After The Facts: Psychology And The Study Of Gender

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Canadian Psychology


Th: Identify myself as a feminist therapist? I don't think I ever do. I mean if someone called up and asked, whatever their intent, I'd say "Yes I am." But I don't do that. I'm also aware that that might render me less effective. For instance if I said that to someone and it was off-putting to them, they wouldn't come in or they would have a negative attitude .... In fact, I'd be surprised if anyone kind of goes around the community saying, "Well, I'm a feminist therapist" (said in a high-pitched, singsong voice). But I don't do that .... And yet I make no apologies about it [being a feminist therapist] because it's a healthy framework. But I do think it has such a political context that in the same way that I wouldn't say, "I vote Democratic, not Republican," I wouldn't say that to anyone calling .... I can't imagine that anyone could be a healthy effective therapist without being a feminist therapist. I mean, I just don't understand any way that it would be incompatible with being a good therapist. Certain subject matter, methods, and even people are excluded by rhetorical maneuvers that place them as outside the purview of the field. Consider statements like the following: "It's too bad that so many smart women graduate students get interested in gender. Psychology can't afford to lose them." "All the candidates for the joint position in psychology and women's studies were completely hopeless, of course." "I can't assign that to my psychology class; it doesn't have any numbers in it." "They asked you to give an invited address? I mean, it's just that, well, your stuff is so marginal." Many psychologists have dismissed feminist work by drawing a sharp boundary between psychology and politics and accusing feminist psychologists of doing politics. Of course, a psychology that serves the status quo is no less political than a psychology that challenges it, even though its politics may be less visible. The human sciences are inevitably entangled with politics, whether in the selection of research questions, the choice of methods, the decision rules for interpreting data, or the applications of knowledge. Psychology, as an endeavour concerned with the conditions of human life, cannot be free of politics. In just three decades, the field of feminist psychology has laid deep roots and established an impressive record of accomplishments. The pace of activity shows no signs of flagging. Methodological innovations have been numerous. Indeed, a recent special issue of the Psychology of Women Quarterly (Crawford & Kimmel, 1999) on innovative methods received so many submissions that a double issue was required. Feminist psychology has been pluralist since its inception, stemming, as Mary Crawford and I noted, "from various specialty areas of psychology, grounded in several intellectual frameworks, and reflecting a spectrum of feminist perspectives" (1989, p. 147). Feminist psychologists who trust in the power of empirical evidence continue in the tradition of Helen Thompson Woolley, working to produce a more accurate psychology of women with better scientific data. Although they may not yet have persuaded the discipline to take questions of gender seriously, they have succeeded in producing research data that have influenced social policy and legal statutes on gender equity in schools, sexual harassment, gender-linked violence, and abortion among other issues. Feminist researchers who assume a qualitative stance have built bridges to other disciplines - women's studies, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, and even literary theory. Not content to figure research participants as automata without agency, they grapple with ways to study them as active subjects struggling to make sense of their life experiences. The skeptics - though they are sometimes accused of "destroying" psychology-- seek to expand psychology's view of itself by placing the discipline in historical and cultural context. By examining the backstage operations of the discipline, their work deepens psychologists' self-knowledge. Times of ferment, disagreement, and challenge spur self-reflection, reassessment, and revitalization. My best hope for feminist psychology is that it continues to generate such times both for itself and for the discipline as a whole.

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