An Unconventional Family

Sandra Lipsitz Bem

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October 11, 1998
224 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
ISBN: 9780300074246
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In 1965, when psychologists Sandra and Daryl Bem met and married, they were determined to function as truly egalitarian partners and also to raise their children in accordance with gender-liberated, anti-homophobic, and sex-positive feminist ideals. During the next ten years, they exuberantly shared the details of their daily lives in both public lectures and the mass media in order to provide at least one concrete example of an alternative to the traditional heterosexual family. In the 1990s, Sandra Bem also published an award-winning book, The Lenses of Gender, which spelled out the feminist theory behind their feminist practices.
This second book by Sandra Bem, an autobiographical account of the Bems` nearly thirty-year marriage, is both a personal history of the Bems` past and a social history of a key period in feminism`s past. It is also a look into feminism`s future, because the Bems` children, Emily and Jeremy, now in their early twenties, speak at length in the book as well.
Bem analyzes what aspects of family background and psychological makeup led her and Daryl to bond so immediately and to become gender pioneers. She describes the egalitarianism and feminist child-rearing that they invented for their private needs and tells how these family agendas were transformed into public feminist discourse. Finally she reassesses this early feminist union now that the marriage has come to an end and the children are young adults, evaluating (with the help of lengthy interviews with Emily and Jeremy and a brief epilogue by Daryl) what the Bems` experiences—both positive and negative—have to say about the viability and necessity of nontraditional gender arrangements in society today.

Sandra Bem is professor of psychology and women's studies at Cornell University. In 1995 she was selected as an "Eminent Woman in Psychology" by the Divisions of General Psychology and the History of Psychology of the American Psychological Association.

"A fascinating book that teaches us a great deal about the strength of our gender structure in the face of serious attempts to change it."—Barbara Risman, author of Gender Vertigo: American Families in Transition



"A unique memoir of a marriage astonishingly brave both in its living and its telling. Required reading for those who aspired to a more egalitarian marriage and more unconventional child-rearing than they dared or achieved. And it`s a page-turner into the bargain."—Carolyn G. Heilbrun, author of Writing a Woman`s Life and The Last Gift of Time

"The book is well written and thoughtful, and achieves its purpose."—Publisher’s Weekly 

"Controversial, whether by ’60s or ’90s social and political thinking, An Unconventional Family is bound to elicit essays, talks, articles—serious discussion of the feminist movement and its present interpretations."—Hannah Merker, ForeWord

"In this fascinating autobiography, Bem provides details of the life experiences that led her and her husband Daryl Bem (also a psychologist, lecturer, and author) to become pioneers in gender studies. . . . Recommended for psychology and women’s studies collections in academic and public libraries."—Library Journal

"This short memoir is fascinating, deeply moving, and thought provoking. We are drawn into the 30-year history of a remarkably creative marriage and family."—Rachel Josefowitz Siegel, Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering


An Unconventional Family is a unique, incredibly honest, and smart memoir that is enjoyable and often quite touching to read. It would be a provocative adjunct to more scholarly texts in courses on gender and marriage and the family.”—Psychology of Women Quarterly


The Lenses of Gender

Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality

Sandra Lipsitz Bem

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