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Understanding and Undermining the Development of Gender Dichotomies: The Legacy of Sandra Lipsitz Bem

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Abstract

Sandra Bem has profoundly affected the ways that gender, gender roles, and gender development have been conceptualized and investigated by generations of scholars. Her legacy also offers an inspiring model of how academic scholarship can promote gender-egalitarian policy and practice. In our review, we identify four ways that Bem’s work has shaped gender-development scholarship in general, and our individual and collaborative programs of research in particular. The empirical research and policy we discuss are drawn primarily from the United States, the context in which Bem worked and lived. We begin by describing Bem’s analysis and critique of the societal practices that establish gender as a highly salient social category in the first place. We then outline her contributions to gender-schema approaches, including her conceptual work on gender-schema theories and her empirical work on the effects of gender schematicity on memory and self-socialization. Next we review the parenting strategies Bem suggested and enacted as she attempted to raise gender aschematic, egalitarian children. In the closing section we reflect on Bem’s lifelong commitment to connecting the spheres of social science research, personal life, and public policy. In addition to highlighting ways in which her work has already proven to be inspirational for our own and others’ scholarship and action, we point to ways that it offers rich ideas for future research and action that may clarify gender-developmental processes and may further reduce the constraining effects of societal gender dichotomies on new generations of children.

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Liben, L.S., Bigler, R.S. Understanding and Undermining the Development of Gender Dichotomies: The Legacy of Sandra Lipsitz Bem. Sex Roles 76, 544–555 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-015-0519-4

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