Academic journal article Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development

Twenty-Five Years after the Bem Sex-Role Inventory: A Reassessment and New Issues regarding Classification Variability

Academic journal article Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development

Twenty-Five Years after the Bem Sex-Role Inventory: A Reassessment and New Issues regarding Classification Variability

Article excerpt

Respondents' Bem Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI; S. L. Bem, 1974) classifications may differ considerably on the basis of the form and scoring method used. The BSRI was reexamined with respect to past and present relevance.

The 1970s heralded a new concept in masculinity and femininity research: the idea that healthy women and men could possess similar characteristics. Androgyny emerged as a framework for interpreting similarities and differences among individuals according to the degree to which they described themselves in terms of characteristics traditionally associated with men (masculine) and those associated with women (feminine; Cook, 1987). Although the term androgyny was not new, having its roots in classical mythology and literature (andro = male, gyne = female), the 1970s marked a resurgence of the word's popularity as a means to represent a combination of stereotypically "feminine" and stereotypically "masculine" personality traits. The Bem Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI; Bem, 1974) was designed to facilitate empirical research on psychological androgyny. For the past quarter of a century, the BSRI has endured as the instrument of choice among researchers investigating gender role orientation (Beere, 1990).

Since its development in 1974, the BSRI has been widely used but also widely criticized. Ironically, early criticisms of the BSRI have contributed to its becoming even more well known as a masculinity--femininity measure and, consequently, used even more by researchers. In fact, it seems that the BSRI has been repeatedly used without sufficient attention to its theoretical framework (Frable, 1989); without clear and deliberate thought to the research questions being studied (Gilbert, 1985); and, as we argue, perhaps also without as thorough an understanding of the instrument as would be advisable.

It is interesting and salient that, after 25 years, Bem (1998) disclosed in her autobiography that she was not adequately prepared to develop this instrument and has been shocked by how popular it became and remains today. This honest admission clearly helps to explain some of the issues regarding this widely used instrument.

The purpose of this article is threefold. The primary purpose is to explore the extent of variability among respondents' BSRI classifications (i.e., feminine, masculine, androgynous, and undifferentiated) depending on which form of the instrument (Original or Short) and which of the two scoring methods are used (i.e., median-split or hybrid [this latter scoring method uses both the median-split and the individual's Femininity- minus- Masculinity scores]). Both scoring methods are described in the test manual (Bem, 1981a) and are equally recommended by Bern. Classification variability has not been examined in previous research, a surprising observation given both the degree of attention that the BSRI has received since its inception and the emphasis researchers place on these classification categories in interpreting results of studies using this instrument.

The second purpose is to reexamine the current viability of the BSRI as a research tool by assessing whether its "masculine" and "feminine" items represent current perceptions of masculinity and femininity among college undergraduates. Although a study was conducted by Ballard-Reisch and Elton (1992) with this intent, a noncollege sample was used instead of college undergraduates, the group that Bem used to develop the BSRI.

The third purpose is to review and discuss theoretical and methodological issues related to the BSRI as the instrument marks 25 years as the most widely used measure in all areas of gender research. (A literature search conducted by Beere, 1990, in preparation for her anthology of gender tests and measures identified 795 articles and 167 ERIC documents that used the BSRI, and none of those references was a duplicate of those listed in her first book [Beere, 1979].) This article differs from previous critiques of the BSRI in that it addresses both the theoretical underpinnings of the BSRI and the key methodological issues in the development of the instrument and offers new perspectives as well as evaluates past criticisms. …

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