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An unsatisfying look back at the (now-defunct) marriage of an academic husband and wife who pioneered gender equality and encouraged their children to be sexually liberated—that is, comfortable with their sexuality, whatever form it might take. Did this work? Although she and her husband, Daryl Bem, are now separated and living with same-sex partners, author Sandra Bem (psychology/Cornell; Lenses of Gender, 1993) thinks it did. Her two twentysomething children, Emily and Jeremy, interviewed for this volume, are somewhat more ambivalent. Sandra and Daryl met in early 1965; he was a young psychology professor, she a an undergraduate majoring in psychology. They married less than five months later, with their plan for an “egalitarian” marriage—e.g., sharing household chores—firmly in place This plan drew a degree of opposition from family and friends that was surprising even for prefeminist 1965, but the Bems stood firm. They moved from Pennsylvania to California in 1970, lured by a joint offer from Stanford University; by then they were lecturing on their egalitarian marriage, drawing press coverage, and even influencing public policy. When the children came along, the Bems set out to raise them free from blue-for- boy/pink-for-girl stereotypes. That involved not only sharing child care, including decision-making, but emphasizing that the differences between a boy and a girl lay only in their genitals. Household nudity was encouraged. Television and books were censored to minimize the children’s exposure to traditional role models. Sandra also devotes much of the book to stories of her own childhood and conflicts within her family. Daryl adds an epilogue about why the marriage broke up—it had nothing to do with attraction to same-sex partners, he says, and everything to do with spouses in a 29-year marriage simply growing apart. Unlike her well-thought-out Lenses of Gender, this brief volume offers neither a helpful nor even a very interesting recounting of how to raise equal-opportunity children. Instead, the author merely unburdens herself of her past.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-07424-7
Page count: 209pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998