Narrative identities: An Examination of the gender
related differences within individuals' personal narratives
|Results||Discussion||Selected References||Relevant Links|
This thesis could not have been completed without the support and encouragement
of several amazing individuals – all of whom I am so grateful to have in my life.
First of all, I would
like to thank my family – my sister, my mother, and my father, for their
support and ability to keep my stress at a manageable level. And, in particular
I would like to thank my mother for encouraging me, however humorously,
to “have fun.”
I would also like to thank my roommates, my best friends, Nicole Cecconi and Erin Montgomery, for not only being there for me during these past two months, but always. Thank you for making me laugh when I cried and for the stress relief you provided, on several occasions, via tatter tots and pizza! Thank you to the rest of my friends, especially Mary Kilinski, Katie Markiewicz, Bill Zawatski, and Ed Schroth for some great stress-relieving weekends!
Thank you to the entire psychology department at Saint A’s, for everything – encouragement, guidance, inspiration, and opportunities. Thank you Professor Flannery for encouraging me to apply for the U.R.S.P. It was an amazing program, and this thesis would not be possible without it. Thank you Professor Ossoff, for being so amazing at what you do. Through the “no data” incident, tears, and deadlines, you were unbelievably supportive and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to have you as my professor for Experimental II. Thank you Professor McKenna for being my mentor, for supporting me and my research interests over the summer, and for helping me get this thesis started last year in Experimental I. Thank you Professor Finn for all of your technical support.
Thank you to my fellow senior psychology majors and congratulations, it’s finally over! Thank you to all the girls in my Experimental class, especially Katie Galanes, Meag Gelinas, Cole Salvas, and Abbey Ross for being there this semester. I would also like to thank the “graduated girls,” Rena Walles and Melissa Surawski, for your tips and support this semester and last.
And lastly, I would like to thank Doctor Bamberg for giving me the opportunity to work with him on this project over the summer and throughout the semester. Thank you for providing me with the male perspective!
Narratives, sequences of
at least two referential clauses that represent human responses to experience
that are bound together in a temporally related way, have become increasingly
relevant within the field of psychology. Narratives, which are understood
by developmental and social psychologists to be mediums through which individuals
convey subjectively revealing information, have been utilized to examine
a variety of topics. The majority of the literature on narratives in the
developmental and social fields has been related to the topics of identity
and gender. However, most of these studies have considered the topics of
identity and gender separately; these studies have either focused on identity,
not considering gender to be a component of identity, or gender differences,
and not how these differences are related to identity. The present study’s
purpose was to make up for the limitations of previous studies by examining
gender differences contained within the narratives that individuals perceived
to be important in connection with their identity and their identity formation.
Based on the results of previous studies that have examined the gender
differences in the narratives of individuals and had found that males’
narratives contain autonomous and conflict-based themes, while female’s
narratives contain interdependent, group, family, and community-based themes,
it was hypothesized that male’s narratives would be coded as belonging
to either a separate-agonistic genre or a separate-autonomous genre, while
female’s narratives would be coded as belonging to the family/group genre.
In order to examine gender differences in terms of thematic content, contained within narratives, the author of the present study examined the narratives of five male and five female undergraduate students. These narratives had been elicited during one-on-one semi-structured interviews. Following the interviews, narratives that had been elicited were coded according to a coding scheme first developed by Richner and Nicolopoulou (2001), and assigned to one of six story genres that were contained within this coding scheme. The story genres included the family/group genre, separate-agonistic genre, separate-autonomous genre, mixed, other, and protostory (those stories that were considered to be attempts at a narrative).
A 2 (gender) x (2 genre type) Chi-square test was conducted in order to examine the frequencies of narratives associated with the genres of interest (separate-agonistic genre/separate-autonomous genre and the family/group genre). The hypothesis was supported and a relationship between gender and story genre was found. More specifically, there was a higher frequency of female narratives for the family/group genre, while there was a higher frequency of male narratives for the separate-agonistic and separate-autonomous genre category.
The narratives elicited in this study were ones that participants perceived to be significant in regard to their identity and their identity formation. Through the telling of these stories, individuals had constructed and presented bits of their identity. Within these presentations, the storyteller’s gender played a significant role. The results of this study suggest that females told more narratives about their interdependent experiences, while males told more narratives about their independent and sometimes conflict-based experiences. These results, along with similar findings in previous research related to gender differences and narratives, may present a gender-specific pattern of identity formation based in the different experiences that males and females have in both childhood and adolescence. This implication, along with others, the applications of this study’s findings, and suggestions for future research that seeks to examine gender differences within narratives are also discussed.
Key words: narratives, stories, life stories, identity, gender
Individuals construct, construe, and convey experiences through and within narratives. Narratives are verbally or textually constructed stories that represent how human beings respond to experience; they serve as mediums that convey personal responses to, and interpretations of experiences (Crossley, 2000). Within the field of psychology, narratives, which are understood by developmental (Bamberg, 2002) and social psychologists (Edley & Wetherell, 1999) to be mediums through which individuals convey subjectively revealing information, have been utilized to examine a variety of topics. The bulk of this current literature on narratives in the social and developmental fields, however, has been related to the topics of identity (Widdershoven, 1993) and gender (Johnstone, 1993; Richner & Nicolopoulou, 2001). However, most of the research contained within the literature, have considered the topics of identity and gender separately; these studies have either focused on identity, excluding gender as a component of identity, or gender differences, and not how these differences are reflective of identity. Few studies have linked the presentations of identity with gender within narratives, even though gender is considered to be an important component within the creation of our self-identities (Hallden, 1997, 1999). And few studies have examined identity in connection with gender differences within comparisons and contrasts of the narratives of males and females (Johnstone, 1993; Richner and Nicolopolou, 2001). The present study’s purpose is to make up for the limitations of previous research by examining gender differences contained within the narratives of individuals, narratives that individuals perceive to be significant in relation to their identity and their identity formation.
Narratives are a sequence of (at least two) referential clauses (which represent human responses to experience) that are bound together in a temporally related way (M. Bamberg, personal communication, August 29, 2002). Narratives can be expressed in a number of different personal story genres, however a genre that has become increasingly relevant within the field of psychology is the life story. The life story, an individual’s emergent narrative that integrates their restructured past, their perceived present, and their expected future (McAdams, 1996), has historically been an important component within the field of clinical psychology (e.g. the clinical interview, and case studies). Recently, however, the life story has been an object of attention within the scholastic writings of researchers within the fields of developmental, social, and personality psychology (Schiffrin, 1996).
Some researchers within the field of developmental psychology consider narratives to be an integral component within the study of psychological growth. Some researchers within this field, a field that studies the emergence and change of psychological development (Dunn, 1999), utilize narratives to examine the development and storied construction of identity (Eder, 1998; Hallden, 1997, 1999).
One developmentally relevant study that examined the narratives of adolescents was conducted in order to examine how teenagers internally conceive of and then present themselves and others within autobiographical stories about their future families (Hallden, 1997, 1999). Participants within this study, a study that examined the expected future component of the life story, were asked to construct a story with the title, “My Future Family” (Hallden, 1997). It was proposed that through the telling of stories, and through a presentation of the self and other characters within the stories, individuals create self-identities (Hallden, 1999). In her work, Hallden (1997) argued that the narratives created by 13-14 year old boys about their future families were reflective of the boys’ exploration of a male identity. Hallden states that by putting forth and positioning the main character, a man, within their stories, the boys had explored the different positions that they had perceived to be available to them as gendered beings (1997). The boys had explored and presented their understanding of a male identity through their narratives about their future selves.
When individuals produce narratives about their lives (past, present, or future), and when they perceive their produced narratives to be significant in relation to their identity/understanding of their identity and identity formation, these narratives become significant for psychologists. The present study, which has its foundation based on the perceived significance of narratives in relation to identity, examines, like Hallden (1997, 1999) did, gender as it is contained within narratives that individuals perceive to autobiographically significant (i.e. significant to an individual’s identity). Unlike Hallden’s study, however, the life-stories that are examined within the present study are not future oriented, but are stories from participants’ pasts.
Narratives and identity
Hallden, along with many other psychologists (Bamberg, 2002; Schiffrin, 1996), argue that individuals construct and present their identity through and within narratives. These psychologists argue that individuals give meaning to their pasts by relating their former experiences and actions to one another within their narratives. And, by making their pasts meaningful (i.e. by relating actions and experiences together) within their life stories, individuals are able to see and present themselves as holistic selves (Schiffrin, 1996; Widdershoven, 1993).
Former experiences and actions can be related, and can be made meaningful, by piecing these life relevancies together in a sequential or thematic manner. Through the construction of a life story that begins with childhood and ends with the present self, life events become sequentially related. These events and experiences can also be thematically pieced together by relating the events with common themes together in a series. Individuals’ experiences and actions obtain meaning when individuals relate them to one another and to general plots and themes within their narratives. (Schiffrin, 1996)
Some psychologists argue that the product of the interface between personal experiences and personal narratives is identity (Widdershoven, 1993). According to these psychologists, when individuals present their life experiences and actions in a meaningful way within a narration of their life story, they present their personal identity.
Personal identity, a composition of the characteristics that distinguish one individual from another, is established throughout one’s developmental course. Identity is formed when a growing individual’s personal experiences and social interactions intersect, converge, and are reflectively understood by an individual as being the elements that make that individual a whole and unique person. Erikson stated, in relation to identity, that in order to form a whole and complete identity, individuals must feel a continuation between the sense of self that they had had as a child, that which they understand themselves to presently be, and that which they perceive others to observe in, and expect of them (1968).
The continuity that Erikson stated that one must perceive in order to experience completeness in relation to identity, can be understood and presented by an individual within his or her life story. Through the presentation of certain, specific, and relevant episodes within a narrated life story, an individual can present an explanation for how the past is relevant to the present (i.e. how an individual’s childhood experiences are relevant to an individual’s current perception of him or herself) and how the present facilitates a path for the future (McAdams, 1996).
The link between narrative and identity is clear when the two are viewed as being presentations of how one perceives the relevancy of the past in relation to the present. Therefore, the former part of Erikson’s (1968) statement about identity can be linked to narratives; can the latter part of his statement be linked, as well? Are narratives, and more specifically narratives in the form of a life story, presentations of perceptions of how an individual perceives others to see and expect that individual to be?
One study, which was based on the premise that society puts forth a set of resources, resources that individuals utilize to reflect on and speak about the world, indirectly sought to investigate the above question by examining how young men construct masculine identities (Edley & Wetherell, 1999). This study by Edley and Wetherell (1999), like Hallden’s study (1997, 1999), utilized the anticipated future component of the life story, to examine how 17-18 year old boys positioned themselves within their constructions of future families.
Edley and Wetherell (1999) found that the young men within their study made use of the available repertoires of masculinity (i.e. they made use of the list of actions that young men in present day society can utilize: the actions of the traditional man, who is employed while his wife is a “home-maker,” and/or the actions of the ‘New Man’, who is enthusiastic about doing his share of the household duties) by imagining themselves as both new and conventional types of men. The young men within this study saw themselves as becoming working fathers who would maintain and enjoy healthy relationships with their wives and children and who would willingly do domestic chores. These young men’s future families/identities were based on the repertoires of masculinity that are available in today’s society; their identities were based on that which they perceived others (i.e. others within their surrounding culture) to expect of them (Erikson, 1968).
The present study examines this issue (i.e. the issue of identity as it is related to the expectations of others) further by investigating the identity-based narratives of individuals. Investigated in this study is how individuals utilize past experiences to explain how it is that they got to be the person who they are today and whether or not, within these explanations, individuals utilize the repertoires of masculinity and femininity.
Narratives and gender
Some psychologists, who work with narratives, adhere to the belief that the stories that we construct and share with others are done so with an awareness of cultural expectations (Schiffrin, 1996). In other words, as we construct our experiences into a tell-able narrative, we do so against a backdrop of cultural expectations (Schiffrin, 1996). Therefore, the structure, content, and they way in which we tell our stories are all indications not just of our personal selves, but of our social and cultural identities, as well (Schiffrin, 1996).
Edley and Wetherell’s study (1999), mentioned above, reflects how identities that individuals present in stories fuse with certain cultural expectations. The masculine identities that were presented within their male participants’ narratives, Edley and Wetherell argue, had been formed against a cultural backdrop. Within their narratives about their future families, the boys had created identities based on the repertoires of masculinity that they had perceived to be available within their given society/culture; they had constructed and shared their identity-based stories cognizant of cultural expectations.
Another study that examined masculine identities as they were presented and constructed within boys’ narratives was the study conducted by Hallden (1997, 1999) mentioned earlier. Similar to Edley and Wetherell’s (1999) study, the boys in Hallden’s study had examined and utilized the different positions available to them as gendered beings. Within this study, the boys had constructed and shared their (future) identity based stories against a backdrop of cultural expectancies, as well.
Hallden (1997, 1999) and Edley and Wetherell (1999), in their studies, have demonstrated that boys utilize the available repertoires (i.e. the available lists of “actions”) for the male gender in the construction of their identity-based narratives. The narratives of these studies (Hallden’s (1997, 1999) and Edley and Wetherell’s (1999)) were about anticipated futures. The utilization of gender-related repertoires, however, is not specific to narratives about identities as they are related to anticipated future lives. Gender-related repertoires can be found within other personal-story genres, as well, i.e., within narratives presented in the form of an individual’s spontaneously produced narrative (Richner & Nicolopoulou, 2001), a recalled and specific event (Eder, 1998; Johnstone, 1993), a memory, or within the construction of the life story (Crossley, 2000; McAdams, 1996).
An example of how gender-related repertoires were utilized within individuals’ spontaneously produced narratives can be seen a study conducted by Richner and Nicolopoulou (2001). Within this study, voluntary and spontaneously produced narratives that had been recorded by a teacher in a given pre-school classroom were examined. The authors of this study evaluated these narratives for their inclusion of relationships and expected to find gender differences within children’s conceptions of relationships and persons within their analyses. Within their evaluation, Richner and Nicolopoulou found two very distinct narrative styles; the researchers found that these distinctive narrative styles were gender-related. The two narrative styles, which had been divided along gender lines, represented different images of the person, of social relationships, and of the social world (2001).
Richner and Nicolopoulou (2001) found that the narratives that girls had produced contained socially embedded and interdependent persons, while boys’ narratives contained persons that were disconnected (persons that were not involved in stable relationships) and agonistic (persons that participated in aggressive forms of social interaction). The researchers distinguished between the two types of narratives and the characters that had been included within these narratives by labeling the narratives containing socially embedded and interdependent persons the family/group genre, and the narratives containing the disconnected and agonistic persons as being part of the heroic-agonistic genre. The family/group genre corresponded with stories that revolved around the family, and the family’s everyday life activities; these activities were typically located within the home. The heroic-agonistic genre corresponded with stories in which the main characters were powerful or threatening, and engaged in conflict-based and aggressive acts. In their evaluation of 598 stories, 76% of the narratives that had been told by girls fit into the family/group genre, and 90% of the boys’ narratives that had been produced were placed into the heroic-agonistic genre (Richner & Nicolopoulou).
The results of Richner and Nicolopoulou’s study (2001) indicate that within this given study, the content of spontaneously produced narratives was differentiated by gender; meaning, there was a gender difference, in terms of content, between the narratives of girls and the narratives of boys. Like the results of Hallden’s (1997, 1999) and Edley and Wetherell’s (1999) studies had indicated, Richner and Nicolopoulou’s results showed that individuals utilize gender-related repertoires within their narratives. However, unlike the studies of Hallden (1997, 1999) and Edley and Wetherell (1999), which examined the influence, construction, and presentation of gender exclusively in the narratives of males, Richner and Nicolopolou’s study (2001) examined the relationship between gender and story content within the narratives of both males and females. The present study uses the narratives of both males and females in order to examine the relationship between gender and story content as well however, this is done with the narratives’ of young adults whose intelligence and narrative development are greater.
Other studies have examined the relationship between gender and story content, as well. For example, Johnstone (1993) examined the relationship between gender and content within the narratives of individuals and utilized the narratives that can be categorized within the personal-story genre of recalled and specific events to do so. In her study, Johnstone examined narratives related to retold personal experiences and found that both men and women utilized gender-related repertoires within the re-telling of these experiences. Johnstone found that the themes contained within women’s narratives revolved around community, while the themes contained within men’s narratives revolved around contest. Johnstone found that most of the males’ narratives were about a protagonist who acted individually, without the help of others, during human contests and contests with nature, while most of the females’ narratives were about protagonists involved in incidences that called for a reliance on the community.
Based on these results, Johnstone stated that men and women live in different social worlds and that the social worlds they are situated in are reflected within, and are the basis for the narratives that they produce (1993). This statement, made by Johnstone is reflective of an idea first proposed by Gilligan (1982). Gilligan theorized that when talking about their lives, people, through the use of language and connections, reveal the world as they perceive it. Gilligan believed, like Johnstone, that men and women live in different worlds, and that they speak in different “voices.”
Gilligan’s theory that men and women speak in different “voices” and operate within different worlds was inductively reasoned. After examining and listening to the ways that individuals spoke about the relationships between the self and others, and in particular the way that individuals told stories about and expressed these relationships in regard to issues of morality, Gilligan found that there were different voices for males and females(1982). After examining data collected during interviews designed to explore identity and moral development, and after comparing the data to existing literature on Freud’s, Kohlberg’s, Lever’s, Mead’s, and Piaget’s theories of human development and its relation to morality, Gilligan found a distinction between men’s and women’s voices with regard to moral issues. Gilligan found that men’s voices were autonomous - they spoke as if their world was one in which they had no relation to others, while women’s voices were interdependent - they spoke of a world in which they lived in connection with others (Brown & Gilligan, 1992). Gilligan and her research team then related these voices to central themes (i.e. themes that were central to the stories told by the two voices). The research team found a theme related to a connected sense of self and a theme related to a separate sense of self and they had found that these themes were related to gender.
The distinct gender related themes/voices that Gilligan found are similar to the themes that Johnstone (1993) and Richner and Nicolopoulou (2001) found within their studies. The present study, in order to examine this issue further, that is, in order to examine whether the distinct gender related themes/voices that the results of the above mentioned studies (Brown & Gilligan, 1993; Gilligan, 1982; Johnstone, 1993; Richner and Nicolopoulou, 2001) have yielded are evident in identity-based narratives, will examine the narratives that individuals recognize as important in regard to their identity and their identity formation.
The previously mentioned studies of Johnstone, Brown and Gilligan, and Richner and Nicolopoulou, had examined and found gender differences within narratives, however, the narratives considered within these studies were not necessarily identity-based narratives. Jonhstone’s study (1993) and Richner and Nicolopoulou’s study (2001) examined the differences between male and female’s narratives, however these narratives were not told as indices of identity within these studies. And Gilligan’s study, although it had examined gender in the context of identity construction, it was specific to one aspect of identity - moral development.
There have been studies, which were mentioned previously within this discussion, that have examined gender in the context of a non-specific aspect of identity construction (as opposed to a specific aspect – e.g. see Gilligan, 1982); however, these studies focused on the construction and presentation of masculine identities (Edley & Wetherell, 1999; Hallden, 1997). In order to examine whether identity presentation, as it is put-forth socially within narratives, is different for males and females, and in order to examine whether or not males and females utilize the available repertoires for their given gender within their storied presentations of identity, the narratives that males and females perceive to be significant in relation to their identity and their identity formation, must be examined.
Research question and hypothesis
Based on the results of previous studies that have examined the gender differences in the narratives of individuals (Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Gilligan, 1982; Johnstone, 1993; Richner and Nicolopoulou, 2001), it is predicted, that within the present study, gender will have an influence on narrative content. Although previous studies that have examined and have found gender differences within the content of narratives were not necessarily identity-based narratives, it is predicted that the gender differences will be evident within identity-based narratives, as well. For the present study, it is hypothesized that there will be a gender difference in terms of content between the narratives of males and the narratives of females; males’ narratives will contain more of an independent theme and will correspond with the separate-agonistic genre and separate-autonomous genres, while females’ narratives will have more of an interdependent theme and will correspond with a family/group genre.
The participants in this study were 10 undergraduate students, attending a small teaching and research university in a city located in the northeast. The 10 participants (five males and five females), ages 18-21, were of undergraduate standing. The participants were volunteers and understood that they would not be reimbursed financially or receive course credit for their participation within the study. The participant data discussed within this paper were part of a larger study, conducted by Doctor Michael Bamberg and the present author. The study is titled “From childhood into adolescence: Growing up in different cultures.”
Potential participants were first approached in psychology classes. The 10 participants of this study had responded to “volunteers needed” forms that advertised the research (see Appendix A); participants received these forms in their psychology classes. On the form, the study was titled, “Growing up: Living through the 90’s.” The forms briefly described the study, and provided a space for the student’s name and number. Students, who returned the forms, received a phone call during which they were given a more in-depth overview of the procedures and general purpose of the study. Also, during the phone call any questions that participants had were addressed and a time and a date were arranged for the interview.
Before the commencement of the study, participants received a “volunteers needed” form, which was discussed above. And, before each interview began, participants also received an informed consent form. For each interview, an Optimus CTR-108 mini hand recorder was used to record responses discussed within a semi-structured interview. For the present study, interviewing was the preferred method for eliciting stories because the literature (Crossley, 2000; McAdams, 1993) supports this method’s proficiency in eliciting narratives. Semi-structured interviews, thought of by some psychologists (McAdams, 1993) as the best method for exploring personal narratives, are used to try to enter the perceptual and cultural world of the participant (Smith, 1995). These interviews are utilized during studies examining narratives so that participants have more authority within the interview, and so that the interviewer can further investigate interesting topics that may come up (Crossley, 2000); they are designed to address broad topics relevant to the life story (Linde, 1993). All tapes were transcribed into a word processing program on the computer following the completion of the interview.
Participants within this study were all part of one-on-one semi-structured interviews designed to elicit narratives in relation to childhood and adolescence. One of two interviewers conducted all 10 of the interviews; a female interviewer interviewed the five female participants, and a male interviewer interviewed the five male participants.
For the present study, the broad and proposed topics of friendship, school, family life, and relationships with ‘others’ (race, gender, and nationality) were covered during the interview. At the beginning of each interview, participants were asked to reflect on their childhood and adolescence. After reflecting on growing up on a general level, participants were then asked to reflect, on a more specific level, about significant events and significant persons associated with the periods of their lives that they had initially mentioned. Participants who initially had trouble reflecting on their childhood and adolescence were asked to talk about one of the first things that they had remembered about their childhood. Interviews lasted between 35-120 minutes.
Participants were debriefed (see Appendix A) at the completion of each interview. After all interviews were complete, the content of each participant’s recorded tape(s) obtained from the interview was transcribed. The transcripts for each interview were first coded for their inclusion of narratives and each narrative within a given interview was highlighted. After narratives were identified within the transcriptions, the narratives were then coded according to the coding scheme discussed below.
All of the narratives contained within the transcripts for the present study were coded according to a coding scheme that was first developed by Richner and Nicolopoulou (2001). The author received written permission to utilize the scheme within this study from one of the authors who had developed the coding scheme. Each narrative was coded to determine whether it fit into the hypothesized genres (separate-agonistic/separate-autonomous or the family/group genre). Six categories were used to code the narratives: family/group genre, separate-agonistic (with conflict) genre, separate-autonomous (without conflict) genre, mixed, other, and protostories (attempts at a narrative).
Two coders independently coded all narratives. Coders assigned each narrative to one of the genres discussed above. The coders’ rate of agreement was 92%. All discrepancies were resolved following brief discussions. The stories that had been assigned to two different genres by the two judges were reassigned to an agreed upon genre following the discussion.
For the present study, narratives were defined as representations of human responses to experience that were put forth in a sequence of at least two referential clauses that were bound together in a temporally related way. The narratives contained within each participant’s transcribed interview corresponded to and were assigned to one of six categories/genres (family/group genre, separate-agonistic (with conflict) genre, separate-autonomous (without conflict) genre, mixed, other, or protostory); these genres served as the dependent variables.
Based on the results of previous studies that had examined gender, and had found gender differences within the content of narratives, it was predicted that there would be a gender difference in terms of content between the narratives of males and the narratives of females. It was predicted that males’ narratives would contain more of an independent theme and would correspond to the separate-agonistic genre and separate-independent genres, while females’ narratives would have more of an interdependent theme and would correspond with a family/group genre.
A 2 (gender) x 2 (genre: separate-agonistic/separate-autonomous and family/group) Chi-square test was conducted in order to determine if there was a relationship between gender and the frequencies of narratives associated with the genres of interest (separate-agonistic/separate-autonomous and family/group). A relationship between gender and narrative genre was found, where x2(1) = 6, p < .05. Frequencies of the genres indicate that females had a higher frequency of narratives within the family/group genre (fo = 31) than would be expected by chance alone, while males had a lower frequency (fo = 1). For the separate-agonistic and separate-autonomous genre category, females had a lower frequency than would be expected (fo = 18), while males had a higher frequency (fo = 6) (See Table 1). These findings support the hypothesis.
|Observed Frequencies (fo) of Separate-Agonistic/Separate
Autonomous and Family/Group Genres in Narratives by Males and Females (N
Because the family/group,
separate-agonistic, and separate-autonomous genres were not the only genres
that the narratives were coded for, a 2 (gender) x 6 (genres) Chi-square
test was conducted in order to determine if a relationship between gender
and the frequencies of narratives associated with all six of the genres
(family/group, separate-agonistic, separate-autonomous, mixed, other, protostory)
existed as it had with the genres of interest (separate-agonistic/separate-autonomous
and family/group). A relationship between gender and narrative genre was
found, where x2(5) = 19.485, p < .05. Frequencies of all six of the
genres indicate that for both males (fo = 42) and females (fo = 52), the
protostory category had the highest frequency of narratives associated
with it. This was unexpected in that it was hypothesized that females'
narratives would correspond with the famly/group genre, while males' narratives
would correspond with the separate-agonistict and separate-autonomous genres;
it was not expected that a large number of narratives would correspond
with the other genres (mixed, other, or protostory) (see Table 2).
|Observed frequencies (fo) of All Genres in Narratives
by Males and Females (N = 10)
2 = Separate-Agonistic
3 = Separate-Autonomous
4 = Mixed
5 = Other
6 = Protostory
Table 2 also indicates that
overall, females produced more total narratives (fo = 135) than males (fo
= 57). And females had a higher frequency of narratives than the males
in every genre.
In order to more closely examine how much each narrative genre contributed to the overall production of narratives by males and females, the mean proportions for each genre were calculated (see Table 3).
|Mean Proportions of Genres in Narratives by males
2 = Separate-Agonistic
3 = Separate-Autonomous
4 = Mixed
5 = Other
6 = Protostory
Table 3 indicates that while a large percentage of the female’s narratives were coded as belonging to the family/group genre, this genre did not have the highest percentage of narratives associated with it. The highest percentage of the females’ narratives was associated with the protostory category (43%). This was true for the males as well, in that 74% of their stories were associated with this category. These unexpected findings suggest that it might have been appropriate to code the protostories further, in order to determine whether these narratives had specific themes associated with them as did the other narratives.
The purpose of this study
was to examine gender differences contained within the narratives that
young adults understand as being important in relation to their identity
and their identity formation. It was predicted that with regard to these
narratives there would be a gender difference in terms of content between
the narratives of males and the narratives of females. More specifically,
it was hypothesized that males’ narratives would contain more of an independent
theme and would therefore be related to the separate-agonistic genre and
separate-independent genre, while females’ narratives would have more of
an interdependent theme and hence would correspond with a family/group
Results from the 2 (gender) x 2 (genre: separate-agonistic/separate-autonomous and family/group) Chi-square supported the hypothesis. More specifically, the frequencies of females’ narratives were higher for the family/group genre, while the frequencies of males’ narratives were higher within the separate-agonistic and separate-autonomous genre category than would be expected by chance alone.
These narratives, which had undergone analysis, had initially been elicited from one-on-one interviews that were designed to draw out stories related to individuals’ childhood and adolescence. These stories, related to participants’ youth and teenage years, were narratives that individuals perceived to be significant in regard to their identity and their identity formation. Through the telling of these narratives, individuals constructed and presented pieces of their identity. And, within these presentations, as indicated by the results, the storyteller’s gender played a significant role. These results, which were consistent with the findings of previous research (e.g. Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Gilligan, 1982; Johnstone, 1993; Richner and Nicolopoulou, 2001) that examined gender differences within individuals’ narratives, suggest that gender plays an important role in how individuals presents themselves (i.e. how individuals present their identity) to others. The narratives within this study were revelatory in regard to how these young adults (i.e. the 10 undergraduate students who had participated within this study) internally conceived of and then presented themselves to others (i.e. interviewers), and were also illuminating in regard to how much of an impact the storyteller's gender had on these conceptions and presentations.
Although a gender difference was found in the narratives of participants in this study, it is important to note that for the two groups (i.e. for both males and females), the highest frequencies, and therefore the highest proportion, of narratives were associated with the protostory category. Within this sample, protostories were considered to be attempts at stories. Although these attempts did not include a beginning, middle, and/or end, the protostories could have been coded as exhibiting themes of their own; that is, by altering the coding scheme, it may have been possible to code the protostories in such a way that they could have been placed within the family/group genre, separate-agonistic genre, or the separate-autonomous genre. The author of the present study did not expand upon the protostory category because in Richner and Nicolopoulou’s study (2001), the study that the coding scheme was first developed for, a very small portion of the narratives that had been examined had been coded as belonging to the protostory category; because of this, the author of the present study was not expecting such a significant amount of the narratives to be included within this category. However, given the large number of narratives contained within the protostory category within this study, had time not been an issue, the author of the present study would have expanded the protostory category. If the protostories had been coded for themes, the frequencies of narratives associated with each genre would have increased. It is unclear if the hypothesis would still be supported had the coding scheme been altered in this way.
The coding scheme, which could have been developed further, may have had another limitation in terms of its use for the present study. Although it had been useful for examining the question of the study (i.e. whether there was a gender difference, in terms of content, within the narratives of young adults), it was first developed in order to examine the narratives of pre-school aged children (Richner & Nicolopoulou, 2001). For this reason, it may not have been appropriate to use this coding scheme within an examination of the narratives of young adults. Because of these limitations, future research that seeks to examine gender differences within the narratives of young adults, may want to make use of a coding scheme that is more suitable for the population. A more suitable coding scheme might include more than core genres. Since the stories that young adults tell are more complex than those of young children, it might be appropriate for future researchers seeking to examine the narratives of young adults to use a scheme not only with more categories, but with more specific categories (e.g. fights, illness, rejection, success, positive relationships, etc.), as well.
Young adults, the population that the results of this study are most applicable to, may not have been well represented within the sample utilized in the study. Given the small (N = 10), and the self-selected sample (participants had responded to a “volunteers needed” form), it may not be suitable to generalize the results to the young adult population as a whole. Individuals who chose to participate in this study may have been different in some way from their peers.
One difference, that may be important to note here is that four out of the five females within this study had mentioned, during the telling of their life stories, that they had seen a therapist at one point during their lives. This difference may not only be a threat to the external validity, that is, the generalizability of the study, it may be a threat to the internal validity as well. The majority of the females, having told their life story before, may have been more comfortable, and more willing to disclose personal information, and therefore told more stories during the semi-structured interviews than the males within this sample. None of the males mentioned, at any point during the telling of their life stories, having seen a mental health physician.
Although it may be that the experience with having told their life stories before led the majority of the females to be more open than the males, another possibility is that women, in general, are more comfortable sharing their personal stories than men are. This possibility is supported by the results from several studies (Papini, Farmer, Clark & Micka, 1990; Kiraly, 2000), that indicate that females exhibit greater self-disclosure than males.
The females in this sample by far, produced more total narratives (fo = 135) than the males (fo = 57). This could be related to either or both of the factors discussed above. The larger number of narratives produced by the females could be due to the different experiences of the females (i.e. having seen therapists and discussed their life stories once before) and/or to the findings of several studies that indicate that females self-disclose more than males.
The issue of self-disclosure and gender should be discussed in regard to another aspect of the study, as well. The interviews were conducted by two interviewers. A male interviewer interviewed the males, while a female interviewed the females. The interviews were conducted like this because the members of the research team thought that females would be more willing to disclose personal information to another female, while males would be more willing to disclose personal information to another male. This assumption was based on the results of several studies (e.g. see Kiraly, 2000) that indicate that females are more willing to self-disclose to their same sex friends, and therefore possibly more willing to self-disclose to a same-sex stranger. Although the same phenomenon has not been found for males, the members of the research team nevertheless thought that males would be more willing to self-disclose to a same-sex stranger than to a stranger of the opposite sex. This method of conducting the interviews, although founded in literature based on self-disclosure, might have had its limitations. It is possible that participants, having been interviewed by a member of the same gender, shared narratives that were stereotypical of, and had themes that were consistent with, their gender.
The interviews may have had another limitation associated with them, as well. The production and sharing of narratives within this study took place during one-on-one semi-structured interviews. The semi-structured interviews were designed to cover the broad topics of friendship, school, family life, and relationships with ‘others’ (race, gender, and nationality). Interviews were not limited to these topics however, and these topics were not always covered during every interview. This was the case because the participants, as part of semi-structured interviews, had more authority within the interview, and essentially had control over the topics that they wished to discuss. Had the interviews been more structured, different results might have been the outcome. For example, had the topic of school been given more coverage, say the same coverage as relationships, within all of the interviews, the number of family/group narratives might have decreased.
Future studies, that utilize interviews to elicit narratives in order to examine gender differences, will want to compensate for the limitations of the present study. Future researchers can make up for the limitations associated with the method of the present study in several ways. First, researchers can have a male interviewer conduct half of the male interviews and half of the female interviews, and a female interviewer conduct half of the female interviews and half of the male interviews. And second, future researchers can make use of a more structured-interview with specific attention given to questions related to childhood and adolescence experiences.
Implications and Applications
Although the present study has limitations, the findings associated with the study certainly have relevant implications and applications. It was hypothesized that males’ narratives would be related to the separate-agonistic genre and separate-independent genre, while females’ narratives would correspond with a family/group genre. The hypothesis was supported by the results. These results, along with similar findings in previous research related to gender differences and narratives, may be indicative of the different experience that males and females have. That is, the differences may be relevant to different childhood, adolescent, and adulthood experiences of males and females. The theory proposed by Gilligan (1982) and Johnstone (1993) that men and women operate within different social worlds, and speak in different voices about these worlds within their narratives, seems to be supported by the results of the present study.
Since the majority of the narratives shared within the semi-structured interviews were related to childhood and adolescence, and since females’ narratives were more family/group oriented, while males’ narratives were oriented more towards separation, independence, and conflict, it may be that growing up, males and females have different experiences. For example, during childhood, the play activities that boys participate in might be different from the activities that the girls take part in. In fact, some researchers have found there to be difference in the play patterns of young boys and girls. In particular, Lever (1976), studying the play patterns of fifth-grade students, found that boys take part in competitive games more frequently than girls, and that by participating within these games, boys acquire the independence and systematic skills required for the management of activities. In contrast, girls, Lever found, play in more intimate groups and in private settings and that by engaging in these activities, girls acquire the understanding and compassion needed for taking on the role of others. Participation in these different activities would have an effect on childhood experiences as a whole and would therefore explain the difference associated the different themed narratives of males and females.
Given this assumption, it may be important to enhance shared activities for males and females early on, especially within the home and school. If males and females, or boys and girls for that matter, have such different experiences as children, and these differences then affect their identity, identity construction, and identity presentation as young adults as seen within narrative productions of the life story, it might be difficult for the two to fully relate to and understand the experiences of one another when the two become men and women. If males and females are encouraged to participate in shared activities within the home and within school from early on, relationships between males and females might benefit.
Knowing about the different experiences of males and females is important not only for parents and educators, but for clinicians, as well. Ignoring the differences in women and men’s lives would be more harmful than beneficial to both the client and the therapist during therapy. A therapist who is aware of the different experiences of men and women can better relate to their clients and can address issues in such a way that the development of males and females are taken into account, social factors addressed (i.e. relationships with family, friends, and others), and solutions are effective and appropriate given the individual’s past experience and the effect the individual’s gender had on these experiences.
While it has been suggested that the difference in frequencies associated with the narrative genres for males and females could be related to different experiences of males and females, it is also important to mention that the relationships between gender and experience, between experience and narrative, and between narrative and gender are not necessarily cause and effect relationships. Although, the support of the hypothesis indicates that gender played a role in the type of story produced, it does not signify that gender was necessarily the cause. Since, for the females, 77% of their narratives were placed within the genres other than the family/group genre, and for the males, 90% of their narratives were placed within genres other than the separate-agonistic and separate-autonomous genres, it is clear that an individual’s gender does not necessarily solely determine the type of story that individuals produce. Therefore, it seems there were other personal factors that contributed to the results (e.g. the unique experiences of each of the participants).
Understanding and appreciating the different, and therefore unique, experiences of individuals is of great significance, especially within the field of psychology. This study, and the area of associated with it (i.e. narratives), expresses the importance of examining individual experiences, and the narratives associated with these experiences, within the field of psychology. Although the examination of narratives, and more specifically life stories, is fairly new to the field of psychology (aside from the area of clinical psychology), the research associated with these examinations point towards the importance of investigating the uniqueness of individuals and the distinct experiences associated with these individuals.
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Feedback to participants
First of all, I want to thank you for your participation within this study. Your data, in conjunction of the data collected by other participants, will be beneficial within the fields of developmental and social psychology - and in particular, the data will be beneficial to an emerging sub-field of psychology known as narrative psychology.
As humans, we usually respond to experience in the form of a story. That is, we generally construct, construe, and convey experiences through and within narratives. Through the construction and conveyance of a story, we can disclose subjectively revealing information such as personal conceptions of the self and identity. One aspect of our identity that we often present within narratives, without consciously doing so, is our gender.
Psychologists consider narratives to be mediums through which individuals can convey subjectively informative information, and many social and developmental psychologists, in their study of gender and its relation to identity, have utilized individuals’ narratives. Few studies, however, have examined whether or not gender has an impact on the content of the narratives; few studies have examined the gender differences contained within the individual narratives produced by males and females. The purpose of my study is to examine the gender differences contained within the narratives of individuals, narratives that individuals perceive to be significant in relation to their identity.
Each participant was asked, during a one-on-one semi-structured interview, to share personal experiences that exemplified their views of what childhood and adolescence meant to them. Each participant was asked to share stories that are/have been important to them during their journey from childhood to adolescence. The intent behind these statements was to elicit stories/narratives that participants considered to be exemplars in relation to their identity and identity formation.
The main focus of my research is to examine the difference, in terms of content, that may be evident in the narratives of males as compared to those of females. Coding the themes of narratives contained within interviews, I will examine the narratives collectively to determine whether of not the themes of males’ narratives differ from the themes contained within females’.
Since narratives will be analyzed collectively, and not individually, participants can be assured that their stories will not be used on their own or in association with their names - anonymity and confidentiality will be preserved. Also participants should keep in mind that there can be a great deal of variation in these narratives and that there are no right and wrong answers here. This analysis is only looking at one variable.
Results of the study will not be available until after November, but if after that time, you are interested in the results of the study, or have any questions about the study, feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Please do not discuss the study with your peers before that time, though since knowledge of the study’s purpose may bias the shared stories of other participants.
site, dedicated to the emerging sub-field, gives a general overview of
Center for the Study of Lives
Center for the Study of Lives is a research center that seeks to examine
order to understand, among other things, how individuals grow and change
Memory's Voice: A Guide to Digital Storytelling
site, which encourages the production of, and collectes digitally generated
devoted to the importance of the storytelling and listening processes.
Doctor Michael Bamberg
site is the homepage of Doctor Michael Bamberg - see narrative
for a review of Dr. Bamberg's current project, a project with the objective of providing
understanding to those interested in narrative analysis.
Please contact me with any questions at:
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (after May 2003)
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