Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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Sandra Ruth Lipsitz Bem

(June 22, 1944 - present)

by Nicolle Bettis


Sandra Ruth Lipsitz Bem was born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania on June 22, 1944 to Peter, who was a postal clerk and Lillian, a secretary. She was seven years older than her sister Beverly. Her working class family instilled the work ethic in both children from a young age. Everyone around them worked. Sandra's ambition was to have a career like her mother where she knew she would have her own desk and a phone. She accomplished much more. Her mother, Lillian, loved her job but hated chores within the home and often expressed this to her daughters stating that being a housewife "was not very desirable" (1990, 30). Statements such as these can make a great influence upon children that they are effected throughout their lives.

Sandra was one of three girls in a class of twelve at Hillel Academy, a Jewish school in Pittsburgh. It was during this time when her ideas concerning gender began to show, known for expulsion as a result of wearing pants. She suggests that rather than being a dedicated student, she often dealt with school. Believing that she did not receive a great amount from her education until she started actually "doing" psychology (1990, 31).

College Years

During 1965 at Carnegie-Mellon University Sandra received her bachelors in psychology. During her senior year she seemed to find an area she both enjoyed and was good at, hypothesis testing rather than experimental psychology. It was here she began empirical research in developmental psychology. During this time she met Daryl Bem, a new assistant professor, whom she married a few months later. Robert Morgan, the head of the Counseling Center, was the first to suggest she had a chance for a professional career as a psychiatrist. Financially this was overwhelming to Sandra but after discovering she could attend graduate school "for free" with financial aid she decided to study child clinical psychology (1990, 31). Although her parents had always encouraged both, Sandra and her sister, to do well in school, financially graduate school was "eighteen steps up" from what Sandra had thought about. Individuals in the professional classes were unheard of (1990, 31). Her husband, Daryl, suggested she study at the University of Michigan because of its various options and encouraged her to go for the best available. The result was receiving her Ph.D. in developmental psychology at the age of 23 (1990, 31). Her Ph.D. dissertation in 1968 was titled The Role of Task Comprehension in Children's Problem Solving.


After she finished her studies, both Bem's moved so Daryl could continue his teaching position at Carnegie-Mellon University, which he had left in order for her to study in Michigan. She began her professional career at Carnegie-Mellon as an assistant professor in psychology where she remained until 1971. Later this same year Stanford University offered both Bem's visiting positions for one year to see what it would be like to have a married couple working in the same institution. When the year was completed they were both offered jobs. Sandra remained teaching at Stanford until 1978 when she decided to leave because she did not receive tenure. As a result both accepted positions at Cornell University, he an professor of psychology and she an associate professor of psychology along with Director of Women's Studies. In 1981 she too became a professor.

Sandra strongly believes in "good research" one does not waste time, they create new instead of building upon the old. This belief is very apparent in her work which discusses a topic then moves on to another instead of reviewing and editing old research. Shortly after she finished her Ph.D. D she became disinterested in her work. As a result, she decided to work in an area she believed to be beneficial for society.

Around this time the Bem's researched and discovered "sex-biased wording in job advertisements and sex segregated help-wanted ads in newspapers discourage people from applying for 'opposite-sex' jobs (1990, 32). After their discovery, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission confronted both AT&T and the Pittsburgh Press about these actions. The belief included traditional roles which are placed on both men and women are restrictive and negative for both the individual with whom it is being enforced and society. With this ideal in mind Sandra, along with the California Highway Patrol looked at the way women were recruited (1990, 32 & 33).

Gender Roles

In 1971 Sandra began looking at gender roles, and as a result created a measurement which she called the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI). In her introduction to the BSRI Sandra states that her instrument allows individuals to be both feminine and masculine, unlike other tests which are restrictive to only one. The BSRI includes twenty feminine characteristics, twenty masculine and twenty neutral. The individual rates themselves as possessing the characteristic on a scale from one to seven, including never or almost never true to always or almost always true. When averaged the median score is 4.5. Anyone above this is seen as possessing feminine or masculine traits. Unlike any other tests the individual may score high on both the feminine and masculine scales because they are scored separately. If this happens they are seen as androgynous, applying appropriate characteristics when necessary. If the individual's scores are below the median of 4.5 on both the feminine and masculine characteristics they are seen as undifferentiated (1977). Along with the belief that masculinity and femininity are separate, Sandra also believed androgynous individuals who possessed both masculine and feminine traits were "truly effective and well functioning" (1990, 33).

Sandra's book, Lenses of Gender, looks at the masculinity and femininity in-depth. She begins by stating western society's three main beliefs concerning men and women. Included are: "That they have fundamentally different psychological and sexual natures, that men are inherently the dominant or superior sex, and that both male-female difference and male dominance are natural" (1993, 1). She believes that at one time, people saw this way of thinking as being created by God but now it is seen as a natural evolution of humans (1993). These ideas, according to Bem, shape our everyday lives. She states:

The purpose of this book is to render those lenses visible rather than invisible, to enable us to look at the culture's gender lenses rather than through them, for it is only when Americans apprehend the more subtle and systemic ways in which the culture reproduces male power that they will finally comprehend the unfinished business of the feminists agenda (1993, 2).

Bem sections the book into three parts, 'androcentrism', 'gender polarization', and 'biological essentialism'. The first lens, "androcentrism", is stated as "male-centeredness" because it simply describes how society is structured (1993, 2). Mans experiences are seen as the norm and females experiences as not the norm. This does not necessarily mean that he is superior to her, but simply that "man is treated as human and woman as "other" (1993, 2). "Gender Polarization", which is the next lens simply uses the differences in men and women to structure society (1993, 2). The masculine way of doing something is usually seen as the correct way. The final lens is called "biological essentialism", which views the other two lens as natural because of biological differences (1993, 2). This seems to influence our culture the most with the argument that men and women are biologically different sexually, then they must play different roles in life. She views the previous three lenses as creating power in the following ways: The social structure that is created as a result of these beliefs separate men and women unequally. Second, the lenses are taught through socialization creating an individual who continues to reinforce them while living by them (1993).

Awards and Acknowledgments

At the young age of thirty one Bem received the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology, "For her studies of sex roles, androgyny, and the ontogeny of psychosexual identity and maturity" (1990, 33). This award was given to her by the American Psychological Association in 1976 (1997). In Women In Psychology: A Biographic Sourcebook, Sandra Lipsitz Bem was recognized for her research in personalities. It states:

For her studies of sex roles, androgyny, and the ontogeny of psychosexual identity and maturity. She has both clarified and questioned long-held assumptions about the oppositional or bipolar nature of sex roles, and persuasively put forward a concept of psychological androgyny. These analytic and logical endeavors have been buttressed by the accumulation of an impressive amount of empirical data to support the hypothesis that a blending of so-called masculine and feminine dispositions is more adaptive than stereotypic emphasis on either alone. These findings are leading her to a fundamental reexamination of the psychological, philosophical, and ego-integrative implications of sex role conflicts and resolutions (1990, 372).

She also received the Distinguished Publication Award of the Association for Women in Psychology in 1977 along with the Young Scholar Award of the American Association of University Women in 1980 (1997). Sandra was awarded and honorary Doctor of Science from Wilson College in 1985 (1997). She is also on the Editorial board of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology along with the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (1997).

Lenses of Gender has won: the Best Book in Psychology from the Association of American publishers (1993); Annual Book Award given by the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language and Gender (1994); Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology; and Outstanding Book by the Gustavus Meyers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America.


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