ANXIETY, SEX ROLE ORIENTATION AND AGE: MARRIED WOMEN IN URBAN INDIA ...
ANXIETY, SEX ROLE ORIENTATION AND AGE: MARRIED
WOMEN IN URBAN INDIA
The present investigation studies the relationship between level of anxiety, sex role orientation (masculine, feminine,
androgynous and undifferentiated) and age (20 to 30 years and 31 to 45 years) in married women. Two hundred married
women from the age group ranging from 20 to 45 years, from Ahmedabad city answered the Bern sex role inventory
(Bern, 1981) and the Sinha W-A self analysis form of anxiety scale (1968).
A factorial design (4 x 2) for the analysis of variance is employed. Results indicate significant main effect of sex role
orientation and age. The effect of the interaction between sex role orientation and age is not statistically significant.
These results are discussed in the light of psychosocial characteristics of married women in contemporary India.
Dr. Nalini Sastry is Lecturer in Psychology, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.
In the behavioural and medical sciences, theoretical and empirical interest in anxiety
parallels popular concern. Every alert citizen of our society realizes on the basis of
his/her own experience, as well as, his/her observation of those around that anxiety is
a pervasive and profound phenomenon. It is regarded as a principal causative agent
for such diverse behavioural consequences as insomnia, immoral acts, debilitating
psychological and psychosomatic symptoms, and endless idiosyncratic mannerisms.
While fear and covert anxiety have always been a part of man's lot, not until the twentieth
century did they emerge as an explicit and pervasive problem. Freud (1920) singled out
anxiety as the crucial problem of emotional and behavioural disorders. Not only in
psychopathology, but in the actions of normal people as well, it was recognised that
anxiety was much more prevalent than was suspected several decades ago.
Rapid scientific and technological advances have generated a lot of pressure for social
change. This has created social estrangement and alienation of individuals in an urban
competitive society and has induced feelings of helplessness. Less obvious, deeper
and more personal sources of anxiety are inner confusion, psychological disorientation,
uncertainty with respect to values and acceptable standards of conduct. To the extent
that social and cultural factors undermine personal security and create problems for the
individual in establishing his/her psychological identity, there will be heightened vul-
nerability to and increased manifestations of anxiety.
The immediate, outward manifestation of anxiety in Indian conditions could be primarily
due to economic problems, but it would be an error to conclude that economic insecurity
is the inclusive cause of the emerging anxiety in the present society. Individuals are
often caught in the chaos of conflicting patterns of social expectation. As a result, an
individual encounters cultural requirements with no immediate means of meeting them.
One such requirement for women is related to sex roles. Due to industrialization and
social changes, women now have to meet roles that used to be male roles. However,
there is no agent to replace her in her traditional role at home. This is a potential source
of role conflict and role overload that might cause a certain amount of anxiety. However,
the external conflict is further reinforced by the internal conflict in women's psyche due
The author is indebted to Dr. S. Pandey, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay, for his comments on the methodology and for clarification
of certain conceptual issues in an earlier version of this paper.
660 Nalini Sastry
to the socialization process of the female child in urban India. Upto puberty, both boys
and girls are brought up in nearly the same way. Thereafter, suddenly the girls are
induced to develop characteristics more congruent to the feminine stereotype. The
identity crisis of adolescence is likely to be carried forward into the young adult stage
of life by many women. Therefore, she might experience apart from role overload, role
Among individual level variables, since Age is one of the most strongly correlated
variables with developmental phases, it has been considered pertinent to the present
study. The subjects in the study are clustered under two age groups in accordance with
Erikson's psychosocial stages, namely young adult (20 to 30 years), and adult stage
(31 to 45 years). The psychosocial crisis experienced by women at the young adult and
the adult stage are different (Erikson, 1950) and, therefore, likely to have a differential
effect on their anxiety. This provides a comparative basis and rationale to cluster the
scores on anxiety and sex role orientation in different age groups.
The Concept of Sex-Roles
Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974 assert, that there are a great deal of myths in both the
popular and scientific views about male and female sex differences. The distinction
between male and female serves as a basic organizing principle in every human culture.
Although societies differ in the specific tasks they assign to the two sexes, all societies
allocate adult roles on the basis of sex, and accordingly, inculcate a role specific
socialization of their children. Boys and girls are expected to acquire sex specific
self-concepts and personality attributes to be masculine or feminine, as defined by that
particular culture (Barry, Bacon and Child, 1957).
Human societies have set beliefs about how females or males should act, think and feel.
Within a society, people have set beliefs about how the two sexes are different. Some
behaviour or feelings are expected, encouraged and reinforced in one sex, but not in
the other. This is called sex-typed behaviour, it refers to some way of acting or feeling
that is considered appropriate for only one sex. The process by which a society thus
transmutes male and female into masculine and feminine is known as the process of
The concept of sex-role identity has traditionally been conceptualized in terms of
'masculinity' and 'femininity'. The terms masculinity and femininity have a long history
in psychological discourse. The most generalized definitions of the terms, used by those
developing tests of masculinity-femininity would seem to be that masculinity and
femininity are enduring traits, which are more or less rooted in anatomy, physiology and
early experience, and which generally serve to distinguish males from females in
appearance, as the summation of those traits that are considered to be desirable for a
particular sex. Both historically and cross-culturally, masculinity and femininity have
represented complementary domains of positive traits and behaviour. Theorists have
different labels for these domains. For example, according to Parsons and Bales (1955),
masculinity has been associated with an 'instrumental' orientation, a cognitive focus on
getting the job done or the problem solved, whereas femininity has been associated
with an 'expressive' orientation, an effective concern for the welfare of others and the
harmony of the group. Similarly, Bakan (1966) has suggested that masculinity is
associated with an 'agentic' orientation; a concern for oneself as an individual, and
femininity, is associated with a 'communal' orientation, a concern for the relationship
Anxiety, Sex Role Orientation and Age 661
between oneself and others. Bakan adopted the term agency and communion to
characterize two fundamental modalities in the existence of living forms-agency for the
existence of organism as an individual and communion as the participation of the
individual in a larger organization, of which the individual is a part. Agency manifests
itself in self-protection, self-assertion, self-expansion, isolation, aloneness, urge to
master, repression of thoughts and feelings. Communion manifests itself as being one
with other organisms, lack of separation, contact, openness, union, and contractual
co-operation. Erikson's (1964) anatomical distinction between 'inner' (female) and
'outer' (male) space represents an analogue to the psychological distinction between
masculine "fondness for what works and for what man can make, whether it helps to
build or to destroy", and a more 'ethical' feminine commitment to "resourcefulness in
peace making and devotion in healing" (1964: 582-606).
Recently however, there has been a rising dissatisfaction with these orthodox sexual
pigeonholes. There have been attempts to help free the human personality from the
restricting prison of sex-role stereotyping and to develop a conception of mental health
which is free from culturally imposed definition of masculinity and femininity (Bern, 1977).
The concept of psychological androgyny was used to denote the integration of femininity
and masculinity within a single individual. Androgynous individuals develop and in-
tegrate, in varying degrees, personality traits that have been called masculine and
feminine. They personify the healthy human characteristics regardless of sexual identity.
Such individuals can adapt better to situational demands than sex-typed individuals,
because of their wide repertoire of behavioural responses. Their behaviour is a function
of situational diagnosis, while sex typed or cross-sex typed individuals are motivated to
behave consistently with a sex-role standard. The latter would also expect that others
would treat them as one of a particular sex. The characteristics that define the masculine
personality seem to be those that characterize a healthy adult and are more highly
regarded in society. Hence, women with feminine characteristics are not healthy by
definition. The woman is put to a precarious double bind. If she is feminine, she embodies
a collection of traits which are negatively valued; if she is masculine, she violates the
behavioural norms for her sex and may become subject to all the sanctions imposed
Small et al.
(1984) found, in their study, that androgynous persons had the lowest level
of dysphoria, anxiety and hostility. A series of studies by Bern and her associates (Bern,
1977; Bern, Martyna and Watson, 1976) on university students showed that
androgynous individuals were behaviourally and emotionally more adaptable than rigidly
stereotyped individuals because of their greater behavioural flexibility. Other re-
searchers have reported a strong relationship between androgyny and such correlates
of adjustment as self-esteem and self-actualization (Halgund, 1978).
On the basis of the above mentioned theoretical and empirical findings, the researcher
makes the following set of conjectures. Androgynous individuals may have a lower level
of anxiety, while uni-sex typed individuals would have relatively more anxiety and the
undifferentiated individuals would have the highest level of anxiety.
In view of the above conjectures, the present investigation is an attempt to study the
relationship among sex-role orientation, age and anxiety in married Indian women. The
purpose of the investigation is: (a) to study the level of anxiety of married women having
different sex-role orientations, (b) to study the differences in the level of anxiety of
married women in different age groups, (c) to study the relationship between anxiety
and sex-role orientation in relation to age.
662 Nalini Sastry
The level of anxiety in relation to sex-role orientation (masculine, feminine, androgynous
and undifferentiated) and age (20 to 30 years and 31 to 45 years) is studied. A factorial
design (4 x 2) for the analysis of variance is employed.
The sample selected for this study was from the urban, middle class, married
women in the age range between 20 years and 45 years, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The
total sample size was 200 women. The subjects were contacted on a door to door basis
depending on their willingness and convenience.
The Bern Sex-role Inventory, 1981 (BSRI) was used to classify the
sample into different sex-role orientation groups. The BSRI is a standardized paper-
pencil measure of psychological androgyny. The measure consists of sixty personality
characteristics, twenty of which are stereotypically feminine and twenty are stereotypi-
cally masculine. The remaining twenty are neutral characteristics that serve as filler
items. These are randomized and are presented to individuals who are asked to indicate
on a 7-point scale, the extent to which each of the sixty characteristics describes herself.
Test-retest reliability of the inventory ranges from .76 to .94 over an interval of 4 weeks.
Moreover, subjects' score on the inventory are internally consistent and do not correlate
with the tendency to characterize oneself as socially desirable. Coefficient alpha
calculated for different samples are generally high, with the lowest alpha equal to .70
for undergraduate students at Stanford University. The validity of the BSRI has also
been established through a series of studies (Bern, 1983; Bern, Martyna and Watson,
1976). In addition, psychometric analysis yielded low correlations between the two
scales which proved that as predicted, masculine and feminine scores are "logically
independent and that the structure of the test does not constrain them in anyway" (Bern,
The Sinha W-A Self Analysis form (Anxiety Scale) constructed and standardized by
Sinha (1968) was used to measure the level of anxiety. It consists of hundred items of
the 'Yes-No' type. The minimum possible score is zero and the maximum score is
hundred. Higher score is indicative of higher anxiety. The reported reliability, both by
the split half and test-retest method, are .86 and .73, respectively.
Concurrent validity was checked by correlating the W-A Self Analysis scores with scores
on Taylor's Manifest Anxiety Scale. It was found to be .72 and when correlated to
Cattell's IPAT Anxiety Scale Questionnaire, it was found to be .70. The mean anxiety
scores of normal subjects and psychiatric patients were respectively 30.89 and 41.12.
The mean anxiety score of hyper-anxiety subjects was 55.18 and that for other patients
was 38.18. This showed that the test differentiated the anxiety levels successfully.
Results and Discussion
The data collected were analysed statistically. Measures of central tendency (mean)
and variability (standard deviation) were calculated. A 4 x 2 factorial design for the
analysis of variance was employed.
The BSRI is scored on the basis of a median split on the masculinity and femininity
dimension. This scoring system yielded four groups: (a) Masculine (above median on
masculinity dimension together with below median on femininity dimension), (b)
Feminine (above median on femininity dimension together with below median on
masculinity dimension), (c) Androgynous (above median on both masculinity and
Anxiety, Sex Role Orientation and Age 663
femininity dimension), (d) Undifferentiated (below median on both masculinity and
ANOVA OF ANXIETY SCORES OF WOMEN IN DIFFERENT SEX- ROLE ORIENTATION GROUPS
AND AGE GROUPS
Sex-role orientation x Age
Table 1 presents the analysis of variance of the anxiety scores of women in different
sex-role orientation groups and age groups.
The results indicate that the main effects of both sex-role orientation (F=3.73, P< .01)
and age (F=4.15, P< .05) are statistically significant. However, the effect of the
interaction between the sex- role orientation and age is not statistically significant (F=
Further analysis was carried out using t-test to estimate the differences among mean
scores of the four sex-role orientation groups and the two age groups.
MEAN AND STANDARD DEVIATION OF THE ANXIETY SCORES OF WOMEN IN DIFFERENT
AGE GROUP AND SEX-ROLE ORIENTATION
M Sample M Sample M Sample
(SD) size (SD) size
30.12 16 27.43 28 28.66 44
32.15 27 23.80 20 28.60 47
25.92 26 21.83 29 23.76 55
35.42 31 33.70 23 34.69 54
31.33 100 26.52 100 28.93 200
The mean score of anxiety of the undifferentiated women is the highest (M = 34.69),
higher than the total group mean (M = 28.93), and the mean score of the androgynous
women is the lowest (M = 23.76). The mean anxiety scores of the masculine (M = 28.66)
664 Nalini Sastry
and the feminine women (M = 28.60) fall in between the mean score of the undifferen-
tiated and the androgynous group (Table 2).
COMPARISON OF ANXIETY SCORES AMONG FOUR DIFFERENT SEX-ROLE ORIENTATION
GROUPS AND TWO AGE GROUPS
Masculine v/s Feminine
Masculine v/s Androgynous
Undifferentiated v/s Masculine
Feminine v/s Androgynous
Undifferentiated v/s Feminine
Undifferentiated v/s Androgynous
Group 1 (20-30 years) v/s
Group 2 (31-45 years)
*P< 0.1, **P< 0.05, ***P< 0.01
A series of t-tests (Table 3) reveals (a) a significant difference (P< .01) between the
mean anxiety scores of the androgynous and the undifferentiated women, (b) The
difference between the mean anxiety scores of the masculine and undifferentiated, between
the feminine and androgynous, between the feminine and undifferentiated are all significant
at only .10 level, (c) For the remaining two groups i.e.
(i) masculine and feminine women,
(ii) masculine and androgynous women, the mean differences are not significant.
In brief, the results indicate that the androgynous women have the least anxiety and the
undifferentiated women have the highest anxiety. The lower anxiety of the androgynous
individuals can be explained in terms of the psychological freedom to engage in
whatever behaviour seems most appropriate to the situation, irrespective of its
stereotype as masculine or feminine. This frees them from the boundaries marked by
cultural stereotypes. The undifferentiated women who neither developed the masculine
nor the feminine domain well, are not in a position to perform either masculine roles or
feminine roles appropriately and thereby fall victim to anxiety easily.
The difference in the anxiety of masculine and feminine women is not significant,
probably because both endorse characteristics of only one sex-role. A highly sex-typed
person who is motivated to behave consistently with a sex role standard, would have
to suppress those aspects of her personality which are incongruent with that standard.
This has a particularly significant effect on women, because the characteristics of a
stereotypic male seem to be close to the norm for the healthy adult, while the idealized
feminine characteristics by definition are not healthy. Wolowitz (1972: 313) points out
"the psychodynamics of the hysteric are uncomfortably close to the dynamics of the
idealized normal feminine personality". Thus, if the woman is feminine, then she is not
Anxiety, Sex Role Orientation and Age 665
healthy and if she is masculine, she violates the behavioural norms of her sex. This
gives rise to a Catch 22 situation.
The results empirically verify the initial conjectures discussed earlier, that anxiety is the
lowest in androgynous women. The result is supported by a host of earlier studies as
mentioned earlier in the paper.
Nevertheless, there are findings (e.g.,
Consentino and Heilbrum, 1964; and Gall, 1969)
that show that masculinity is negatively correlated with aggression-anxiety and manifest
anxiety, while greater femininity shows greater aggression-anxiety for both males and
females. It may be noted here that these studies used masculinity-femininity scales
which are bi-polar scales, measuring masculinity and femininity at the two poles.
Therefore, there was no room to study the androgynous (having high masculinity score
and high femininity score) and undifferentiated groups (having low masculinity score
and low femininity score), because, according to these scales, if an individual shows a
high masculinity score, it essentially would mean that the individual has low femininity1.
Harris and Schwab (1979) found that masculinity is related to adjustment and that the
androgynous group also showed better personal and social adjustment than the
undifferentiated and feminine groups. Jordan et al.
(1976) reported masculine women
have the least neuroticism followed by the androgynous. Note that in contrast to the
above mentioned finding, the present data from Indian married women show
androgynous individuals having the least anxiety.
Table 1 and Table 2 show results related to age and anxiety. Mean test used to analyse
the significance of mean difference reveals that the 20 to 30 years age group has a
significantly higher anxiety score compared to the 31 to 45 years age group (P< .05). It
was expected that women of the 20-30 years age group would have a higher level of
anxiety as compared to the anxiety level of the 31-45 years age group. The results of
the present investigation confirm this expectation. Various researchers, such as Byrd
(1959) state that the basic form of age trend in anxiety is U-shaped. That is to say,
typically high levels of anxiety are assumed to occur in adolescence, and, subsequently,
there is a general decline in the level throughout adulthood, until around old age, when
anxiety begins to increase again. In the context of the present investigation, high anxiety
of the women of the 20 to 30 years age group may be explained as follows. At this stage
women would have just entered married life. The uncertainties of the new situation,
coupled with the experience of separation from single status, may have induced higher
level of anxiety. As Rank (1929) suggests, the life history of a human is an endless
series of experiences of separation; one such experience is when the adult separates
from his or her single state in favour of marriage. Anxiety is the apprehension involved
in these separations, particularly experienced if the individual is unprepared to separate
from her immediate position of security. Apart from this, marriage asks for a lot of
adjustments on the part of the woman. Perhaps, it takes some time to adjust and adapt
to her new roles. At 31 -45 years of age, women would have become more settled, would
accept circumstances with less resistance, for by then, they are more or less adapted
to their roles in the family. Hence the lower level of anxiety at this age.
While subjects were classified both in terms of sex-role orientation and age, the results,
based on the analysis of variance show no significant relationship for the interaction
factor (Table 1). The mean anxiety score of androgynous women in the age group of
666 Nalini Sastry
31 to 45 years is the lowest (M = 21.83); the same in the age group of 20 to 30 years is
25.92 (Table 2). in the masculine women of 31 to 45 years age, the mean anxiety score
is 27.43 and that in the 20 to 30 years age group is 30.81. In the case of feminine women,
in the age group of 31 to 45 years the mean anxiety score is 23.80 and that in the 20 to
30 years age group is 32.15. For the undifferentiated women in the 20 to 30 years age
group, the mean anxiety score is the highest with a mean score of 35.42 followed by
undifferentiated women in the age group of 31 to 45 years (the mean score is 33.70).
Though the differences in the mean scores are not statistically significant always, these
results (Tables 2 and 3) do indicate that the androgynous women have the lowest level
of anxiety and the undifferentiated women have the highest level of anxiety irrespective
of the age group. The results also show a trend that in all the sex role orientation groups,
the women in the age group of 31 to 45 years have a lower level of anxiety compared
to women in the age group of 20 to 30 years. It should be noted here that the mean
anxiety score of the undifferentiated women in both the age groups and the mean anxiety
score of the feminine women in the 20 to 30 years age group are both higher than the
mean score (30.89) of the normal subjects of Sinha's (1968) standardization sample.
In summary, based on the above results, it may be said that the women with the
androgynous sex-role orientation have developed both masculine and feminine
psychological characteristics, and are able to cope with any role depending on the
demand of circumstances. They have a wider spectrum of behaviour in their behaviour
repertoire. They are flexible and more adaptable over a wider range of behaviour (Bern, et al
,1976). Hence they are able to respond to most situations with the minimum of
Both the masculine women and the feminine women have endorsed only one sex-role,
so they would be able to deal effectively only with situations that demand characteristics
of the particular sex-role that they have endorsed. Therefore, generally their level of
anxiety is higher than that of the androgynous women. The undifferentiated women, on
the other hand, have developed neither of the two sex-roles. As a result, they find
difficulty in facing all kinds of situations. Hence their level of anxiety is the highest. Along
with sex role orientation, the variable age (and thereby the psychosocial stages of
development), also seem to have some relation with the anxiety level of married women
in urban India.
Limitations, Suggestions for Future Research and Implications
The sample selected for this study was confied only to the urban areas of Gujarat. The
rural areas have not been included. Therefore, the results are not applicable to women
in the rural areas. Further, in India, the cultural forces and the subsequent role
expectation of women population in the immediate society varies considerably across
politically demarcated states. Therefore, the state itself may be a source of variance
that restricts the generality of the present findings.
This study was an ex-post facto
survey and so the causal relationship between age,
sex-role orientation and anxiety could not be studied; however, a longitudinal study may
provide some answers to the causal relationships, if any.
The results of the present study stimulate several psychosocial issues related to early
socialization of women in contemporary India. With the trend of the community taking
Anxiety, Sex Role Orientation and Age 667
up higher responsibility for child-care, greater education of children and reduced work
load at home due to the household technology at the disposal of married urban women,
the traditional female role and associated values are likely to face a crisis. The problem
is particularly noticeable among married working women placed in a predominantly
male-led corporate environment. The trend of increased rate of women graduates
compared to the rate of increment in the total number of graduates during the last
decade, is a compelling demographic motivation in favour of more women in the
corporate realm, and the trend is likely to continue during the years to come. Scholars
in women's studies have shown that there is hardly any difference between men and
women in terms of natural abilities, albeit there are differences in perception, attitude
and value orientation (Schwartz, 1989). The root of the difference in manifested
behavioural forms across sexes being principally due to social expectation and
stereotypes, makes the phenomenon of female child socialization all the more an issue
of paramount importance. Certainly women are capable of a full range of behaviour and
the present study indicates that the broader the spectrum of sex-role orientation (i.e.
more androgynous) the lesser the anxiety. The inculcation of androgynous sex-role
orientation among women (perhaps this should also include men), seems to be an
answer to deal with the disparities in perception and behaviour between women and
men. However, studies should be specially designed to address the above conjecture.
Notwithstanding the above issues, the present study also suggests that social workers,
mental health professionals, therapists and counsellors should encourage married
women clients to awaken their submerged 'other-selves' to achieve healthy wholeness.
The helping professionals should be aware of the association between sex-role orien-
tation and anxiety, and make use of this for their therapeutic efforts. Otherwise married
women with anxiety problems may not be treated properly.
The scale used in the present investigation has two independent dimensions for
masculinity and femininity instead of a continuum. Therefore it provides possible variable
space to define individuals with both high masculinity and high femininity (androgynous),
as well as, low masculinity and low femininity (undifferentiated).
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The Indian Journal of Social Work, Vol. LI, No. 4 (October 1990)