Feminism, gender, and cultures of critique in psychology:
Historical and theoretical considerations
The relationship between feminism and psychology has taken various forms. Previously, I have structured this relationship in terms of a tripartite framework: feminism and/in/as psychology (Rutherford & Pettit, 2015). “Feminism and psychology” refers to the relationship between a political/cultural movement and a scientific discipline, and highlights the efforts of participants in each to problematize, or distance from, the other. “Feminism in psychology” refers to the critiques of psychology from within, foregrounding the interventions of self-identified feminists in psychology and their attempts to alter its methods, epistemologies, theories, and practices. Finally, “feminism as psychology/psychology as feminism” explores the conceptual and cultural linkages and elisions between the two, or the ways in which feminism has become psychologized, and psychology has absorbed feminist critique into its “business as usual.” I explore and substantiate this framework using historical and contemporary examples. I then examine how the different forms of this relationship have affected psychologists’ engagement with gender, unpacking the constitutive relations among the psychological, the social, and the subjective. How has psychology – and at times, even feminist psychology – participated in reifying and reinforcing traditional gendered subjectivities, rather disrupting them? When have disruptive moments occurred, in what contexts, and to what effects? I include some recent developments, such as the institutionalization of gender-based analysis into research funding and policy-making in Canada, to demonstrate the (productive) influence of feminist critique on “mainstream” practice at the methodological, and perhaps even epistemological, level. Finally, as an initial attempt at exploring how the multi- or trans-disciplinary project of the psychological humanities might theorize gender in new ways, I consider the connections among feminist psychology, feminist philosophy, and feminist history that might drive a broader understanding of gender than has been possible using psychology alone.
Alexandra Rutherford is a historian of psychology at York University in Toronto. She studies the history of feminist-scholar activism in psychology and its relationship to society. She is the founder and director of the Psychology’s Feminist Voices Oral History and Digital Archive Project (http://www.feministvoices.com/), which documents and promotes the contributions of women and feminism in psychology. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Canadian Psychological Association, and won the 2012 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology for her co-edited volume Handbook of International Feminisms: Perspectives on Psychology, Women, Culture, and Rights (New York: Springer).