In 1965 when I (Judith) was applying to graduate schools, the chair of one psychology department informed me that my college grades met the criterion for male, but not female, admission into the program. That department (and others) had two sets of standards, and obviously, fewer women than men were admitted. When I look back at that time it is amazing to me to realize that I quietly accepted this pronouncement. I was disappointed but not outraged. I rejoiced at my acceptance by a comparable department but never thought to protest discriminatory admission policies (which were not unique to that department). A generation ago I did not identify this issue or any other gender inequality in institutional, legal, or interpersonal practices as a problem. However, over the last several decades my awareness and concern about these issues dramatically changed. Claire and I are deeply committed to gender equality in all areas of life and hope that this text will help illuminate both the progress women have made and the challenges that remain in the attainment of this important goal.
In this chapter we set the groundwork for the study of the psychology of women. We present major definitions, explore relevant history, examine research issues, and discuss the themes of the book. We begin with a look at the difference between sex and gender.
Psychologists do not agree completely on the definitions of the words sex and gender. Sex is used to refer either to whether a person is female or male or to sexual behavior. This ambiguity of definition sometimes can cause confusion. For example, Claire offered a course several years ago entitled “The Psychology of Sex Differences.” The course dealt with behavioral similarities and differences of females and males. After the first day of class, some students approached her with a puzzled look on their faces. The course title had led them to believe that the subject matter of the course was human sexuality.
The words sex and gender have often been used interchangeably to describe the differences in the behaviors of women and men. One example is the term sex roles, which is sometimes used to refer to culturally prescribed sets of behaviors for men and women. Sex Roles is even the name of a highly respected journal. Yet many psychologists believe that the term gender roles is more appropriate to describe the concept of cultural beliefs applied to individuals on the basis of their socially assigned sex (Magnusson & Mareck, 2012).
To avoid confusion, we will use the term gender
to refer to the meanings that societies and individuals give to female and male categories
(Wood & Eagly, 2015; Wood & Fixmer-Oraiz, 2017). We use the term sex
to refer to the classification of individuals as female or male based on their genetic makeup, anatomy, and reproductive functions
. Even this definition may be too simple: Recent research on intersex individuals indicates that there are more than two sexes (Feder, 2014; McCarthy & Gartner, 2014). See Chapter 3
for further discussion of that issue.
Scholars who study sex and gender issues usually take one of two approaches. Either they emphasize the similarities between women and men or they focus on the differences between them.
Those who adhere to the similarities viewpoint seek to show that men and women are basically alike in their intellectual and social behaviors. Any differences that do occur are small and inconsistent, and produced by socialization, not biology (Ball et al., 2013a; Blakemore et al., 2009). This approach, also called the beta bias, has its origins in the work of early twentieth-century women psychologists (Ball et al., 2013a). As we shall see later in the chapter, a number of these psychologists carried out research that challenged the prevailing belief that women are different from (and inferior to) men. Most feminist theory and research dealing with gender differences has retained this similarities approach (Zell et al., 2015).
The differences viewpoint, also known as the alpha bias, emphasizes the differences between women and men. Historically, these differences have been thought to arise from essential qualities within the individual that are rooted in biology (Shapiro, 2015; Wood & Fixmer-Oraiz, 2017). This concept is known as essentialism.
The differences perspective has origins in both ancient Western and Eastern philosophies, which associate men with reason and civilization and women with emotion and nature (Goldenberg et al., 2013). As we have seen, early psychologists often equated women’s differences from men with inferiority and “otherness.” Men set the standard whereas women were seen as deviations from that standard (Etaugh, 2017). For example, Sigmund Freud stated that because women do not have a penis, they suffer from penis envy. Using the same logic, one could argue just as persuasively that men experience uterus envy because they cannot bear children. (Karen Horney [1926/1974], a psychoanalyst who challenged many of Freud’s views, made this very proposal.)
Contemporary feminists regard female–male differences as arising from a culture’s expectations of how individuals should behave. In other words, behavioral differences between the genders are not inborn but are socially constructed (Thompson & Armato, 2012). As we shall see at the end of this chapter, the social construction of gender is one of the three major themes of this book.
Some feminists have added still another twist to the differences approach. They embrace cultural feminism, a view that celebrates those positive qualities historically associated with women, such as a sense of human connection and concern for other people (Jordan, 2017; Kinser, 2010; Schuiling & Low, 2017). The theories of Nancy Chodorow (1994) and Carol Gilligan (1982, 2011) illustrate the cultural feminist approach. According to Chodorow, early childhood experiences forever set females and males down different paths in their development of identity, personality, and emotional needs. Girls develop an early attachment to their mother, whom they perceive as similar to themselves. This leads girls to develop relational skills and a desire for close emotional connections. Boys, on the other hand, reject their emotional attachment to their mother, who is perceived as dissimilar. Boys instead identify with male figures who are often more distant. In the process, they become more invested in separation and independence and develop a more abstract and impersonal style (Batalha & Reynolds, 2013). Gilligan (1982, 2011) also sees women’s identity as based on connections and relationships to others. She believes that women reason and make moral judgments in a “different voice,” a voice concerned with caring and responsibility. Men, on the other hand, are more concerned with abstract rights and justice. These different patterns of reasoning are equally valid and sophisticated, according to Gilligan. We shall discuss moral reasoning in females and males in greater detail in Chapter 5
Regardless of one’s approach to gender comparisons, the study of gender and the psychology of women is rooted in a feminist perspective. Therefore, let’s now examine the meaning of feminism.
A feminist is
someone who believes in equality in the workforce
a person who fights for women’s rights
someone who protests about controversial issues, such as abortion or sexual harassment
a big, bra-burning, man-hating woman
(College students’ view of feminism, from Houvouras & Carter, 2008, pp. 246–249)
Do any of these definitions reflect your own view of feminism? Although the term feminism is frequently used by the media, in opinion polls, and in casual conversation, people obviously differ in their conceptions of its meaning. There is even diversity among feminists. Although united in their belief that women are disadvantaged relative to men, feminists differ in their beliefs about the sources of this inequality and the ways to enhance women’s status (Spade & Valentine, 2016; Wood & Fixmer-Oraiz, 2017). Let’s examine five different types of feminism embraced by feminist scholars.
is the belief that women and men should have the same political, legal, economic, and educational rights and opportunities
(Kenschaft & Clark, 2016; Ryle, 2016). Liberal feminists advocate reform; their goals are to change attitudes and laws that are unfair to women and to equalize educational, employment, and political opportunities. For example, they seek the creation of an educational environment that encourages women’s growth in all academic fields, removal of barriers to full participation and advancement in the workplace, and more political leadership positions for women. Liberal feminists stress the similarities between females and males and contend that gender differences are a function of unequal opportunities. For a different twist on liberal feminism, see In the News 1.1
In contrast to liberal feminism, cultural feminism reflects the belief that women and men are different and that women’s special qualities, such as nurturance, concern about others, and cooperativeness, should be valued (Higgins, 2016; Morton, 2013). Cultural feminists are concerned about destructive outcomes related to masculine traits, such as aggressiveness and lack of emotional expressiveness, and want to empower women by elevating the value attached to their interpersonal orientation.
Another type of feminism, socialist feminism, reflects the attitude that gender inequality is rooted in economic inequality (Kenschaft & Clark, 2016). Socialist feminists believe that various inequalities based on gender, ethnicity, and social class interact with one another and cannot be eliminated until the capitalistic structure of North American society is changed.
Radical feminism, on the other hand, is the belief that gender inequality is based on male oppression of women (Jensen, 2015; Kenschaft & Clark, 2016; Ryle, 2016). Radical feminists contend that patriarchy, male control over and dominance of women, has existed throughout history and must be eliminated to achieve gender equality. In other words, different from socialist feminists, radical feminists see men, rather than capitalism, as the source of women’s oppression. Consequently, they are concerned not only about inequality in societal institutions, such as the workplace, but also about power differential in the family and other types of intimate relationships.
Many women of color have argued that the feminist movement is concerned primarily about issues that confront White women (Wright, 2014). Consequently, they often embrace women of color feminism (also known as womanism), which is the belief that both racism, bias against people because of their ethnicity, and classism, bias based on social class, must be recognized as being as important as sexism, gender-based bias (Gerbrandt & Kurtz, 2015; Harvey et al., 2013). A closely related concept, mujerista psychology, advocates for the rights of Latina women (Bryant-Davis & ComasDiaz, 2016).
Clearly, there is no reason why a feminist perspective has to be limited to one viewpoint. Many individuals combine two or more into their personal definition of feminism. Now, perform the exercise in Get Involved 1.1
to more closely examine each of these types of feminism.
Neoliberal feminism emphasizes a woman’s individual responsibilit...