The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality

Front Cover
Yale University Press, Jan 1, 1993 - Social Science - 244 pages
In this book a leading theorist on sex and gender discusses how hidden assumptions embedded in our cultural discourses, social institutions, and individual psyches perpetuate male power and oppress women and sexual minorities. Sandra Lipsitz Bem argues that these assumptions, which she calls the lenses of gender, shape not only perceptions of social reality but also the more material things--like unequal pay and inadequate daycare--that constitute social reality itself. Her penetrating and articulate examination of these hidden cultural lenses enables us to look at them rather than through them and to better understand recent debates on gender and sexuality.

According to Bem, the first lens, androcentrism (male-centeredness), defines males and male experience as a standard or norm and females and female experience as a deviation from that norm. The second lens, gender polarization, superimposes male-female differences on virtually every aspect of human experience, from modes of dress and social roles to ways of expressing emotion and sexual desire. The third lens, biological essentialism, rationalizes and legitimizes the other two lenses by treating them as the inevitable consequences of the intrinsic biological natures of women and men.

After illustrating the pervasiveness of these three lenses in both historical and contemporary discourses of Western culture, Bem presents her own theory of how the individual either acquires cultural gender lenses and constructs a conventional gender identity or resists cultural lenses and constructs a gender-subversive identity. She contends that we must reframe the debate on sexual inequality so that it focuses not on the differences between men and women but on how male-centered discourses and institutions transform male-female difference into female disadvantage.


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THE LENSES OF GENDER: Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality

User Review  - Kirkus

A stimulating and tightly argued treatise on how American and Western culture defines gender and uses that definition to make the ``equality of women'' an oxymoron. Bem (Psychology and Women's Studies ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - tlcoles - LibraryThing

I read this book in 1992 at the recommendation of one of her relatives, a man with whom I worked at a local clinic. This book is among those titles I consider life-changing (and I had already read a ... Read full review


Gender Polarization
The Construction of Gender Identity

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About the author (1993)

Sandra Lipsitz Bem is professor of psychology, women's studies, and lesbian, bisexual, and gay studies at Cornell University.

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