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.

Jesse Carson

Jesse is a psych student, writer, and full-time ENTP from Cincinnati. She enjoys traveling, late night comedy shows, garage rock revival bands, and any restaurant that serves breakfast food in the middle of the night. Find her on Twitter @yungbillnye

Comments

Naomi Lipke (not verified) says...

What a great article! Thanks. My personality (ENFP) fits my gender well, but I am hyper-aware of the pressure there is to break gender boundaries and become a natural scientist, programmer, etc. It takes a certain awareness to say "No, that is right for other people, but not for me."

Alan L (not verified) says...

As a male INFP, I can highly relate to this.

Ever since I was young, I was always told to "man up", and I struggled throughout my teen years and even now, with my masculinity. I'm a very sensitive and emotional person (I cry very often and quite easily), and I always seek to be kind and empathetic to others, hating conflict and being aggressive, preferring to hide away to deal with my feelings rather than unleash them on someone else.

I'm almost always in a mental battle with myself — on the one hand I accept myself for my more "feminine" traits, and I can really see how they benefit me and the people around me. But on the other hand, I hate it when I become overly sensitive to other's criticisms and people see me as "weak" — especially when it comes to the opposite sex.

I prefer to hang out with females over males, feeling that women are more emotional and empathetic towards my mood swings than men. But at the same time, part of me wishes I could be "manly" and be buddies with other men.

I feel so alone as a male INFP at times. I feel so misunderstood, and like there isn't really a place for me in this world. I'm very often told that I'm quite peculiar, unique, weird, different — in the way I think, the way I do things etc. I can never really fit in with most people, and sometimes I don't even want to.

Anyways, that's just a bit of a rant. Thanks for writing this post! It was a great read :)

Jara (not verified) says...

Hi Alan,

I'm a female INFP who was raised by a "masculine" mother  (an engineer; likely INTP) and an ESTJ father (lawyer) who made it clear that the only "right" path to follow was in his footsteps as his clone.

It has taken me 30 years to feel comfortable with my true self. I believe that one of my male favorite artists, Prince, was INFP. It took him his entire life to be fully "transformed" into his true self...by following Christ's example. Only Jesus' love for us as we are makes us feel secure enough to become who we were created to be. May God bless you and all of the other "misfits" to know how deep, wide, high, and strong His love is for us!

Colossians 3:10 - Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like Him.

Ephesians 3:18-19

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

INFP (Compassionate Visionary) - https://sites.google.com/site/godlypersonalities/spiritual-type-summarie...

Chris Munson (not verified) says...

Thanks for your insightful "rant", Alan! As an ENFP, who is an individual who grew up in a home with an extremely domineering mother, and "castrated" father, I too "suffer" from tendencies that are so much more identifiable with "recognized" female gender attributes of sensitivity, empathy, and the like. I am a writer, poet, musician as well....but the complexity is exacerbated by the fact that I have lived and worked as an engineer for many years. Trying to understand "how and where" I fit in has been an endless struggle, and I sincerely doubt I will ever know what "true place" I belong; yes, as you noted, I too feel "odd", like a chicken keeping afloat amongst a pond of ducks. But even as I wish I was a duck, I can't be one. To close, I just wanted to acknowledge that I appreciate your feedback as it truly mirrors my own experience and struggles. Thank you. 

Paul INFP (not verified) says...

Yes I really relate.  As a 52 yo male INFP it has really been a journey.  All my life I have felt over sensitive and not- masculine and tried to emulate ESTP types because I thought that was the "goal of a man".  I did not even hear of MB until a couple of years ago and it has been transformative to say the least.  But for many years I felt like the bookworm on a bus full of rowdy football players and I didn't understand what was wrong with me.  I think as I get older and more actualized it really doesn't bother me anymore.  It is more about authenticity - I have to be careful of "conforming" to some sort of INFP mold as if all of us should be itinerant poets or something.  The pendulum can swing too far in the other direction from hyper-masculine and that is not reality either.  About the journey I guess.  Thanks great article

 

Russell_P (not verified) says...

Hi Alan. I too am INFP and relate to what youy say very much. Not use if I'm suppossed to provide contact details but if you're wanting "a friend who understands", cause I should would love one... contact me here r*****@gmail.com

Administrator says...

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JayPee (not verified) says...

Omg, Alan L, as a fellow male INFP, I deeply feel your agony. You have just described my entire life.

Spending a huge amount of time in my head also does not help, people only see that as a corkyness and more weirdness. 

It is a daily struggle and it never gets easier. I think that being a female INFP must be already hard, in this logical, cold, dog-eat-dog society of ours, but imagine a MALE INFP. Words cannot describe (luckily I know you can Feel it). 

Nonetheless I also happen to adore my type as much as I find it difficult. Kind of a blessing/curse. Because we know how good we are. I (not really something I brag about) can understand where people are emotionally coming from, by the slightest hint they may unintentionally give. 

The world is a better place with the approximate 4% of its population being INFP! 

Lori Milner (not verified) says...

Hi Alan L, thanks for sharing!  As a female (ISFJ), I actually prefer guys who are sensitive, warm and caring.  Pls don't think there isn't a place for you in this world.  Just because some folks told you that you're weird doesn't mean they're right.  I'm not denying the hardships of being chronically misunderstood.  My family doesn't always get me, and neither did my classmates.  It's not always easy, trying to be secure in who God made me to be, but I can't be anyone else.  We're all a work in progress.  Be blessed and encouraged, my friend!

INFPprincess (not verified) says...

I do wonder about this as an INFP. Because the stereotypes of women as talkative and overly emotional. People make it out like being an introverted women means something is just wrong with you and you just need to connect to your femininity -_-

Merlot (not verified) says...

As a female INTJ my experience has been very similar to yours. Thanks for writing this. :)

Fellow female ENTP here (not verified) says...

Jesse, thank you so much for sharing your story and impressions!

It is utterly relieving and interesting to read about how you handle the situation and you reflecting on those experiences. I am confident that knowing a female INTJ/male ENFP relationship actually can work out so smoothly in a real modern society like the one of your parents has, will reassure many readers out there.

The issue is not more but one of subjective perception and priorities. I myself am a young female ENTP and I could relate very well to what you had to say. If I am going to college, will I, now that I read this, still attempt to change my image of " the one crazy psycho awkward different highly-intelligent dummy" into "that one smart cute resilient reliable girl"? No, I am not. Because people who expect me to fit in the norm are not my people and I do not need to attract people who are not my people. This post is going to be shared by me with my equally unconventional friends ASAP!

I am looking forward to reading what comes next.

-Anna

Sławomira (not verified) says...

As a female INTJ I also relate to this.

My "feminity" needs to be defined in other way than feminity of women with any other MBTI type. And that's good, I like my own version of feminity.

Sometimes, others want me to be more like women should be. When I was younger I saw this as my problem, but it's definitely not mine, it's theirs. And my future will be similar to life of your mother :D

conor.p.cook says...

Alan L, I would say that I can sympathize, but as an INTP, it is more of an understanding than a feeling for your situation ;)

My "struggle," if you can even call it that, with masculinity has been entirely based on my lack of activity.  I don't much care for sports, though I appreciate the importance of activity for health.  I just am not motivated to be very active.  I have always identified with masculine men and characters, but it is more of an intellectual activity then actually emulating their physicality (except for costumes).

I am definitely an intellectual (I've discovered that my answer to new coworkers, when they ask what I do in my free time, needs to be along the lines of, "I independently research music and theology," instead of trying to come up with some match to their fishing or sporting extracurriculars).  But I have known of many male intellectual role models throughout my life, and I am learning through the Art of Manliness to appreciate the physical needs of my male body.

What interested  me about this article was the notion of swapped gender roles in the parents.  My parents were similar, with my mom as the no-nonsense "suck it up" type and my dad as the emotional one (my emotional sister went to him for emotional support; I am more like my mom, so I didn't seek emotional support).  But my parents' physicality was very much related to their biology, so I never had any trouble matching my personality with my sex, even if so-called "gender roles" didn't always match.

Anyways, I like talking about myself, and studying my own personality, but I really hope I can convey the idea that my personality and my sex don't conflict, even if my "grammatical" gender is not up to modern-day culture's standards.

Jenice Lumo (not verified) says...

I have found that being a women ENTP has an incredible power. Because most of my close friends are guys and I am a girl, the guys have the opportunity to treat me with respect as a women, and as a women they listen and highly regard me when I stand up and expect higher social moral expectations from them. 

Perhaps any women can do this, but I think my unique personality and gender and common interests combo makes a certian lasting impression on the men I meet. And who doesent like wit?

Ashley Santoro (not verified) says...

I LOVE this article!  I am an ENTP woman married to an INFJ man and the gender perceptions thing is VERY prevelant in our relationship.  I love my personality and who I am, but marriage has been difficult.  We are figuring it out though and becoming more and more confident of who we are in marriage every day!  Thank you for shedding some light on this subject! 

DAS (not verified) says...

Loved your article, I am a tomboy turned fashionista (to get me accepted and soften effect of my "abrasive") nature.  I work in tech and have often been the only female on a team.  I have recently begun really exploring my personality to help me understand my frustrations and find ways to be productive authentically.  Thank you for sharing, it's encouraging to know that there are others dealing with the same gender bias issues, and that we can create a space for ENTP women

lyricalliz (not verified) says...

This article was amazing, as well as the comments!  I am an INFP female.  I don't know what my parents' personality types are; but growing up, I could see times where each of them would almost subconsiously trade roles.  My mom was generally very introverted; but had this inner determination and "no bullshit" kind of backbone to her.  And then my dad was generally very cordial and outgoing with others; but had his very introverted escapes.  They weren't usually in the same kind of role at the same times.  So, that is interesting to think about!  Maybe that's what makes them a good team.  They have each other's backs.  Now, I have found that I posess the introversion, inner determination, and cordial qualities.  (Only cordial when I have to talk to others!)  I don't think that my parents' personalities were out of the norm for their genders; they just each posessed elements of their opposite gender, and balanced each other out!  I can see the masculine traits in my mom, and I can see the feminine traits in my dad.  But those were just there part time, I guess!  Needless to say, I find personality research fascinating, and the more I learn about myself --the more I understand why it fascinates me!!  Great to be a part of this community of personality geeks!  :)

Janna says...

Female INTJ. I had some female friends, but the older we got the more alienated I felt around them. Then something suddenly switched and I also started hating myself and developed anorexia. Later I moved schools and found it extremely difficult to make friends, partly because I was still anorexic and probably didn't get to make a great first impression. I was painfully shy, anxious and avoidant.

Many people seemed to be scared of me and I had no idea why. This wouldn't have been down to my thin appearance alone - which probably was a factor, as I heard that one girl said I "looked dead" - because someone I never spoke to, or even had any classes with, thought that I hated her. I had no idea where she would have gotten this idea from. The only judgement I ever made of her was that she seemed quiet, and probably nice.

But I did become friends with one girl, who was an INTP. She was quite unhappy too, and has said many times that she is beyond grateful to have met me - like I am to have met her. And like many female NTPs I've noticed, there's this goofy quality in them which I don't think could ever get tired of. Finding a female INTx, let alone a female NT, was almost literally a life saver. I didn't make friends with any boys. They seemed to avoid me.

I have an INFP older sister. She seemed quite popular with girls and boys(as both friends and boyfriends,) alike, and had a very different experience in her teens than I did. She's always seemed very confident. The stereotype of a "shy INFP" and "assertive, give no shits INTJ" didn't apply to us.

Judit (INFP) (not verified) says...

"The goal is no longer self-change, but accurate self-representation." That is the key sentiment I take with myself from this insightful writing. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us! I really haven't made this connection before between gender and personality, but it makes sense.

S33K3R says...

I have this same issue with myself. As a child I grew up wanting to be just like my dad. Deep down I have a very masculine personality and being female was very confusing when making friends and establishing my self perception based on how others view me. Now I understand my role in society; however for many years I was very hard on myself for not fitting in with "the girls". I almost appreciate my differences now and enjoy the way I view the world. 

People do still treat me differently. I find it fascinating to watch how others react to my energy. Men can be intimidated because I know how to fix things around the house better than most men, and I know how to do more on cars than most men. Women on the other hand can be judgmental because I dont like shopping, I cant match anything including my own clothes lol, and well I do makeup to help people feel more comfortable.

 

But overall I am just me. I like to fish, like to kayak and dont care if I get dirty. I am almost proud of the grunge I can put up with. I am in all sense a weird person. I dont fit into normal in any sense. I study things people dont know exist for fun. I enjoy studying society and trends its just how I manage to organize my thoughts. That is how I found myself at your website. 

I hope as society evolves more and more with the interconnected network we are creating, I hope that we all learn what true self love is and stop worrying what others think. People will always judge. Why spend precious time worrying about that which we cannot control. 

shelbycb16 says...

I am an ENTP female, like you and I also have struggled with finding the balance between expected gender roles, and my reality. My mom likes to tell me that I'm just rough around the edges, and one day I will grow into a lovely young woman. I have never claimed otherwise because I always thought my tomboy characteristics were just a phase. It was so nice to read this article and see that there is a place for slightly blunt, opinionated, intelligent   Witty, and competitive females in this world. It was also nice knowing that I'm not the only who struggles with not exactly fitting in where or how I'm supposed to. I really want to thank you, and I plan on trying to just embrace my personality,and finding a place that is made to fit me.

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