In Western society, men have traditionally been the providers and
have had greater authority within the family, whereas women have been
responsible for housekeeping and child care (Rachlin, 1987). However,
demographic changes, such as the increase in dual-income families
and single-parent families, have precipitated a reexamination of expected
and actual gender roles (Li & Caldwell, 1987).
Because many women are now breadwinners as well as parents (Lee, Duxbury,
Higgins, & Mills, 1992), they face a potential role conflict (Shukla
& Verma, 1986). A factor that contributes to women's role conflict
and role overload and to marital stress in dual-income couples is
the issue of participation in household chores. Although the men in
dual-income couples perform more household chores than the men in
traditional families do, they still perform substantially fewer household
chores than the women do (Hochschild, 1989; Ramu, 1987; Statistics
Society's differential expectations for male and female conduct can
affect identity as well as behavior. Boys tend to be socialized toward
instrumental qualities, such as achievement, competition, and autonomy,
whereas girls tend to be socialized toward expressive qualities,
such as sensitivity, passivity, and conformity (Kleinplatz, McCarrey,
& Kateb, 1992). Moreover, "masculine" traits are more likely to be
valued than "feminine" traits (Erdwins, Small, & Gross, 1980; Feather,
1985). For example, Eccles (1987) has noted that in defining achievement,
Western society has traditionally adopted a male standard. The psychological
consequences of this type of evaluation are significant: Males and
females who have masculine traits in addition to feminine traits report
higher levels of self-esteem than do those who have only feminine
traits (Antill & Cunningham, 1979; Kleinplatz et al., 1992; Whitley,
Researchers who study gender roles often overlook ethnic factors,
despite the fact that gender roles vary considerably in different
ethnic groups (McGoldrick, 1988). Most reports of studies in this
area do not include data on the racial composition of the sample but
state only the name of the university the participants attend (Bem,
1981; Spence et al., 1973). A review of journal articles from 1974
to 1992 indicated that of 909 studies using the Bem Sex-Role Inventory
(BSRI; Bem, 1981), only 2.2% reported using non-Caucasian samples,
and that of 234 studies using the Attitudes Toward Women Scale (AWS;
Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1973), only 5.6% reported using non-Caucasian
We are not suggesting that non-Caucasians were excluded from the majority
of these samples, but rather that the racial composition of the participants
in these studies is unknown, and samples composed exclusively of non-
Caucasians are rare. The American Psychological Association's recent
(1993) acknowledgment of the importance of ethnic factors in psychological
treatment may help motivate researchers to describe the racial composition
of their samples.
Canadian society is ethnically diverse. In 1989, 192,000 immigrants
were admitted to Canada. Most of these immigrants came from Asia and
Europe, reflecting the Canadian immigration pattern that was prevalent
throughout the 1980s (50% from Asia, 26% from Europe, 13% from the
Caribbean and Central and South America, 7% from Africa, 3% from the
United States, and 1% from Oceana, Logan, 1991).
In the present study we planned to extend previous research on gender
roles by varying the composition of the sample. According to a recent
(1991) survey, 253,260 people in Canada (about 1% of the Canadian
population) are Muslim (Statistics Canada). The Muslim sect that was
the focus of the present study was the Shia Imami Nizari Ismailis,
of whom there are 45,000 in Canada (Shia Imami Ismaili Council for
Although empirical work focusing directly on gender roles in non-Caucasian
samples has been limited, Muslim women are portrayed by the popular
Canadian media as being subordinate to their husbands and other males
in the family and as having limited rights (Bahrani, 1993; Hepburn,
1993). This portrayal is incongruent with the teachings of the Qur'
an, however, which state that Muslim women have a comprehensive set
of rights that encompass spiritual, intellectual, social, economic,
and political aspects (Lemu & Heeren, 1978).
According to the Qur'an, men and women are created equal and are equally
accountable for their actions in the eyes of Allah (God). There has
been no debate as to whether a Muslim woman has a soul or is a person.
"That was never questioned while it was a hot issue in Western societies
up to the 1930s when the Supreme Court of Canada passed a judgement
that women really are persons" (Aboulnasr, 1990, p. 2).
Nevertheless, many Middle Eastern and Asian countries that claim to
follow the Islamic faith maintain restrictive attitudes toward women
(Kennedy, 1993; Power, 1993). Canadian attitudes toward women are
more egalitarian than those of many countries from which Muslims have
In the present study our goal was to measure gender role identity
and perceptions of appropriate gender roles so as to gain a better
understanding of Canadian Ismaili Muslim beliefs. We tested the following
Comparisons Between Male and Female Muslims
The Muslim gender equality hypothesis predicted that, consistent with
the teachings of the Qur'an, Muslim men and women would not differ
from each other with respect to gender role identity and gender role
perceptions. This hypothesis predicted that there would be no gender
differences in scores on the BSRI masculinity or femininity scales
or on the AWS and that Muslim men and women would be equally likely
to be androgynous.
The traditional Muslim hypothesis (consistent with the Canadian media'
s portrayal of Muslims) predicted that Muslim men would score higher
on the BSRI masculinity scale than Muslim women would and that Muslim
women would score higher on the BSRI femininity scale than Muslim
Comparisons Between the Muslim Sample and Normative Samples
The equality hypothesis predicted that there would be no differences
between the Muslim sample and normative samples on the BSRI or the
AWS. The liberal Muslim hypothesis predicted that, compared with normative
samples, Muslim men would score higher on the BSRI femininity scale,
Muslim women would score higher on the BSRI masculinity scale, and
both Muslim men and women would score higher on the AWS.
These hypotheses predicted that certain demographic characteristics
would be associated with more egalitarian views. Specifically, the
hypotheses predicted that people of Western origin who had more education
and who had lived in Canada more than 5 years would have more egalitarian
views on gender role perceptions and gender role identity than would
people of Eastern origin who had less education and who had lived
in Canada less than 5 years.
The participants were 46 male and 35 female Shia Imami Nizari Ismaili
Muslims who were recruited at the Ismaili mosque in Ottawa, Ontario,
Canada. The participants were at least 14 years old (mean age = 23.85,
SD = 9.74). Sixty-five participants were single, and 16 were married.
Fifty participants were of Asian origin and 31 were of Western origin.
The average number of years the participants had lived in Canada was
The participants completed three questionnaires, the BSRI (Bem, 1981),
the AWS (Spence et al., 1973), and a demographic questionnaire. We
used the BSRI and the AWS because they address the constructs of interest,
are psychometrically sound, and are considered to be nonintrusive.
These instruments are self-administered and comprehensible to most
high school students. The demographic questionnaire was designed specifically
for this study.
Bem Sex-Role Inventory. The BSRI is designed to assess gender role
identity. This 60-item measure is based on the assumption that masculinity
and femininity are two separate dimensions rather than opposite ends
of a continuum. Thus, a person can be both masculine and feminine,
or androgynous (Bem, 1981). (Bem's proposal that androgynous people
are psychologically healthier than traditionally masculine men or
feminine women are remains controversial; Whitley, 1985; Zeldow, 1982.)
The reliability of the BSRI is moderately high. Internal consistency
has been reported as .86 and .80 for the masculinity and femininity
scales, respectively (Bem, 1981), and retest reliability over a 4-
year period has been reported as .56 and .68 for the masculinity and
femininity scales, respectively (Yanico, 1985).
Maznah and Choo (1986) used the BSRI with an ethnically diverse sample
(54% Malaysian, 40% Chinese, and 5% Indian) and reported an item analysis
indicating that the BSRI had high internal consistency for these ethnic
groups. High convergent and discriminant validity for the scales has
been reported by Ramanaiah and Martin (1984).
Attitudes Toward Women Scale (AWS). The AWS measures beliefs regarding
appropriate male and female gender roles. This measure has been demonstrated
to have good internal consistency, with alpha coefficients ranging
from .84 and .89 (Prociuk, 1980). Test-retest reliability over a brief
time period (3 weeks) was .89 (Prociuk). The construct validity of
this measure has been demonstrated, with significant correlations
between AWS scores and stereotypical male/female trait ratings in
the expected direction: Those who scored low on the AWS, indicating
that they had more traditional attitudes, rated typical males and
females more differently than did those who scored high on the AWS,
indicating that their views were more egalitarian (Spence et al.,
1975). Further support for the construct validity of this measure
has been provided by Valentine, Ellinger, and Williams (1975).
Demographic questionnaire. The participants were asked to indicate
their gender, age, marital status, number of children, profession,
educational background, length of residence in Canada, country of
former residence, length of time in former residence, and, if married,
spouse's age, profession, and educational background.
After religious ceremonies at the mosque, potential participants were
approached in the social hall by a male or a female research assistant
who invited them to participate in the study. Potential participants
were informed that participation in the study was voluntary and that
their responses would remain anonymous.
The participants had the option of completing the questionnaires,
which required less than 30 min, at the mosque or at home. A consent
form attached to the questionnaires ensured confidentiality and was
signed by the researcher, the participant, and a witness.
One hundred eighty questionnaires were distributed. Eighty-one completed
questionnaires were returned, a 45% response rate. Because the BSRI
and the AWS had not been used before with Muslim participants, we
examined reliability coefficients. Both the BSRI (Cronbach's [Alpha]
= .76) and the AWS (Cronbach's [Alpha] = .81) were internally consistent
for this sample and yielded alpha coefficients that were comparable
to those reported by Bem (1981) and by Spence et al. (1973).
Male and Female Muslims
To examine differences between Muslim men and women in terms of gender
role identity and gender role perceptions, we conducted t tests on
the BSRI and the AWS scores. The women scored significantly higher
on the femininity scale than the men did, t(75) = -2.51, p [less than]
.05, providing partial support for the traditional Muslim hypothesis.
However, on the masculinity scale there were no significant differences
between the genders, providing partial support for the Muslim gender
equality hypothesis. We conducted chi-square analyses to assess the
likelihood of androgyny. No differences were obtained, indicating
that androgyny was not correlated with gender and providing further
support for the Muslim gender equality hypothesis. The Muslim women
indicated more liberal attitudes on the AWS than the Muslim men did,
t(79) = -3.94, p [less than] .001, providing additional support for
the traditional Muslim hypothesis.
Muslim Sample and Normative Samples
To determine whether there were any differences for the BSRI and the
AWS between the Ismaili Muslim sample and the normative samples, we
conducted independent groups t tests. The only significant difference
obtained on the BSRI was on the femininity scale. Muslim men scored
higher on the femininity scale, t(520) = 2.35, p [less than] .05,
than did 476 male Stanford University students (Bem, 1981).
However, because the normative data had been collected 12 years earlier,
the discrepancy in the results could have been attributed to a temporal
shift in view. Consequently, we repeated our calculations, using data
from a recent Canadian survey. No significant differences were found
on the BSRI masculinity and femininity scales between the Muslim sample
and a sample of sophomore students from the University of Alberta
(McCann, Stewin, & Short, 1990), providing support for the equality
In terms of their gender role perceptions, the Muslim sample reported
significantly more liberal attitudes on the AWS than a sample of 527
University of Texas students did (Spence et al., 1973). The Muslim
men endorsed more liberal views than the 286 male students did, t(330)
= 7.06, p [less than] .001, and the Muslim women reported more liberal
views than the 241 female students did, t(274) = 9.21, p [less than]
As with the BSRI, trends regarding the items measured by the AWS may
have changed since 1973, so we conducted independent groups t tests
on the responses of the Muslim women and those of 257 women who were
undergraduate students at a community college in Ottawa. The mean
age of the recent Canadian normative sample was 22 years, and 97%
of this sample was White (Chatterjee, 1989). The Muslim women's AWS
scores did not differ significantly from those of the predominantly
White, recent Canadian sample. Both samples had liberal attitudes,
providing additional support for the equality hypothesis.
To determine the effects of demographic characteristics, such as level
of education, country of origin, and years lived in Canada, on the
BSRI and AWS, we conducted chi-square analyses. The only significant
difference concerned level of education. In terms of gender role perceptions,
the participants with more education indicated more liberal views
on the AWS than the participants with less education did, [[Chi].sup.2](4,
N = 81) = 10.14, p [less than] .05.
The comparisons of the Muslim men and women yielded a complex picture.
The women in this sample had a more feminine identity and more liberal
gender role perceptions than the men did, but both genders were androgynous
and had more liberal than traditional views.
Comparisons between this sample and other recent Canadian samples
yielded findings that are consistent with the equality hypothesis.
Thus, the Muslims did not differ from recent Canadian samples regarding
gender role identity and gender role perceptions. Similarly, the Muslim
women's views with respect to appropriate gender roles for men and
women were no less liberal than those of the other Canadian samples.
Of the various demographic characteristics we examined, only education
affected gender roles and perceptions: The participants who had more
education endorsed more liberal views than the participants who had
less education did.
The results of the present study challenge common misconceptions about
Muslims' attitudes toward women; the data are incongruent with the
portrayal of Muslims as patriarchal or as controlling of women. On
the contrary, the Ismaili Muslims in this sample endorsed items that
represented androgyny and liberal attitudes toward women.
The limitations of the present study include the modest response rate,
the lack of an appropriate normative sample, the modest sample size,
the restricted age range of the participants, and the fact that the
participants were recruited from only one geographic location. It
is possible that only liberal Ismaili Muslims chose to participate
in the study. However, suggesting a strategy that would encourage
less liberal people to participate in such a study would be difficult,
except perhaps that mailing questionnaires instead of distributing
them might help potential participants feel more assured of their
It could also be argued that in many societies people who attend church
regularly represent only a small proportion of the population. However,
religious officials have estimated that 55% of the Ottawa Ismaili
population attend religious ceremonies regularly (Maherali, personal
communication, March 10, 1993). Thus, the mosque-going population
is perhaps more representative of the Ottawa Ismaili population than
analogous samples of other religious groups would be. Nevertheless,
the replication of this study with a sample that included non-mosque-
goers would provide useful data.
The majority of the current sample consisted of participants who were
under 30 years old and who lived in Ottawa. In future research it
would be desirable to obtain Muslim participants of a wider age range
from different pans of Canada. Finally, including a sample of Caucasians
in this study for comparison purposes would have been helpful. It
was difficult to compare our data with those of other recent studies
because the latter involved unreported means and standard deviations
or different versions of the BSRI and the AWS.
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