by Susan Harris Howell
Who are you?
Before you read any further, stop and write down about 5 words or phrases that describe who you are.
Finished? Read on!
Social psychologists tell us that (in the United States, anyway) when asked for self-descriptors, men tend to select words or phrases that show their independence from others, for instance the abilities or attributes that make them unique. They might list things like lawyer, jogger, guitarist, or someone with a great sense of humor.
Women, they tell us, tend to describe themselves with words or phrases that show their relationship to others. They often list words such as wife, mother, friend, or choir member.
Not surprising, I suppose, given that women are often socialized to think in terms of their contributions to relationships and men are often socialized to think in terms of their achievements and competition with others.
But what practical significance does this hold for us?
I find myself wondering if a problem might emerge when, regardless of gender, anyone focuses on one aspect of our self-concept to the exclusion of the other.
For instance if I only see myself as I relate to others or if I only see the accomplishments I have made individually, my self-concept could become self-fulfilling and rather limiting.
The reality is that regardless of the roles we occupy or how fiercely we pursue our individual goals, we each have unique qualities and we live in relation to each other. Individuality and community aren’t mutually exclusive and our personality shouldn’t be confined to one or the other.
We might develop more fully if we broaden our self-concept to include both.
How about you? Look at your list. Did you tend to describe yourself in terms of your individuality, in relational terms, or with a combination of the two?
I’d love to hear what your list looks like and what you think it means for you.