and acting in submissive ways; if the TP was a
female, she possessed agentic personality traits and acted in a dominant manner.
SIRIN et al.
Male and female participants were randomly assigned to read the description of
either two male or two female target persons. Trait-based descriptions always were
presented first. An effort was made to balance the number of men and women in
each condition (N = 15 women and N = 15 men, approximately, per condition). Par-
ticipants were instructed to read each scenario and then, after each scenario, respond
to the questions asking about what kind of person they believe this man or woman
After reading each description, respondents answered several pencil and paper ques-
tions that assessed their perceptions of the two target persons’ social status, homo-
sexuality, and values. Participants also rated their own values.
Perceived Social Status (PSS). Each TP’s social status was measured by the same
sociometric-like variables employed by McCreary (1994). Participants were asked to
rate four items that measure the extent to which they believe the two target persons
were competent, important, highly regarded, and powerful (Feinman, 1981). These
features were selected because they are plausible markers of social status (Conway,
Pizzamiglio, & Mount, 1996; Weber, 1946).
Responses were rated along a 10-point Likert-scale ranging from 0 (not at all) to
9 (very much). Scores were averaged, and higher scores are indicative of higher per-
ceived social status. Cronbach alpha reliability coefficients showed adequate levels
of internal consistency (TP1 =. 84, TP2 = .86).
Perceived Homosexuality (PH). Perceptions of the target’s homosexuality were
measured with three items based on those used by McCreary (1994). Participants
were asked to rate the extent to which they thought it was important for a homosex-
ual to have the personality traits or behaviors attributed to each of the TPs, the extent
to which they felt the TP was a homosexual, and the likelihood that the TP is a
homosexual. Responses to the first two items were rated along a 10-point Likert
scale ranging from 0 (not at all) to 9 (very). The third item was rated using a scale
between 0% and 100 %. Because different metrics were used to rate these items,
responses to all three questions were transformed to z-scores and then averaged.
Higher scores represent a greater perceived likelihood that the TP is a homosexual.
Cronbach alpha reliability coefficients showed adequate levels of internal consis-
tency for this item grouping (TP1 = .77, TP2 = .79).
Perceived Value Dissimilarity (PVD). Perceived value dissimilarity was measured
using the short version of Schwartz’s Values Survey (Schwartz, 1992). This 22-item
measure includes two items for each of the following 11 value types: self-direction,
stimulation, hedonism, achievement, power, conformity, benevolence, tradition,
spirituality, universalism, and security (see Haddock et al., 1993). Following the
procedures outlined by Haddock et al. (1993), participants first rated the extent to
which the values serve as a guiding principle in their own life. They then rated their
perceptions of how important each value was in the TP’s life. A nine-point scale was
used for these ratings, with a range from -1 (opposed to your/his/her values),
through zero (not important), to a maximum value of 7 (of supreme importance).
PVD scores were computed in two steps. First, value discrepancy scores were cre-
ated for each of the 11 value types by taking the absolute difference between partici-
pants’ own profile means and the TP profile means. Next, a total PVD score was
computed by taking the overall average of the discrepancy scores across all 11-value
types (Haddock et al., 1993). This procedure was performed separately for trait- and
behavior-based TPs. Higher scores indicate higher degrees of discrepancy between
the participant’s own values and the TP’s values. Cronbach alpha reliability coeffi-
cients showed good levels of internal consistency for the total PVD score (TP1 =
.83, TP2 = .81).
To assess perceptions of the TPs’ social status, sexual orientation, and value dissimi-
larity as a function of both the sex of the participant and the sex of the transgressor,
a total of six 2 (male participant vs. female participant) X 2 (male transgressor vs.
female transgressor) between-subjects ANOVAs were conducted using the PSS, PH,
and PVD scores as dependent variables, for both the trait-based and behavior-based
TP descriptions. The means and standard deviations for the ANOVAs are presented
in Table 1.
PERCEIVED SOCIAL STATUS
For the target person described using personality traits, there was a significant main
effect for sex of participant, F(1, 55) = 5.52, p £ .022. Male participants perceived
TP1 more negatively than did the female participants, regardless of the sex of the
Means and Standard Deviations, and Analysis of Variance Results for Perceived
Social Status and Perceived Sexual Orientation
Gender Role Traits (TP1)
Gender Role Behaviors (TP2)
social status 6 .71 1.49
* p < .05
** p < .001
SIRIN et al.
target person (5.89 vs. 6.69). There also was a significant main effect for the sex of
the gender role transgressor, F(1, 55) = 4.55, p £.037. The male transgressor was
attributed significantly lower social status compared to the female transgressor (5.93
vs. 6.65) and, as such, was perceived more negatively. The Participant by Transgres-
sor interaction term was not significant.
For the target person described in behavioral terms, the only significant effect
was for the sex of the gender role transgressor, F(1,55) = 18.04, p < .001 Similar to
perceptions of the trait-based target person, the male target described with submis-
sive behaviors was perceived to be lower in social status than the female target
described with dominant behaviors (3.04 vs. 4.85).
PERCEIVED SEXUAL ORIENTATION
The ANOVA for the trait-based TP did not reveal a significant main effect for the
sex of the participant. There was, however, a significant effect for the sex of the
transgressor, F(1, 54) = 5.47, p £.023. The male target described with feminine-
typed traits was judged more likely to be homosexual than the female target
described with masculine-typed traits (.23 vs. -.15). The interaction term was not
significant. With regard to the ANOVA for the behaviorally based TP, there were no
significant main effects or interactions.
PERCEIVED VALUE DISSIMILARITY
The ANOVA for TP1 revealed no significant main effects either for the sex of the
participant or for the sex of the transgressor. There was, however, a significant inter-
action effect, F(1, 53) = 4.26, p £ .044. The interaction was analyzed further by
comparing male and female transgressors’ PVD scores, separately for male and
female participants. The results of these post hoc analyses, however, revealed no sta-
tistically significant differences.
For TP2, there was no significant main effect for sex of participants, but there
was a significant main effect for the sex of transgressor F(1, 52) = 5.26, p £.026.
The male transgressor was perceived to be more value-dissimilar than the female
transgressor (29.65 vs. 23.50).
Last, because the study of PVD is new to the area of gender role transgressions,
we sought to examine which value types were perceived to be different in the male
and female gender role transgressors. To test this question, a series of independent t-
tests were conducted. Given the multiple comparisons made, the Bonferonni tech-
nique was used to control for the increased probability of making a Type 1 error
(.05/22). This resulted in a minimum alpha level of .002 for these analyses. The
results of the comparisons are presented in Table 2. For the TPs described with gen-
der role traits, participants perceived significantly greater value dissimilarity with
the male gender role transgressor compared to the female gender role transgressor in
the area of self-direction. The benevolence subscale, on the other hand, showed that
participants perceived significantly greater value dissimilarity with the female trans-
gressor than male transgressor. For the TP described using gender role behaviors,
several significant differences in PVD scores emerged. Participants perceived male
gender role transgressors to be significantly more value dissimilar than female trans-
gressors in the areas of self-direction, stimulation, hedonism, and achievement.
Female transgressors, on the other hand, were perceived to be significantly more
value dissimilar than the male transgressors only with regard to the conformity value
Means and Standard Deviation of the Eleven Perceived Value Dissimilarity Value
Gender Role Traits (TP1)
Gender Role Behaviors (TP2)
1.61 1.22 -3.79*
Note: N = 59 (n = 30 for female, n = 29 for male); TP1 = Target Person 1; TP2 = Target Person 2; PSS =
Perceived Social Status; PH = Perceived Homosexuality; PVD = Perceived Value Dissimilarity; all t-val-
ues significant (p < .002) unless stated otherwise (ns).
* p < .002.
Past research has shown that males are punished more often and more harshly than
females for deviating from traditional gender role norms. To investigate why this
might be so, we examined people’s reactions to men’s and women’s gender role
transgressions in three domains: perceptions of social status, sexual orientation, and
value dissimilarity. Those three domains were chosen because past research has
shown that men with lower perceived social status, gay men, and people whose val-
ues are thought to be discrepant from the perceiver’s are typically rated more nega-
tively. More specifically, we predicted that an adult male target described with femi-
nine-typed traits or acting in feminine-typed ways would be perceived to be lower in
social status, more likely to be a homosexual, and more value-dissimilar than a
female target described with masculine-typed traits or acting in masculine-typed
SIRIN et al.
There was support for the SS model in that participants perceived the social sta-
tus of male gender role transgressor less favorably than the female gender role trans-
gressor regardless of whether it was a trait- or behavior-based transgression. Support
for the SO model was evident in the finding that the male transgressor described
with gender role traits was more likely to be judged as homosexual than the female
transgressor described with gender role traits; behavioral transgressions did not have
a significant effect on perceptions of homosexuality. Last, support for the PVD
hypothesis came from the finding that participants perceived the male behavioral
transgressor’s values to be significantly more dissimilar to their own values than the
female behavioral transgressor’s values. However, there was no difference in the
perceptions of value dissimilarity toward the trait-based transgressors.
Thus, it appears as though people respond more negatively to male gender role
transgressors than to female gender role transgressors because they see them as
lower in social status, more likely to be homosexual, and holding different values.
However, the type of transgression was important in determining what type of attri-
bution observers made. Specifically, trait-based transgressions differentially influ-
enced people’s perceptions of men’s and women’s social status and perceived
homosexuality. Behavioral-based transgressions, on the other hand, differentially
influenced perceptions of men’s and women’s social status and value dissimilarity.
These findings lead us to ask several questions: Why does deviating from trait-based
norms influence perceptions of homosexuality, but not value dissimilarity, while
deviating from behavior-based norms influences perceptions of value dissimilarity
but not homosexuality? Are personality traits perceived to be more stable and behav-
iors thought to be more situation-specific? Does this then mean that people perceive
homosexuality to be dispositional while value dissimilarity is something that is con-
text-dependent and under a greater degree of personal control? Future research
needs to address issues such as these.
As previous research has not explored the association between gender role
transgressions and the PVD model, the findings from this study provide an addi-
tional perspective from which to understand gender role transgressions. Two find-
ings are worthy of note regarding the PVD model. First, when there was a signifi-
cant effect for PVD, male transgressors were more negatively viewed than female
transgressors. Second, behavior-based transgressions influenced PVD more consis-
tently than trait-based transgressions. This was evident in both the ANOVAs and the
t-tests exploring the individual value domains.
Schwartz (1994) proposed a classification of the 11 value types that emphasizes
a dichotomy between an individualistic value orientation and a collectivistic value
orientation that may help better understand how men and women are perceived
when they depart from traditional gender norms. The individualistic orientation
emphasizes an openness-to-change and self-enhancement and includes the self-
direction, stimulation, hedonism, achievement, and power value types. The collec-
tivistic orientation, on the other hand, includes the conformity, benevolence, and tra-
dition value types. Schwartz (1994) suggested that the values of universalism and
security serve as buffers or transition areas between individualistic and collectivistic
values. Prior research on this classification has shown that in Western cultures, peo-