An Operational Definition of Gender Role Conflict and the Gender Role Conflict Scale

The definition of gender role conflict has evolved from a series of theoretical and research manuscripts (O’Neil 2008; O’Neil, 1981a, 1981b, 1982; 1990; O’Neil, et al., 1986; O’Neil et al., 1987; O’Neil & Egan, 1993; O’Neil & Nadeau, 1999). Only an abbreviated definition of gender role conflict (GRC) is given here.

Gender role conflict is defined as a psychological state in which socialized gender roles have negative consequences on the person or others. Gender role conflict occurs when rigid, sexist, or restrictive gender roles result in personal restrictions, devaluation, or violation of others or self (O’Neil, et al., 1995, O’Neil, 2008). The ultimate outcome of this kind of conflict is the restriction of the human potential of the person experiencing the conflict or a restriction of another person’s potential. GRC is operationally defined by four psychological domains, three situational contexts, and three personal experiences. The psychological domains and the personal and situational contexts of GRC represent the complexity of gender role conflict in people’s lives. The operational contexts of GRC are described below.

First, psychological domains of GRC imply cognitive, emotional, unconscious, or behavioral problems caused by socialized gender roles learned in sexist and patriarchal societies. Gender role conflict operates at four overlapping and complex levels: Cognitive – How we think about gender roles; Affective – how we feel about gender roles; Behavioral – how we act, respond, and interact with others and ourselves; and Unconscious – how motivations beyond our awareness affect our behavior and produce conflicts (O’Neil, et al., 1986).

Second, GRC is contextual and experienced in numerous situational contexts (See O’Neil, 2008 for greater explanation about this). Men experience GRC directly or indirectly when they: 1) deviate from or violate gender role norms (Pleck, 1981, Mahalik et al, 2003) or the premises of masculinity ideology; 2) try to met or fail to meet gender role norms of masculinity ideology; 3) experience discrepancies between their real self-concepts and their ideal self-concepts, based on gender role stereotypes and masculinity ideology (Garnets & Pleck, 1979); 4) personally devalue, restrict, or violate themselves for failing to meet masculinity ideology norms (O’Neil, 1990; O’Neil, et al., 1987); 5) experience personal devaluations, restrictions, and violations from others for conforming to or deviating from masculinity ideology(O’Neil, 1990; O’Neil et al, 1987), and 6) personally devalue, restrict, or violate others because they deviate from or conform to masculinity ideology norms (O’Neil, 1990; O’Neil et al., 1987).

To simplify the contextual complexity of GRC of these six situational contexts, GRC can be contextually defined in three ways: a) GRC within the man, b) GRC expressed toward others, c) GRC experienced from others. GRC within the man is the private experience of negative emotions and thoughts experienced as gender role devaluations, restrictions, and violations. GRC towards others is men’s expressed gender role problems that potentially devalue, restrict, or violate someone else. GRC from others is men’s interpersonal experience of gender role conflict from people interacted with that result in being personally devalued, restricted, or violated.

Personal experiences of GRC convey the negative consequences for people who experience the restrictiveness of gender role norms of masculinity ideology and violate or deviate from these norms. Three experiences of GRC can be operationally defined. Gender role devaluations are negative critiques of others or oneself when conforming to, deviating from, or violating stereotypic gender role norms of masculine ideology. Devaluations result in lessening of status, stature, or positive regard. Gender role restrictions occur when there is a confining of others or oneself to stereotypic norms of masculinity ideology. Restrictions result in a limiting and confining people’s behavior, personal potential, and human freedom. Gender role violations are harming oneself or being harmed by others when deviating from or conforming to gender role norms of masculinity ideology. To be violated is to be victimized and abused causing psychological and physical pain.

The emotional-psychological outcomes of devaluations, restrictions, and violations that cause GRC have been hypothesized to produce mental health problems including anger, stress, depression, anxiety, fear, self-hatred, guilt, loss, and shame (O’Neil, 1981a, b, 1982, 1990; O’Neil & Nadeau, 1999).

The Gender Role Conflict Scale

Over the last 35 years, gender role conflict has been assessed through the empirically derived Gender Role Conflict Scale (GRCS, O’Neil, et al., 1986; O’Neil, 2008). The GRCS was developed in a systematic way through item generation and reduction, content analysis of items, factor analysis, and tests of reliability. First, 85 items were generated to assess the original six patterns of gender role conflict as original hypothesized from the literature searches (O’Neil, 1981a, 1981b, 1982). All items were responded to using Likert scale of strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (6). Higher score on the GRCS indicated greater degree of conflict with the gender role conflict factors. Principle components and common factor analysis, with both orthogonal and oblique rotations were used to determine the best simple structure of the observed factors for the items.

The factor analysis resulted in a thirty-seven-item scale with four factors rather than the six original factors. The scale dimensions included Factor 1, (Success, Power, Competition, 13 items, “I worry about failing and how it affects my doing well as a man”); Factor 2 (Restrictive Emotionality, 10 items, “I have difficulty expressing my tender feelings”); Factor 3 (Restrictive Affectionate Behavior Between Men, 8 items, “Affection with other men makes me tense”); Factor 4 (Conflict Between Work and Family Relations, 6 items, “My work or school often disrupts other parts of my life (home, health, leisure). The total GRCS score was defined as an overall assessment of the GRC across the four factors. The four factors explained 36% of the total variance. Assessment of the scales’ reliabilities found internal consistency reliabilities scores ranged from .75 to .85 and test-retest reliabilities ranging from .72-.86 for each factor.

Success, Power, and Competition (SPC) describes personal attitudes about success pursued through competition and power. Restrictive Emotionality (RE) is defined as having difficulty and fears about expressing one’s feelings and difficulty finding words to express basic emotions. Restrictive and Affectionate Behavior Between Men (RABBM) is having limited ways to express one’s feelings and thoughts with other men and difficulty touching other men. Conflict Between Work and Family Relations (CBWFR) is experiencing difficulties balancing work-school and family relations resulting in health problems, overwork, stress, and a lack of leisure and relaxation.