Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Gender Blogs: II. The Bem Sex Role Inventory

Either-Or View of Gender

I started this post way back in December, 2006, and it lay fallow until now.

Written 15 August, 2008

The Gender Blogs

II. The Bem Sex Role Inventory

Before the 1970s, most folks thought about masculinity and femininity as mutually exclusive, like a sliding scale. You know, with hypermasculine on one end and hyperfeminine on the other. The more masculine you were, the less feminine; the more feminine you were, the less masculine. John Wayne left, Marilyn Monroe, right.

Psychologist Sandra Bem came to look at gender differently. Rather than a single continuum, she visualized separate measures of masculinity and femininity—a two-slider system. It was possible, Bem argued, to rate high on masculinity AND femininity, or low on both, or high on one and low on the other.

“The concept of psychological androgyny implies that it is possible for an individual to be both compassionate and assertive, both expressive and instrumental, both feminine and masculine, depending upon the situational appropriateness of these various modalities. And it further implies that an individual may even blend these complementary modalities in a single act, such as the ability to fire an employee, if the circumstances warrant it, but with sensitivity for the human emotion that such an act inevitably produces.”

– Sandra Bem, Bem Sex Role Inventory Manual
(Take the Bem here: [Blogger not accepting URLS at the moment]

Bem’s idea made so much sense it was incorporated into the zeitgeist. Today, most people understand it’s perfectly natural to be both decisive and compassionate, to be dominant and soft-spoken, forceful, yet yielding. Women can express their competitive impulses without, usually, being considered unfeminine, and men can compromise without being considered nonmasculine.

Bem devised a psychological test, a sex role inventory which is widely available on the internet.

During our first month, together, Sweetie and I both took the Bem.

Neither of us were surprised when the results showed us measuring high on the feminine scale, nor were we surprised when we scored high on the masculine scale. After all, in addition to being helpful, affectionate, considerate, loyal, understanding, and sincere, we knew we were independent, assertive, analytical, and forceful.

Our scored did differ in several areas though. Sweetie scored high on ambition; I scored low (I have already set the world on fire; I’m content these days to sit and watch it burn). And Sweetie scored particularly high in competition. I scored low.

This has led to a two-year running joke between us, since Sweetie considers me one of the most competitive people on the planet.

Of course, the Bem, as it derives its scores from self-report, is susceptible to vagaries in the way the subject feels about herself. I rated myself low in competitiveness because I absolutely hate the idea that there must be winners and losers. In my book, EVERYONE should win.

I do, however, like a challenge—and this is really the reason why Sweetie laughs when I say I’m noncompetitive.

(Actually, I no longer even say so. Sweetie delights in bringing up the idea of my noncompetitiveness and then demolishing it.)

I like challenges. I love it when Sweetie says something like, “Wouldn’t it be neat to have a broom that would grab itself and sweet the floor?” or “We should have a robot sanitorium,” or “This path is okay, but it’s not spectacular. I want spectacular!” or (latest instance), “Nice robot av. I think when it should be forced to wear red shoes and dance when it violates the sanitorium rules.”

It sometimes takes a while, but I figure out how to do the task Sweetie has set for me. And so the brooms on Whimsy DO grab themselves and sweep the floor, we DO have a robot sanitorium, and the path to Pele IS spectacular. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

1 comment:

Melissa Yeuxdoux said...

Thanks for the article, and for the link, though I had to go elsewhere to find out what the three numbers are measures of. I have to wonder to what extent I answered in hopes of getting a particular result, and what the results of a friend filling in values based on their observation of me would be.