Psychology of Women
- LAST REVIEWED: 31 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0046
- LAST REVIEWED: 31 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0046
The field of the psychology of women provides feminist correctives to the theories and research that have omitted, trivialized, and distorted women’s experiences to fit into a male-biased structure. Thus, the field of the psychology of women recognizes the inequality of social and institutional power between women and men; makes values of the researcher central to scientific study; studies women’s behavior and experiences within social contexts across the life cycle; and advocates for change at the individual, organizational, and societal levels. The field of the psychology of women also encourages individuals to critically analyze all subareas in psychology for their portrayal of women. The psychology of women addresses topics such as gender stereotyping, physical development across the female life cycle, theoretical perspectives on women’s personalities and mental health, women’s health issues, sexuality, reproductive rights and reproductive health, verbal and nonverbal communications by and about women, women and intimate relationships, career psychology of women, women and leadership, gender, power and violence against women, and equity and social change. The psychology of women also is concerned with intersectionalities among sex, race, class, age, ability, sexual orientation and national origin. Empirical research in the psychology of women is used in policymaking on issues such as work–life integration, day care, violence against women, and child abductions and missing children. Researchers in the field of the psychology of women serve as expert witnesses in court cases on issues such as sexual harassment, race discrimination, child sexual abuse, rape, and intimate partner violence. The field of the psychology of women is also referred to as feminist psychology since the objective of this discipline is to understand the individual within the larger political and social aspects of society.
The field of the psychology of women initially was focused on differences between the sexes with very little attention paid to intersectionality and also diversity because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities, and age (Bardwick 1972, Sherman 1971, Unger and Denmark 1975). Feminist scholars (e.g., Denmark 1994, Worell 1990) have noted that throughout much of the discipline of psychology, an androcentric view of human behavior has posited that men were the normative population and women were studied in order to determine how they compared with male standards. Theories and research in several subfields of psychology were based on boys and men only, e.g., achievement motivation, mental health, and morality (Weisstein 1971). In addition, gendercentrism has been evident in the discipline of psychology since separate paths of development are suggested for women and men as a result of the biological differences between them. The discipline of psychology has also been ethnocentric; psychological theories assume that development is identical for all individuals across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic class groups (Chisholm and Green 2007). Furthermore, psychology has been heterosexist; theories and research assume that a heterosexual orientation is normative, while gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transgendered, or questioning individuals are deviations from the heterosexual norm. The first section of this bibliography introduces textbooks and journals on the psychology of women. Subsequent sections examine topics commonly addressed in the psychology of women: history of the field; research methods; teaching courses in the psychology of women; social development; personality development; physical development and health; sexualities, reproductive rights, and reproductive health; mental health; violence; and career development and work. Attention is paid to presenting sample texts, book chapters, and journal articles that address women’s sexual orientations, race, and ethnicity. Classic readings in the psychology of women are presented in addition to more recent research and theories, illustrating the changes in ways the field has evolved since the reemergence of the feminist movement in the early 1970s (Chrisler and Smith 2004). Feminist academicians have claimed feminist principles help them cope with sexism and other forms of discriminatory treatment, noting that feminism is a “life raft” for women (Klonnis, et al. 1987).
Bardwick, Judith, ed. 1972. The psychology of women: A study of bio-cultural conflicts. New York: Harper & Row.
Assesses the current field of the psychology of women at the beginning of the feminist movement in psychology. Focus had been on finding differences between the sexes rather than viewing women’s experiences in their own right without comparing them to men’s experiences. Discusses ambivalence and the socialization of women, the “motive to avoid success,” sex differences in intellectual functioning and other topics subsequently reexamined and found to have little empirical support.
Chisholm, June, and Beverly Green. 2007. Women of color: Perspectives on multiple identities in psychological theory, research and practice. In Psychology of women: A handbook of issues and theories. 2d ed. Edited by Florence L. Denmark and Michele A. Paludi, 40–69. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Overview of American culture including dominant culture members and “subcultures” of minority individuals. Introduces the concept of “multiple identities” that acknowledges women define themselves by more than one identity, e.g., race and sex; race, sex and sexual orientation; disability, sex, and age. Includes recommendations for mental health interventions to assist women of color who deal with the social marginalization as a consequence of multiple identities.
Chrisler, Joan, and Christine Smith. 2004. Feminism and psychology. In Praeger guide to the psychology of gender. Edited by Michele A. Paludi, 271–291. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Provides an overview of the influence of feminism on the discipline of psychology including liberal feminism and socialist feminism. Discusses the impact of feminism on theories about women’s personality and conducting research on women’s lives and realities. Addresses threats to feminist psychology, e.g., evolutionary psychology.
Denmark, Florence L. 1994. Engendering psychology. American Psychologist 49:329–334.
Brings attention to the fact that psychology had ignored, trivialized, and distorted women’s (especially women in poverty, women of color, and lesbian women) realities and issues. Argues that researchers had permitted their personal opinions about women and men to bias their research. Engendering the discipline of psychology refers to cultivating a discipline that is sensitive to gender and diversity. Presents reviews of textbooks and classroom pedagogy.
Klonnis, Suzanne, Joanne Endo, Fay Crosby, and Judith Worell. 1987. Feminism as life raft. Psychology of Women Quarterly 21:333–345.
Addresses the relationship between being feminists and experiencing discrimination of women professors. Examines responses indicating feminism was not a provocation of discriminatory treatment in academia but rather a way to help women faculty cope with discriminatory treatment.
Sherman, Julia Ann. 1971. On the psychology of women. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.
One of the initial textbooks in the psychology of women. Focuses on differences between women and men in cognitive, social, and personality development. Provides “history in the making” of the field of the psychology of women.
Unger, Rhoda, and Florence L. Denmark, eds. 1975. Woman: Dependent or independent variable. New York: Psychological Dimensions.
First issue-oriented reader on the psychology of women that included new scholarly writings as well as previously published articles. Addressed ways psychologists’ research assumed that biological sex was the variable that predicts the outcome of social interaction rather than viewing social contexts as shaping the meaning of being a woman or a man in individuals’ lives.
Weisstein, Naomi. 1971. Psychology constructs the female: Or, the fantasy life of the male psychologist (with some attention to the fantasies of his friends, the male biologist and the male anthropologist). Social Education 35:362–373.
Discusses ways in which social scientists have permitted their personal biases about women to bias their research endeavors through topics they believed were worthy of study, excluding women from research, only comparing women to men and excluding women of color and lesbian women. Includes a call for placing equal respect for both women and men.
Worell, Judith. 1990. Images of women in psychology. In Foundations for a feminist restructuring of the academic disciplines. Edited by Michele A. Paludi and Gertrude Steuernagel, 185–224. New York: Haworth.
An overview of traditional and contemporary views about women in psychological theory and empirical research. Reviews gender stereotyping and theories of gender role development, including those of Sigmund Freud, Albert Bandura, and Erik Erikson. Includes a discussion of psychological androgyny. Provides recommendations for feminist psychotherapy.
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