From Social Forces, 30, 1951, pp.60-69.



Helen Mayer Hacker

Hunter College

Although sociological literature reveals scattered references towomen as a minority group, comparable in certain resepcts to racial,ethnic, and national minorities, no systematic investigation has beenundertaken as to what extent the term "minority group" is applicableto women. That there has been little serious consideration of womenas a minority group among sociologists is manifested in the recentlyissued index to Thc American Journal of Sociology whereinunder the heading of "Minority Groups" there appears: "See Jews;Morale; Negro; Races and Nationalities; Religious Groups; Sects."There is no cross-reference to women, but such reference isfound under the heading "Family."

Yet it may well be that regarding women as a minority group may beproductive of fresh insights and suggest leads for further research.The purpose of this paper is to apply to women some portion of thatbody of sociological theory and methodology customarily used forinvestigating such minority groups as Negroes, Jews, immigrants, etc.It may be anticipated that not only will principles alreadyestablished in the field of intergroup relations contribute to ourunderstanding of women, but that in the process of modifyingtraditional concepts and theories to fit the special case of womennew viewpoints for the fruitful reexamination of other minoritygroups will emerge.

In defining the term "minority group," the presence ofdiscrimination is the identifying factor. As Louis Wirth1has pointed out, "minority group" is not a statistical concept, norneed it denote an alien group. Indeed for the present discussion Ihave adopted his definition: "A minority group is any group of peoplewho because of their physical or cultural characteristics, aresingled out from the others in the society in which they live fordifferential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regardthemselves as objects of collective discrimination." It is apparentthat this definition includes both objective and subjectivecharacteristics of a minority group: the fact of discrimination andthe awareness of discrimination, with attendant reactions to thatawareness. A person who on the basis of his group affiliation isdenied full participation in those opportunities which the valuesystem of his culture extends to all members of the society satisfiesthe objective criterion, but there are various circumstances whichmay prevent him from fulfilling the subjective criterion.

In the first place, a person may be unaware of the extent to whichhis group membership influences the way others treat him. He may haveformally dissolved all ties with the group in question and fondlyimagine his identity is different from what others hold it to be.Consequently, he interprets their behavior toward him solely in termsof his individual characteristics. Or, less likely, he may beconscious of his membership in a certain group but not be aware ofthe general disesteem with which the group is regarded. A finalpossibility is that he may belong in a category which he does notrealize has group significance. An example here might be a speechpeculiarity which has come to have unpleasant connotations in theminds of others. Or a lower class child with no conception of "classas culture" may not understand how his manners act as cues ineliciting the dislike of his middle class teacher. The foregoingcases all assume that the paerson believes in equal opportunities forall in the sense that one's group affiliation should not affect hisrole in the larger society. We turn now to a consideration ofsituations in which this assumption is not made.

It is frequently the case that a person knows that because of hisgroup afiiliation he receives differential treatment, but feels thatthis treatment is warranted by the distinctive characteristics of hisgroup. A Negro may believe that there are significant differencesbetween whites and Negroes which justify a different role in life forthe Negro. A child may accept the fact that physical differencesbetween him and an adult require his going to bed earlier than theydo. A Sudra knows that his lot in life has been cast by divine fiat,and he does not expect the perquisites of a Brahmin. A woman does notwish for the rights and duties of men. In all these situations,clearly, the person does not regard himself as an "object ofcollective discrimination."

For the two types presented above: (1) those who do not know thatthey are being discriminated against on a group basis; and (2) thosewho acknowledge the propriety of differential treatment on a groupbasis, the subjective attributes of a minority group member arelacking. They feel no minority group consciousness, harbor noresentment, and, hence, cannot properly be said to belong in aminority group. Although the term "minority group" is inapplicable toboth types, the term "minority group status" may be substituted. Thisterm is used to categorize persons who are denied rights to whichthey are entitled according to the value system of the observer. Anobserver, who is a firm adherent of the demo cratic ideology, willoften consider persons to occupy a minority group status who are wellaccommodated to their subordinate roles.

No empirical study of the frequency of minority group feelingsamong women has yet been made, but common observation would suggestthat consciously at least, few women believe themselves to be membersof a minority group in the way in which some Negroes, Jews, Italians,etc., may so conceive themselves. There are, of course, manysex-conscious women, known to a past generation as feminists,who are filled with resentment at the discriminations they fancy aredirected against their sex. Today some of these may be found in theNational Woman's Party which since 1923 has been carrying on acampaign for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Thisamendment, in contrast to the compromise bill recently passed byCongress, would at one stroke wipe out all existing legislation whichdifferentiates in any way between men and women, even when suchlegislation is designed for the special protection of women. Theproponents of the Equal Rights Amendment hold the position that womenwill never achieve equal rights until they abjure all privilegesbased on what they consider to be only presumptive sex differences.

Then there are women enrolled in women's dubs, women's auxiliariesof men's organizations, women's professional and educationalassociations who seemingly believe that women have special intereststo follow or unique contributions to make. These latter might rejectthe appelation of minority group, but their behavior testifies totheir awareness of women as a distinct group in our society, eitheroverriding differences of class, occupation, religion, or ethnicidentification, or specialized within these categories. Yet thenumber of women who participate in "women's affairs" even in theUnited States, the classic land of associations, is so small that onecannot easily say that the majority of women display minority groupconsciousness. However, documentation. as well as a measuringinstrument, is likewise lacking for minority consciousness in othergroups.

Still women often manifest many of the psychologicalcharacteristics which have been imputed to self-consciousminority groups. Kurt Lewin2 has pointed to groupself-hatred as a frequent reaction of the minority groupmember to his group affiliation. This feeling is exhibited in theperson's tendency to denigrate other members of the group, to acceptthe dominant group's stereotyped conception of them, and to indulgein "mea culpa" breast-beating. He may seek to exclude himselffrom the average of his group, or he may point the finger of scorn athimself. Since a person's conception of himself is based on thedefining gestures of others, it is unlikely that members of aminority group can wholly escape personality distortion. Constantreiteration of one's inferiority must often lead to its acceptance as a fact.

Certainly women have not been immune to the formulations of the"female character" throughout the ages. From those, to us, deludedcreatures who confessed to witchcraft to modern sophisticates whospeak disparagingly of the cattiness and disloyalty of women, womenreveal their introjection of prevailing attitudes toward them. Likethose minority groups whose self-castigation outdoes dominantgroup derision of them, women frequently exceed men in the violenceof their vituperations of their sex. They are more severe in moraljudgments, especially in sexual matters. A line ofself-criticism may be traced from Hannah More, ablue-stocking herself, to Dr. Marynia Farnham, who lays mostof the world's ills at women's door. Women express themselves asdisliking other women, as preferring to work under men, and asfinding exclusively female gatherings repugnant. The Fortune polls conducted in 1946 show that women, more than men, havemisgivings concerning women's participation in industry, theprofessions, and civic life. And more than one-fourth of womenwish they had been born in the opposite sex! 3

Militating against a feeling of group identification on the partof women is a differential factor in their socialization. Members ofa minority group are frequently socialized within their own group.Personality development is more largely a resultant of intra-than inter-group interaction. The conception of his roleformed by a Negro or a Jew or a second-generation immigrant isgreatly dependent upon the definitions offered by members of his owngroup, on their attitudes and behavior toward him. Ignoring for themoment class differences within the group, the minority group persondoes not suffer discrimination from members of his own group. Butonly rarely does a woman experience this type of group belongingness.Her interactions with members of the opposite sex may be as frequentas her relationships with members of her own sex. Women's conceptionsof themselves, therefore, spring as much from their intimaterelationships with men as with women. Although this considerationmight seem to limit the applicability to women of research findingson minority groups, conversely, it may suggest investigation to seekout useful parallels in the socialization of women, on the one hand,and the socialization of ethnics living in neighborhoods ofhetereogeneous population, on the other.

Even though the sense of group identification is not soconspicuous in women as in racial and ethnic minorities, they, likethese others, tend to develop a separate sub-culture. Womenhave their own language, comparable to the argot of the underworldand professional groups. It may not extend to a completely separatedialect as has been discovered in some preliterate groups, but thereare words and idioms employed chiefly by women. Only the acculturatedmale can enter into the conversation of the beauty parlor, theexclusive shop, the bridge table, or the kitchen. In contrast tomen's interest in physical health, safety, money, and sex, womenattach greater importance to attractiveness, personality, home,family, and other people. 4 How much of the "woman'sworld" is predicated on their relationship to men is too difficult aquestion to discuss here. It is still a controversial point whetherthe values and behavior patterns of other minority groups, such asthe Negroes, represent an immanent development, or are orientedchiefy toward the rejecting world. A content analysis contrasting thespeech of "housewives" and "career women," for example, or acomparative analysis of the speech of men and women of similaroccupational status might be one test of this hypothesis.

We must return now to the original question of the aptness of thedesignation of minority group for women. It has been indicated thatwomen fail to present in full force the subjective, attributescommonly associated with minority, groups. That is, they lack a senseof group identification and do not harbor feelings of being treatedunfairly because of their sex membership. Can it then be said thatwomen have a minority group status in our society? The answer to thisquestion depends upon the values of the observer whether within oroutside the group--just as is true in the case of any group ofpersons who, on the basis of putative differential characteristicsare denied access to some statuses in the social system of theirsociety. If we assume that there are no differences attributable tosex membership as such that would justify casting men and women indifferent social roles, it can readily be shown that women do occupya minority group status in our society.

Minority Group Status of Women

Formal discriminations against women are too well-known forany but the most summary description. In general they take the formof being barred from certain activities or, if admitted, beingtreated unequally. Discriminations against women may be viewed asarising from the generally ascribed status "female" and from thespecially ascribed statuses of "wife," "mother," and "sister." (Tomeet the possible objection that "wife" and "mother" representassumed, rather than ascribed statuses, may I point out that what isimportant here is that these statuses carry ascribed expectationswhich are only ancillary in the minds of those whoassume them.)

As female, in the economic sphere, women are largely confined tosedentary, monotonous work under the supervision of men, andare treated unequally with regard to pay, promotion, andresponsibility. With the exceptions of teaching, nursing, socialservice, and library work, in which they do not hold a proportionatenumber of supervisory positions and are often occupationallysegregated from men, they make a poor showing in the professions.Although they own 80 percent of tbe nation's wealth, they do not siton the boards of directors of great corporations. Educationalopportunities are likewise unequal. Professional schools, such asarchitecture and medicine, apply quotas. Women's colleges arefrequently inferior to men's. In co-educational schools women'sparticipation in campus activities is limited. As citizens, women areoften barred from jury service and public office. Even when they areadmitted to the apparatus of political parties, they are subordinatedto men. Socially, women have less freedom of movement, and arepermitted fewer deviations in the proprieties of dress, speech,manners. In social intercourse they are confined to a narrower rangeof personality expression.

In the specially ascribed status of wife, a woman--in severalStates--has no exclusive right to her earnings, is discriminatedagainst in employment, must take the domicile of her husband, and ingeneral must meet the social expectation of subordination to herhusband's interests. As a mother, she may not have the guardianshipof her children, bears the chief stigma in the case of anillegitimate child, is rarely given leave of absence forpregnancy. As a sister, she frequently suffers unequal distributionof domestic duties between herself and her brother, must yieldpreference to him in obtaining an education, and in such otherpsychic and material gratifications as cars, trips, and livingaway from home.

If it is conceded that women have a minority group status,what may be learned from applying to women various theoreticalconstructs in the field of intergroup relations?

Social Distance Between Men and Women

One instrument of diagnostic value is the measurement of socialdistance between dominant and minority group. But we have seen thatone important difference between women and other minorities is thatwomen's attitudes and self-conceptions are conditioned morelargely by interaction with both minority and dominant group members.Before measuring social distance, therefore, a continuum might beconstructed of the frequency and extent of women's interaction withmen, with the poles conceptualized as ideal types. One extreme wouldrepresent a complete "ghetto" status, the woman whose contacts withmen were of the most secondary kind. At the other extreme shall weput the woman who has prolonged and repeated associations with men,but only in those situations in which sex-awareness plays aprominent role or the woman who enters into a variety ofrelationships with men in which her sex identity is to a large extentirrelevant? The decision would depend on the type of scale used.

This question raises the problem of the criterion of socialdistance to be employed in such a scale. Is it more profitable to usewe-feeling, felt interdependence, degree of communication, ordegrees of separation in status? Social distance tests as applied torelationships between other dominant and minority groups have for themost part adopted prestige criteria as their basis. The assumption isthat the type of situation into which one is willing to enter withaverage members of another group reflects one's estimate of thestatus of the group relative to one's own. When the testedgroup is a sex-group rather than a racial, national,religious, or economic one, several important differences in the useand interpretation of the scale must be noted:

1. Only two groups are involved: men and women. Thus, the testindicates the amount of homogeneity or we-feeling onlyaccording to the attribute of sex. If men are a primary group, thereare not many groups to be ranked secondary, tertiary, etc. withrespect to them, but only one group, women, whose social distancecannot be calculated relative to other groups.

2. Lundberg5 suggests the possibility of a group ofCatholics registering a smaller social distance to Moslems than toCatholics. In such an event the group of Catholics, from anysociological viewpoint, would be classified as Moslems. If womenexpressed less social distance to men than to women, should they thenbe classified sociologically as men? Perhaps no more so than thelegendary Negro who, when requested to move to the colored section ofthe train, replied, "Boss, I'se done resigned from the colored race,"should be classified as white. It is likely, however, that the groupidentification of many women in our society is with men. Thefeminists were charged with wanting to be men, since they associatedmale physical characteristics with masculine social privileges. Asimilar statement can be made about men who show greater socialdistance to other men than to women.

Social distance may be measured from the standpoint of theminority group or the dominant group with different results. In pointof fact, tension often arises when one group feels less socialdistance than the other. A type case here is the persistent suitorwho underestimates his desired sweetheart's feeling of socialdistance toward him.

3. In social distance tests the assumption is made of an orderlyprogression--although not necessarily by equal intervals--in thescale. That is, it is not likely that a person would expresswillingness to have members of a given group as his neighbors, whilesimultaneously voicing the desire to have them excluded from hiscountry. On all scales marriage represents the minimum socialdistance, and implies willingness for associations on all levels oflesser intimacy. May the customary scale be applied to men and women?If we take the expressed attitude of many men and women not to marry,we may say that they have feelings of social distance toward theopposite sex, and in this situation the usual order of the scale maybe preserved.

In our culture, however, men who wish to marry, must perforcemarry women, and even if they accept this relationship, they maystill wish to limit their association with women in other situations.The male physician may not care for the addition of female physiciansto his hospital staff. The male poker player may be thrown off hisgame if women participate. A damper may be put upon the huntingexpedition if women come along. The average man may not wish toconsult a woman lawyer. And so on. In these cases it seems apparentthat the steps in the social distance scale must be reversed. Menwill accept women at the supposed level of greatest intimacy whilerejecting them at lower levels.

But before concluding that a different scale must be constructedwhen the dominant group attitude toward a minority group which isbeing tested is that of men toward women, the question may be raisedas to whether marriage in fact represents the point of minimum socialdistance. It may not imply anything but physical intimacy and workaccommodation, as was frequently true in non-individuatedsocieties, such as preliterate groups and the household economy ofthe Middle Ages, or marriages of convenience in the European upperclass. Even in our own democratic society where marriage issupposedly based on romantic love there may be little communicationbetweee the partners in marriage. The Lynds6 report theabsence of real companionship between husband and wife in Middletown.Women have been known to say that although they have been married fortwenty years, their husband is still a stranger to them. There is aquatrain of Thoreau's that goes:


Each moment as we drew nearer to each

A stern respect withheld us farther yet

So that we seemed beyond each other's reach

And less acquainted than when first we met.


Part of the explanation may be found in subordination of wives tohusbands in our culutre which is expressed in the separate spheresactivity for men and women. A recent advertisement in a magazine ofnational circulation depicts a pensive husband seated by his knittingwife, with the caption, "Sometimes a man has moods his wife cannotunderstand." In this case the husband is worried about a pension planfor employees. The assumption is that the wife, knowing nothing ofthe business world, cannot take the role of her husband in thismatter.

The presence of love does not in itself argue for either equalityof status nor fullness of com munication We may love those who areeither inferior or superior to us, and we may love persons whom we donot understand. The supreme literary examples of passion withoutcommunication found in Proust's portrayal of Swann's obssession withOdette, the narrator's infatuation with the elusive Albertine, and,of course, Dante's longing for Beatrice.

In the light of these considerations concerning therelationships between men and women, some doubt may be cast on thepropriety of placing marriage on the positive extreme of the socialdistance scale with respect to ethnic and minority groups. Sinceinequalities of status are preserved in marriage, a dominant groupmember may be willing to marry a member of a group in which, ingeneral, he would not wish admitted to his club. The social distancescale which uses marriage as a sign of an extreme degree of aceptanceis inadequate for appreciating the position of women, and perhaps forother minority groups as well. The relationships among similarity ofstatus, communication as a measure of intimacy, and love must beclarified before social distance tests can be applied usefully toattitudes between men and women.

Caste-Class Conflict

Is the separation between males and females in our society a casteline? Folsom7 suggests that it is, andMyrdal8 in his well-known Appendix 5 considers theparallel between the position of and feelings toward women andNegroes in our society. The relation between women and Negroes ishistorical, as well as analogical. In the seventeenth century thelegal status of Negro servants as borrowed from that of women andchildren, who were under the patria potestas, and until theCivil War there was considerable cooperation between the Abolitionistand woman suffrage movements. According to Myrdal, theproblems of both groups are resultants of the transitionfrom a pre-industrial, paternalistic scheme of life toindividualistic, industrial capitalism. Obvious similarities in thestatus of women and Negroes are indicated in Chart 1.


Chart 1. Castelike Status of Women and Negroes




1. High Social Visibility

a. Skin color, other "racial"

a. Secondary sex

b. (Sometimes) distinctive dress
--bandana, flashy clothes

b. Distinctive dress,
skirts, etc.

2. Ascribed Attributes

a. Inferior intelligence, smaller
brain, less convoluted,
scarcity of geniuses

a. ditto

b. More free in instinctual gratificationg.
More emotional, "primitive" and childlike.
Imagined sexual prowess envied.

b. Irresponsible, inconsistent,
emotionally unstable. Lack strong super-ego
Women as "temptresses."

c. Common stereotype "inferior"

c. "Weaker"

3. Rationalizations of Status

a. Thought all right in his place

a. Woman's place is in the home

b. Myth of contented Negro

b. Myth of contented woman--
"feminine" woman is happy
in subordinate role

4. Accommodation Attitudes

a. Supplicatory whining intonation of voice

a. Rising inflection,
smiles, laughs, downward glances

b. Deferential manner

b. Flattering manner

c. Concealment of real feelings

c. "Feminine wiles"

d. Outwit "white folks"

d. Outwit "menfolk"

e. Careful study of points at which
dominant group is susceptible to influence

e. ditto

f. Fake appeals for directives;
show of ignorance

f. Appearance of helplessness

5. Discriminations

a. Limitations on education--
should fit "place" in society

a. ditto

b. Confined to traditional jobs
--barred from supervisory positions
Their competition feared
No family precedents for new aspirations

b. ditto

c. Deprived of political importance

c. ditto

d. Social and professional segregation

d. ditto

e. More vulnerable to criticism

e. e.g. conduct in bars.

6. Similar Problems

Roles not clearly defined, but in flux as result of social change

Conflict between achieved status and ascribed status


While these similarities in the situation of women and Negroes maylead to increased understanding of their social roles, account mustalso be taken of differences which impose qualifications on thecomparison of the two groups. Most importantly, the influence ofmarriage as a social elevator for women, but not for Negroes, must beconsidered. Obvious, too, is the greater importance of women to thedominant group, despite the economic, sexual, and prestige gainswhich Negroes afford the white South. Ambivalence is probably moremarked in the attitude of white males toward women than towardNegroes. The "war of the sexes" is only an expression of men's andwomen's vital need of each other. Again, there is greaterpolarization in the relationship between men and women. Negroes,although they have borne the brunt of anti-minority groupfeeling in this country, do not constitute the only racial or ethnicminority, but there are only two sexes. And, although we have seenthat social distance exists between men and women, it is not to becompared with the social segregation of Negroes.

At the present time, of course, Negroes suffer far greaterdiscrimination than women, but since the latter's problems are rootedin a biological reality less susceptible to cultural manipulation,they prove more lasting. Women's privileges exceed those of Negroes.Protective attitudes toward Negroes have faded into abeyance, even inthe South, but most boys are still taught to take care of girls, andmany evidences of male chivalry remain. The factor of classintroduces variations here. The middle class Negro enduresfrustrations largely without the rewards of his white class peer, butthe lower class Negro is still absolved from many responsibilities.The reverse holds true for women. Notwithstanding these and otherdifferences between the position of women and Negroes, thesimilarities are sufficient to render research on either groupapplicable in some fashion to the other.

Exemplary of the possible usefulness of applying the casteprinciple to women is viewing some of the confusion surroundingwomen's roles as reflecting a conflict between class and castestatus. Such a conflict is present in the thinking and feeling ofboth dominant and minority groups toward upper class Negroes andeducated women. Should a woman judge be treated with the respect duea judge or the gallantry accorded a woman? The extent to which therights and duties of one role permeate other roles so as to cause arole conflict has been treated elsewhere by the writer.9Lower class Negroes who have acquired dominant group attitudes towardthe Negro resent upper class Negro pretensions to superiority.Similarly, domestic women may feel the career woman is neglecting theduties of her proper station.

Parallels in adjustment of women and Negroes to theclass-caste conflict may also be noted. Point 4 "AccommodationAttitudes" of the fore going chart indicates the kinds of behaviordisplayed by members of both groups who accept their caste status.Many "sophisticated" women are retreating from emancipation with thesupport of psychoanalytic derivations.10 David Riesman hasrecently provided an interesting discussion of changes "in thedenigration by American women of their own sex" in which he explainstheir new submissiveness as in part a reaction to the weakness of menin the contemporary world.11 "Parallelism" and"Negroidism" which accept a racially-restricted economy reflectallied tendencies in the Negro group.

Role segmentation as a mode of adjustment is illustrated byNegroes who indulge in occasional passing and women who vary theirbehavior according to their definition of the situation. An exampleof the latter is the case of the woman lawyer who, after losing acase before a judge who was also her husband, said she would appealthe case, and added, "The judge can lay down the law at home, butI'll argue with him in court."

A third type of reaction is to fight for recognition of classstatus. Negro race leaders seek greater prerogatives for Negroes.Feminist women, acting either through organizations or asindividuals, push for public disavowal of any differential treatmentof men and women.

Race Relations Cycle

The "race relations cycle," as defined by Robert E. Park,12 describes the social processes of reduction in tensionand increase of communication in the relations between two or moregroups who are living in a common territory under a single politicalor economic system. The sequence of competition, conflict,accommodation, and assimilation may also occur when social changeintroduces dissociative forces into an assimilated group or causesaccommodated groups to seek new definitions of thesituation.13 The ethnic or nationality characteristics ofthe groups involved are not essential to the cycle. In a complexindustrialized society groups are constantly forming andre-forming on the basis of new interests and new identities.Women, of course, have always possessed a sex-identificationthough perhaps not a group awareness. Today they represent apreviously accommodated group which is endeavoring to modify therelationships between the sexes in the home, in work, and in thecommunity.

The sex relations cycle bears important similarities to the racerelations cycle. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, as womenacquired industrial, business, and professional skills, theyincreasingly sought employment in competition with men. Men werequick to perceive them as a rival group and made use of economic,legal, and ideological weapons to eliminate or reduce theircompetition. They excluded women from the trade unions, madecontracts with employers to prevent their hiring women, passed lawsrestricting the employment of married women, caricatured the workingwoman, and carried on ceaseless propaganda to return women to thehome or keep them there. Since the days of the suffragettes there hasbeen no overt conflict between men and women on a group basis. Ratherthan conflict, the dissociative process between the sexes is that ofcontravention,14 a type of opposition intermediate betweencompetition and conflict. According to Wiese and Becker, itincludes rebuffing, repulsing, working against, hindering,protesting, obstructing, restraining, and upsetting another's plans.

The present contravention of the sexes, arising from women'scompetition with men, is manifested in the discriminations againstwomen, as well as in the doubts and uncertainties expressedconcerning women's character, abilities, motives. The processes ofcompetition and contravention are continually giving way toaccommodation in the relationships between men and women. Like otherminority groups, women have sought a protected position, a niche inthe economy which they could occupy, and, like other minority groups,they have found these positions in new occupations in which dominantgroup members had not yet established themselves and in oldoccupations which they no longer wanted. When women entered fieldswhich represented an extension of services in the home (exceptmedicine!), they encountered least opposition. Evidence isaccumulating, however, that women are becoming dissatisfied with theemployment conditions of the great women-employing occupationsand present accommodations are threatened.

What would assimilation of men and women mean? Park and Burgess intheir classic text define assimilation as "a process ofinterpenetration and fusion in which persons and groups acquire thememories, sentiments, and attitudes of other persons or groups, and,by sharing their experiences and history, are incorporated with themin a cultural life." If accommodation is characterized by secondarycontacts, assimilation holds the promise of primary contacts. If menand women were truly assimilated, we would find no cleavages ofinterest along sex lines. The special provinces of men and womenwould be abolished. Women's pages would disappear from the newspaperand women's magazines from the stands. All special women'sorganizations would pass into limbo. The sports page andracing news would be read indifferently by men and women. Interest incookery and interior decoration would follow individual rather thansex lines. Women's talk would be no different from men's talk, andfrank and full communication would obtain between the sexes.

The Marginal Woman

Group relationships are reflected in personal adjustments. Arisingout of the present contravention of the sexes is the marginal woman,torn between rejection and acceptance of traditional roles andattributes. Uncertain of the ground on which she stands, subjected toconflicting cultural expectations, the marginal woman suffers thepsychological ravages of instability, conflict, self-hate,anxiety, and resentment.

In applying the concept of marginality to women, the term "role"must be substituted for that of "group."15 Many of thetraditional devices for creating role differentiation among boys andgirls, such as dress, manners, activities, have beende-emphasized in modern urban middle class homes. The smallgirl who wears a play suit, plays games with boys and girls together,attends a co-educational school, may have little awareness ofsexual differentiation until the approach of adolescence. Parentalexpectations in the matters of scholarship, conduct toward others,duties in the home may have differed little for herself and herbrother. But in high school or perhaps not until college she findsherself called upon to play a new role. Benedict 16 hascalled attention to discontinuities in the life cycle, and the factthat these continuities in cultural conditioning take a greater tollof girls than of boys is revealed in test scores showing neuroticismand introversion.17 In adolescence girls find the frank,spontaneous behavior toward the neighboring sex no longer rewarding.High grades are more likely to elicit anxiety than praise fromparents, especially mothers, who seem more pleased if male callersare frequent. There are subtle indications that to remain home with agood book on a Saturday night is a fate worse than death. But even ifthe die is successfully cast for popularity, all problems are notsolved. Girls are encouraged to heighten their sexual attractiveness,but to abjure sexual expression.

Assuming new roles in adolescence does not mean the completerelinquishing of old ones. Scholarship, while not so vital as for theboy, is still important, but must be maintained discreetly andwithout obvious effort. Mirra Komarovsky18 has supplied statements ofBarnard College girls of the conflicting expectations of theirelders. Even more than to the boy is the "all-round" ideal held up togirls, and it is not always possible to integrate the roles of gooddate, good daughter, good sorority sister, good student, good friend,and good citizen. The superior achievements of college men overcollege women bear witness to the crippling division of energiesamong women. Part of the explanation may lie in women'shaving interiorized cultural notions of feminine inferiority incertain fields, and even the most self-confident or mostdefensive woman may be filled with doubt as to whether she can doproductive work.

It may be expected that as differences in privileges between menand women decrease, the frequency of marginal women will increase.Widening opportunities for women will call forth a growing number ofwomen capable of performing roles formerly reserved for men, butwhose acceptance in these new roles may well remain uncertain andproblematic This hypothesis is in accord with ArnoldGreen's19 recent critical reexaminatiou of the marginalman concept in which he points out that it is those Negroes andsecond-generation immigrants whose values and behavior mostapproximate those of the dominant majority who experience the mostsevere personal crises. He believes that the classical marginal mansymptoms appear only when a person striving to leave the racial orethnic group into which he was born is deeply identified with thefamily of orientation and is met with grudging, uncertain, andunpredictable acceptance, rather than with absolute rejection, by thegroup he is attempting to join, and also that he is committed tosuccess-careerism. Analogically, one would expect to find that women,who display marginal symptoms are psychologically bound to the familyof orientation in which they experienced the imperatives of both thetraditional and new feminine roles, and are seeking to expand theoccupational (or other) areas open to women rather than those whocontent themselves with established fields. Concretely, one mightsuppose women engineers to have greater, personality problems thanwomen librarians.

Other avenues of investigation suggested by the minority groupapproach can only be mentioned. What social types arise as personaladjustments to sex status? What can be done in the way ofexperimental modification of the attitudes of men and women towardeach other and themselves? What hypotheses of inter-grouprelations may be tested in regard to men and women? For example, isit true that as women approach the cultural standards of men, theyare perceived as a threat and tensions increase? Of what significanceare regional and community variations in the treatment of and degreeof participation permitted women, mindful here that women sharerespoosibility with men for the perpetuation of attitudes towardwomen? This paper is exploratory in suggesting the enhancedpossibilities of fruitful analysis, if women are included in theminority group corpus, particularly with reference to such conceptsand techniques as group belongingness, socialization of the minoritygroup child, cultural differences, social distance tests, conflictbetween class and caste status, race relations cycle, andmarginality. I believe that the concept of the marginal woman shouldbe especially productive, and am now engaged in an empirical study ofrole conflicts in professional women.


1 Louis Wirth, "The Problem of Minority Groups," TheScience of Man in the World Crisis, ed. by Ralph Linton (1945),p. 347.

2 Kurt Lewin, "Self-Hatred Among Jews,"Contemporary Jewish Record, IV (1941), 210-232.

3 Fortune, September, 1946, p. 5.

4 P. M. Symonds, "Changes in Sex Differences inProblems and Interests of Adolescents with Increasing Age,"Journal of Genetic Psychology, 50 (1937), pp. 83-89, asreferred to by Georgene H. Seward, Sex and the SocialOrder (1946), pp. 237-238.

5 George A. Lundberg, Foundasions of Sociology (1939), p. 319.

6 Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown (1929), p. 120, and Middletown in Transition (1937), p. 176.

7 Joseph Kirk Folsom, The Family and DemocraticSociety (1943), pp. 623-624.

8 Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (1944),pp. 1073-1078.

9 Helen M. Hacker, Towards a Definition of RoleConflict in Modern Women (unpublished manuscript).

10 As furnished by such books as Helene Deutsch, ThePsychology of Women (1944-45) and Ferdinand Lundberg andMarynia F. Farnham, Modern Woman:The Lost Sex (1947).

11 David Riesman, "The Saving Remnant: An Examinationof Character Structure," Years of the Modern: An AmericanAppraisal, ed. by John W. Chase (1949), pp. 139-40.

12 Robert E. Park, "Our Racial Frontier on thePacific," Thc Survey Graphic, 56 (May 1, 1926), pp. 192-196.

13 William Ogbum and Meyer Nimkoff, Sociology (2d ed., 1950), p. 187.

14 Howard Becker, Systematic Sociology on the Basisof the "Beziehungslehre" and "Gebildelehre" of Leopold von Wiese (1932), pp. 203-208.

15 Kurt Lewin, Resolving Social Conflicts (1948), p. 181.

16 Ruth Benedict, "Continuities and Discontinuities inCultural Conditioning," Psychiatry, 1 (1938), pp.161-167.

17 Georgene H. Seward, op. cit., pp.239-240.

18 Mirra Rornarovsky, "Cultural Contradictionsand Ses Roles," Thc American Journal of Sociology, LII(November 1946), 184-189.

19 Arnold Green, "A Re-Examination of theMarginal Man Concept," Social Forces, 26 (December 1947), pp.167-171.