From Sandra Lipsitz Bem, The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), pp. 2-5.


The first lens embedded in cultural discourses, social institutions, and individual psyches is the lens of androcentrism, or male-centeredness. This is not just the historically crude perception that men are inherently superior to women but a more treacherous underpinning of that perception: a definition of males and male experience as a neutral standard or norm, and females and female experience as a sex-specific deviation from that norm. It is thus not that man is treated as superior and woman as inferior but that man is treated as human and woman as "other."
   The second lens is the lens of gender polarization. Once again, this is not just the historically crude perception that women and men are fundamentally different from one another but the more subtle and insidious use of that perceived difference as an organizing principle for the social life of the culture. It is thus not simply that women and men are seen to be different but that this male-female difference is superimposed on so many aspects of the social world that a cultural connection is thereby forged between sex and virtually every other aspect of human experience, including modes of dress and social roles and even ways of expressing emotion and experiencing sexual desire.
   Finally, the third lens is the lens of biological essentialism, which rationalizes and legitimizes both other lenses by treating them as the natural and inevitable consequences of the intrinsic biological natures of women and men. This is the lens that has secularized Godís grand creation by substituting its scientific equivalent: evolutionís grand creation. As we shall see, nothing in this book denies biological facts, but I do argue that these facts have no fixed meaning independent of the way that a culture interprets and uses them, nor any social implications independent of their historical and contemporary context.
   The lenses of androcentrism, gender polarization, and biological essentialism systemically reproduce male power in two ways. First, the discourses and social institutions in which they are embedded automatically channel females and males into different and unequal life situations. Second, during enculturation, the individual gradually internalizes the cultural lenses and thereby becomes motivated to construct an identity that is consistent with them.
   Not all males in U.S. society actually have power, of course, and the term male power should thus be construed narrowly as the power historically held by rich, white, heterosexual men, for it is they who originally set up and now primarily sustain the cultural discourses and social institutions of the nation. It is thus not women alone who are disadvantaged by the organization of U.S. society but poor people, people of color, and sexual minorities as well. Of these several other systemic oppressions, the oppression of lesbians and gay men so directly derives from the androcentric, gender-polarizing, and biologically essentialist definition of what it means to be a woman or a man that I have systematically integrated my analysis of this oppression into the structure of the book. [...] I am suggesting more generally that the lenses of gender are embedded in cultural discourses, social institutions, and individual psyches in virtually all male-dominated societies.

[...] Chapter 2, on biological essentialism, documents and exposes the longstanding tendency of biological theorists to naturalize the social and economic inequalities between the sexes -- to make them seem natural and inevitable rather than historically constructed and modifiable -- which they do by overemphasizing biology and underemphasizing the historical and contemporary social context. [...]
   Chapter 3 documents and exposes the lens of androcentrism in four of the most central discourses of Western culture: Judeo-Christian theology, ancient Greek philosophy, Freudian psychoanalytic theory, and the history of American equal rights law.
   Chapter 4 examines the lens of gender polarization by documenting the way that the allied fields of medicine, sexology, psychiatry, and psychology have toether given scientific and medical legitimacy not only to the cultural requirement that the sex of the body match the gender of the psyche but also to the cultural privileging of exclusive heterosexuality. [...]
   [...][Chapter 5] analyzes the process of self-perception and self-construction, or how the individual who has internalized the cultureís gender lenses self-constructs a gendered personality, a gendered body, an androcentric heterosexuality, and an abhorrence of homosexuality. This group is wildly diverse, including lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, as well as anyone whose way of living or being violates the androcentric, gender-polarizing, and biologically essentialist definition of a "real" woman or man.
   [...][In Chapter 6] I argue that because women in modern U.S. society are most insidiously disadvantaged by androcentric policies and practices that appear to be gender neutral, feminists must reframe the cultural debate on sexual inequality so that it focuses not on male-female difference but on how androcentric discourses and institutions transform male-female difference into female disadvantage. Finally, I argue for more than the abolition of androcentrism; I argue for the abolition of gender polarization as well. This book, then, is not only an exercise in deconstruction but also my own personal first draft of a blueprint for reconstruction.


SANDRA LIPSITZ BEM is professor of psychology and womenís 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.