Sandra Bem

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Sandra Ruth Lipsitz Bem is an American psychologist known for her works in androgyny and gender studies. She was born June 22, 1944 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Peter and Lillian Lipsitz. She grew up in a "working class" family. Sandra had one younger sister named Beverly. Both of Sandra’s parents worked all throughout her life so she grew up with the assumption that she would always be working. Her mother instilled great morals in her daughter and encouraged her to be the absolute best that she could be, and that “being just a housewife was not very desirable” (Makosky, 1990, p. 30). She was married to Daryl Bem, also a psychology professor.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Sandra was raised by her Jewish "working class" parents in a government-subsidized neighborhood for the first eight years of her life. During Sandra's childhood her mother would have violent outburst and fights with her father causing her family much distress.[2] Sandra met Dr. Daryl Bem when she took his social psychology class at Carnegie-Mellon University. After months of dating they were married on June 6, 1965. Much of Sandra's famliy, including her mother, would not attend her wedding because it was a non-Jewish affair and they did not agree with this decision.[2] Sandra was only twenty years old when she met Daryl Bem. Sandra and Daryl Bem had an equal relationship so that each person was able to focus on work and also have each other. Sandra and Daryl Bem had two children together.[2] They traveled all over the country to teach at various universities, but after a while they felt that they had lost their equal relationship. They then divorced.[3]

Education and career[edit]

Bem attended Margaret Morrison Carnegie College, now known as Carnegie-Mellon University,[2] (1961-1965) and majored in psychology. Subsequently, she entered the University of Michigan in 1965 and obtained her Ph.D. in developmental psychology in 1968.[4] Her dissertation focused primarily on cognitive processing and problem solving with young children. Her main influence while at the University of Michigan was experimental psychologist David Birch. Her early work focused on the behavior of young children and their ability to solve problems, and utilize self-control and instruction. After obtaining her Ph.D., she got a full-time tenure-track position as a professor at Carnegie-Mellon for three years and then moved on to work at Stanford University, where she worked until 1978. Sandra left Stanford University because her application for tenure was denied. She then took an associate professor position at Cornell University.[5][6] Sandra was a professor of Psychology of Women Studies while at Cornell University. [2] While at Cornell University Sandra focused research on gender schema theory, sexuality, and clinical psychology until she retired in 2010.[3]

Influences on the field of psychology[edit]

Bem is an American psychologist known for her works in androgyny and gender studies.[7] In her early career, she was heavily involved in women's liberation movement, and she did work on sex-biased job advertising. Her involvement lead to being a contributor to landmark cases concerning recruitment of women in the work force against companies such as AT&T and the Pittsburgh Press.[4]

Early on in Sandra's career she created the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), which is an inventory that allows individuals to exhibit both male and female characteristics.[3] The BSRI is a scale developed to tell what kind of sex role an individual fulfills. The BSRI is a paper-pencil self-report inventory that asks participants how well sixty different attributes describe themselves by using a seven-point scale. These attributes reflected the definition of masculinity (twenty questions), femininity (20 questions) and the remaining twenty questions were merely filler questions (Bem, 1993). In this inventory the feminine and masculine items were chosen on what was culturally appropriate for males and females at that time in the early 1970s. The BSRI was later used to measure psychological flexibility and behavioral indicators.[3] She also developed the gender schema theory. The gender schema theory states that an individual uses gender as a way to organize various things in their lives into categories.

She asserted that masculine and feminine dimensions could be divided into two spheres, rather than one. A person with high masculine and low feminine identification would be categorized as "masculine". A person with high feminine identification and low masculine identification, would be categorized as "feminine". A person who had high identification with both characteristics would be categorized as "androgynous". A person who has low identification with both dimensions would be considered "undifferentiated".[8][9]

One of her main arguments was that traditional gender roles are restrictive for both men and women, and can have negative consequences for individuals as well as society as a whole.[4] Sandra Bem received many awards for her research. Her first award was the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career contribution to Psychology in 1976. In 1977 she was awarded the Distinguished Publication Award of the Association of Women in Psychology and in 1980 she received the Young Scholar Award of the American Association of University Women (Makosky, 1990). Critics of Bem's work generally argued against the political nature of her theories and her objectivity in the material which she studied.


  • Bem, Sandra L. (1974). "The measurement of psychological androgyny". Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 42, 155-62.
  • Bem, Sandra L. and C. Watson. (1976). "Scoring packet: Bem Sex Role Inventory". Unpublished Manuscript
  • Bem, S. L. (1976). "Sex typing and androgyny: Further explorations of the expressive domain". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 1016.
  • Bem, S. L. (1976). "Sex typing and the avoidance of cross-sex behavior". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33, 48.
  • Bem, S. L. (1977). "On the utility of alternative procedures for assessing psychological androgyny". Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 54, 196-205
  • Bem, S. L. (1977). The 1977 annual handbook for group facilitators.
  • Bem, S. L. (1979). "Theory and measurement of androgyny: A Reply to the Pedhazur- Tetenbaum and Locksley- Colten Critiques." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1047.
  • Bem, S. L., & Andersen, S. M. (1981). "Sex typing and androgyny in dyadic interaction: Individual differences in responsiveness to physical attractiveness." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 74.
  • Bem, S. L. (1981). "Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing source". Psychological Review, 88, 354.
  • Bem, S. L. (1981). "The BSRI and gender schema theory: A reply to Spence and Helmreich". Psychological Review, 88, 369-71.
  • Bem, S. L. (1982). "Gender schema theory and self-schema theory compared: A comment on Markus, Crane, Bernstein, and Siladi's "Self-schemas and gender"". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43,1192
  • Bem, S. L. (1989). "Genital knowledge and gender constancy in preschool children". Child Development, 60, 3.
  • Bem, S. L. (1993). The lenses of gender: Transforming the debate on sexual inequality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Bem, S. L. (1995). "Dismantling gender polarization and compulsory heterosexuality: Should we turn the volume down or up?" Journal of Sex Research, 32, 329-334.
  • Bem, S. L. (1998), An Unconventional Family. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Bem, S. L., Schellenberg, E. G., & Keil, J. M. (1995). ""Innocent victims" of AIDS: Identifying the subtext". Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25, 1790-1800.
  • Chesler, P., Rothblum, E. D., & Cole, E. ( 1995). Feminist foremothers in women's studies, psychology, and mental health. New York: Haworth Press.
  • Frable, D. E. S. and Bem, S. L. (1985). "If you are gender schematic, all members of the opposite sex look alike". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 459.


  1. ^ Nussbaum, Emily (May–June 1998). "Does the exotic become erotic?". Lingua Franca. Retrieved January 8, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e [1], Women’s Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society.
  3. ^ a b c d Psychologist's Feminist Voices.
  4. ^ a b c Parker Makosky, V.,(1990). In, A. O'Connell & W. Felipe Russo (Eds.), Women in psychology: A bio-bibliographic sourcebook,(pp. 30-39). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press Inc.
  5. ^ "Faculty: Sandra L. Bem". Cornell University Department of Psychology. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  6. ^ "Sandra Bem". Social Psychology Network. December 21, 2009. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  7. ^ "Sandra Ruth Lipsitz Bem". Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  8. ^ "Psychologist Sandra Bem". BE-ME Education. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  9. ^ "The Bem Sex Role Inventory". Transsexual Roadmap. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 

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