Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Interview with Paula Caplan

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Interview with Paula Caplan

Article excerpt

Paula J. Caplan is former Full Professor of Applied Psychology and former Head of the Centre for Women's Studies in Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Currently, she is Visiting Scholar at the Pembroke Center at Brown University and Adjunct Professor at Washington College of Law, American University. She is the author of numerous books and plays, and is a playwright, actor, and director. Her books include: The Myth of Women's Masochism; Don't Blame Mother: Mending the Mother-Daughter Relationship and Lifting a Ton of Feathers: A Woman's Guide to Surviving in the Academic World.

I interviewed Paula about her memories of working with Jeri Wine. They worked together from 1980 until 1991 when Jeri took early retirement because of ill health. Together they taught in the Community Psychology Program at OISE and ensured that it had a strong feminist analysis as parts of its core. Community Psychology programs were (and remain) rare in North American Psychology Departments because of the alternative critical analysis and perspective the area offers with its emphasis on community-based research and social action. Paula and Jeri also struggled together as feminist academics at a time when it was difficult to be a woman in male-centred, patriarchal institutions, as both their writings attest. Further, they each experienced debilitating health issues because of the sick building in which they worked. In fact, Paula was unable to continue teaching in the building and was forced to leave in 1995. My interview touches on these intersecting areas of their working lives. Paula reflects on the great support that Jeri offered her, the impact of her research and commitment to feminism and finally, on Jeri's legacy.

JR: I wondered if you could tell me when you first started working with Jeri and how long you worked with her?

PC: I can tell you what my first memory of Jeri is. It's kind of general. But I became aware of her, I think, for the first time in connection with what was then called the Canadian Psychological Association's Interest Group on Women and Psychology. It was called IGWAP and they were doing this revolutionary thing of having a pre-convention institute or workshop. I remember going to that and hearing Jeri speak on the remarkable groundbreaking work she and her colleagues had done. It is work that to this day, I'm teaching.

The research was done probably toward the late 70s. People were saying that women were not as assertive as men and were more dependent than men. What they said, and this is how I describe it to my students, was, let's look at the literature that's the basis of those claims, let's look up the empirical research. They found that in both cases, the results of the research actually fell into two categories. With respect to assertiveness, in one group of studies it was found that that men were more assertive. In the other group, it was found that either there was either no sex difference, or women were more assertive. There were more of the first group of studies than the second, so they used this box score approach (not Jeri and her colleagues.) And they said, OK, so the men win, right. Men are more assertive. But Jeri et al. said, let's look at what those studies really are. They found that the studies in which men were doing more of what was being called assertiveness were actually studies of interrupting and, you know, sort of giving monosyllabic responses to the other person. And then rushing on with what they had to say. In other words, they were showing what people might otherwise call rudeness. But it was called assertiveness. And the studies in which there was no sex difference or even that it favoured women were studies of saying what you thought and/or felt and then just sticking to it which is a good definition of assertiveness. There were fewer of those studies. And with regard to dependency, it was something similar. …

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