Gynocentric Values and Feminist Psychology

Article excerpt

[Reprinted from Feminism: From Pressure to Politics, Angela Miles and Geraldine Finn, eds., Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989]

Feminist perspectives in psychology are slowly emerging, a process that is a painful and controversial one, but one that is beginning to provide important ovarian theory and data for the broader feminist struggle. The process of emergence of fully feminist scholarship is a particularly difficult one in psychology for a variety of reasons that have to do with the nature of psychology's underlying philosophy, "scientific" methods, accepted subject matter, and its extensive investment in documentation of the inferiority of women. Equally important, though less obvious, are the inextricable linkages among these and the androcentric values inherent in prevailing psychological views of the nature of human beings--or in the disciplinary vernacular, its "models of man." As Jill McCalla Vickers has noted in Chapter One, it is markedly difficult for a fully feminist psychology to emerge that has the defining features of feminist scholarship in other disciplines, including its interdisciplinary character, contextualism, and concern with the female experience guided by woman-centred questions and values.

In the first part of this article, I examine some of the dimensions of "male-stream" (to adopt Mary O'Brien's and Jill McCalla Vickers' apt term) psychology that render it a particularly inhospitable environment for the growth of feminist work. An ontogeny of feminist scholarship suggested by Showalters (1) is then used to examine the development of feminist psychology, an ontogeny that proceeds from imitation, through protest, to a focus on female experience. In the second part of the paper I discuss work in psychology that explores a woman-centred or gynocentric perspective. "Relationality" is the organizing principle I've used in this discussion, a principle I consider centrally representative of women's experience and values. In essence, relationality refers to consciousness of the necessary interdependence of human beings, to a sense of connectedness to others, to awareness of one's embeddedness in human, social and historical contexts, to the maximization of well-being for all persons, and to commitment to non-violence. Relationality contrasts markedly with the individuality principle that underlies male-stream psychology's "models of man." Examination of work on social interaction, human relationships, development of individuals in the human context and resolution of interpersonal moral dilemmas from a gynocentric relationality perspective makes it clear that gynocentric values challenge not only the androcentric models of psychology but the very essence of patriarchal society.

Male-stream Psychology

There are certain central features of male-stream psychology that render it a particularly barren and hostile environment for the growth of feminist work. Psychology has a peculiarly rigid adherence to a naive brand of logical positivism that, in Sherif's (2) estimation, is symptomatic of an advanced case of "physics envy." (3) The "scientific methods" that are predominantly used in psychology require removal of the individuals under study from the contexts of their natural human environments, reduction of the units of observation to readily classifiable simple behaviours of individuals, a detached rational worship of control and "objectivity," an extremely narrow ahistorical, noncontextual space and time framework, and reverence for quantification and for so-called "basic" (meaning physical) levels of analysis. Though psychology is purported to be concerned with understanding the individual, it is an abstracted, idealized individual based on group averages. Any real individual differences that do appear are considered as "noise" or error in the data. The relationship between researcher and researched is a distant, detached one. More often that not, research "subjects" are deceived as to the purposes of the research on the grounds that accurate knowledge might "contaminate" their responses. …