Women are from Venus, men are from Mars. Boys and girls are fundamentally different; it’s just in their biological makeup! Right?
That’s an assumption I have found that many people are a little too comfortable making. When you walk between the genders (or through them, or past them), you see a different world. One in which gendered personality differences are enforced, not inherent.
So I’ll say it now, just to get it out of the way: Women Venus/Men Mars? Bullshit.
However, this idea still exists in personality typing. As a non-binary person, I first noticed it when I joined MBTI communities online. There is a definite assumption that men are more likely to be Thinkers and women are more likely to be Feelers. That means that if you are a female T or a male F, you’ll have a harder time fitting in. It’s subtle, but there’s a line in the sand. If you’re female, there’s a greater chance that you’ll be assumed to be a mistype if you claim to be a Thinker. Furthermore, there’s quite a bit more consternation for this “mistype” scenario than if you are male who has mistyped as a Feeler but is actually a Thinker.
Why? Is it because men are more “logical” and women are more “emotional” and “socially oriented”? Or is it because society values these traits along carefully divided gender lines and trains men and women to value these respectively assigned traits?
Or, even more interestingly, is it because MBTI was built that way in the first place?
According to Uncovering The Secret History Of Myers-Briggs by Merve Emre:
…[I]n the beginning, men’s and women’s questionnaire results were evaluated on notably different scoring scales, particularly when it came to the thinking (T) and feeling (F) functions. These, it was assumed, were differently accessible to men versus women. Isabel [Briggs Myers] was hardly the first person to suggest that women, as a matter of biological destiny, set greater store by “sympathy” and “appreciation” than men, who were more logically inclined in their decision making. She was, however, one of the first to institute this difference in workplace evaluations.
“Quite a few questions prove to be effective for only one sex,” she wrote to Hay when she presented him with two separate scoring keys for the indicator — the standard key and a “female key,” weighted to account for their innate vulnerability to feeling. Later versions of the questionnaire would provide distinct breakdowns of personality profiles, one “Valid for Men,” the other “Valid for Women.” Unsurprising, then, that women were more often type-suited to the caring professions, as nurses, teachers, and secretaries, rather than executives and managers. Destiny wasn’t biological; it was typological.
That’s certainly telling, isn’t it? MBTI was created in part to help people find their place in society, which, as we know, is further broken down along gender lines. Although the MBTI questionnaires have changed over time to exclude these gender biased questions, the statistics still remain: according to type breakdown data, around 75% of females test as Feelers compared to only around 44% of males.
For another angle of why this is so troubling and why this gender bias matters, let’s look at an article about diversity and women in tech from Cynthia Lee. In it, she examines the response to the recent Google Manifesto and how the outcry seems (to many) disproportionately emotional when the memo itself was seemingly reasonable and level-headed. This “emotional” response is then further attributed to the clearly logic-devoid group among us: the women being benefited by diversity initiatives in tech. Lee states:
Many defenders seem genuinely baffled that a document that works so hard to appear dispassionate and reasonable could provoke such an emotional response. (Of course, some see that apparent disconnect not as baffling, but as a reason to have contempt for women, who in their eyes are confirming the charge that they are more emotional and less quantitative in their thinking.)
That is to say, since women are more “emotional” and “social” according to many, they have no place in tech, which is primarily the field of NTs. People use the supposedly scientific analysis of personality and gender to defend policies that keep women out of traditionally male fields. But when we consider the fact that MBTI was literally built to segregate men and women temperamentally, the “science” of gendered personality becomes even more dubious.
MBTI categories are not truly equal
Consider, too, that “Thinking” and “Feeling” are not equal values, because “male” and “female” are not equal values. It is categorically worse to be a female in our culture, and thus, it is categorically worse to be a Feeler. Feelers possess traditionally feminine qualities such as nurturing and communal behaviors, emotional decision-making, and social awareness. Thinkers, by contrast, are assigned traditionally masculine qualities and are regarded as logical, rational, detached, and mentally capable. While MBTI intended for these qualities to be seen as equal, they can’t be, because they are tied to unequal gender concepts.
As a non-binary person, I found myself deeply uncomfortable when these gender biases came up in online communities. Naturally, as an NT, I found myself in male dominated spaces more often than female dominated spaces. Many men do not want women in their spaces and an easy litmus test for these communities is the F/T divide and type witch-hunting. Since my MBTI type is not typical for my assigned gender, it stands to reason that I would find myself in the position of either needing to reject my type’s gender stereotypes or reject my assigned gender’s stereotypes. This put extra pressure on me to prove or demonstrate my masculinity through coding as a hard Thinker. With a female body, you cannot simply have a preference for Thinking over Feeling (shocking: far more than 25 percent of women actually do). You must be completely Thinking with no hint of Feeling preferences whatsoever. If you demonstrate even the slightest interest in “Feeler matters,” you are assumed to be a mistype and are sent packing. Really, it’s that you are simply guilty of being female (or AFAB* non-binary) in a male space.
So, personality in this sense becomes a social pissing contest, not a chance for self development and self awareness. Some types really are Better Than Others™. It’s an unfortunate truth that gender (and race, read the above MBTI article in full) are tied to the value of human worth. Thus, so is gendered personality. Until the genders become equal, personality types will never be equal.
On a more personal level, I always wondered whether I identify as non-binary because my type contradicts my assigned gender roles or if I identify as INTJ because I am non-binary? The answer, I think, is neither. It’s those built in assumptions that we have about gender and personality that are the problem.
When I discovered the Enneagram I had a sense of unspoken relief. Like MBTI, all nine types are meant to be seen as equal but different. Unlike MBTI, there is no gender enforcement. (As an aside, because there is little in the way of scientific analysis of the Enneagram in psychology, there aren’t any formal studies that show biological gender division among the types. All statistics on the matter are going to be informal results, not scientific ones.) What this means is that one is free to find themselves among any of the nine types without the pressure of having to perform or hide oneself from connected social groups that one is otherwise excluded from. The additional social values of gender or race aren’t being imposed on the Enneagram in the same way. To that end, I find it entirely freeing to explore my personality within that framework whereas at times I can feel stifled by MBTI.
One final note for consideration: in other frameworks such as the Big 5 which contains all four of MBTI’s temperament categories, women are also shown to score higher on Agreeableness (which corresponds to Feeling) than men. However, while there is a temptation to cut our skulls open to prove that women have larger social and communication centers in the brain and this accounts for these personality differences, I would still have to argue that cultural values and the way we are raised to value different behavioral traits plays a greater sociological role in how we self report (keyword: self report) our personalities.
In other words, until you have a genuinely values-neutral and gender-neutral society, you can’t possibly know what the true gender distribution for personality preferences are.
*Assigned Female at Birth