Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

How to Enhance Communication Between the Sexes: The Androgynous Bridge - Part 1

One who can associate with both masculine and feminine characteristics.

In an article in O Magazine playfully titled, "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man? And Vice Versa," author Amy Bloom makes this point quite eloquently. "Our mistake is to think that the wide range of humanity represents aberration when in fact it represents just what it is: a range. Nature is not two little notes-masculine or feminine-on a child's flute. Nature is more like Aretha Franklin: vast, magnificent, capricious-occasionally hilarious and infinitely varied."

The key to effective communication in all settings is inclusiveness of this wide range. This requires behavioral flexibility from both sexes. In this chapter we will explore this kind of inclusiveness-what I like to call gender-flexing or androgyny.


When many of us think of androgyny, we are reminded of the character "Pat" on Saturday Night Live. This gives the term unflattering, asexual connotations and is a more colloquial use of the word than I intend. From my point of view, androgynous people combine a variety of masculine and feminine characteristics, all in one package. They are not asexual-rather they are more fully alive because they explore all aspects of themselves.

Contemporary business experts such as Tom Peters and Kenneth Blanchard refer to gender-flexing with the psychological term "androgyny." The word derives from a combination of the Greek words: andros meaning man and gyne meaning woman (as is the prefix to gynecology). Communication professors Virginia Richmond, James McCroskey, and Steven Payne define an androgynous person as, "One who can associate with both masculine and feminine characteristics. In terms of psychological gender orientation, this type of individual is able to adapt to a variety of roles by engaging in either responsive or assertive behaviors, depending on the situation."

Think of it this way: an androgynous man might be a weightlifter but also a social worker who helps underprivileged children, a gourmet cook, and a rose gardener. An androgynous woman could be a physicist who enjoys watching professional football, hanging wallpaper, reading maps, and doing needlepoint. Typically androgynous people are highly flexible. They don't feel limited in their nonverbal communication with others. They are fully aware of and can adapt to another person's needs to be either affiliative or controlling, and they can adjust their behavior accordingly. They are not defined by stereotypically male or female behaviors. And, it is important to remember that gender- flexing has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Androgynous people are no less masculine or feminine in their sexuality than are those who more rigidly adhere to gender roles.

According to Louise Y. Eberhardt, author of Bridging the Gender Gap, current gender role research shows that people who are adept at gender-flexing are actually happier and better adjusted:

  • Women and men who strongly identify with and fit into the traditional gender stereotype roles experience more anxiety, lower self esteem, and neurosis.
  • Women with extreme femininity often exhibit dependency and self-denial. They may fear taking the initiative and may be risk-averse.
  • Men with extreme masculinity may be arrogant. They may exploit others and even tend toward violence.
  • Androgynous people tend to be more creative and flexible, less anxious, and gender-flexing women may be even more nurturing than those who are highly feminine.
  • It is possible for men to have more of their strengths on the feminine side and vice versa. This is not negative and often indicates high creativity and intellectual development. Professional women often tend to have many strengths traditionally associated with masculinity.