Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Psychologist Sandy Bem's Death by Suicide

This is an excellent article on the death of psychologist Sandy Bem, who chose to die by suicide in May 2014, five years after first being diagnosed with the cognitive impairments that precede Alzheimer's dementia. By the time she died she could not recognize her own daughter. Most people with dementia don't try to kill themselves, because some of the first symptoms of the disease are loss of insight (they no longer realize that there is something wrong with them) and apathy (they no longer care to do anything about their situation).

Read the whole article, because it is a powerful piece on both cognitive decline and the Right to Die. I have excerpted the sections below because I never knew these gossipy bits about the Bems, the developers of the Bem Sex-Role Inventory.

"The Bems were both psychology professors, at Stanford and then Cornell, and they traveled around the country giving tandem talks about society’s creation of sex-­role stereotypes. They were a slightly odd couple. Sandy was petite and not the least interested in fashion. Daryl was bigger, dapper, six years older and already a bit stooped, with a scholar’s pallor, a kind face and a courtly manner cultivated over his years of performing as a magician. (He would also come to be known, later in his career, for some controversial experiments involving ESP.)
They turned their politics into a way of life, raising their two children, Emily, born in 1974, and Jeremy, born two years later, in what they described as a gender-­neutral way. “Many other feminist couples have experimented with egalitarian relationships and feminist child-rearing,” Sandy wrote in “An Unconventional Family.” But few “have shared the details of their daily lives as exuberantly as Daryl and I.” She talked about everything, in print and on the lecture circuit: letting Jeremy wear pink barrettes to kindergarten; driving Emily past the same construction site every day because a woman was on the crew; hanging a chart on a kitchen cabinet to let the children know which parent was “on duty” that week.
Despite their good intentions, though, the marriage grew strained. As their children went through adolescence, Sandy complained that she felt like a single parent, with Daryl not fully engaging with the family’s needs. They both saw the paradox in their supposedly egalitarian marriage floundering in such a gender-­stereotypical way. In 1994, when the children were 19 and 17, the Bems separated.
After the split, Daryl acted on his attraction to men, a part of his sexuality that he never hid from Sandy. He liked to joke that on their first date, he told her there were three things she should know about him — “I’m a stage magician, I’m from Colorado and I’m primarily homoerotic” — and that she calmly replied that she had never met anyone from Colorado.
About a year after the separation, Daryl began a long-­term relationship with a communications professor at Ithaca College. Yet he and Sandy never divorced, and he remained a frequent visitor to the big house in Cornell Heights where they raised their children. He ate dinner there a few times a week and stayed involved in the lives of Emily and Jeremy — even more involved, in a way, than when he lived with them. He also remained one of Sandy’s best friends and one of her few close confidants. (She had a short-­lived relationship with a woman soon after Daryl moved out and remained single after that.)"

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