Personality, Gender Roles, and What Happens When They Clash
Growing up, I lived in a house where almost all traditional gender roles seemed backward. To us, this was simply normal.
Our family maintained the running joke that my mom would have been the perfect 1950s sitcom dad. She was a razor-sharp, highly introverted engineer and CEO who made up for frequent business trips by always being there to inspire my brother and me when we pursued our own goals. In many ways, she was a textbook INTJ.
My dad, on the other hand, was an ENFP. He lived up to the label by being full of enthusiasm, kindness, and so very many words. As a stay-at-home father, remaining organized was never his strong suit, but he was happy to do the majority of the cooking and cleaning around the house as part of his role as primary caregiver to us kids.
I am now a grown-up female ENTP, and it has become obvious that I inherited a large chunk of my mom’s independence and scientific ambition. On the other hand, my ENFP brother is now a high school athlete with a uniquely charitable nature, a knack for caring for kids, and a shameless soft spot for cats. It’s no secret where he got all this kindness from.
My brother has the more feminine-seeming personality. However, because he so directly mirrors our dad, I never really made the gender connection. By contrast, the older we got, the more inadequate I felt about my own lack of femininity. But even after I began studying personality psychology, I struggled to connect the dots.
I didn’t understand why my personality type’s humor and curiosity was celebrated in Jon Stewart and Bill Nye and the other male ENTPs I idolized, while the same traits were seen as abrasive and insincere coming from me. No amount of being true to myself seemed to break through these barriers. I felt stuck.
Eventually, it clicked. I’m a woman.
People tend to see each other based on some past frame of reference, and few people would have a preconceived idea of what a female Jon Stewart or Bill Nye might look like. After all, the general public isn’t exposed to many female characters in books or movies who are like me, nor are there many female celebrities or leaders representing my personality traits. The idea that some people might view my personality through the lens of gender was a mind-blowing realization, though it made sense the more I considered it.
I realized that people saw my lack of femininity as an inconsistency rather than a personality within itself. This made me feel like my identity was nothing but a watered-down, less valuable theatrical performance of a "better" ENTP. This is why I had spent years fighting my natural tendencies, trying to be softer, less confrontational, and less “nerdy” than I actually am. I had been exhausting myself for years trying to cram a complex portrait of my identity through very rigid gender roles.
Did this realization change anything? Admittedly, not really. The pressures of gender roles were still there whether I recognized them or not, and I knew I was always going to feel obligated to work around them if I wanted to feel understood.
I did, however, feel fantastically peaceful knowing that my feelings of inadequacy were not my fault. Sure, I should and would continue to learn and grow. But at least I could stop feeling like a “bad ENTP” solely for my tomboyish tendencies, since this wouldn’t make much sense.
Seeing how gender affected the way I presented myself has helped me to understand how gender/personality clashes manifests in others as well. I watched as my naturally quiet, sweet, and domestic ISFJ female friend breezed through her teen years with uniquely strong self-esteem, while my similarly gentle INFJ male friend was often insecure about how the same traits made him feel “weak” and “spacey.”
In exploring these conflicts, it struck me that what we saw as desirable personality traits in ourselves meant completely different things depending on our genders, even if we saw the same qualities as positive in each other. The pattern reaffirmed itself repeatedly, giving me more and more confidence that gender clash was the source of my insecurities.
Interestingly, statistics do indicate that personality types who tend towards more stereotypically feminine preferences (i.e. Feeling over Thinking) are more highly represented amongst women. The reverse is also true when it comes to stereotypically masculine preferences and their correlation to types that are statistically more common amongst men. This pattern can be seen spanning all personality types no matter how large their representation in the general population may be.
This lends itself to the idea that gender-based personality stereotypes may just be based on how common it is for both men and women to display “traditional” personality traits. Those who experience the tension of a gender role/personality disconnect are simply exceptions to these patterns.
While the filter of gender can often feel exhausting, simply being aware that the bias exists keeps me confident in myself. I understand that I’m no less a woman for being an ENTP, just as I’m no less an ENTP for being a woman. I do my best to communicate my genuine identity while keeping in mind the subliminal presumptions others may make based on my gender. The goal is no longer self-change, but accurate self-representation.
And if others still can’t take me seriously for who I am? No problem. I take solace in knowing that I remain unchanged by their perception. In the meantime, I get the privilege of knowing others through the same amount of nuance I hope they would show to me.