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Gynocentric values and feminist psychology.

[Reprinted from Feminism: From Pressure to Politics, Angela Miles and Geraldine Finn, eds., Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989]

Feminist perspectives in psychology are slowly emerging, a process that is a painful and controversial one, but one that is beginning to provide important ovarian theory and data for the broader feminist struggle. The process of emergence of fully feminist scholarship is a particularly difficult one in psychology for a variety of reasons that have to do with the nature of psychology's underlying philosophy, "scientific" methods, accepted subject matter, and its extensive investment in documentation of the inferiority of women. Equally important, though less obvious, are the inextricable linkages among these and the androcentric values inherent in prevailing psychological views of the nature of human beings--or in the disciplinary vernacular, its "models of man." As Jill McCalla Vickers has noted in Chapter One, it is markedly difficult for a fully feminist psychology to emerge that has the defining features of feminist scholarship in other disciplines, including its interdisciplinary character, contextualism, and concern with the female experience guided by woman-centred questions and values.

In the first part of this article, I examine some of the dimensions of "male-stream" (to adopt Mary O'Brien's and Jill McCalla Vickers' apt term) psychology that render it a particularly inhospitable environment for the growth of feminist work. An ontogeny of feminist scholarship suggested by Showalters (1) is then used to examine the development of feminist psychology, an ontogeny that proceeds from imitation, through protest, to a focus on female experience. In the second part of the paper I discuss work in psychology that explores a woman-centred or gynocentric perspective. "Relationality" is the organizing principle I've used in this discussion, a principle I consider centrally representative of women's experience and values. In essence, relationality refers to consciousness of the necessary interdependence of human beings, to a sense of connectedness to others, to awareness of one's embeddedness in human, social and historical contexts, to the maximization of well-being for all persons, and to commitment to non-violence. Relationality contrasts markedly with the individuality principle that underlies male-stream psychology's "models of man." Examination of work on social interaction, human relationships, development of individuals in the human context and resolution of interpersonal moral dilemmas from a gynocentric relationality perspective makes it clear that gynocentric values challenge not only the androcentric models of psychology but the very essence of patriarchal society.

Male-stream Psychology

There are certain central features of male-stream psychology that render it a particularly barren and hostile environment for the growth of feminist work. Psychology has a peculiarly rigid adherence to a naive brand of logical positivism that, in Sherif's (2) estimation, is symptomatic of an advanced case of "physics envy." (3) The "scientific methods" that are predominantly used in psychology require removal of the individuals under study from the contexts of their natural human environments, reduction of the units of observation to readily classifiable simple behaviours of individuals, a detached rational worship of control and "objectivity," an extremely narrow ahistorical, noncontextual space and time framework, and reverence for quantification and for so-called "basic" (meaning physical) levels of analysis. Though psychology is purported to be concerned with understanding the individual, it is an abstracted, idealized individual based on group averages. Any real individual differences that do appear are considered as "noise" or error in the data. The relationship between researcher and researched is a distant, detached one. More often that not, research "subjects" are deceived as to the purposes of the research on the grounds that accurate knowledge might "contaminate" their responses. The tightly controlled experiment with its clearly defined "independent" and "dependent" variables is the sine qua non of psychological method. Though other research methods are condoned, the measure of their worth is the extent to which they approximate the control, objectivity, and quantification of the experiment. The nature of the human being that is evident in psychology's models of man is directly tied to its methodologies, i.e., the abstracted, separated, self-interested, context-free individual.

The extent to which positivist philosophy and methods affect the growth of feminist psychology can readily be detected in an examination of the contents of the two major psychology of women journals, Sex Roles and Psychology of Women Quarterly. The majority of the studies reported in these journals are of the highly controlled, context-stripping, experimental variety. This observation attests not only to the criteria used by reviewers in selecting articles, but to the research methods in which psychologists are intensively and almost exclusively trained. The only major alternative research approaches used to any extent by psychologists are phenomenological in nature. In my view, researchers who use the latter methods are likely to err in another non-feminist direction, that is, in the reification of the unique individual experience, independent of context and without explicit linkages to the experiences of others. In the context of the feminist dictum that "the personal is political," phenomenologists' reports are likely to suggest that "the personal is highly personal."

The debate regarding the proper research paradigm for the conduct of feminist psychological research is an extensive and heated one. It is not likely to yield a single "correct" paradigm; there are undoubtedly a variety of approaches appropriate at different stages of the feminist research process. Our research methodologies must, however, become more flexible, contextual, and interdisciplinary. From a feminist perspective, it is essential that the relationship between researcher and researched be a collaborative, non-deceptive, non-exploitative one. We are learning a good deal from sociologists and anthropologists regarding interpretive contextual research approaches. It is my fond hope that the controlled experiment will come to be seen as the very limited method it is, useful at best for confirming, in a quantifiable fashion, with a sizeable group of women, a specific aspect of research findings previously explored in more contextual depth with a small number of women.

Another important feature of male-stream psychology that has rendered it especially inhospitable for feminist work, especially work directed towards exploration of woman's specificity, or the unique female experience, is psychology's history of the documentation of the inferiority of women. No other discipline has invested more time, energy and money in demonstrating that women are different than men, and therefore inferior to men. It has been amply documented that psychology is a male-centred and male-defined discipline. (4) Well over two-thirds of its human research has been done on males and generalized to all humans, while females have been studied exclusively only in devalued, purportedly feminine areas. In sex differences research, women have served as a convenient "other" to aid in defining the essence of humanity, the male. In Judith Long Laws' estimation, psychological theories of human functioning are predicated on "the assumption of male as normal and female as exception, of man as essence and woman as accident." (5) The large literature on psychological sex differences is highly problematic from a feminist perspective because of its apparent demonstration of the inferiority of the female. In this work, the guiding assumptions are that any characteristic that males have more of than do females is an essential characteristic, a mark of superiority, while any characteristic that females have more of is a sign of weakness, of inferiority. Thus we find this literature replete with such ludicrous interpretations as visual-spatial abilities being considered more important than verbal abilities, of single-minded achievement behaviours and aggressiveness being highly prized while nurturance is viewed as weakness, of environmental responsiveness being labelled "field dependence" and devalued, and so on; the list is endless. Given psychology's profoundly misogynous history in sex differences, it is apparent that any propositions focussed on woman's specificity are likely to be greeted with suspicion by feminist psychologists.

Androcentric Interactional Models

The embeddedness of androcentric values in theories of human functioning is obvious when we look at recent human interactional theories in psychology. The individualistic models of man are translated into views of the individual acting on or against other people in order to achieve personalistic goals--a "man against his social environment" image. The image can most readily be detected in the popularized assertiveness model. It is probably inaccurate to label this very large literature as representing a model, as it is quite diverse and loosely connected, consisting of speculations, experimental studies, attempts at definition, treatment studies with non-assertive persons, etc. There is very little semblance of unifying theory or analysis. The literature is based on the unquestioned assumption that assertiveness, considered to be a male trait (itself a dubious proposition), is by definition good and desirable. There are a variety of definitions of assertiveness in the literature, those that do and those that do not include aggression as a component of assertiveness, those that include positive expressiveness as well as negative expressiveness, and so on. They are all characterized by an almost exclusive focus on the individual's self-centred pursuit of goals, expression of self-defined needs and emotions, constrained only by avoidance of infringement on the rights of others. This androcentric individual rights orientation to evaluating effective social behaviour is reflective of the principles on which males base moral decisions, an observation that will become apparent in a subsequent section of this paper.

An excellent example of the unquestioned androcentric bias in the assertiveness literature is provided by a study that is frequently cited by assertiveness researchers for its supposedly elegant analysis of cognitive and behavioural components of assertiveness. (6) The university students who participated in the research were sorted into groups labelled as low, moderate and high assertive on the basis of their scores on a questionnaire measure of refusal of "unreasonable" requests. In the experiment proper, the students responded to unreasonable requests that were presented with three sets of instructions. In one set they were instructed to give "model refusal responses," that is, they were instructed to refuse, while in the second they were instructed to imagine that they were giving advice about what to say to a friend who had asked for help in refusing the requests. With these two sets of instructions, of course, all of the students gave refusal responses. The third set of instructions was intended to simulate reality; the students were told to imagine that the situation was really happening and to respond as they naturally would in that situation. They also completed a questionnaire about their thoughts, consisting of "cognitive self-statements" that had been previously classified as "positive"--ones that would facilitate request refusal, and "negative"--ones that would make it harder to refuse a request. With these reality-simulating instructions, the students classified as low assertive were less likely to refuse requests than were the high assertive students; they also reported more negative cognitions while the high assertive students reported more positive cognitions.

These data were interpreted as indicating that low assertive persons know "correct" assertive responses but their performance is blocked by negative thoughts. The results were compared to other research in which a "variety of patients had thought patterns characterized by negative and maladaptive self-statements," (7) with suggestions for treatment of low assertive persons to restructure their maladaptive thought patterns. In order to explicate the androcentrism of this research, it is essential to examine the content of the positive and negative self-statements. Examples of the positive self-statements are: "I was thinking that it doesn't matter what the person thinks of me. I was thinking that I am perfectly free to say no." Examples of the negative self-statements are: "I was thinking that it is better to help others than to be self-centred. I was thinking that the other person might be hurt or insulted if I refused." (8) These positive and negative thoughts are reflective of very different value orientations to social interaction, the former indicating egocentric autonomous pursuit of self-defined goals and the latter reflecting concern for others and acceptance of responsibility for the effects of one's behaviour on others. There is clearly nothing inherently inferior or maladaptive about the low assertive students' orientation to social interaction. Indeed, from a pro-social perspective which emphasizes the welfare of all, it is much to be preferred to that of the high assertive students. The unquestioned androcentric bias of the assertiveness construct dictated that this pro-social orientation be devalued; that those who hold it be compared to patients, described as maladapted and in need of therapy.

The individualistic man against his social environment model is also evident in much of the social competence literature, especially the literature that is based on a social problem-solving approach to explaining effective social behaviour. In this approach, often used in remedial social skills training, social interactions are defined as problems to be solved; individuals are trained to identify their own goals in interactions, to generate specific kinds of behaviour as means of reaching those goals, and to observe the actions of others in order to assess the impact of their behaviour on them. This is a somewhat more genteel and sophisticated version of the assertiveness approach. Another prominent example of an androcentric model is the social exchange theory which foreshadowed the assertiveness and problem-solving approaches. Thibaut and Kelly first introduced social exchange theory in 1959, and it has been so influential that many of its propositions and language conventions have been absorbed into the lore and language of psychology. The basic propositions were apparently so intuitively self-evident (to men) that they became "common knowledge" in androcentric psychology. In essence, social exchange theory postulates that individuals engage in social interaction to exchange the commodities of reward and punishment, each individual striving to maximize the former and minimize the latter. Each social interaction is considered a zero-sum game, a win-lose proposition with participating individuals vying with each other for the limited reinforcements available. It is assumed that individuals maintain a running tally of personal gains and losses in interpersonal interaction. The possibilities of mutuality, harmonious relationships, and recognition of the interdependence of human beings are precluded by the very nature of the theory.

Development of Feminist Psychology

Showalter's description of developmental foci in feminist scholarship is an ontogeny that is helpful to understanding the development of feminist psychology. (9) The first stage of development that she identifies has an imitation focus. It accompanies women's early awareness of the male-centredness of a particular discipline, and does not include a questioning of androcentric values. The problem for those concerned about women is defined at this stage as one of the under-representation of females as objects of research. Research problems are not reformulated from women's perspective, rather male-centred research is replicated on women. Females are plugged into male theories, or the theories are altered slightly to accommodate women, without questioning the implicit androcentric assumptions of the theories. The second phase of Showalter's ontogeny is the protest focus which is concomitant with feminists' growing consciousness of the historical pervasiveness of misogynous bias in extant bodies of knowledge, and takes the form of concerted attacks on these bodies of knowledge. The androcentric values underlying choice of research problems and interpretation of research results are still not seriously challenged, however. In the third focus, feminist scholars are concerned with exploration of the female experience guided by gynocentric concerns and values. As Judith Long Laws has noted, this ontogeny is often recapitulated in the careers of individual feminist scholars.

Much of the work on the psychology of women, as the area is known in the discipline, can most accurately be described as focussed on imitation or protest. This is not a surprising observation considering that feminist scholarship in psychology is only a little over a decade old. (There were some superb feminist psychologists just after the turn of the century, but it is some time since their influence has been felt.) We have made considerable progress for women as a function of work in these foci: the establishment of publication policies that support equal opportunities for female authors and equal representation of female and male subject populations in research reports; regulations regarding non-sexist language usage; the establishment of statistical criteria for reporting sex differences; the founding of organizations committed to women's needs in psychology; the questioning of longstanding empirical generalizations regarding differences between the sexes, and so on. I consider it essential at this stage of the feminist journey in psychology to re-examine the process of that journey, being especially attentive to androcentric assumptions and values.

The early position of most feminists working in the psychology of women can be described as a simple victimology that accepted the male as standard and saw the female as inferior but malleable. It was believed that if she was given the same learning experiences, societal opportunities and rewards, she could be as good as a male; that is, she could acquire valued male characteristics. The analyses implied that the explanations for women's oppression lay in women's deficiencies--psychological characteristics of individual women that were the result of faulty sex role socialization or deficient learning opportunities. The analyses were focussed on changing socialization experiences, on providing learning opportunities so that women might individually be less defective. The "blaming-the-victim" (10) fallacy is very difficult to avoid when researchers accept conventional male-stream psychology's methodologies and the associated subject matter of the decontextualized individual. Three bodies of work in the psychology of women that represent Showalter's imitation focus are the work on the motive to avoid success, research and theory on androgyny, and the early surge of assertiveness training for women.

The "motive to avoid success" (11) was an effort to patch up a male theory of achievement to accommodate women without questioning the masculinized definition of achievement and without recognizing that it is a victim-blaming construct. (12) I know no feminist psychologists who were unmoved by this apparent breakthrough for women in an important theoretical area. Perhaps we should have recognized something was wrong when Horner's 1969 doctoral dissertation was, within a very short period of time, presented widely in the popular media and appeared in every introductory psychology textbook. Briefly, Homer's major hypotheses were that the motive to avoid success was more likely to characterize women than men, that it was a stable motive established in childhood, and that bright women were especially likely to experience it. Though the extensive research literature on this motive has failed to replicate Homer's early results or verify any aspect of her theory, the motive to avoid success has become part of the folklore in psychology. It obviously serves the male-centred purposes of explaining away women's under-representation in advanced educational and occupational pursuits as our own fault.

The extensive work in androgyny, which presents the view that both rigidly held feminine and masculine sex roles are maladaptive and that an androgynous combination is most adaptive, appeared initially to offer considerable promise for the development of feminist psychology. Recent feminist critiques of this work have made it clear that androgyny involves prizing of stereotypically masculine characteristics, even in the structure and origin of the term, (13) and that the measurement operations treat as real entities stereotypes of what masculinity and femininity mean, reifying the stereotypes rather than attacking them (Eichler, 1980). The inadequacy of the term as an index of mental health, suggesting something akin to "John Travolta and Farrah Fawcett Majors scotch-taped together," is becoming glaringly apparent. (14)

The third example of the imitation focus is the wave of assertiveness training for women that began in the early 1970s. Again, the immediate popularization of this approach should have alerted us to its problems. Assertiveness training was so quickly embraced and widely disseminated through established organizations (in most major cities in North America, Y's offer programmes geared especially to women) that it must be serving some highly useful social control function for patriarchal society. Again, I submit that this approach is representative of the blaming-the-victim fallacy to which male-stream psychological theory and research so readily lends itself. In this instance, the fallacy is that the power imbalance between men and women is a result of individual women's lack of assertiveness. Assertiveness training work with women assumes that (1) assertiveness is a unitary masculine characteristic and is thus to be valued, and (2) that women are deficient in it. In other work, my colleagues and I have questioned both of these assumptions. In the present context, my immediate concern is with the overemphasis on assertiveness to the exclusion of other aspects of human functioning. Women do need encouragement to develop an autonomous sense of self and to have a healthy respect for ourselves and our own rights. I think it is important, however, that feminist work directed toward these goals be embedded in a broader gynocentric model of human functioning that emphasizes women's positive qualities and capacities, such as the models proposed by Jean Baker Miller (1976) and Nancy Chodorow (1978).

The protest focus in psychology is represented by a number of broadly based critical reviews of existing theoretical and research literature that have attacked longstanding empirical generalizations about women's inferiority vis-a-vis men. Perhaps the best known of these efforts is Maccoby and Jacklin's (1974) careful examination of all the sex differences research literature over an eight-year period. In this volume, they poked holes in many of the widely accepted myths regarding sex differences. It has long been "known" and reported in social psychology texts that females are more persuasible and readily influenced by social pressure than are males. Alice Eagley (1978) reported a mammoth review of all of the available research on short-term persuasion and sug-gestibility, revealing that there is simply no evidence for the blanket generalizations regarding women's suggestibility. Her review indicates that when some aspect of a person's integrity or self-concept is threatened, neither women nor men are readily influenced in brief encounters. When responsiveness to the situation seems more important at the time than maintaining one's concept of self, persons of either sex may be readily influenced. Other reviewers have been concerned with demonstrating that under certain specified conditions women equal men in some culturally valued masculine characteristic such as aggressiveness, or, like Eagley's review, that women are similar to men on some devalued "feminine" characteristic. This work has been valuable in demonstrating the extent to which existing psychological theory and research are simply naive reflections of our misogynous androcentric societal structures, and in dispelling many patriarchal myths regarding the inferiority of women on male-defined dimensions. My concerns are that it does not seriously question the dimensions themselves, and that it seems implicitly to be guided by the goal of demonstrating that females and males are, after all, essentially the same.

Psychological feminist work that is not readily classifiable according to Showalter's foci is that which is concerned with women's oppression in areas unearthed in the broader feminist struggle. These areas include feminist psychological work on rape, pornography, woman-battering, the exercise of social power, and so on. Social power research is an area that I consider to be very useful to the feminist struggle and yet highly problematic from a gynocentric perspective. A large body of work has revealed a variety of strategies that males use to maintain power in interactions with women that range from controlling conversations through interruptions, topic changes and poor listening, to the use of non-reciprocal touching, sexual harassment, etc. Knowledge of these strategies is important to us in male-defined power struggles. However, to limit our analyses of social interaction to the androcentric definitions of power and win-lose strategies is to preclude the emergence of a gynocentric perspective that is concerned with mutuality and interdependence. In the next section I discuss work that I consider representative of a fully feminist perspective, the gynocentric construct of relationality.

Gynocentric Values and Relationality

Feminist psychology is beginning to make contributions to research and theory in Showalter's third focus, that of the exploration of the female experience from a woman-centred perspective. Much of this feminist work bears quite directly on views of the nature of the individual and the relationship between the individual and society. Work that is particularly rich in its implications is that which deals with humans as social beings--on the values, behaviour and development of individuals in interpersonal contexts. The interpersonal realm has traditionally been woman's domain. Women have, historically and cross-culturally, been responsible for interpersonal caretaking, while men have busied themselves with the impersonal "real" work of the world. In male-stream psychology, women's interpersonal orientation has typically been devalued, our nurturance and interpersonal sensitivity defined as weakness. In other disciplines, women's interpersonal caretaking has been redefined through feminist scholarship as the most essential and basic activity in any society. Feminist psychologists are slowly beginning to recognize women's interpersonal orientation as a reservoir of positive social skills and sensitivities with profound implications for the conduct of society.

In this second half of the present chapter I discuss feminist work that presents gynocentric perspectives on interpersonal interaction, the development of a sense of self in the interpersonal context of the family, a woman-centred view of moral development emphasizing women's connectedness to others, women's orientation to interpersonal interaction and the relational nature of female concepts of self. "Relationality" is the term I've chosen to describe the major feature of woman's existence that is revealed by these findings and suggestive theoretical work. Relationality refers to a sense of one's connectedness to and responsibility for others, to the necessary interdependence among human beings.

Many feminist scholars, and not only feminist psychologists, react strongly and negatively to references to woman's specificity. To suggest that women and men are somehow different implicates those differences in women's oppression, suggesting that women collude in their own oppression. It has been considered far safer to view women and men as malleable in the face of social, historical, and economic forces, and any differences that may appear as temporary artifacts of these forces. Further, the most obvious explanations of differences between the sexes are biological ones, and we are fully aware of the social control uses to which biological explanations have been and are being put. Sociobiology is a current, dangerously Fascist version of such an explanatory theory. However, human beings are not static, instinct-ridden creatures continually at the mercy of biological forces, but are rather social creations, themselves actively creating and constructing their own realities within the limits of the social, political and economic conditions imposed on them. Commonalities in women's experiences across time, classes and cultures render superfluous the biological explanations of woman's specificity. These experiences are partly a function of women's reproductive capacities; Mary O'Brien (1981) considers woman's connected experience and investment of labour in the birth process--in contrast to man's distant, alienated, intellectualized contribution to reproduction--to be the most important source of differences in our orientations to experience. It is unnecessary, however, to resort to biochemistry, genetic make-up, brain functioning and the like as explanatory devices. Another commonality in women's experience, as noted above, is our responsibility for the domain of interpersonal caretaking. A shared set of experiences lies also in the mother-daughter dyad. All women are daughters, and most of us are mother-raised. According to the object relations theorists, the experience of being reared by a woman has markedly differing effects on the developing selves of girls and boys.

Object Relations Theory and Relationality

Nancy Chodorow (1978) and Dorothy Dinnerstein (1976) have proposed theories regarding gender differences in self development that have been broadly influential in feminist scholarship. These theorists present psychosocial analyses of deep differences between females and males in their sense of self and their orientation to others and to the world--differences that the object relations theorists consider to result from virtually all children being mother-raised. Being a feminist of anti-Freudian persuasion, I must admit to a profound uneasiness regarding the dangerous possibilities of these theories adding ammunition to the timeworn great mother-blame myths. Indeed, Dinnerstein's ahistorical analysis, though brilliant, is quite flawed in this regard. She does seem to hold women, as mothers, largely responsible for the patriarchal mess the world is in.

Chodorow's analysis is more sophisticated and more socially and historically contextual. The processes affecting gender differences in self development that she discusses are contingent on features of male-dominant industrialized societies, those in which there is clear demarcation between the public and the private spheres. In such societies, differences between the genders are marked, and gender identity is established early. Reproduction, child-care and interpersonal nurturing are carried on in the private sphere in such societies. Most often, the biological mother is the primary caretaker of the children, while fathers assume little or no responsibility for child-care. Mothering is devalued and societal structures provide virtually no child-care support or recognition for mothers' societal contributions. When paid caretakers are involved in child-care, they are typically other women.

The basic premise of object relations theory is that people create mental representations of important persons in our early development that shape our sense of ourselves and reactions to others throughout our lives. The experience of the first relationship with the primary caretaker, likely a mother, creates an image for ourselves and a model for our future relationships with others. In Western societies, in which virtually all children are parented by a female adult, the development of self-identity and of core gender identity is markedly different for girls than for boys. The child's earliest identification, whether girl or boy, is with its mother. However, a girl's gender and her gender role identification processes are continuous with her earliest identification, while the boy is required to shift his identification from the mother to the father in later development.

Dinnerstein focusses primarily on the development of male ego differentiation and its relationship to the depersonalized power structures and destructive dominance practices of patriarchal society. The young infant experiences many overwhelming emotions, from engulfing awe and love, to terror, pain and rage, all of which are associated with the woman who cares for him. During early infancy, the important stage of developing a sense of self individuated from his surroundings, the little boy typically has only the mother with whom to identify. There are deep ambivalences in this identification process, however, associated with mother's omnipotence and the terror and pain he connects to her. As the boy grows older and becomes aware of his sex--the same as father's, different from mother's--he begins the difficult identification process with the often absent father. The most important bond between the son and his father in this identification process, in a male-dominant society, is that "we are both better than she who takes care of us." Masculine identity is developed primarily in opposition to mother. The boy identifies with a distant, abstract male standard; his masculine identity is tenuous, as the presence of mother is a constant reminder of his former identification which he must repress. He must continuously fight for masculine identity, and it is experienced primarily through separation from and rejection of mother. These early common experiences among mother-raised male children in male-dominant societies lay the bases for the male separated self as well as for the exercise of male power in human relationships, especially in opposition to women.

More pertinent to the purposes of the present paper is Chodorow's expansion of object relations theory that focusses on the uniqueness of early female experience. In contrast to the sharp break between the boy's early identification processes and establishment of a core gender identity, these processes are much more continuous for girls. The girl's primary attachment is with the same person, her mother, with whom she later identifies in establishing a core gender identity. The process of developing a clearly separated sense of self is more difficult for the girl, but is carried out in the realistic context of an ongoing relationship with the mother. The relationship between the girl and her mother is a complex one in its mutuality; a woman is more likely to identify closely with her female child in her sameness than she is with a boy. The process of empathy is a frequent maternal experience with daughters. This, too, is a mutual process, one in which daughters learn early to experience empathy with another human being. The daughter's sense of self is thus developed in continuous context within relationship with mother: she, like the son, must struggle with the infantile experiences of terror and utter dependence associated with her early interactions with mother, but does so in the more realistic context of an ongoing, interdependent relationship with her. As the primary caretaker, one of the mother's characteristics is interpersonal nurturance, a prominent feature in the daughter-mother identification process.

"Girls and boys develop different relational capacities and senses of self as a result of growing up in a family in which women mother. These personalities are reinforced by differences in the identification processes of boys and girls that also result from women's mothering" (Chodorow, 1978, p. 173). Girls define their sense of self in the context of continuous interdependent relationship with mother, while boys' self-identity is developed in opposition to the mother. As the evidence in the remainder of this paper indicates, females' self-identity continues to be defined in terms of the quality of their relationships with others, while males become increasingly individuated, one might say distanced and alienated, with age.

Gynocentric Study of the Development of Values

The acknowledgment of a valued female specificity has also led to important developments in the feminist study of moral development. Kohlberg's (15) model of moral development, a derivative of Piagetian cognitive-developmental theory, has dominated the area since the early 1960s. The six-stage model was developed on a sample of male adolescents. It proceeds from a first hedonistic egocentric stage through the definition of "the good" as defined by interpersonal relationships, to stage 6, in which moral judgments are made on the basis of abstract, universal principles disembedded from interpersonal and social contexts. Researchers have found that women's responses to Kohlberg's standard moral dilemmas tend to cluster around stage 3--not surprising in view of the fact that all references to emotions such as compassion, sympathy and love are automatically coded in this system as representative of stage 3. Kohlberg's system can be described as an extreme individual rights orientation built on a legal-rational model, with the most moral individual being the most thoroughly separated from his social milieu.

Carol Gilligan (1977, 1979) has very recently begun to document a specific female path of moral development. She worked with Kohlberg for some time but became dissatisfied with the failure of his theory to deal adequately with the female experience. Gilligan is doing or has done research that involves interviews with females ranging in age from six to 60 +, cross-sectionally as well as longitudinally, in which she is learning about self-generated moral dilemmas as well as females' responses to standardized moral dilemmas. She has completed an intensive interview study with women contemplating abortion, a moral decision uniquely representative of women's experience. She has learned that the principles of responsibility and care underlie women's moral judgments, responsibility for the effects of one's actions on others and care and concern for other people. Non-violence, avoidance of harm to people, is an important concern in shaping women's moral decisions. The developmental sequence for women's moral judgments seems to proceed from a focus solely on personal survival, to a concern for the welfare of others excluding oneself, and finally to acceptance of responsibility for one's own welfare as well as that of others.

A fascinating aspect of her findings is the con textual ism which women demand in making moral judgments. Women find it ludicrous to suggest that such decisions could be made without full information about the people involved and the situation they are in. When presented with Kohlberg's standard dilemmas, women typically ask for considerably more specific information (in Kohlberg's system, a sign of deficient development!). For example, in response to the well-known Heinz dilemma in which Heinz's wife will die without a rare, expensive drug hoarded by a certain druggist, females often refuse to consider what Heinz should do until they know more about the situation. Why doesn't the druggist want to give him the drug? Are there other, perhaps younger people more in need of the drug? Why doesn't Heinz work out a time payment plan? Why doesn't he try other sources for the drug? Why is the drug so unavailable'? Is it because it's dangerous and unproven, like laetrile, etc.? In contrast, males at Kohlberg's stage 6 typically pit the abstract universal principles of the value of human life and the value of law and order against each other in order to make a decision about what Heinz should do.

Research reported by others supports essential features of Gilligan's theory. For example, girls' responses to Kohlberg's dilemmas are typically characterized by concern for consequences for others as well as references to love, welfare, affection and intimacy. Girls' self-created moral dilemmas are likely to involve relationships between friends, while boys write about acquaintances and distant others. Women's self-esteem is tied to their perceptions of their own morally good and bad behaviour, reflecting concern for the consequences of their behaviours on others, while men's self-esteem is tied only to self-perceived good behaviours.

In sum, this work supports the position that the bases of moral judgments are very different for females and males. Females' judgments reflect our gynocentric values, our sense of a connected self, of the interdependence of human beings in relationship, of the responsibility of each human to care for others and to be aware of the consequences of one's actions on others. In contrast, male moral judgments reflect a separated sense of self, are focused on individual rights, and assume that people are essentially interchangeable in an abstract system of justice.

Gynocentric Values and Interpersonal Interaction

Growing appreciation of male/female behaviour differences has led, also, to a re-evaluation of social competence and social interaction literature. In 1980, my colleagues and I undertook a literature search to see if there existed any evidence regarding the superior social competencies and interpersonal sensitivities of females. The research we reviewed was not conducted by feminists, and is primarily of the controlled experimental variety in the suspicious sex differences area, most of it based on the usual androcentric assumptions of male-stream psychology. So it is not surprising that we did not find supportive evidence under the obvious rubrics of social competence or interpersonal skills. As discussed earlier in this paper, these areas are so accommodated to male-centred values that any differences between the sexes are typically washed out. Women's investment in the interpersonal realm has, in fact, been consistently devalued in psychology, our connectedness with others seen as pathological dependency needs, nurturance and interpersonal sensitivity defined as weakness. However, we did find evidence, some of it interpreted in the original reports as reflecting negatively on women, under rubrics such as non-verbal communication, proxemics or personal space, influence and power tactics, eye contact, and differences in specific social behaviours.

Our search was guided by gynocentric questions and values; we were interested in interpersonal sensitivity, including attentiveness and responsiveness to social cues and the ability to understand them, ability to transmit social-emotional messages and the interpersonally relevant content of such messages. We used a gynocentric definition of pro-social skills as ones that would be likely to result in positive consequences for all individuals in an interaction.

Briefly, the literature we reviewed indicated that females surpass males in attentiveness to visual, auditory and tactile social stimuli, in being better listeners, and in showing greater responsiveness to variations in the characteristics of other people and of social situations. Females more accurately interpret the content of emotional messages and are more effective communicators of emotional-social messages. Females show pro-social patterns of social behaviour, such as rewardingness and empathy, that foster the well-being of all persons in interactions as opposed to anti-social patterns of social behaviour.

Stark-Adamec and Pihl (16) have published a study that provides an excellent example of the differences that appear between females and males in their interpersonal interactions. The study was designed to test the effects of smoking cannabis on social interaction. Same-sex pairs of strangers smoked either cannabis or a placebo while interacting with each other, and a good deal of behavioural and self-report data was collected. The most striking set of results from the study was the difference between the female and male pairs. Regardless of substance smoked, the quality of the female interactions was simply more pleasant and positive than that of the male pairs. The women had fewer silences, were more positively reinforcing of each other, smiled more frequently, discussed more personally relevant content, and made greater expressive use of body movements to emphasize conversation. After the interaction, the women reported themselves as happier than the men and as having more positive impressions of each other.

Women's self-descriptions correspond with our interpersonally sensitive, pro-social actions. As early as adolescence, girls have more positive self-images with regard to such characteristics as congeniality and sociability. Cross-cultural data suggest that women are more likely than men to use adjectives to describe themselves that reflect an interpersonal orientation such as being loving, affectionate, compassionate and sympathetic, while men are more likely to describe themselves as assertive, dominating, and competitive. Lilian Rubin's (1980) qualitative interview study of American women in mid-life included a question regarding self-identity. The women invariably described themselves in the context of their human relationships with their families and others, frequently using such adjectives as generous, helpful, considerate and thoughtful in their self-descriptions. A comparison group of men responded to the same question with descriptions solely in terms of their work ("I am a ...," "I do ..."), never in the context of their human relationships.


In the first part of this paper I explored some of the features of male-stream psychology that render it particularly hostile to the development of a fully feminist psychology. The nature of its underlying philosophy and methods is rigidly tied to a view of the nature of human beings that excludes women, and is antithetical to woman-centred values. The androcentric values of separation, domination, rationality and egocentrism are embedded in the philosophy, methods and models of psychology.

I have explored the implications of some emerging research findings and feminist theory for the nature of gynocentric values, women's connected relational selves, our sense of interdependence and our highly developed sense of social responsibility. This work has profound implications for an understanding of the nature of human beings, as well as for the conduct of human society. It is clear that the development of a fully feminist psychology constructed on gynocentric values and woman-centred questions will transform not only our knowledge of women, but the nature of psychology in every respect. Gynocentric connectedness, interdependence and integration have implications for views in all areas of this highly fragmented discipline. Indeed, in challenging the individualistic models of man that underlie psychology, feminist psychology challenges the very underpinnings of male-dominated society.


(1.) Elaine Showalter, "Is There a Female Aesthetic?" in Women. Advocate and Scholar. Proceedings of the conference at Montclair State College, 1974.

(2.) Carolyn Wood Sherif, "Bias in Psychology," in Sherman and Beck, 1979.

(3.) See Margaret Benston's Chapter 2 of this volume for a more detailed feminist critique of scientific method.

(4.) For example, Canadian Psychological Review, January 1977 (entire issue) and Carolyn Wood Sherif, op. cit.

(5.) Judith Long Laws, Feminism and Patriarchy: Competing Ways of Doing Social Science. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, San Francisco, 1978, p. 4.

(6.) Robert Schwartz and John Gottman, "Toward a Task Analysis of Assertive Behavior" in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 44, 1976, pp. 910-920.

(7.) Ibid., p. 919 (emphasis added).

(8.) Ibid., p. 913.

(9.) Showalter 1974, op. cit.

(10.) William Ryan, Blaming the Victim (New York: Pantheon, 1971).

(11.) Matina Homer, "Toward an Understanding of Achievement-Related Conflicts in Women" in The Journal of Social Issues, 28, 1972, pp. 157-175.

(12.) David Tresemer, Fear of Success (New York: Plenum Press, 1977).

(13.) Kathryn Morgan, "Androgyny: Vision or Mirage? A Philosophical Analysis." Paper presented at the University of Toronto and York University Research Colloquium, December 1977, p. 10.

(14.) See Mary Brown Parlee, "Feminist Psychology in the 80s" in Caplan 1982; Sandra Pyke, "Androgyny: A Dead End or a Promise" in Stark-Adamec 1980; and C. Stark-Adamec, et al.," Androgyny and Mental Health: The Need for a Critical Evaluation of the Theoretical Equation" in International Journal of Women "s Studies, 3, 1980, pp. 490-507.

(15.) Lawrence Kohlberg, The Development of Modes of Moral Thinking and Choice in the Years Ten to Sixteen. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Chicago, 1958; Lawrence Kohlberg, "Stage and Sequence: The Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Socialization" in D. Goslin (ed.), Handbook of Socialization, Theory and Research (Chicago: Rand-McNally, 1969), pp. 347-480.

(16.) Connie Stark-Adamec & R.O. Pihl, "Sex Differences in Response to Marijuana in a Social Setting" in Psychology of Women Quarterly 2, 1978, pp. 334-353.

Jeri Dawn Wine teaches psychology and feminist studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto. Her major interest lies in feminist analysis of social interaction and human relationship and in working toward an inclusive feminism that recognizes and affirms differences among women yet transcends the barriers of sexuality, race, and class. She was a member of the Feminist Party of Canada. She is active in the Centre for Women's Studies at OISE, is on the editorial board of Resources for Feminist Research, is active in the Canadian Women's Studies Association, and sits on the board of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women.

Since publication of this chapter, a number of works have represented the efforts of feminist psychologists to explore women's experience from a gynocentric perspective. Perhaps the most prominent of these publications are Belenky, et al. (1986), Women's Ways of Knowing, and the Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective's (1987) Lesbian Psychologies: Explorations and Challenges. Strongly recommended also is the special issue on Women's Development and Education in the Journal of Education (1985). Work from a gynocentric perspective that sees the qualitative and interpretive methodologies favoured by scholars working within such a perspective is still coming under considerable attack both by mainstream academics and feminist scholars (e.g., see Signs 11:2, pp. 304-33, discussion of Carol Gilligan's research), primarily for its deviation from positivist criteria for good research.
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Author:Wine, Jeri Dawn
Publication:Resources for Feminist Research
Article Type:Reprint
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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