History of Feminist Psychology in PWQ

The most recent issue of the Psychology of Women Quarterly (PWQ), includes two articles on the history of feminist psychology. In “Responsible Opposition, Disruptive Voices: Science, Social Change, and the History of Feminist Psychology” Alexandra Rutherford (left), Kelli Vaughn-Blount, and Laura C. Ball explore the complex relationship between psychologists’ positivist scientific ideals and feminist political projects. The other historically minded article in this issue of PWQ, “Feminism and Women Leaders in SPSSI: Social Networks, Ideology, and Generational Change,” explores the lives of female leaders of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. Title, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Responsible Opposition, Disruptive Voices: Science, Social Change, and the History of Feminist Psychology” by Alexandra Rutherford, Kelli Vaughn-Blount, and Laura C. Ball. The abstract reads:

Feminist psychology began as an avowedly political project with an explicit social change agenda. However, over the last two decades, a number of critics have argued that feminist psychology has become mired in an epistemological impasse where positivist commitments effectively mute its political project, rendering the field acceptable to mainstream psychology yet shorn of its transformative vision. In this article, we explore the complexity of allying positivism with a transformative project using two illustrative examples from feminist psychology’s history. Both Naomi Weisstein, whose work was catalytic in the creation of feminist psychology in the 1970s, and Ethel Tobach, who has consistently fought against sexism, racism, and other forms of injustice as both scientist and citizen, have remained committed to the scientific ideal without losing sight of their political projects. An examination of their efforts reveals the vital necessity, but ultimate insufficiency, of this position for creating large scale social change as well as a need for constant vigilance to the politics of knowledge in which science—and feminism—are embedded.

“Feminism and Women Leaders in SPSSI: Social Networks, Ideology, and Generational Change” by Rhoda K. Unger, Kate Sheese, and Alexandra S. Main. The abstract reads:

We look at women leaders in the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) as a case study to explore the roots of second wave feminist leadership in psychology and its impact on the acceptance of gender as an important part of the field. Although all psychological organizations excluded many women from leadership until the latter part of the 20th century, the SPSSI, despite the contradiction between its socially activist agenda and exclusionary practices, was unusual because its ideals attracted many accomplished women to become members. In order to provide a richer view of women’s professional leadership and its consequences, we conducted a cohort analysis of the personal and professional circumstances of those women elected to office in the SPSSI over the past 70 years. We examine the complex interaction between the internalization of sexist norms, the use of formal and informal social structures (especially those involving collegial networking), political ideology, and social change. Based on our analysis, we suggest that the achievements of individual women appear to be less influential than the development of a critical mass of women leaders with a politically activist agenda and commitment to a social constructionist theoretical frame.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.