Background & History of GRC Construct


Twenty Years of Gender-Role Conflict Research: Summary of 130 Studies
James M. O’Neil, Ph.D.
Department of Educational Psychology
U Box 2058 University of Connecticut
Storrs, Connecticut 06269

Presented In Symposium J.M. O’Neil & G. E. Good (Co-Chairs) Gender-Role Conflict Research: Empirical Studies and 20 Year Summary. Presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, IL, August 23, 2002.

In 1979, while at the University of Kansas, I wanted to create conceptualizations that explained why men were sexist, dysfunctional, unhappy, and conflicted because of their socialized masculinity. I reviewed the literature on men and masculinity over a three-month period. There was not much scholarly literature on back in those days. Now it would take three years to review the disciplines of Men’s Studies and the new psychology of men. In the 1970’s, there were only a handful of men in the United States who were investigating men’s problems with their gender roles (Warren Farrell, Herb Goldberg, Joe Pleck, Puncky Heppner, Murry Scher, Tom Skovholt, Bob Brannon). I was eager to meet these men and read what these early Men’s Studies scholars were writing. I wanted to join the discussion.

There was very little support in my university setting in the late 1970’s when I began to explore men’s gender role conflicts. Some thought I was gay because I was “interested” in men. Others were threatened because I was exposing the patriarchal system that enslaves us all. Women had mixed reactions to my ideas. Some radical feminists dismissed me without even any dialogue. More moderate Feminists, who were able to get past their anger at men, thought there might be some value in men studying themselves. Yet, even these Feminists wondered whether I was trying to justify men’s sexism and explain away men’s violence against women. The opposite was true: I wanted to really understand the sources of men’s sexism and violence against women. Those were lonely and difficult days for me, not only for these political reasons, but because I was starting my own gender role journey, discovering my own pain from my sexist socialization.

I worked out some of my personal pain by reviewing the literature on men and creating conceptualizations. I wanted to explain why men were violent, interpersonally rigid, sexist, homophobic, unemotional, and unhappy with themselves.

Theoretical History of the Gender Role Conflict Construct

From 1978 to 1979, I synthesized all that had been written on what was then called the men’s liberation literature. In 1980, I submitted my summary to The Counseling Psychologist and to my surprise, they accepted it. The paper was titled: “Male sex-role conflicts, sexism, and masculinity: Implications for men, women, and the counseling psychologists” (O’Neil, 1981). This paper was my synthesis of what I learned from my three month review of the men’s literature. Two figures were published that summarized my synthesis including: 1) the early conceptual model of men’s gender role socialization, and 2) a list of men’s problems that emanate from men’s gender role socialization. Figure 1 below was my overall summary of the issues.

Click here to see figure 1

As you can see from this figure, I concluded that men’s socialization is an interaction of environmental and biological factors that produce certain masculine values that I labeled the Masculine Mystique. Using Joe Pleck’s recent concepts (Garnets & Pleck, 1979; Pleck, 1981), the entire socialization process was labeled as sex role strain and conflict. The following year, I changed the term sex role strain/conflict to gender role conflict based on Unger’s (1979) differentiation between sex and gender. I went on to theorize that two major outcomes of the masculine socialization process included: 1) control, power, and competition issues, and 2) restrictive emotionality. The paper enumerated the gender role conflict issues across men’s interpersonal, career, family, and health lives. (See Figure 1 for details)

Finally at the end of the paper, I enumerated the psychological conflicts and effects of men’s rigid and sexist gender role socialization (See Table 1). I was hoping that these lists would: 1) sensitize psychologists to

Sex-role patterns and conflicts and their effects

how men’s gender role socialization could be therapeutic issues, and 2) promote more research on men and their masculinity. These two lists became the basis for hypothesizing the original six patterns of gender role conflict.

Six Patterns of Gender Role Conflict

To simplify the long list of men’s problems, I created a model that captured as many of these conflicts as possible. The model is shown below:

Patterns of Gender Role Conflict Diagram

As you can see men’s gender role socialization and the values of the Masculine Mystique are in the center of this diagram and all relate to the fear of femininity. The six patterns of gender role conflict were hypothesized to relate to men’s gender role socialization. The patterns of gender role conflict included: restrictive emotionality, health care problems, obsession with achievement and success, restrictive and affectionate behavior, socialized control, power, and competition issues, and homophobia. These six patterns were hypothesized to result from both personal and institutionalized sexism and were my theoretical attempt to operationally define men’s gender role conflict.

At that time, I was sharing my work with Dr. Larry Wrightsman, an eminent social psychologist, at the University of Kansas. He liked the models and said that they could have far reaching impact. I was getting a lot of resistance and critical comments from the men in my setting to my ideas and so working with Larry Wrightsman was like a buoy. His confirmation and support was critical to my ongoing process. Like all good mentors, he challenged me. Specifically, he challenged me to measure the six patterns of gender role conflict empirically. I was a decent clinician and becoming a good teacher, but never saw myself as a constructor of a psychological scale.

After some resistance on my part, I decided to learn about test construction and developed the Gender Role Conflict Scale (GRCS). I knew from my clients and from my own life that men experienced gender role conflict. But in the psychological sciences, you need empirical data and scientific tests to promote what you believe is the truth. In 1986, the Gender Role Conflict Scale was published in Sex Roles and made available to researchers. This is how the gender role conflict research program began nearly 25 years ago.