Psychological Climate Changes for Women in Academic Psychology: Forecasts, Sources, and Implications

Article excerpt

Abstract

Reflecting on the past, and observing the present, what kinds of psychological changes might be in the forecast for women in psychology, for women affected by our discipline, and for the discipline itself? Using metaphors borrowed from meteorology and climatology, a psychological almanac is constructed for feminist psychology in Canada, warming trends are examined on both the academic and applied fronts, and weather advisories are issued.

Psychological Almanac

A narrative account of the herstorical climate for women in Canadian psychology could well begin with the clicheed introduction "It was a dark and stormy night... ." Androcentric models of career paths, of productivity, of research, of psychological development, of psychopathology, of psychological interventions, of knowledge, of governance, of psychological health, of sexuality, of mentoring, of therapeutic outcome, of cognition, and of meaning predominated (Bem & Bem, 1971; Broverman, Broverman, Clarkson, Rosenkrantz, & Vogel, 1970; Chester, 1971, 1972; CPA Task Force, 1977; Gilligan, 1982; Gove, 1980). Women had so much difficulty getting research on women's issues accepted for presentation at the 1972 Canadian Psychological Association (cPA) Convention that the herstoric Underground Symposium had to be mounted in Montreal (Pyke, 2001; Pyke & Stark-Adamec, 1981).

It was the best of times - for some; it was the worst of times - for others (Stark, 1997a, b). But in the wake of the storm, in what was referred to as the dawning of the age of Aquarius, there were rainbows, there was promise, and there was progress for women in CPA (Pyke & Stark-Adamec, 1981).' Everything sparkled with energy and, good will and CPA served as a model of integrity for other professional associations (Christiansen-Ruffman, Murphy, Stark-Adamec, & Davidson, 1986; Stark, 2000; see Table 1 for a partial listing of key achievements) .... Or so it seemed - to those of us who were looking through rose-coloured glasses rather than, as in one of Ingmar Bergman's films, through a glass darkly.

Was that warming trend for women, and for feminist psychology, merely a Chinook? Reflecting on our past and observing the present, what kind of weather changes might be in store - both for future generations of feminist psychologists and for Psychology itself?

Current Psychological Conditions

Although not all feminists are alike (just as not all men are misogynists and not all women are feminists), there may be some common underlying themes among the various feminist philosophies - themes such as commitment to the empowerment of women, commitment to social action (e.g., a commitment to the elimination of oppression/injustice, a commitment to equitable distribution of resources, a commitment to ecological responsibility/environmental protection), respect for diversity, rejection of androcentric othering of women, rejection of the derogation/denigration of skills at which women excel, perhaps even a celebration of so-called female traits and of skills at which women excel, recognition of the complexity and embeddedness of psychological processes in general and of women's lives in particular. To be sure, other humanistic philosophies share some of these same commitments and rejections; but it may be only within what I will refer to as Female Feminism that they combine in a manner that has the potential for transforming Canadian (and other) psychology so beneficially. Female feminists can be seen to have altered - dramatically - many aspects of both the climate and the terrain. Feminist research paradigms, and feminist approaches to ethics and to psychological interventions, can be transformative and empowering; they can give voice to the silenced!

In discussing the sources of these transformations, I am making the same data-based assumptions as Snyder, McDermott, Leibowitz, and Cheavens (2000, pp. 642646), viz., that:

* women, as compared to men, have greater access to their emotions;

* women are less confrontational than men;

* women are more communal and aware of others' needs;

* women value and work harder atr preserving relationships than do men;

* women are especially sensitive to struggle and social inequity;

* women seem more approachable and easier to interact with (nonthreatening);

* women are more likely to engage in both contextual and holistic thought. …