Feminism in Psychology: Aotearoa/New Zealand and Beyond

By Curtis, Cate | Women's Studies Journal, December 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Feminism in Psychology: Aotearoa/New Zealand and Beyond


Curtis, Cate, Women's Studies Journal


Introduction

Psychologists based in Aotearoa/New Zealand have made significant contributions to feminism, both locally and internationally. A special issue of the international journal Feminism & Psychology published 15 years ago (edited by New Zealanders Hilary Lapsley, Nicola Gavey, and Fiona Cram [2001]) demonstrated both distinctiveness from and integration with international work across a broad range of topics. New Zealanders continue to contribute extensively to feminist scholarship on the international stage (a few examples include Antevska & Gavey, 2015; Braun, Tricklebank, & Clarke, 2013; Busch, Morgan, & Coombes, 2014; Calder-Dawe & Gavey, 2016; Curtis, 2016b; Gavey & Senn, 2014; Jackson, Vares, & Gill, 2013). In recent years, Trans-Tasman Women in Psychology conferences have recommenced, and graduate students in Aotearoa/New Zealand have recently conducted research on a variety of topics, including body objectification, self-harm, teen pregnancy, the impact of changes to social welfare benefits, intimate partner violence and prevention programmes, the sexual abuse of gay men, resilience of immigrant women, and the criminal offending of young women, to name a few (with more detail given below). However, 'feminist psychology' has proved difficult to define for the purposes of this article.

Both feminism and psychology are contestable and layered terms (Macleod, Marecek, & Capdevila, 2014). Further, as noted by local feminist psychologists Nicola Gavey and Virginia Braun (2008), feminist psychology has permeable and flexible boundaries with other areas of critical scholarship and practice and at times has conflicted with 'mainstream' psychology (see Rutherford & Pettit, 2015, for a broader though primarily US-based discussion of gender, feminism, and the psy disciplines and the tensions between them). Thus, scholarship that is included in this review has been chosen on the basis of a feminist engagement with psychological or psychosocial issues rather than attempting to determine the 'label' of the individuals involved. Additionally, in a work of this size it is not possible to include all of the many and rich contributions of 'feminist psychologists' however defined - even in a country as small as Aotearoa/New Zealand. Nor is it possible to thoroughly canvass all relevant topics; undoubtedly there are many more whose work could have been included. In this modest overview, I hope to equip interested readers with a concise summary of some key strands of feminist scholarship broadly within psychology in Aotearoa/New Zealand. I commence by providing some brief historical context for the development of local feminist scholarship. This includes teaching and the development of research methods. I then discuss some specific key strands of local research, finishing with some observations on the potential of the internet as both a contributor to concerning developments and a potential aid to feminist scholarship and practice.

The context of feminist psychology in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Psychology in Aotearoa/New Zealand developed within a university system adapted from the British system and heavily influenced by the USA (Lapsley, Gavey, & Cram, 2001). The growth of an explicitly feminist psychology similarly occurred in the context of a broader feminist movement both within academia and more generally. However, in contrast to many other countries, including Britain, the USA, Canada, and Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand does not have a formal feminist psychologist (or 'women in/and psychology') organisation. Efforts were made to formalise such an organisation within the New Zealand Psychological Society in the 1970s - when arguably they were most likely to be successful given the social and political climate of the day. However, the proposed "Women-only Division" was ruled unlawful (Lapsley & Wilkinson, 2001, p. 388). While less formal groups have arisen over the decades, such as a lesbian psychologist group in the 1980s, no further attempts at a formal structure have been made, including under the auspices of the New Zealand Psychological Society. …

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