The Personal, Political, and Professional Life of Sandra Bem

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The contributions of Sandra Bem, a pioneer in feminist psychology, are reviewed in the context of her life. From childhood and her early years as a second wave feminist activist in Pittsburgh, Bem challenged established gender conventions including dress codes, segregated employment ads, workplace discrimination, and marital roles. We follow the trajectory of Bem’s education and academic career, highlighting her three main contributions to feminist psychology: (a) psychological androgyny and the BSRI, (b) gender schema theory, and (c) the reproduction of sexual inequality via the lenses of gender. We also review her late life developments, such as her retraining in clinical psychology and her decision to end her own life after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Placing Bem’s activist and academic work in the context of her personal struggle against gender expectations, we include her own voice to illustrate how she integrated the personal, political, and professional from the beginning of her life until her last days. We show that over the last four decades, Sandra Bem’s contributions to theory and research transformed the study of the psychology of women in the United States and had an international reach—adding immensely to our understanding of gender roles, stereotypes, nonconscious gender ideologies, psychological androgyny, gender schemas, and gender-aschematic parenting, as well as how androcentrism, gender polarization, and biological essentialism work systemically and psychologically to reproduce gender inequality.

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Sex Roles

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