Applied Psychology: Feminist psychology


  1. Introduction
  2. History
  3. Gender research in the 1960s and 1970s
  4. Joining the workforce
  5. Organizations
  6. Current research 


Feminist psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on social structures and gender roles. Feminist psychology criticises historical psychological research that was conducted from a male perspective, with the assumption that males are the norm. Feminist psychology is based on feminist values and principles. Gender issues can be classified into a variety of categories and can be quite contentious. They can include how people identify their gender (for example, male, female, genderqueer, transgender, or cisgender) and how they have been influenced by gender-related societal structures (gender hierarchy), the role of gender in the individual's life (such as stereotypical gender roles), and any other gender-related issues. The primary goal of this field of study is to comprehend the individual within the larger social and political context of society. Women's rights are highly valued in feminist psychology. Psychoanalysis emerged as a clinical or therapeutic method, while feminism emerged as a political strategy.


Feminist psychoanalysis

Karen Horney was the first to coin the term feminist psychology. Horney addresses previously held beliefs about women, relationships, and the effect of society on female psychology in her book, Feminine Psychology, which is a collection of articles she wrote on the subject from 1922 to 1937.

Functionalism, Darwinism and the psychology of women

In terms of female psychology, the beginning of psychology research provides very little information. Many women did not fight oppression because they were unaware they were being oppressed in the first place. When the functionalist movement took hold in the United States, academic psychology's study of gender differences and a prototypical psychology of women were born.

Anti-feminism after WWII

"Mom-ism" became an official pathological syndrome under the APA in 1942, thanks to Edward Strecker. Strecker believed that the country was in danger because mothers were not emotionally disconnecting from their children at a young enough age, and that the matriarchy was weakening young men and robbing them of their "man power." This fueled the anti-feminist movement, as women required psychotherapy to treat their mental illnesses and prevent the spread of maternalism. The psychological toll on the family would be severe if a woman chose a career to meet her needs rather than the feminine domestic role assigned to her by society. A woman's happiness was unimportant; she had to do her job. The effect of women having independent thoughts and a desire to explore her options was a huge threat to gender, as it resulted in masculine women and feminised men, apparently perplexing and dooming the nation's youth. Both Constantinople and Bem agreed that men and women have masculinity and femininity, and that having both is a sign of being psychologically androgynous and a reason for being psychologically fixed or evaluated.

Gender research in the 1960s and 1970s

According to Esther Greenglass, women were completely excluded from the field of psychology in 1972. The use of the word "women" in relation to psychology was forbidden, but men refused to be excluded from the story. They had to phrase it in the interest of human beings or gender in her experience of teaching classes or being assistant professors. According to Unger's paper "Toward a Redefinition of Sex and Gender," the use of gender demonstrated the separation of biological and psychological sex. Women's psychology is feminist because it asserts that women are distinct from men and that women's behaviour cannot be understood apart from context. In turn, feminists forced psychoanalysts to consider the implications of one of Freud's most uncompromising claims: "that human beings consist of men and women, and that this distinction is the most significant one that exists." "U.S. radical feminist Irene Peslikis warned that equating women's liberation with individual therapy prevented women from truly understanding and fighting the roots of their oppression," Nora Ruck writes in Liberating Minds: ConsciousnessRaising as a Bridge Between Feminism and Psychology in 1970s Canada. Canada was one of the few countries with a feminism academic category within psychology. To build their movement, they relied on CR (consciousness raising) groups. Ruck describes the CR groups' process as "bridging the tensions" between the personal and the political. The radical feminist collective "Redstockings" in New York is widely credited with the development of CR as a political method in its own right (Echols, 1989). CR is also closely associated with radical feminism, which seeks to eliminate sex discrimination and segregation and, through grassroots movements such as socialist feminism, maintains that women's oppression is a "primary cause" of capitalist oppression rather than a "byproduct" (Koedt, 1968).

Joining the workforce

Women were excluded from Freud's definition of mental health (the ability to love and work) because women wanting jobs were associated with a masculinity complex or male envy. In the United States, the percentage of women working outside the home increased from 43 to 51 between 1970 and 1980. Women reported difficulty juggling the roles of mother and provider, but they found a way to be fulfilled in the absence of childbearing. Women continue to make up a sizable proportion of the workforce in psychological positions. Women held 68.3 percent of psychological positions in the United States of America in 2013, and 70 percent in 2019. This resulted in 2.1 women working for every one man, a significant departure from Freud's previous school of thought on women in the workplace (APA, 2013). The workforce considers semi-retired psychologists as well; however, when comparing active psychologists, women still outnumber men, and men have a lower percentage of semi-retired and retired psychologists (APA, 2013). In 1973, the Committee on Women in Psychology (CWP) was established. Its mission was to "'advance psychology as a science and a profession...' — by ensuring that women in all their diversity achieve equality within the psychological community and in society..." APA (2017) There are also journals devoted to women in psychology, such as SAGE, which is accredited by the American Psychological Association (SAGE, 2017). The SAGE journal publishes articles on the mental health of women in the workplace, as well as what it is like for single mothers in the country, all of which are common topics in feminism (SAGE, 2017). These movements show a clear cultural shift from Freud's original philosophy on mental health, where women are not only included, but also part of every aspect of the psychology workforce. The APA Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology was founded to support and empower women in the field of psychology. Women like Cynthia de las Fuentes are not only advocating for feminist psychology to become a more popular topic, but they are also conducting research into why some people are abandoning feminism and, by extension, feminism psychology (APA, 2006).


Association for Women in Psychology (AWP)

In response to the American Psychological Association's apparent lack of involvement in the Women's Liberation Movement, the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP) was founded in 1969. The organisation was founded to fight for and raise awareness of feminist issues in the field of psychology. The organisation concentrated its efforts on achieving feminist representation in the APA, and it was finally successful in 1973 with the establishment of APA Division 35. (the Society for the Psychology of Women).

Society for the Psychology of Women

APA The Society for the Psychology of Women, Division 35, was founded in 1973. It was created to provide a location for anyone interested in women's psychology to access information and resources in the field. The Society for the Psychology of Women works to integrate feminist concerns into psychology education and practise. Division 35 also oversees several committees, projects, and programmes.

Section on Women and Psychology (SWAP)

Women and Psychology (SWAP) is a section of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) that aims to "advance the status of women in psychology, promote equality for women in general, and educate psychologists and the public on topics relevant to women and girls." [9] SWAP funds projects like Psychology's Feminist Voices. According to the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, female psychologists are frequently regarded as inefficient due to their low contribution to scientific productivity. As a result, even if they hold doctorates, women tend to outperform their male counterparts in lower-level positions. 

The Psychology of Women Section (BPS) 

The British Psychological Society's Psychology of Women Section (BPS) was established in 1988 to bring together anyone with an interest in the psychology of women, to provide a forum to support research, teaching, and professional practise, and to raise awareness of gender issues and gender inequality in psychology as a profession and practise. POWS is open to all British Psychological Society members.

Current research 


Gender differences in emotion are a major topic of research in feminist psychology. Emotion, according to feminist psychologists, is culturally controlled and that the differences lie in the expression of emotion rather than the actual experience. The manner in which a person expresses his or her emotions is defined by socially imposed display rules that guide the acceptable forms of expression for specific people and feelings.

Emotion stereotypes portray women as the more emotional sex. Feminist psychologists, on the other hand, argue that women are only perceived as having stronger feelings of sadness, happiness, fear, and surprise. Men, on the other hand, are thought to be more likely to express dominant emotions such as anger. Feminist psychologists believe that men and women are socialised to view and express emotions differently throughout their lives. From infancy, mothers use more facial expression when speaking to female babies, and as they grow older, they use more emotion words in conversation with them.

Peers further socialise girls and boys, with girls rewarded for being sensitive and emotional and boys rewarded for dominance and lack of most emotional expression. Psychologists have also discovered that women, on average, are better at decoding emotion using nonverbal cues. Facial expression, tone of voice, and posture are examples of these signals. Gender differences in decoding ability have been observed in studies as early as age three and a half. The book Man and Woman, Boy and Girl examines intersex patients to explain why social factors are more important than biological factors in gender identity and gender roles, and it has reintroduced nature vs nurture debates (Money & Ehrhardt, 1972).


Many social scientists study various aspects of the "glass ceiling effect," which refers to the invisible but powerful barriers that prevent many women from progressing beyond a certain level in the workplace and other public institutions. According to the US Department of Labor, women made up 47 percent of the workforce in the United States in 2010. However, there are only a few women who hold high-level positions in corporations. Women make up only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs (in 2014), 19% of S&P500 board members, and 26% of college presidents. Women make up 19.1 percent of U.S. Representatives, 21 percent of U.S. Senators, 8 percent of state governors, and similarly low percentages of state elected officials in 2017. Women of colour are underrepresented in comparison to white women. The United States lags behind other countries in terms of gender parity in government representation; according to the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, the United States ranked 33rd out of 49 so-called "high-income" countries, and 83rd out of 137 countries surveyed. "Women affiliated with the American Academy of Psychoanalysis were among the first to investigate topics such as women's fear of success and neurotic dependency. They recognised the cultural forces impeding women's advancement in non-domestic spheres, particularly the pressures inherent in a male-dominated society." Much scholarship focuses on structural factors impeding women's advancement in public spheres, rather than identifying the source of the problem as women themselves.

Women also experience a "sticky floor effect." The sticky floor effect occurs when women lack a career path or a ladder to higher positions. When women have children, they face a stumbling block known as the maternal wall, which occurs when women receive fewer desirable assignments and opportunities for advancement after having a child. Women are labelled as "nourishing facilitators" by patriarchy, implying that they are not mentally strong enough to participate in the aggressive male-dominated workforce without suffering psychological and emotional consequences. When women begin working at a company, their advancement may be hampered if a senior level employee does not actively participate in the development and career planning of junior employees. Because there are fewer women than men in higher-level company positions, there are fewer female mentors to assist new female employees. A woman with a male mentor may have difficulty bonding and receiving advice from outside of work experiences. This is because men typically exclude women from sports such as basketball and golf. Cultural differences, stereotypes, and perceived threats are all factors that limit women's leadership. Women are stereotyped as being overly emotional if they show even a smidgeon of sensitivity. Employers generally do not regard sensitive, soft people as capable of making difficult decisions or taking on leadership roles. If a woman exhibits male characteristics, she is portrayed as mean, butch, and aggressive. Women are perceived as less competent when they exhibit "non-feminine" characteristics and are not taken seriously. These women don't brag about their achievements and feel guilty for being able to transcend stereotypes of feminine emotion and thought in order to become masculine in their jobs, just to be successful or equal to men. Career women, whose professional status is dependent on appropriating masculine traits, are prone to depression.  Recent research has linked the concept of stereotype threat with girls' motivations to avoid success as an individual difference. Girls may avoid participation in certain male-dominated fields due to real and perceived obstacles to success in those fields, though there is little evidence to support this claim (e.g., Spencer et al. 1999).

Cultural differences between managers and workers are another source of discrimination and stress. For example, if a manager is white and has an employee of colour, if they do not understand or respect each other, stress may be created. Advancement is unlikely without trust and respect. Our depiction of gender identity is predominantly white and middle-class. Black women describe White women as intelligent, manipulative, and privileged, whereas White women are described as strong, determined, and possessing attitude (Burack, 2002). In Ladies Home Journal, it was written, "There it is, White fear of Black anger" (Edwards 1998: 77). It is not a case of sexual harassment or harassment in general when there are perceived threats at work. The threat is the possibility of women taking over. The more women who work in a workplace, the more threatened a man feels about his job security. In a study of 126 male managers, they were asked to estimate the number of women working at their workplace and whether or not men felt disadvantaged. Men who believed there were a lot of women felt threatened about their job security (Beaton et al., 1996). Alice Eagly and Blair Johnson (1990) discovered that men and women have subtle differences in their leadership styles. Women in positions of power were perceived as more interpersonal and democratic, whereas men were perceived as more task-oriented and autocratic. In reality, men and women both have equally effective leadership styles. A study conducted by Alice Eagly (Eagly, Karau, & Makhijani, 1995) discovered no overall differences in the effectiveness of male and female leaders in facilitating group goal achievement.


Domestic violence, sexual harassment, childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape are all examples of gender-based violence, according to feminists. Women's violence can be physical or psychological, and it is not limited by race, economic status, age, ethnicity, or location. Women can be abused by strangers, but the abuser is usually someone the woman knows. Women can be affected by violence in both the short and long term, and they respond to it in a variety of ways. Fear, anxiety, and anger are all emotions that some women express. Others choose to deny it happened and hide their emotions. Women frequently blame themselves for what happened and try to justify it by claiming that they somehow deserved it. Psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are common among victims of violence. In addition to the psychological consequences, many women suffer physical injuries as a result of the violence, which necessitate medical attention.

Relational-cultural theory

The work of Jean Baker Miller, whose book Toward a New Psychology of Women proposes that "growth-fostering relationships are a central human necessity and that disconnections are the source of psychological problems," is the foundation of relational-cultural theory.  Relational-cultural theory, inspired by Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique and other 1960s feminist classics, proposes that "isolation is one of the most damaging human experiences and is best treated by reconnecting with other people," and that therapists should "foster an atmosphere of empathy and acceptance for the patient, even at the cost of the therapist's neutrality." Based on clinical observations, the theory sought to demonstrate that "there was nothing wrong with women, but rather with the way modern culture viewed them."

Transnational Feminist Psychology 

Arnett noted in 2008 that the majority of articles in American Psychological Association journals were about US populations, despite the fact that US citizens make up only 5% of the world's population. He complained that psychologists had no basis for assuming universal psychological processes and extrapolating research findings to the rest of the world's population. In 2010, Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan reported a systemic bias in psychology studies involving participants from WEIRD ("western, educated, industrialised, rich, and democratic") societies. Despite the fact that only one-eighth of the world's population lives in WEIRD regions, the researchers claim that 60–90% of psychology studies are conducted on participants from these areas. Arnett (2008), Altmaier and Hall (2008), and Morgan-Consoli et al. (2018) identified the Western bias in research and theory as a serious problem, noting that psychologists are increasingly applying psychological principles developed in W.E.I.R.D. regions in their research, clinical work, and consultation with populations worldwide.

The term transnational feminist psychology was coined by Kurtis, Adams, Grabe, and Else-Quest (also called transnational psychology). The term refers to a method of studying, understanding, and addressing the impact of colonisation, imperialism, migration, and globalisation on women around the world that is based on the principles of transnational feminism developed through interdisciplinary work in postcolonial and feminist studies. Kurtis and Adams proposed reconsidering, de-naturalizing, and de-universalizing psychological science by applying these principles and a context-sensitive cultural psychology lens. Grabe and Else-Quest also proposed the concept of "transnational intersectionality," which broadens current conceptions of intersectionality by incorporating global forces into the analysis of how oppressive institutions are linked. Kurtis and Adams emphasised the importance of people in the non-Western, "Majority World" (areas where the majority of the world's population lives) in countering Western biases and revising current theory in order to develop a more pluralistic psychological science. Machizawa, Collins, and Rice organised a Summit in 2015 to further develop "transnational psychology." Transnational psychological perspectives were applied to research, assessment, interventions, migration, domestic violence, education, career, human trafficking, sexuality, pedagogy, and other topics in psychology by participants.


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