Psynopsis in its second edition has set out to reflect on a very significant issue of ‘Women and Psychology’. It sparks off two ideas in my mind- Psychology of Women and Women in Psychology. Psychology of woman addresses the concern- How do psychological theories understand subjective experiences of women? The other idea impels us to identify and acknowledge such female thinkers in Psychology who have made significant contribution to the discipline?
Mainstream scientific psychology has often been critiqued for its gender bias- a bias which stems because of taking the male experience and point of view as a ‘norm’. This androcentric bias takes two forms- Alpha bias which implies theories and research exaggerate differences between men and women, thus reinforcing stereotypes; and Beta bias which minimizes the differences between men and women thus ignoring important parts of female life experience. Laurence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, Sigmund Freud’s account of psychosexual development, and Erik Erikson’s perspective on identity formation are just a few examples of psychological theories in which androcentric bias is reflected. To such theories there have been critical feminist responses by theorists such as Carol Gilligan, Juliet Mitchell and Ruthellen Josselson., respectively. They, in their own perspectives of human development, made ‘gender’ a key construct. This enabled them to perceive and conceptualize unique and differential subjectivity of women. However, this must not leave us with the impression that all women psychologists are feminists or that all feminists are women. There are non-feminist women psychologists such as Anna Freud, Melanie Klein and yes! there are feminist men too!!
My own dissatisfaction with the inadequacy of gendered analysis in Psychological theorization led me to explore the notions of ‘motherhood’ and ‘mothering’ as experienced by women who mother. In our child development theories, the mother is always constructed through the mind of the child- ‘good mother’ and ‘bad mother’ and there is little that we understand of the subjectivity of woman in the (m)other who raised us. I strongly believe it is important to build a discourse of psychology which is gender-sensitive.
The first step in this direction is for psychologists to accept and explicate the plurality of human experiences shaped by intersecting contexts of living which such as caste, class, race, ethnicity, and of course gender. The second step is to understand that neither ‘hormones’ nor ‘role learning’ can alone explain how gender subjectivities are formed. The biological fact of being male and female is given meaning on the basis of cultural conceptions of masculinity and femininity The third step is to theorize both the constant aspect of women’s lives as well as the changes that certainly exist.
The endeavor of critical enquiry on gender in relation to psychology is to create and sustain a new fluidity between sex and gender systems so as to encourage free inter-identification between sexes.