An Unconventional Family

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Overview

In 1965, when psychologists Sandra and Daryl Bem met and married, they were determined to function as truly egalitarian partners and to raise their children in accordance with gender-liberated, anti-homophobic, and sex-positive feminist ideals. This book by Sandra Bem, an autobiographical account of the Bems' nearly 30-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 20s, speak in the book as well.
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Editorial Reviews

Barbara Risman
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.
Carolyn G. Heilbrun
A unique memoir of a marriage astonishingly brave both in its living and its telling.
Grant Jewell Rich
A gripping page-turner of an autobiography.
Psychology of Women Quarterly
A unique, incredibly honest, and smart memoir that is enjoyable and often quite touching to read.
Diane N. Lye
One gets the sense that Bern always intended to write this book. . . .she appears to have stored every scrap of paper pertaining to her life. . . .An Unconventional Family revisits some time-tested strategies and alerts us to some unexpected pitfalls. -- The Women's Review of Books
Hannah Merker
[A] serious discussion of the feminist movement and its present interpretations. -- Fore Word
Kirkus Reviews
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 pre-feminist 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 childcare, 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 themarriage 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300074246
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1998
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.57 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue
Pt. 1 Coming Together 1
1 Courtship 3
2 Why Daryl? 19
Pt. 2 Writing Our Own Script 49
3 Community of Family 51
4 Egalitarian Partnering 69
5 Feminist Child-Rearing 102
6 My Unorthodox Career 137
Pt. 3 Evaluating Our Experiment 165
7 Egalitarian Partnering Revisited 167
8 Feminist Child-Rearing Revisited 178
Epilogue 206
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