Sandra Bem Biography

Sandra Bem (1944-2014)

Sandra Bem (1944-2014) is a feminist psychologist who is best known for her work in the areas of gender studies and androgyny. Bem had a long career in academia, in addition to doing clinical work. 

Professional Life

Bem studied psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. There, she began doing research in the field of developmental psychology, and she also met professor Daryl Bem, whom she eventually married. Bem then went to Ann Arbor, Michigan where she earned her doctoral degree in developmental psychology. Her dissertation and research at that institution focused on how children solve problems.

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When Bem finished her doctoral degree, she began a career in academia. She initially accepted a teaching position at Carnegie Mellon, where she remained for a few years before teaching at Stanford University and then Cornell University. In the late 1990s, Bem took a sabbatical from Cornell in order to pursue further education. She studied at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and then obtained a license to practice clinical psychotherapy in the early 2000s. Bem retired in 2010. 

Contributions to Psychology

Bem is best known for her work in the area of gender studies. She was a feminist psychologist who believed gender roles were socially constructed by a male-dominated society. Throughout her career, Bem sought to challenge traditional gender roles and to eliminate stereotypes. She served as an expert witness in a court case that focused on the availability of jobs for women. Bem conducted a study and found that when classified ads in newspapers were listed alphabetically, rather than as jobs designated for either men or women, women were more likely to apply for a wider range of jobs. This case was important because within a year, nearly all newspapers changed the way their classified ads were categorized to make them more inclusive. 

Bem developed an instrument known as the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI). The inventory measures an individual’s feminine and masculine traits, allowing for people to be classified as both feminine and masculine, as opposed to other tests which were more restrictive. Bem, who was interested in androgyny, believed people did not necessarily have to identify as either strictly feminine or masculine. In addition to doing research on gender roles, Bem was an activist. She and her husband often gave talks on the subject. Additionally, they strived to maintain an egalitarian relationship, and they raised their two children to be free of typical gender constraints. 

For her contributions to the field of psychology, Bem received various awards and recognitions. She received the American Psychological Association’s award for early contributions to psychology and was named the young scholar of the year in 1980 by the American Association of University Women. She also received the Association for Women in Psychology’s Distinguished Publication award on two occasions, in 1977 and again in 1994. 

Books by Sandra Bem

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An avid researcher who published many articles, Bem also published a number of books. Her works include The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality, which was selected as the best book in psychology in 1993 by the Association of American Publishers. She also authored An Unconventional Family in 1998, a memoir discussing her own egalitarian marriage to her husband, her activism within the feminist movement, and her feminist child-rearing practices.

References:

  1. Bettis, N. (n.d.). Sandra Ruth Lipsitz Bem. Retrieved from http://faculty.webster.edu/woolflm/sandrabem.html
  2. Ove, T. (2014). Obituary: Sandra Bem/Psychologist, feminist, pioneer in gender roles. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.post-gazette.com/news/obituaries/2014/05/23/Obituary-Sandra-Bem-Psychologist-feminist-pioneer-in-gender-roles/stories/201405230080
  3. Profile: Sandra Bem. (n.d.). Psychology’s Feminist Voices. Retrieved from http://www.feministvoices.com/sandra-bem

 

Last Update: 07-12-2017

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