Psychology of Women

By Crowley-Long, Kathleen | Transformations, March 31, 1992 | Go to article overview

Psychology of Women


Crowley-Long, Kathleen, Transformations


Psychology of Women

Integrating the Psychology of Women Into the Undergraduate Curriculum

Despite recent advances, the psychology of women still remains outside the mainstream college psychology curriculum. Many departments do not yet offer any courses that address feminist perspectives, and those departments which do offer the psychology of women typically do so through one or two specialized courses (Bronstein & Quina 1988). This state of affairs is unfortunate because it leaves students with several misleading impressions (e.g., that all psychologists are men, that women do not conduct research or develop theories, and that the psychology of women is a specialized area separate from the psychology of people).

Many arguments can be advanced in favor of integrating the psychology of women across the college curriculum: (1) Inclusion across the curriculum can help circumvent departmental resistance to specialized courses. Many departments are still reluctant to expend faculty and financial resources on what may be seen as a non-essential, non-mainstream course (Bronstein & Quina 1988). (2) Integration can create a climate where feminist perspectives are given emphasis and value equal to traditional male perspectives. (3) It becomes possible to create a coherent chain of thought which begins in introductory psychology and continues throughout the curriculum. And, (4) the inclusion of the psychology of women can encourage students to consider how theoretical perspectives are shaped by "extraneous" factors such as gender, and new critiques and hypotheses can be formulated.

The purpose of this paper is to provide concrete suggestions for including feminist perspectives across the undergraduate psychology curriculum. First, several topics usually in the introductory psychology course will be considered, and then techniques and exercises will be outlined for courses in personality, abnormal psychology, and developmental psychology. I have used many of these techniques myself or they have been recommended by others (e.g., Bronstein & Quina 1988; Landrine 1988), and they have been generally successful in increasing students' consciousnesses and sensitivity.

Introductory Psychology

The introductory chapter on basic research methods can provide an excellent starting point for integrating feminist perspectives. A good way to begin is to examine psychology's emphasis on objectivity and abstract reasoning over social context and subjective emotions (Messing 1983). The instructor can present the question, "Why are classifiable, scorable data preferred to subjective impressions and experiences?" Many feminist psychologists have noted that traditional approaches to the scientific method have been too restrictive and inflexible, and have prevented the consideration of potentially relevant data and alternate perspectives (e.g., Gilligan 1982, Peplau & Conrad 1989, Quina & Kohlberg 1988). This emphasis on objective empiricism has led psychology to a tendency to objectify emotions (e.g., Schacter & Singer 1962) and to a reliance on objective questionnaires and experiments. In addition, traditional psychology avoids descriptive interviews, case studies, self-reports, etc., and relies on arbitrarily defined, operationalized variables which are often loaded with personal and/or cultural bias (e.g., "success" may be defined by some as wealth, others as achievement, happiness, or satisfaction) (Quina & Kohlberg 1988, p. 71). One way to tackle the issues of method in the classroom is to have students debate the pros and cons of objective and subjective approaches. This approach requires students to begin with some out-of-class reading (e.g., Peplau & Conrad 1988, Wallston & Grady 1985) and advance preparation, which can be assigned to the entire class or to small groups of class members. Generally, students are very good at arguing in favor of objectivity, and are surprised when they discover the quantity and quality of arguments supporting subjective research strategies.

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