The Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) is a gender test that was developed by Sandra Lipsitz Bem (1944–2014), who began researching sex roles since the early 1970s. The Bem test indicates the degrees of absorption of cultural definitions of gender, as reflected in the user’s personality.
Cynthia Connor and colleagues summarize Bem’s findings in an interesting article titled “Intrinsic Motivation and Role Adaptability with Regards to Drama Students:”
The possession of both masculine and feminine characteristics has important consequences for behavior (Bem, S. L., 1974). An expanded behavioral repertoire gives androgynous individuals superior sex-role adaptability in comparison to sex-typed individuals. The androgynous individual is able to adapt to a variety of situations. Sex-typed people internalize societies sex-appropriate behaviors as being desirable and exclude cross-sexed behaviors from their behavioral repertoires. Sandra Bem’s pioneering research on the dimensions of masculinity and femininity led to the development of the Bem Sex Role Inventory, (1974). The Bem Sex Role Inventory measures masculinity and femininity as two discriminable dimensions. The androgynous individual scores high on both dimensions. Sex-typed individuals score high on one dimension and reject while rejecting the characteristics of the other dimension. Androgynous people enact their masculine and feminine on different occasions (Vonk, R. & Ashemore, R. D., 1993). In describing their masculine, feminine and gender neutral attributes sides, Androgynous subjects use more situational qualifiers to explain their behavior. This supports Sandra Bem’s theory that androgyny is manifested as situational flexibility (1975).
After continued research into androgyny, Bem developed a cognitive schema theory of sex role behavior (Cook, E. P. 1985). Androgyny is a particular way of processing information. Androgynous individuals do not use sex-role related schemas to guide their information processing. Gender schematic individuals divide the world into masculine and feminine. They use traditional sex-role standards in their processing of information. Gender schema theory does not emphasize the degree to which an individual is masculine or feminine, but rather the extent to which they process new information along in terms of sex roles (Hargreaves, D. J. & Colley, A. M., 1987).
This inventory (BSRI) provides independent assessments of masculinity and femininity in terms of the respondent’s self-reported possession of socially desirable, stereotypically masculine and feminine personality characteristics. This can also be seen as a measurement of the extent to which respondents spontaneously sort self-relevant information into distinct masculine and feminine categories. The self administering 60-item questionnaire measures masculinity, femininity, androgyny, and undifferentiated, using the Masculinity and Femininity scales.
While Bem’s theories are very interesting, the test itself for use in our community is problematic for several reasons:
- Reliance on gender stereotypes which can be recognized as male or female by the test taker.
- Self-reporting by the test taker based on the above can influence the outcome.
- While Bem asserts that androgynous takers will score high on both scales, this may not be true for trans people. Many people in our community are gender schematic, or very invested in culturally defined sex-appropriate behaviors, and a baseline has not been established for us.
- Bem, S. L. (1974). The measurement of psychological androgyny. Journal of Counseling & Clinical Psychology, 42, 155-162.
- Bem Sex – Role Inventory. Bem, Sandra L. USA: Consulting Psychologists Press; 1981.
Gary Sturt (garysturt.free-online.co.uk)