When I was being evaluated by the Stanford Gender Dysphoria Clinic, they had me answer a number of questionaires. Of course, as a naive teenager, not yet having the background in science, especially in psychology, I took them thinking that they might help me get past these evaluations such that I would be OK’ed for SRS. Only later did I learn that these were not diagnostic but research tools. Later, I came to recognize them and studied them. One of them was the Bem Sex Role Inventory. Interestingly enough, I learned the most damning things about this instrument, not in my psych studies, which I did, but from my U.S. History, Women’s Emphasis Class in 1977. In that class, I learned about gender stereotypes, their power to shape politics… and as any feminist knows, the personal is political. Suddenly, for me, my personal experience taking the inventory become political.
Why am I writing about this now? Because I still see this inventory being touted as though it had any kind of scientific validity as a window into intrisic gender meaning… that it shows any sort of truly sexually dimorphic differences in personality. It does not.
Then what does it show? Stereotypes.
The Bem Inventory was developed in 1974 by Sandra Bem, a feminist psychologist. Bem did not intend it to be, and in fact later bemoaned that it had misused as, a gender identity tool. It was a tool to explore how individuals hewed, or not, to societal gender stereotypes, period.
I recall, that as I learned about the inventory, how dismayed I was about its use… and how many of the stereotypes made no real sense. Consider a couple of the terms that were supposed to be “feminine” and “masculine” qualities like “gullible” and “loyal”. WTF!?!?
In 1974, these were qualities that were considered “feminine” and “masculine”… but not today. This inventory only helps us understood sexist stereotypes of the mid’70s not who we are today… and certainly does NOT tell us if we are men, women, or transgendered. It’s far past time to leave the Bem Inventory in the footnotes section of history books.