Adventures in Feministory Presents: Know Your Feminist Theorists -- Sandra Lipsitz Bem

Today I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite feminists in academia: (*drum roll*) Dr. Sandra Ruth Lipsitz Bem.

Most well known for developing the gender schema theory, Bem focuses much of her research on conceptions of masculinity and femininity. Basically, gender schema theory suggests that people automatically sort behaviors and traits into societially shaped and culturally variant gender-based categories. This spontaneous categorization compels individuals to act in accordance with their culture's stardards of masculinity and femininity.

In 1971, Bem created her Sex Role Inventory to assess the extent to which respondents self-report posessing stereotypical masculine and feminine traits. Rather than positing femininity and masculinity at polar ends of a linear spectrum, Bem's Sex Role Inventory allows for a more complex picture of gender.  For instance, an individual who scores high in areas of both masculinity and femininity would be described as androgynous while a person who scores low in both areas would be undifferentiated.  In the Bem Sex Role Inventory Manual, Bem states,

The concept of psychological androgyny implies
that it is possible for an individual to be both compassionate and assertive,
both expressive and instrumental, both feminine and masculine, depending
upon the situational appropriateness of these various modalities. And it
further implies that an individual may even blend these complementary modalities
in a single act, such as the ability to fire an employee, if the circumstances
warrant it, but with sensitivity for the human emotion that such an act
inevitably produces.

A little more than 15 years after Bem developed her Sex Role Inventory, she wrote An Unconventional Family, in which she detailed her and her husband's experiences raising their children in an egalitarian, feminist, anti-homophobic and gender neutral environment.  A couple excerpts for your reading pleasure...

The culture's sex-and-gender system is like a bacterium that will infect you unless you are given a vaccination in advance to build up your resistance and perhaps even make you immune.  Without such an innoculation, we can try to heal you once you have become infected, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

...our goal was to enable Emily and Jeremy to learn about both male-female difference and the body without simeltaneously learning any cultural stereotypes about males and females or any cultural stigmas about the body.  Put somewhat differentl, our goal was to retard their gender education while simeltaneously advancing their sex education.

Even as a non-parent, this book totally captivated me.  Read it!

by Malori Maloney
View profile »

Still Reading? Sign up for our Weekly Reader!

2 Comments Have Been Posted


I took Psychology of Women my senior year of college. I got credit towards my major and my minor (Psychology & Women's Studies) for it. I remember learning about Bem. I could not remember what this book was called though. I found it really interesting how she and her husband raised their children. Thanks for the reminder. I'll have to add that book to my "to read" list. ;)

You know, this book wasn't

You know, this book wasn't something I expected, it pleasantly surprised me. I would recommend it to male or female, feminist, or anti-feminist. To those who come from a traditional family, as mine, where the roles of gender is already clearly mapped out, the father brings the money, the mother cooks and cleans. Perhaps particularly to egalitarianistic couples who are considering having children and worried about the social impact on them of the sexist society, and how to best eliminate gender conformity.

Add new comment