Interview: Dr. Richard Coan

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The human personality is a fascinating subject, and Dr Richard Coan has dedicated much of his career to studying it. His new book Masculine, Feminine and Fully Human deals with personality traits and the gender they are identified with. An interesting concept when you take into account the balance we need to find.

This is what Dr Coan had to say when we asked him a bit about the book.

What made you devote so much of your career to the human personality?

I have always had other interests, including music, languages, and literature, and I could have chosen a different career. I have been fascinated since childhood, however, with the ways that people I know vary – not just in their behavior but even more in how they seem to think and feel. This interest led me to the field of psychology and, within that field, the realm of personality theory.

Can you tell us a little about your book Masculine, Feminine, and Fully Human?

People often think of masculinity and femininity as the opposite ends of one grand continuum, with men tending to fall closer to one end and women closer to the other. I note, however, that there are several distinct qualities or traits that we tend to consider masculine and several we tend to consider feminine. As we develop in childhood and adulthood, we tend to incorporate some of these qualities into our self-concepts. We also regard various public and historical figures as representatives of particular qualities, and we find embodiments of each quality in the male and female figures of mythology. People often focus on a limited set of qualities in adolescence and early adulthood. I contend that as we continue to progress through life we need to cultivate qualities that balance and supplement those we have emphasized. The result will be a richer and more harmonious life that combines both “masculine” and “feminine” qualities.

What can we learn from the book?

Readers can learn something about the specific qualities that tend to be more evident in men and those that tend to be more evident in women. They can also get a clearer understanding of the value of embracing both masculine and feminine qualities. They can also see ways in which various qualities can balance and enhance one another when they combined.

Why do you believe we all need to embrace both male and female characteristics (i.e., both masculine and feminine characteristics) to lead a meaningful life?

We see an exclusive emphasis on qualities characteristic of one gender in the case of the docile ultra-feminine Stepford wife and in the tough macho male who strives to be “all man” in every way he possibly can. These lopsided individuals are stuck in ruts that prevent much personal growth. Many of us, however, just strongly emphasize qualities that seem to go with a particular gender role. Men and women, however, are not as inherently different as many of our established roles make them appear. If we cultivate some qualities of both sets (masculine and feminine) we will gain greater inner balance and we will be more capable of understanding and relating to both men and women.

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How will this enrich our growth?

All of the masculine and feminine qualities can serve useful functions in our lives. In embracing both masculine and feminine qualities, we are able to realize more of our potentials, and some of these qualities complement one another in useful ways. For example, the individual who relies heavily on aggression or the assertion of dominance may be able to interact more effectively with others by cultivating more compassion. The individual who constantly responds to the needs of others with compassion may be better able to deal with his or her own needs by stepping back at times and cultivating more autonomy. Rationality and intuition are complementary qualities, and our thinking is hampered if we rely on one to the exclusion of the other.

Can you tell us a little about the qualities that are deemed either masculine or feminine?

In my book I deal with four major modes of action and empowerment: (1) nurturance and compassion, (2) dominance, (3) aggression, and (4) autonomy. The first of these tends to be considered feminine, while the other three are generally considered masculine.
In addition I deal with the following modes of consciousness, experience, and expression: (1) ordered, rational thought, (2) intuition, (3) aesthetic and imaginal pursuits, (4) piety and spirituality, (5) expressiveness, (6) wildness, (7) sensuality, (8) the child, and (9) the trickster and psychopomp. Rationality, expressiveness, wildness, and the trickster are usually considered masculine, while intuition and piety are most often regarded as feminine. The remaining modes are sometimes considered masculine and sometimes considered feminine.
It is important to recognize that all these modes are potential ways of acting, thinking, and feeling for all of us. For each of them I note mythic figures who embody that quality. I also note public figures, historical figures, and figures in folklore. For each mode, it is not difficult to cite both male and female representatives in both mythology and real life.

What can you tell us about the ten factor scales for self-assessment in your book?

In the 1980′s I surveyed earlier theory and research and then compiled a long list of descriptive words and phrases that might express either masculinity or femininity. I then asked a large group of subjects to indicate whether they believed each word or phrase described something more characteristic of men or of women. Using those words and phrases for which there was substantial agreement, I later asked university students in large classes to rate themselves on each item. When I analyzed the responses, I could distinguish at least ten factors running through the items, and I could identify a set of items that clearly represents each factor. Each factor can be considered either masculine or feminine on the basis of both the original ratings and the self-ratings of the items. For my book, I put together a questionnaire containing four items for each of the ten factors. The reader can quickly respond to the questionnaire and obtain ten scores. I would not pretend that this is a reliable measuring instrument. My aim is simply to urge readers at an early point in my book to apply its contents to their own lives. Whether they are male or female, most of them will recognize that they can be described as masculine in some respects and feminine in other respects.

Where can we get copies of your book?

Ingram Book Group handles distribution of the book to stores. You can order it directly by going to www.authorhouse.com or www.amazon.com. You can order by phone from AuthorHouse by calling (888)280-7715.

Are you planning to write any more books?

I have no plan at present to write another book, though I am thinking about some possibilities.

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