The Psychology of Women

The Psychology of Women

by Michele Antoinette Paludi

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The Psychology of Women by Michele Antoinette Paludi

The second edition of The Psychology of Women approaches this area of study from a multicultural perspective. It explores new topics including "Women and Spirituality" and "Women and Politics", and covers up-to-date research on eating disorders, sexual violence, sexuality, dating, and career development. Presenting a non-Eurocentric perspective, this text emphasizes issues directly affecting women of college age.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780139558405
Publisher: Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference
Publication date: 02/02/1998
Edition description: Older Edition
Pages: 406
Product dimensions: 7.03(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.77(d)

About the Author

Michele Paludi has held faculty positions at Franklin & Marshall College, Kent State University, Hunter College, and most recently Union College. She is a consultant in sexual harassment, offering education and training in issues related to sexual harassment, and was a member of former New York State Governor Mario Cuomo's Task Force on Sexual Harassment.

Table of Contents


1. The Women of Psychology and the Psychology of Women.
2. Perspectives on Research Methodologies.


3. Physical Development Across the Female Life Cycle.
4. Theoretical Perspectives on Women's Personalities and Mental Health.
5. Women's Health Issues.
6. Women's Sexuality, Reproductive Rights, and Reproductive Health.


7. Verbal and Nonverbal Communications By and About Women.
8. Women and Intimate Relationships.
9. Career Psychology of Women.


10. Gender, Power, and Violence Against Women.
11. The Psychology of Women: Equity and Social Change.


I have always considered the first day of the Psychology of Women course to be one of the most important days of the semester. During this first meeting, we sit in a circle. I spend time describing the format of the course, readings, requirements, and my own background in psychology and in the psychology of women. I then ask participants in the course to introduce themselves, to share their goals for the course, and to comment on one thing they like about the course so far (from reading the syllabus and hearing my opening comments) and one thing about which they are unsure (e.g., the format for the essays and paper).

This first-day format provides an opportunity for students to convey concerns about discussing the topics covered in courses in the psychology of women. These concerns especially apply to emotionally laden topics such as racial discrimination, date rape, and incest. There are both hopes and worries about participating in a course identified as "feminist" in content and process. As participants have commented during the first class:

  • I am looking forward to discussing the psychology of women-is there psychological research on ethnic minority women? I haven't had much of this information in my other psychology classes.
  • I like sitting in a circle so I can see everybody and hear what then have to say. I don't talk too much, though; I hope 1 don't have to tell a lot about myself in here.
  • Some of the topics on your syllabus make me anxious. I've experienced some of the things—they've happened to me.
  • Isn't a course on the psychology of women discriminating against men? Shouldn't there be apsychology of men course?
  • I plan to go to grad school in psychology—I hope this course will be relevant to my future career in clinical psych.
  • I think there shouldn't be a psychology of women course—all of the information you have here should be taught in personality, social psych, developmental, and clinical psych.

These comments reflect a great deal of excitement about devoting an entire course to women's lives and realities. They also reflect considerable doubt about the necessity of such a course, the benefits of the course, and the value of such a course for a future career in psychology. I believe the comments I hear on the first day of the course also reflect statements students have heard from their mates, friends, and family members: that the course is radical, or is a place to devalue men, or is not rigorous. I also hear many descriptions of women in this first meeting:

  • Women get into graduate schools and get jobs nowadays-there's no more sex discrimination.
  • If women married accommodating husbands, then would be able to have it all.
  • Infants need their mothers-women who use dart' care for their infants probably didn't really want children in the first place.
  • Many women don't support the women's movement-not only men put women down, you know.

Hearing such views about women in the psychology of women course is helpful to all participants in the class. These comments offer insight into the types of socialization experiences that place less value on women and femininity. The comments also suggest to me that feminism can facilitate new relationships among people and that the classroom is an important place for this to occur. I have found it most important to express to students in this first meeting my definition of feminism and how I incorporate this definition in facilitating the psychology of women course.

As I mention in this first meeting, feminism derivatively means womanism. Feminism thus means valuing women in and of themselves. This valuing is unconditional. Women are valued not solely for the work they produce; not solely for the services they provide their employer, family, partners, and friends; not according to some externally imposed set of requirements. Women are valued for their autonomy, caring, health care, relationships, commitment to children, nurturing of friends, education, love of family, and sexuality. Feminism connotes valuing the diversity among women around the world—acknowledging their similarities and appreciating their distinctiveness.

Thus, the term feminist refers to an individual who believes in economic, social, and political equality of women and men and thus favors the social and legal changes that are necessary to achieve equality.

The goals I have for the psychology of women course center around these components of feminism. My presentations, grading, and class discussions are all guided by the following feminist frameworks:

  • A psychology of women course should deal with women and treat women as the norm. A non-Eurocentric perspective on women should be presented.
  • A psychology of women course should identify the women of psychology—the contributions by historical and contemporary women psychologists.
  • A psychology of women course should facilitate students making connections between their own experiences and the psychological theories and research findings.
  • Information in a psychology of women course should encourage participants to critically analyze all subareas in psychology for their portrayal of women.

I would like to discuss each of these feminist frameworks in more detail. They provide the major guidelines for the organization of this book.


  • A psychology of women course should deal with women and treat women as the norm. A non-Eurocentric perspective on women should be presented.

Throughout much of psychology, an androcentric view of human behavior has assumed that men were the normative population and women were studied in order to determine how they compared with male standards (Bronstein & Quina, 1988; Makosky & Paludi, 1990; Paludi, Paludi, & Doyle, in press). Theories and research on morality (Kohlberg, 1966) and achievement motivation (McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953) were based on boys and men only. Nearly 50 percent of the research on aggression has been conducted using boys or men only; 10 percent has used girls or women, and 40 percent has used both sexes. This 50 percent is higher than the percentage of male-only research in psychology in general (McKenna & Kessler, 1977). Naomi Weisstein (1971) made a persuasive case that many psychologists have allowed their personal biases about women to color their research endeavors. She concluded:

Until psychologists begin respecting evidence and until they begin looking at the social
contexts within which people move, psychology will have nothing to say of substance
to offer in this task of discovery. I do not know what immutable differences exist between
men and women apart from differences in their genitals; perhaps there are some
other unchangeable differences; probably there are a number of irrelevant differences.
But it is clear that until social expectations for men and women are equal, until we provide
equal respect for both men and women, our answers to this question
will simply reflect our prejudices. (p. 222)

Thus, a psychology of women course makes up for the problems in the psychology curriculum that have typically omitted women from theoretical perspectives and research, distorted their experiences to fit into a male-based structure, and trivialized their experiences or dismissed them as silly. In recent years, many psychologists have noted that a Eurocentric bias has existed in psychology in general and in the psychology of women as well. Integrating the scholarship on race and ethnicity into the psychology of women course adds an important dimension: It provides more understanding of the psychology of all women. Women's experiences are extremely diverse, yet women are frequently described collectively. And ethnic minority women differ among themselves as much as do white women.

In this book, I will discuss ways in which socialization practices of girls and women differ by class, race, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity. Rosita Daskal Albert (1988) has described several advantages in placing culture in the psychology curriculum. I have found these advantages to be especially useful in the psychology of women course:

  1. We can obtain information that is not available in one's own culture.
  2. We can obtain information about the incidence of a psychological issue in a different culture.
  3. Values that are common to a certain cultural group can be discussed.
  4. The generalizability of psychological research can be assessed by looking at research from several cultures.

In our study of cultural influences on the psychology of women, we have noted the following: Asian American women must deal with gender and racial oppression (Root, 1995). They must resolve the conflict between a traditional Asian focus on women's subservience versus the U.S. emphasis on equality in relationships between women and men.

Many Chicanas have a marked lack of power in the occupational, educational, economic, and political arenas. They may experience considerable stress, given their culture's emphasis on family values and the high incidence of single motherhood. There is a reported high incidence of depression among Chicanas (Vasquez & Baron, 1988). Child care accounts for the largest share of women's household labor, and there are only a few countries that offer alternative child care facilities. Families with many children place excessive demands on women's work, contributing to their increased stress.

As another example, Ferron's (1997) research suggested that compared to U.S. adolescent girls, French girls believe that an ideal body is impossible to attain; they believe their physical appearance is predetermined and cannot be modified through will power or courage. U.S. adolescent girls were more likely than French girls to engage in behaviors that are harmful to their health, including unbalanced diets.

Additional examples of cultural similarities and distinctiveness are described in this book as well.

  • A psychology of women course should identify the women of psychology-the contributions by historical and contemporary women psychologists.

Acknowledging the role of women in the field of psychology allows us to discover women psychologists and their contributions to the discipline. We also reconstruct as models, the careers and family experiences of several women. Many of you who are reading this are preparing for a career in psychology, and these experiences can be related to your own strategies for establishing professional and personal identities.

Women psychologists are featured in this book. They have shared their research and clinical experiences and have provided us with some information about their educational and work experiences in a variety of subareas in psychology. I invite you to write to them about your own career goals.

  • A psychology of women course should facilitate participants making connections between their own experiences and the psychological theories and research findings.

Throughout our discussions in this book, I encourage you to use a "life review" of your gender-role socialization.

In this text, you will find several examples of affective learning. At the end of each chapter is a group of Chapter Review Questions, which deal with the information presented in the chapter. They ask you to consider your views about women, feminism, your own gender-role socialization, and ways you fan work on integrating feminism into your everyday life. In addition, there are some experiential exercises for you to complete alone or with friends. The questions will bring concepts from the chapter and from class discussions under the scrutiny of your own experiences and evaluations. They provide ways of adding your own analyses to the concepts of the psychology of women course.

  • Information in a psychology of women course should encourage participants to critically analyze all subareas in psychology for their portrayal of women.

Another goal I have for you is to question the role of women and women's i4sues in other courses in the psychology curriculum. For example:

  • How often are experiments in psychology based on girls' and women's responses?
  • What is the ethnic and racial background of the research participants in the experiments being discussed?
  • Do research reports focus on similarities between women and men as well as differences?
  • Does the title or abstract of a research report make reference to the limitations of the study?
  • Are gender (as well as racial, class, ethnic, and sexual orientation) differences inaccurately magnified?
  • Are critiques of the masculine bias in theories of personality development presented?
  • Are family styles such as single parenting, lesbian parenting, gay parenting, and dual-earner parenting presented?
  • This text, as well as your psychology of women course, will expose you to new research on women. The psychology of women course stimulates research and publication about women's lives and realities. Thus, the psychology of women course legitimizes the discipline of the psychology of women. As psychologist Mary Roth Walsh (1985) suggested, the course also serves as a "catalyst for change" by revealing serious deficiencies in psychological research and theories relevant to gender, cultural, and ethnic issues.

    Material developed for the psychology of women course can be introduced into other courses in the psychology curriculum, including statistics, experimental design, theories of personality, life-span development, social psychology, counseling and clinical psychology, health psychology, and vocational psychology (Bronstein & Quina, 1988). The psychology of women course provides psychologists with resources, perspectives, and techniques with which to balance their courses with respect to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, and class. The psychology of women course can thus provide information for a psychology of all people.

    This has been my goal as I wrote this book. Thus, the text is organized in four major sections. Part I deals with the heritage of the field of the psychology of women. Part II addresses women's development across the life cycle, including women's health issues, women's sexuality and reproductive rights, and women's personalities. In Part III, we discuss women and social relationships, including communication styles, career development, and friendships and romantic relationships. Part IV addresses women as victims and survivors of sexual victimization.

    Within each chapter, I discuss how that particular subarea in psychology traditionally portrays women and women's experiences, and I offer feminist correctives to these portrayals.

    Taking an active part in the psychology of women course can be exhilarating; however, you may also feel uncomfortable with what you are reading, with what your professor is saying, with your relationships, or with your classmates. This anger, like other emotions you may experience in the psychology of women course, is normative, part of our development. I want to assure you that the anger will pass. You may find yourself acknowledging a variety of perspectives on an issue, and these perspectives may challenge your own thinking on the topic. I encourage you to keep a journal of your thinking about the course process and course content. In fact, at the end of this introduction, I have shared some suggestions for keeping a journal. Perhaps you'll see a developmental process unfolding throughout the semester. Nancy Downing and Kathleen Rousch (1985) suggested that individuals may proceed through five stages when confronted with feminist issues:

    1. Passive acceptance
    2. Revelation
    3. Embeddedness/emanation
    4. Synthesis
    5. Active commitment

    In the passive acceptance stage of your development in the course, you may find yourself and others saying that discrimination is no longer present in politics, economics, the family, or education. You may believe that traditional roles are advantageous. Some of the topics you'll be discussing may start you questioning these assumptions. It's OK to do so. You may never change your opinions, but you may start to question why you have held on to certain ideas for so long in the face of contrary evidence.

    By discussing issues related to women's lives and realities, one common transition from the passive acceptance stage is revelation. You may start to remember how you in fact have been discriminated against because of your race, your sexual orientation, and/or your sex. You may begin to notice magazine advertisements that connote women as objects. You may remember being called certain derogatory names because you were overweight, had acne, wore braces. During this stage in your development in the psychology of women course, you may become quite angry with yourself. You may ask yourself why you have allowed these comments to be made, why you haven't noticed the racism and sexism in advertisements until now. These feelings of anger and guilt are to be expected. All of the participants in your class are going through a similar process.

    When women in the class share their anger about these issues, you may find yourself wanting to spend time connecting with them, sharing your experiences, and asking them how they have handled their experiences. This stage is referred to as the embeddedness/emanation stage. Frequently, you will hear comments in class that suggest cautious interaction with men. These comments are not evidence of "man hating." Rather, they reflect women's and men's concerns about the power imbalance in North American culture.

    The embeddedness/emanation stage is frequently replaced by the synthesis stage, in which statements are made acknowledging the discriminatory practices against women, especially ethnic women, aged women, women of the working class, lesbian women, and physically challenged women. In addition, you'll hear statements reflecting women's and men's transcendence of gender-role stereotypes. Women and men will be described as individuals, not members of the sex categories.

    Finally, you'll notice the class reflecting the active commitment stage. You'll hear your classmates ask what other courses are available that deal with women's concerns, what the women's studies program is offering during the next semester, what types of independent studies and research in women's studies are available, and so on. Keeping a journal in the psychology of women class will help you to see the various stages of this developmental process in yourself and in other students. I encourage you to share the content of your journal entries with some members of your class.

    I enjoy participating in courses in the psychology of women. I hope you will enjoy it too. And I hope you will find this book helpful in your study about the psychology of women. I invite you to send me your comments and suggestions about this book.


    After each class discussion and/or reading, you may want to jot down your answers to the following items:

    1. What was the value of this issue to you as a whole?
    2. How would you describe the discussion about this topic to a friend?
    3. Were any of the issues raised in class and/or in the readings emotionally painful for you? Why or why not?
    4. What did you learn or relearn about yourself today?
    5. What could you have done differently in preparing for this topic?
    6. What could your professor have done differently in discussing this topic, to better meet your needs?
    7. How are you feeling about the psychology of women course?
    8. What have been the reactions of your friends to your taking the psychology of women course?

    Michele A. Paludi

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