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Queering Bem: Theoretical Intersections Between Sandra Bem’s Scholarship and Queer Theory


Sandra Bem revolutionized psychology with her research on gender, androgyny, and gender schematicity, which culminated in her book, The Lenses of Gender. Her work also provides a model for how to cross inter-disciplinary lines to enhance scholarship and reach political goals. We analyze similarities and differences between Bem’s scholarship and scholarship in queer theory, a theoretical movement in the humanities that analyzes discourses that construct man/woman and straight/gay binaries. There are important overlaps between Bem’s lenses of gender (biological essentialism, gender polarization, and androcentrism) and the ideas of many queer theorists. There are also several interesting differences between Bem’s ideas and queer theory: attention to the intrapsychic processes that make up gender, the extent to which individuals can be liberated from gender, proliferating versus contesting gender, intersectionality, and epistemology and methodology. By assessing the similarities and differences between Bem and queer theorists, we show that the two complement each other, affording a better understanding of gender and sexuality. Additionally, both Bem and queer theory lend insight into feminist and queer activism. The theoretical and political advances that can be made by integrating Bem’s ideas and those of queer theorists serve as examples for why it is worthwhile to cross disciplinary lines.

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Correspondence to Eileen L. Zurbriggen.

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Balzer Carr, B., Ben Hagai, E. & Zurbriggen, E.L. Queering Bem: Theoretical Intersections Between Sandra Bem’s Scholarship and Queer Theory. Sex Roles 76, 655–668 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-015-0546-1

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  • Gender roles
  • Queer theory
  • Feminism
  • Sexuality
  • Poststructuralism