Canadian Feminist Psychology: Where Are We Now?

By Boatswain, Sharon; Brown, Nicola et al. | Canadian Psychology, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Canadian Feminist Psychology: Where Are We Now?


Boatswain, Sharon, Brown, Nicola, Fiksenbaum, Lisa, Goldstein, Lesley, et al., Canadian Psychology


Abstract

This paper reviews the current status of the psychology of women field within Canadian psychology as revealed in the feminization of psychology in Canada, psychology of women courses in academic psychology, research publications in Canadian journals, papers presented at Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) conventions, and doctoral dissertation projects. The paper concludes with an insider's view of some of the general characteristics of the Canadian variant of feminist psychology.

The purpose of this paper is to review the representation of women in Canadian psychology and the current status of the psychology of women field of specialization' within the discipline. More particularly, we are interested in exploring the feminization of Canadian psychology, the legitimization of psychology of women courses in academe, and the generation and dissemination of relevant research through dissertation projects, publications in cPA journals and/or presentations in ePA conferences. The article in this issue dealing with the early beginnings of feminist psychology in Canada (Pyke, 2001) is a companion piece to this account of the contemporary scene. Certainly the establishment by cPA of the Task Force on the Status of Women in 1974 (Wand, 1977) and the structures and events stimulated by the Task Force Report (e.g., the Status of Women Committee, the Interest Group on Women and Psychology, the Institute on Women and Psychology) provided a major impetus for the initial development of the psychology of women field in Canada.

Numbers

Representation of women in the CPA has grown significantly from 17% at the time of founding (1939) to about 25% in 1970 to 49% in 1995 (Thomson & Stark(-Adamec), 1996) to at least 55% of the current 4,914 members (10% did not identify their gender) (cPA Membership Services, 2001). Over the past several years, the discipline has become increasingly fractionated and a number of psychologists have expressed the view that CPA does not adequately address their interests and hence are affiliating with organizations with a narrower focus on their particular field(s) of research (e.g., the Canadian Society for Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science) or practice (e.g., the Canadian Association for Child and Play Therapy). It is possible that women are more poorly represented in these splinter groups and better represented in the subdisciplines of psychology that have remained within CPA thus accounting for their current membership majority. However, the authors are unaware of any data that support this interpretation and in any case, as noted below, enrollment in psychology doctoral programs parallels the increasing representation of women in the Association.

Women now outnumber men in undergraduate programs in Canadian universities. In 1997/98, women comprised 55.7% of full-time undergraduate enrolments and 62% of part-time undergraduate students (Statistics Canada, 2000). This increasing prominence of women is especially evident in our discipline. Psychology in Canada is rapidly becoming a woman's field. The number of women enrolled full time in doctoral programs in psychology in Canada in 1991/92 was 1,049 and they constituted 64.2% of the total enrollment. In 1994/95, the analogous enrollment was 1,015 or 67.6% of the total enrolment, and in 1998/99, the comparable figures were 1,329 or 70.1%. Contrast this latter figure with the 44.2% for all disciplines aggregated (CAUT Status of Women Committee, 1993, 1996, 2000). Comparable trends have been reported in the United States (American Psychological Association, 1995).

It is interesting to note that just at a time when women now outnumber men in the academy, at least at the undergraduate level, there has been a concomitant reduction in the value of university degrees. We are familiar with the phenomenon that when women have attained a numerical majority in a field or discipline, the prestige of the occupation or field and the associated income declines (Eliasson, 1998; Touhey, 1974). …

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