Sandra Bem: Gender Schema Theory & Androgyny Test

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Gender Wage Gap: Definition & Statistics

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Sandra Bem
  • 0:47 Gender Schema Theory
  • 3:32 Bem Sex Role Inventory
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Robin Harley

Robin has a PhD in health psychology. She has taught undergraduate and graduate psychology, health science, and health education.

Dr. Sandra Bem (1944-2014) devised the gender schema theory to explain gender development and the Bem Sex Role Inventory to measure traits of masculinity, femininity, and androgyny. Learn more about her and her work in this lesson.

Sandra Bem

Have you ever wondered what makes you male or female, aside from your anatomy? Social expectations play a large part in how you express your identity as a male or female. However, in recent decades, scholars have been challenging the traditional binary of 'maleness' and 'femaleness' and the gender roles that help to construct it.

In this lesson, we will look at the work of one such scholar, Dr. Sandra Bem, who was born in 1944 and lived to 2014. Dr. Bem was a psychologist known for her gender schema theory and the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI). In this lesson, we'll discuss each of these contributions in detail.

Gender Schema Theory

When you hear the word 'gender,' what comes to mind? You probably conjure images of newborns swaddled in blue or pink blankets, toy soldiers vs. dolls, and possibly anatomical differences. However, gender is more complex than we might think. In order to illuminate this complexity, it would be helpful to distinguish it from 'sex,' another term we associate with maleness and femaleness.

  • Sex is the biological male, female, or intersex (a combination of both sexes) category we are assigned at birth based on our chromosomes and reproductive organs
  • Gender refers to socially created roles, feelings, and behaviors that society deems appropriate for men and women

Dr. Bem argued that gender roles are based on cultural stereotypes. She accepted these masculine and feminine stereotypes as part of society and did not advocate challenging or changing them. Rather, she suggested that healthy human beings should exhibit combinations of both masculine and feminine stereotypes, which is known as androgyny. This allows for greater flexibility in thought and behavior and makes people more adaptable to different life circumstances.

Dr. Bem formally developed her gender schema theory in 1981 to explain how gender develops through socialization in a given culture. Gender-related information is passed through the generations in the form of gender schemas. These schemas are mental patterns that allow children to categorize and organize gender-related behaviors. Dr. Bem based her ideas on social learning theory, which holds that children acquire gender roles through observation, reward, and punishment.

For example, boys are often rewarded for pursuing interests that society and culture have deemed appropriate for them. They may be praised for imitating their fathers, playing with toy trucks, and participating in sports. On the other hand, they may be punished or shamed for playing with makeup or dolls. According to Dr. Bem, children receive this information and use it to organize and understand themselves and others in comparison.

Early in their development, children view characteristics, such as strength, as existing in both sexes to varying degrees. As they grow older, however, these characteristics shift in one direction or another. Children begin to attribute strength to boys and weakness to girls, further emphasizing the differences between them. However, Dr. Bem argued that gender schemas are not necessarily fixed - we can actually change them. In order to confirm this theory, she created a psychological test to determine whether people used gender schemas.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account