On the Psychology of Women

by Trish Mathis

A few years after college, when I could afford my first new car, I went with my father and brother to test drive makes and models from five different dealers. One dealer assumed my father was buying the car for me and spoke only to him. Another tried to sweet-talk my brother into convincing me to get pricey upgrades like a moonroof. And yet another assumed I “drove like a woman” and tried to teach me to “do it right.” The remaining two dealers didn’t even bother to look at me, much less allow me to sit inside any cars.

That happened more than 15 years ago and is a relatively tame example of the prejudice women can face, so it has been easy for me to assume that now women are almost always treated with respect. Yet we routinely hear news stories about sex trafficking, rape, assault, and societal inequality. And in the past year, hundreds of women have come forward to publicly accuse a large and growing number of prominent male politicians, actors, and media figures of offenses ranging from sexual harassment to rape.

The oppression of women—not only in the United States but around the world—and their continuing quest for status, equality, and inclusion is an important focus of the new APA Handbook of the Psychology of Women, a 2-volume set released by APA in October. Editors-in-Chief Cheryl B. Travis and Jacquelyn W. White explained in its Introduction (p. xix) that they:

…encouraged authors to consider the historic, economic, social, and political contexts of the critical issues affecting women’s lives. Across chapters, we see a larger picture, one that consistently reflects the central role of context in feminist theory, scholarship, and practice. Much of this scholarship is paired with the recognition of inequality and a passionate wish to correct injustice. As a result, advocacy work for social change is now more compelling and more effective.

Contributors to the 60 chapters in the handbook were asked to describe the historic, economic, social, and political contexts affecting women within modern society. The authors present their arguments through personal narratives, research evidence, and literature reviews. Each chapter tells a meaningful story of the progress that has been made and the progress still needed. For example, in Chapter 3 of Volume 2, Lamb and Brodt discuss the basic concepts of feminist psychotherapy and their current applications, then conclude with recommendations for the development of new techniques and new approaches that better address the issues faced by women.

Taking into account many popular misconceptions, the handbook chapters address the central tenets of feminist theory. But they also help people understand women’s everyday lives: What it means to know yourself, but have others fail to understand you. What it means to struggle to be treated as equal. What it means to try to be strong and to accept when you cannot be strong. And most of all, what it means to be a person worthy of respect and acceptance from everyone.

References

Travis, C. B., & White, J. W. (Eds.). (2017). APA handbook of the psychology of women (Vols. 1–2). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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