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Bem Sex Role Inventory and "Gender Tests"

dissimilar intent and validity

Forum: Trans-Academics
Date: 10/31/2012

On Oct 31, 2012, at 4:28 PM, "Hershel T. Russell" wrote:

Thanks Kelley! We had a fabulous Grand Rounds last year at a big local hospital where a very smart and funny resident gave us some of the ludicrous sexist gems from the Bem Sex Role Inventory Test and had us rolling in the aisles with laughter. Mind you, I think it's still held up as valid for research -- am I right?

Bem Sex Role Inventory appears ridiculous and sexist, but it is pretty solid as far as psychometric instruments go (though it is clearly dated and culturally specific).

Items comprising BSRI aren't chosen arbitrarily, but are derived from rigorous researches involving thousands of participants that surveyed what personality traits people associated with masculinity, femininity, or neither/both. Further, these personality traits were tested with many different subject groups to ensure reliability (test-retest, etc.) and those that do not meet the required level of reliability were removed. If BSRI is sexist, it is reflective (and accurately so--at least at the time) of the widely held sexist attitudes of the society, not the sexism on the part of Sandra Bem and her colleagues.

Many other "gender tests" you find online or in popular press are not based on rigorous procedures like BSRI is. For many of these (and other similar instruments, like J. Michael Bailey's "homosexual vs. autogynephilic" questions), it appears that items or questions are pulled out of nowhere, that is, researcher are creating psychometric indicators based solely on what they perceive as "true" marker of masculinity or femininity.

Most importantly, other "gender tests" like Moir-Jessel and COGIATI (both of which are critiqued along with BSRI on TSRoadmap site) are designed to examine how male or female one's brain is, while BSRI is designed to survey how one's self-reported personality traits match up with the society's perception of masculinity and femininity (without making any claim to these traits' connection to biological sex). As a feminist scholar, Bem was specifically aiming to unbundle masculinity and femininity from biological sex, and to challenge the notion that masculinity and femininity were mutually exclusive traits.