Special Issue: “Feminism and/in/as Psychology: The Public Sciences of Sex and Gender”

Feminists form Division 35 of the American Psychological Association in 1973, now the Society for the Psychology of Women.

The August issue of History of Psychology is now online. Guest edited by Alexandra Rutherford and Michael Pettit, this special issue explores “Feminism and/in/as psychology: The public sciences of sex and gender.” As Rutherford and Pettit write in their abstract,

In our introduction to this special issue on the histories of feminism, gender, sexuality, and the psy-disciplines, we propose the tripartite framework of “feminism and/in/as psychology” to conceptualize the dynamics of their conjoined trajectories and relationship to gender and sexuality from the late 19th through the late 20th centuries. “Feminism and psychology” highlights the tensions between a political movement and a scientific discipline and the efforts of participants in each to problematize the other. “Feminism in psychology” refers to those historical moments when self-identified feminists intervened in psychology to alter its content, methodologies, and populations. We propose, as have others, that these interventions predate the 1970s, the period most commonly associated with the “founding” of feminist psychology. Finally, “feminism as psychology/psychology as feminism” explores the shared ground between psychology and feminism—the conceptual, methodological, and (more rarely) epistemological moments when psychology and feminism made common cause. We suggest that the traffic between feminism and psychology has been persistent, continuous, and productive, despite taking different historically and geographically contingent forms.

Full titles, authors, and abstracts for articles in this special issue follow below.

“The personal is scientific: Women, gender, and the production of sexological knowledge in Germany and Austria, 1900–1931,” Kirsten Leng. The abstract reads,

This article addresses the roles women and gender played in the production of sexological knowledge in the early 20th century, particularly in German-speaking Europe. Although existing scholarship focuses almost exclusively on the work of “founding fathers” such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Magnus Hirschfeld, women in fact made important contributions to the field. Based on analysis of texts written between 1900 and 1931, this article shows how women were able to successfully mobilize their gender as a privileged form of “situated knowledge,” and thereby assert their authority over and superior insights into certain subject areas, namely, female sexualities and sexual difference. At the same time, however, this article also highlights the constraints upon women’s gendered standpoint. It shows that women’s sexological writing was not just informed by their gender but also by their class and race. Moreover, because gender threatened to cast their work as insufficiently objective and scientific, women cleaved to sexology’s rules of evidence and argumentation, and adopted the field’s ideological trappings in order to participate in discursive contestations over sexual truths. By interrogating gender, this article introduces much-needed nuance into existing understandings of sexology, and reframes sexology itself as a site wherein new sexual subjectivities were imagined, articulated, and debated. However, it also raises fundamental questions about women sexologists’ capacity to create knowledge about women and female sexualities that was truer, more correct, and more authentic than that produced by men.

“Up the years with the Bettersons: Gender and parent education in interwar America,” by Ann Johnson and Elizabeth Johnston. The abstract reads,

In the 1920s and 1930s, the parent education movement opened doors for many female psychologists and other child development professionals by providing training and jobs. Female experts in the parent education movement spread the emerging “gospel of child development” to other women—mothers—in a variety of formats. Although psychologists like John B. Watson advocated traditional definitions of motherhood focusing on role adjustment, there is evidence that women psychologists and parent educators introduced ways of thinking about family life that challenged tradition, encouraging role expansion and self-fulfillment. We explore examples provided by women at the Minnesota Institute of Child Welfare who produced radio programs on child rearing. Starting in 1932, advice about child rearing was embedded within stories featuring a fictional family, the Bettersons. The family narrative format provides an opportunity to identify implicit (and sometimes explicit) values and norms informing prescribed roles for mothers, fathers, and children. Analysis suggests that gender roles were shifting in more egalitarian directions, with an awareness of new identity options for both women and men. We explore implications for evaluating the impact of female experts involved in the parent education movement.

“Treating marriage as “the sick entity”: Gender, emotional life, and the psychology of marriage improvement in postwar Britain,” by Teri Chettiar. The abstract reads,

This essay examines how marriage relationships came to be constituted as therapeutic objects after WWII and the impact that this had on British postwar understandings of the meaning of marriage. In contrast to prevailing concerns during the interwar decades about sexual dissatisfaction as the chief impediment to marital stability, post-WWII marriage counselors and therapists framed marital harmony as dependent upon spouses’ psychological maturity. An inability to sustain a stable marriage was interpreted as a sign of arrested development, most often stemming from a dysfunctional relationship with one or both parents in childhood. This essay reveals that the equal-but-different gender roles that were the cornerstone of the modern “companionate” marriage were crucial to marital counselors and therapists’ psychological understanding of marriage as an interpersonal relationship during the decades following WWII. Practitioners gauged therapeutic success not only in accordance with whether or not couples stayed married, but also in terms of the extent to which spouses enthusiastically accepted the adult masculine and feminine spousal roles that the male-breadwinning nuclear family required. Moreover, therapists’ valuing of the emotional dimensions of marriage made “natural” feminine attributes—such as a presumed ease in establishing loving relationships—a centrally valued aspect of therapeutic work and intimate life more broadly. Far from having a potentially disruptive impact on the presumed naturalness of gender difference (which had been a focus of criticism of psychoanalysis during the interwar decades), the psychoanalytic techniques that were developed to treat marriage problems after WWII were profoundly normalizing.

“From seduction to sexism: Feminists challenge the ethics of therapist–client sexual relations in 1970s america,” by Susanna Kim and Alexandra Rutherford. The abstract reads,

Before the 1970s, psychologists and other mental health professionals who had sex with their patients committed no ethical violations. Indeed, the line between seduction and sexual exploitation in the therapy hour was extremely blurry to patients and therapists alike. This article is about how that changed. We focus on feminist psychologists’ efforts, through the American Psychological Association Task Force on Sex Bias and Sex Role Stereotyping in Psychotherapeutic Practice, to document and reduce sexism in psychotherapy, including that involving therapist–client sexual relations. We contextualize these efforts within the larger feminist critique of the psy-disciplines that began in the late 1960s, highlighting how psychologists used several feminist strategies to recast seduction as sexism and revise the profession’s ethical standards to specifically state that sexual intimacies with clients are unethical. As an example of a feminist intervention into psychology’s—and society’s—extant gender ideologies, this process highlights the mutually reinforcing entanglements of psychology and feminism, both methodologically and politically.

“Liberating minds: Consciousness-raising as a bridge between feminism and psychology in 1970s Canada,” by Nora Ruck. The abstract reads,

This article examines the interrelations between psychology and feminism in the work of feminist psychologists and radical feminists in Toronto in the early 1970s. For Canadian feminist psychology as well as for second-wave activism, Toronto was a particular hotspot. It was the academic home of some of the first Canadian feminist psychologists, and was the site of a lively scene of feminists working in established women’s organizations along with younger socialist and radical feminists. This article analyzes the interrelations of academic feminist psychology and feminist activism by focusing on consciousness-raising, a practice that promised to bridge tensions between the personal and the political, psychological and social liberation, everyday knowledge and institutionalized knowledge production, theory and practice, as well as the women’s movement and other spheres of women’s lives.

““The name game”: Feminist protests of the DSM and diagnostic labels in the 1980s,” by Jenifer Dodd. The abstract reads,

This article examines protests of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in the mid-1980s to show how feminists working in mental health fields grappled with the tensions between their politics and their work. I argue that the DSM became a site where women attempted to tease out issues relating to gender, professionalization, and the power and stakes of labeling. Feminists privileged a sociological reading of gender, which butted up against mental health care workers’ professional investment in psychiatric ones. Women’s responses to the DSM, however, reveal that the line between the sociological and the pathological was unclear. This debate over labels is exemplified by a proposal to diagnose rapists as mentally ill. Women’s advocates framed sexual assault as an issue of violence against women, rather than an issue of male sexuality. For many women, the American Psychiatric Association’s proposal implied that rape was a primarily sexual act, and that male socialization needn’t be examined. Others, however, saw this as one more way to label and address bad male behavior; psychiatric treatment might not ultimately put an end to rape, but these women saw any sort of treatment as a step forward. For women professionals, this proposal and the DSM more broadly raised questions about whether the 2 frameworks could be integrated, and whether psychological treatments for social problems were appropriate.

Society for the History of Psychology news,” by Elissa Rodkey. The abstract reads,

Presents the Society for the History of Psychology news, which includes: call for book series editor, SHP member news, recent publications, and the Remembering Oak Ridge digital archive and exhibit.

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.

One thought on “Special Issue: “Feminism and/in/as Psychology: The Public Sciences of Sex and Gender”

  1. It seems as though the quality of life in many households in the post WW2 era depended a great deal on the female qualification of male standards for house keeping that proved Women to be equal to Men in taking on the responsibility of supporting a family. It seems in the Twenty First Century we are beginning to see a Male qualification of Female roles in understanding what it means to run a household and to tend to the needs of children and those whom they support as a care provider, with an implication that tending to the needs of the sick and elderly had inherently been a role of Women in the Social Services. Apparently men are just beginning to attach themselves to a more emotional priority in their work, as societal expectations had always placed emotional intelligences as a divested interest of Women.

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