Gender role identity and perceptions of Ismaili Muslim men and women.
Gender roles are perceived differently by men and women, with men scoring higher on scales that assess masculinity and women scoring higher on scales that assess femininity (Bem, 1981). Moreover, women's views about gender roles are more liberal than men's (Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1973).

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 Canada, 1993).

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, 1983).

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 samples.

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 Canada, 1993).

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 emigrated.

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 hypotheses.

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 men would.

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.

Exploratory Hypotheses

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 16.19.


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 hypothesis.

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] .001.

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.

Exploratory Hypotheses

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 anonymity.

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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