Beliefs about Chastity, Machismo, and Caste Identity:
A Cultural Psychology of Gender
Published online: 2 February 2007
Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2007
Abstract The study was conducted with a community
sample (N=1118) of participants from three caste groups
(Brahmins, Thevars, and Gounders) from villages that are
reported to have an extremely male-biased sex ratio in
Tamilnadu, India. Chastity, Machismo, and Caste Identity
scales were used to assess cultural beliefs about gender and
caste. The correlations among beliefs about caste identity,
chastity, and machismo were significant for all three caste
groups. There was a significant difference between Brah-
mins and the other caste groups in beliefs about caste,
chastity, and machismo. There was a significant interaction
among marital status and gender. Married men’s scores on
chastity and machismo were higher than unmarried men for
all caste groups. Thevars and Gounders were high on
machismo and chastity. Women in all caste groups,
particularly Thevar women, were high on caste identity.
The implications of the findings for the study of gender and
immigration are discussed.
Gender and culture
Gender psychologists have argued that culture influences
the social construction of gender in complex ways.
Although there are cultural variations in beliefs about
gender, in most cultures typically such representations also
control and regulate the sexual behavior and mores of
women (Ortner, 1974). For instance, most cultures across
the globe enforce a higher or a more stringent punishment
for women’s infidelity than for men’s infidelity (Buss,
1998). Although the content of the prescriptive codes of
behavior for women varies by culture, the social con-
sequences of gender transgressions affect men’sand
women’s lives differently in nearly all cultures. In this
article, I examine the cultural ecological underpinnings of
chastity and its association with masculinity and caste
identity, as well as caste-specific variations in the construc-
tion of gender, among three different caste groups in
The aims of the article are the following. First, I discuss
the cultural psychological underpinnings of beliefs about
chastity by providing a cultural psychological perspective
on chastity. I developed a chastity scale and a caste identity
scale to examine the relationships between chastity,
masculinity, and caste identity among three caste groups.
Second, I discuss the findings and their relevance to the
goal of developing a cultural psychology of gender.
Culture and Chastity
The Webster’s New World Dictionary (1984) offered the
following meanings of the term chastity: (a) not indulging
in unlawful sexual activity; (b) virtuous; (c) sexually
abstinent; (d) celibate; (e) pure, decent or modest in nature.
The definitions highlight three major aspects of chastity:
purity, self-control, and incorruptibility. All of these
qualities define the “essential” qualities of a chaste person.
Chastity has a biological and a psychological component.
A chaste person is “pure” and incorruptible and can
control his or her emotions. Although none of the defi-
nitions make explicit reference to women’s sexual behav-
ior, right below the term chastity, the dictionary provided
the definition for chastity belt—a device (used in Europe
Sex Roles (2007) 56:239–249
R. Mahalingam (*)
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan,
512 Church Street,
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1043, USA