Sexual orientation hypothesis
The sexual orientation hypothesis is a hypothesis proposed by Donald McCreary in 1994 that describes male and female sexual orientation and their societal acceptance. The hypothesis says that feminine men are more likely to be assumed gay than masculine women are to be assumed lesbians (Whitley & Kite, 2010). According to studies done on this hypothesis, having feminine characteristics is a sign of homosexuality in men, but masculine characteristics are less likely to be seen as a sign of homosexuality in women. Although gay men are considered more like hetero women than hetero men, and lesbians are rated more like hetero men than hetero women, the difference is not as great for lesbians as it is for gay men.
McCreary states that these negative feelings can be attributed to the male gender role rigidity principle. This principle presents the idea that males are more severely punished by parents and excluded from peer groups when behaving in atypical gender roles (McCreary, 1994).
In his research, McCreary tried to explain the reduced tolerance of cross-gender behavior in males rather than females through the sexual orientation hypothesis as well as the social status model. Uniting the two concepts has been said to produce the best way of understanding this concept. However, McCreary found that the sexual orientation hypothesis has a higher validity rate (1994). The social status model suggests that stereotypical male characteristics are more socially desirable than stereotypical female characteristics. Therefore, men who display female characteristics would create a more negative response in society than their female counterparts who present more masculine characteristics.
Another of his studies presented stimulus personalities to a group of college age students. These personalities were of both males and females either eight or thirty years of age and present either typical or atypical gender behaviors. Subjects were more likely to view the male atypical gender behavior personality as a homosexual. This finding suggests that gender roles and behaviors play a larger role in identifying the perception of male sexual orientation more than females (McCreary, 1994).
The sexual orientation hypothesis is evident in many ways. For instance, in the United States a man who carries a shoulder bag is mocked and considered feminine for carrying a “purse,” while most people hardly think twice about a woman who carries a wallet. The woman may even be applauded for breaking the stereotype of a woman with a large purse on her shoulder.
Another, more common, example can be found in sports. Female athletes aren't seen as homosexual but as active women who happen to share a common interest with men in sports. However, a male cheerleader or synchronized swimmer is often ridiculed as being homosexual, and looked down upon by others of both sexes.
- Kite, Mary and Whitley, Bernard; The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2010.
- McCreary, D. R. (1994). The male role in avoiding femininity. Sex roles, 31, 517-531.