The Psychology of Women:Counselling
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The Psychology of Women
Instructions for completing and submitting this assignment
Use the link below for the online version of The Psychology of women by Margaret W. Matlin. All questions are found in units 1 through 8. Additional articles are listed below.
The Psychology of women by Margaret W. Matlin.
Chapter 1 :
Allen, L. (2010). Queer(y)ing the straight researcher: The relationship(?) between researcher identity and anti-normative knowledge. Feminism & Psychology, 20(2), 147-165.
Weisstein, N. (1993). Psychology constructs the female; or, The fantasy life of the male psychologist (with some attention to the fantasies of his friends, the male biologist and the male anthropologist). Feminism & Psychology, 3(2), 195-210. [This is a revised and expanded version of “Kinder, Küche, Kirche as scientific law: Psychology constructs the female,” published by the New England Free Press, 791 Tremont Street Boston, MA, USA, 1968. Copyright, Naomi Weisstein, 1971.]
Shields, S. (1975). Functionalism, Darwinism, and the psychology of women: A study in social myth. American Psychologist, 30(7), 739–754.
Townsend, T., Thomas, A., Neilands, T., & Jackson, T. (2010). I’m no Jezebel; I am young, gifted, and Black: Identity, sexuality, and black girls. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34(3), 273-285.[Note: If you are unfamiliar with statistical analyses, you may skip the “Methods” and “Results” sections of this article and focus on the authors’ introduction and discussion.]
LoBue, V., & Deloache, J. (2011). Pretty in pink: The early development of gender-stereotyped colour preferences. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 29(3), 656-667.
Spelke, E. (2005). Sex differences in intrinsic aptitude for mathematics and science? American Psychologist, 60(9), 950-958.
Schultheiss, D. (2006). The interface of work and family life. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 37(4), 334–341.
- The Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement(MIRCI) website is a “feminist scholarly and activist organization on mothering–motherhood, developed from the former Association for Research on Mothering at York University (1998–2010)” (MIRCI). The website links to a number of resources, including theJournal of the Motherhood Initiative(formerly The Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering).
- The Museum of Motherhood provides “a space and platform that raises awareness by being a resource that is integral to the modern motherhood movement at large, and the overall cultural landscape.” Its website.
McMullen, L., & Stoppard, J. (2006). Women and depression: A case study of the influence of feminism in Canadian psychology. Feminism & Psychology, 16(3), 273–288.
Gavey, N., & Schmidt, J. (2011). “Trauma of rape” discourse: A double-edged template for everyday understandings of the impact of rape? Violence Against Women, 17(4), 453-456
Rodgers, K., & Knight, M. (2011). “You just felt the collective wind being knocked out of us”: The deinstitutionalization of feminism and the survival of women’s organizing in Canada. Women’s Studies International Forum, 34(6), 570–581.
Chapter 1: Bias in the Research Findings
Chapter 1 of the textbook demonstrates that notions of sex and gender and social bias, for example, have had a powerful effect on the production of knowledge in psychology. These concepts are explored further in both Allen’s (2010) and Weisstein’s (1968/1993) articles. Allen looks at how researchers’ sexual identity might affect the research process. Weisstein’s seminal article confronts the entire discipline of psychology. She sees the discipline as contributing to the creation of biased knowledge. Weisstein’s thesis, formulated over four decades ago, remains relevant today.
When you consider the gender stereotypes that many of us hold, do you think that psychologists, as scientists, are immune to influences that affect other members of society? Have scientists transcended commonly held myths about sex and gender? Is it reasonable to think that the beliefs that influence other people’s feelings and behaviours could also affect the interpretations that scientists make? Why or why not?
Beliefs about gender do influence the questions that researchers ask and, as Matlin (2012) summarizes, the manner in which scientists carry out their studies. Personal beliefs also affect how data is interpreted and how findings are communicated.
Can researchers and scientists free themselves of bias, that is, of the influence of their own beliefs and prejudices? Some suggest that scientific methods protect inquiry from bias. Others, like Harding (1991, 1993) suggest that the best that researchers can do is to acknowledge that “objectivity”—the root of scientific inquiry—is a misguided concept. Feminist scholars (e.g., Lather, 1991; Reinharz, 1992) suggest that there is a need to incorporate a subjective element into definitions of objectivity. They further suggest that there is a need to acknowledge that science and the “truths” that result from scientific inquiry are influenced by personal beliefs. Feminist psychologists also emphasize the need for models that can explain human behaviour by looking at the world in more complex ways (Morrow, 2000; White, Russo, & Tavris, 2001).
Think about the volumes of so-called scientific literature published in psychology journals every year. The scientific process involves reading and summarizing previous research and publications. How might bias be introduced at this stage in the investigative process? How do researchers choose what to read? How do they decide what to omit? Many feminist scholars have been critical of the scientific endeavour; think about how a feminist lens might also introduce a potentially limiting bias into the research process.
This course asks you to remember that all human beings have biases that influence their work. Whether this work relates to research, counselling, mothering, or any other endeavour, an awareness of these biases will enhance your ability to think critically. To be a critical consumer of information, you must constantly question the source of the information, the context, and the perspective from which the information is derived. For example, ask yourself whose perspective is represented in the material you read? From what perspective do family and friends speak? From what perspective is the scientific research you read about conducted?
As you progress through this course, try to be conscious of your own biases. One way to avoid reaching a biased conclusion is to gather information from a variety of perspectives, and to think critically about the material you are reading. Strive for accuracy and understanding, including an awareness of the limitations imposed by your own perspectives.
Chapter 2: The Many Faces of Stereotypes
In the broad scheme of things, psychology, which dates back to the late 1880s, is a relatively new academic discipline. Lips (1994) notes that
before anyone had ever heard of psychology, theories about gender were being offered by the early philosophers. Within these early theories lies an idea that influenced psychology for years afterwards: woman as incomplete man. (p. 38)
Matlin (2012) notes that men and women are represented differently—in history, in religion and mythology, in language, and in the media. All of these biased representations contribute to gender stereotyping and to the beliefs and attitudes that people hold about women (and men) in today’s society. Townsend et al.’s (2010) article expands on these ideas, looking specifically at the “influence of racially charged stereotypes and images on self-perception and well-being” (p. 273).
Historically, the why of gender differences has been couched in evolutionary theories of gender. Evolutionary theory looks to genetics for explanations about the differences between men and women (e.g., Campbell, 2002). Shields’ (1975) early article provides a good overview of how Darwin’s theory of evolution was incorporated into functionalist theories in psychology, popular at the turn of the nineteenth century. The functionalist school was concerned with how specific behaviours function to ensure the survival of species. The functionalists were also concerned with how sex differences were necessary for the survival of the species. Men and women, they thought, had different but complementary functions that would ensure the survival of the human race.
Regardless of whether or not negative stereotyping occurs in relation to race, gender, sexual preferences, or socioeconomic status, the processes associated with discrimination of any type remain the same. And, in all cases of negative stereotyping, the consequences remain the same: one group is oppressed and marginalized by another.
Chapter 3: Theories Explaining Gender Difference
Social Darwinism, a form of functionalism, contends that men and women have different but complementary biological functions that are essential for the survival of the human race. The theory points out how men and women evolved in different ways to fulfill these different functions. Similar claims about the gender differences between men and women have been made by the proponents of a more recent and related school of thought—human sociobiology. Researchers such as J. P. Rushton (1994), whose analysis of gender differences adheres to a sociobiological perspective, suggest that human behaviour can best be explained by examining genes rather than by looking at whole “organisms” within their social context. Today, researchers continue to advocate for a stronger focus on “biological” as compared to “social” explanations of gender differences (e.g., Berenbaum, Blakemore, & Beltz, 2011).
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is another influential theory that has contributed to the belief that males and females are essentially different. Like social Darwinism and sociobiology, psychoanalytic theory led to pervasive claims about “essential” gender differences. This theory also attempts to explain why these differences exist rather than asking how such differences developed. Over the years, many scholars have criticized Freud’s work (e.g., Crews, 1995; Masson, 1983); others have adapted and revised his ideas to fit within a feminist perspective (e.g., Smith & Mahfouz, 1994). Regardless of whether or not psychologists and other academics adhere to his psychoanalytic theory, most would likely agree that Freud was a genius, that his work has been tremendously influential in informing discussions about sex and gender, and that “psychoanalysis deserves informed critical examination rather than simple dismissal” (Storr, 1989, p. 155).
In contrast to “essentialist” views, Matlin (2012) highlights many social factors that contribute to gender typing, which begins at a very early age. For instance, when interacting with infants, people often display different responses and reactions to baby girls than they do to baby boys. Variations in parenting behaviours are also often based on the child’s gender. Gender differences occur in early peer interactions, and boys and girls tend to be treated differently in school. Media images and commercials are typically designed based on whether the program or product is intended to appeal to boys or girls. As a concrete example of early gender typing, LoBue and Deloache (2011) look at how gender-stereotyped behaviours develop, through a series of experiments that examine colour preference in infants and young children.
Matlin (2012) outlines two theories that help to explain gender typing from a social developmental perspective: a “Social Learning Approach,” and a “Cognitive Developmental Approach”; both offer insights into how gender typing occurs. Note that both of these theories differ from the genetic or biological perspectives adopted by social Darwinism and human sociobiology, in that they try to explain the differences between males and females, not on the basis of biology, but by taking into account the social experiences of each gender.
As you become familiar with the theories that try to explain gender differences, think about how such theories have affected not only beliefs about gender, but also the types of research that looks at male and female differences. For example, would researchers who were committed to social learning theory approach their work in the same way as those who were committed to social Darwinism?
It should be clear that different theories have, in different ways, contributed to beliefs about males and females. Think about how social and cultural influences might affect the development of specific human behaviours, and how such influences could go far beyond simple biological drives in terms of shaping and explaining human behaviour.
Chapter 4: Similarities and Differences Research
In Chapter 5 of your textbook, Matlin (2012) notes that “when people who are not experts discuss gender comparisons in thinking, they almost always emphasize genderdifferences. . . . Meanwhile, they ignore the substantial evidence for gendersimilarities” (p. 143). As discussed in this course, philosophers, psychiatrists, and psychologists have pursued the finding and highlighting of gender differences for over a century. Campbell (2002) notes that “in the past twenty years over 110,000 studies of women, gender and sex differences have appeared in academic journals” (p. 1).
Shibley Hyde (2005) points out that the public seems to be “captivated by findings of gender differences” (p. 581). She notes, for example, that, in his popular book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (1992), John Gray argues that there are enormous psychological differences between men and women. The public’s interest in these differences is evidenced by the fact that his book has been translated into 40 languages and has sold over 40 million copies (Shibley Hyde, 2005). A good deal of research has looked for gender differences within the cognitive, social, and personality domains. According to Etaugh and Bridges (2006), “scholars who study sex and gender issues usually take one of two approaches. Either they emphasize the similarities between women and men or they focus on the differences between them” (p. 3).
In your view, what are the underlying primary factors for each of these two—the “similarities” and “differences”—approaches to research? How does theory inform the approach a researcher might take? For example, how would a sociobiologist approach the issue of gender similarities and differences? Would a scientist grounded in social learning theory approach the topic in the same way?
A similarities approach attempts to show that men and women are basically alike in terms of their social and intellectual behaviours. Most feminist theorists (although there are exceptions) take a similarities approach in their research. However, this does not mean that there are no differences between men and women, or that the proponents of a similarities approach would not acknowledge those differences. When differences between men and women are revealed, proponents of the similarities viewpoint suggest that these differences can be explained by socialization or social construction theories, rather than by biology.
The differences approach tends to emphasize the differences between women and men, and proponents of this approach often attribute these differences to biology rather than to socialization. Research such as that conducted by Baron–Cohen (2003) clearly falls under the differences approach category.
Shibley Hyde (2005) collected data from all major meta-analyses done in the previous 20 years. The research studies included in her analysis focused on variables from the gender differences research literature that involved evaluating many cognitive skills and behaviours. She also looked at studies that assessed gender differences in verbal and nonverbal communication behaviours, variables from the social or personality domains, psychological well-being, and motor behaviours; as well as studies that assessed a number of variables that fell within a miscellaneous category. From this analysis, she reported that
78% of gender differences are small or close to zero. The small magnitude of these effects is even more striking given that most of the meta-analyses addressed the classic gender differences questions—that is, areas in which gender differences were reputed to be reliable, such as mathematics performance, verbal ability, and aggressive behaviour. (pp. 582–586)
This study reported some notable exceptions. The largest gender differences were found in the domain of motor performance, particularly with respect to activities such as throwing velocity and throwing distance. “The gender difference in physical aggression is particularly reliable and is larger than the gender difference in verbal aggression” (Shibley Hyde, 2005, p. 586). A second area in which large gender differences are found is some—but not all—measures of sexuality.
Matlin (2012) echoes Shibley Hyde’s findings, noting that “women resemble men in both cognitive ability and motivational factors” (p. 169). Further evidence for similarity is provided by Spelke (2005) in her critical review of the literatures addressing sex differences in aptitudes for mathematics and science. If women and men are similar in these ways, why is there a dearth of women in many prestigious disciplines and occupations? (You may be able to answer this question more fully after studying Unit 5.)
Essentialism and Social Constructionism Revisited
At the beginning of Chapter 6, Matlin (2012) notes that, with regard to social and personality characteristics, “we’ll once again observe many gender similarities, although we’ll see several small to moderate gender differences” (p. 174).
Just as cognitive differences between boys and girls, and men and women, can be exaggerated, differences between men’s and women’s social and personality characteristics can also be exaggerated. And again, where differences are evident, a similarities approach would suggest that these differences could be better explained by viewing them through a social constructionist lens.
In Chapter 6, Matlin (2012) introduces a social constructionist perspective, which she uses to examine social behaviour. As she notes, other authors have written extensively on this topic (see Matlin’s resources for more information about the social constructionist perspective). In short, and according to Burr (2003), a social constructionist approach “insists that we take a critical stance toward our taken-for-granted ways of understanding the world, including ourselves” (pp. 2–3). Like all theories based on social learning, the social constructionist perspective insists that the social context be taken into account before making claims about the “essential,” biological nature of the differences that sometimes appear between men and women.
Women and Work in Canada
Chapter 7 of Matlin’s text discusses important factors related to issues that are germane to women and work in both Canada and the United States. Issues related to work—welfare, discrimination in the workplace, women’s experiences in a variety of occupations, and the challenges of balancing work and personal lives—are similar in both countries, although the statistics between the two countries may vary somewhat.
Feminization of Work
Women in Canada, like women in many other countries, tend to work in occupations that resemble the kinds of unpaid work women have traditionally done in the home (Cooke–Reynolds & Zukewich, 2004). And, although in 2001 Canadian women made up just over one-third of the managers in the country, women managers seldom held the top-level management positions (Cook–Reynolds & Zukewich, 2004).
According to the 2005 report Women and Poverty by the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), women generally earn about 71% of what men earn in full-time employment; women with university degrees earn only 74% of the salaries that men with university degrees earn; and all women earn less than men even when they are working in the same occupations. Perhaps the most telling fact from the CRIAW (2005) report is that “there are no occupations in which women’s average earnings exceed men’s, not even in female-dominated areas such as clerical work and teaching” (p. 2).
Schultheiss (2006) complicates the discussion of work in an interrogation of four themes that are prominent in the work and family literature.
Women and Relationships
As noted in previous units, differences between men and women have been reliably reported in several areas relating to interpersonal relationships, including helping characteristics such as altruism, nurturance, empathy, moral judgments, and friendship. As well, in an earlier chapter Matlin (2012) pointed out the gender differences evident in expressions of aggression. These findings suggest that women are typically seen as more empathetic, less hostile, and more cooperative than men (Woodfield, 2000).
Matlin (2012) begins Chapter 8, “Love Relationships,” with a discussion of gender differences in defining ideal romantic or marriage partners. She highlights several theoretical positions that attempt to explain these differences, including the evolutionary and social roles perspectives. Based on what you have learned so far, why might feminist psychologists take exception to the evolutionary perspective? What are the consequences of accepting the notion that biology is, in large part, responsible for the relational differences between men and women?
Marriage often follows as an extension of heterosexual or lesbian love relationships. As Matlin (2012) suggests, marriage is a complex area that requires a thorough appreciation of individual differences in women’s experiences with marriage. Although marriage presents challenges for many women, for others, as feminist scholar Letty Cottin Pogrebin notes, it “can be a source of strength and joy” (Matlin, 2012, p. 256). Clearly, marital satisfaction can change over time, and it varies from one relationship to another. Different women experience marriage in different ways, and there are many personal, social, and cultural factors that impose on marital roles and on women’s satisfaction with these roles.
Women, Work, and Relationships: A Double Burden?
Regardless of whether or not married women work outside of the home, they tend to perform the lion’s share of the work within the home (household labour, child care, emotional support functions, and so on) while enjoying less and poorer quality free time than their male counterparts (Erickson, 2005; Lee & Waite, 2005; Mattingly & Sayer, 2006). As a 2001 study shows, even in situations where both husband and wife were employed full-time as university professors, domestic labour was distributed along “traditional lines,” and the women in these partnerships “shoulder considerably more household labor than do their male colleagues” (Suitor, Mecom, & Feld, 2001, p. 50).
The relationship between paid employment, family demands, education, culture, and socio-economic status is exceedingly complex. However, findings indicate that for some women there is a “family penalty” in that “marriage and parenthood bring added responsibility for maintaining a household and caring for other individuals” (Mattingly & Sayer, 2006, p. 218). For women, the “penalty” often manifests itself in reduced leisure time and in feelings of being constantly rushed, and may adversely affect women’s psychological well-being, physical health, and interpersonal relationships.
The Darker Side of Intimate Relationships: Violence Against Women
Although marriage and romantic relationships offer many women benefits including intimacy, partnership, and a sense of security, there is another, darker side to intimate relationships: intimate partner abuse. This topic will be explored more fully in Unit 8.
Matlin (2012) begins Chapter 9 by suggesting that “With more than 24 million Google entries about sexuality, we might expect people to be well informed about the topic. However, the studies suggest otherwise” (p. 285). She goes on to provide background information on women’s sexual anatomy and sexual responses. Most of this chapter focuses on sexual attitudes and behaviours, with some attention paid to sexual disorders, birth control, and abortion.
In an earlier unit, menstruation was discussed in relation to adolescent development. Matlin (2012) introduced you to the controversy surrounding the pathologizing of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), a process that affects all women (pp. 113–119). Joan Chrisler (2008), who has published extensively in this area, indicates that very little scientific information was available on PMS three decades ago. Today, however, literally thousands of articles exist on this topic.
Chrisler (2008) discusses PMS as a “culture-bound syndrome.” She argues that PMS cannot be understood without taking into account the specific cultural context in which its “symptoms” occur. PMS, she suggests, would not exist without “strong negative attitudes toward menstruation” (p. 161). Chrisler further suggests that, to understand why over the past 30 years PMS has become a significant and well-known “disorder,” “one must consider who benefits from it” (p. 165). She submits that, on the one hand, women benefit in ways that allow them to excuse certain kinds of behaviour. On the other hand, women are seriously disadvantaged, because a diagnosis of PMS encourages women to think of themselves as ill and unstable for almost half of every month in the year. Do you think parallels can be drawn between the labeling and diagnosing of PMS and some of the sexual “disorders” Matlin describes?
Changing Sexual Attitudes
While sexuality is a topic many women may feel uninformed about, or uncomfortable discussing, sexuality and its associated sexual issues clearly play important roles in many women’s lives. Attitudes concerning women’s sexuality have changed dramatically in the past century. The publication of several ground-breaking studies, such as Kinsey’s (1953) Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Masters and Johnson’s (1966) Human Sexual Response, and Shere Hite’s (1976) The Hite Report: A National Study of Female Sexuality, helped open discussion on previously-taboo topics. Each of these reports helped break the code of silence about women’s sexuality. These major research works are somewhat flawed with respect to methodologies used. Nonetheless, each challenged the previously accepted notions of female sexuality.
Although attitudes toward female sexuality have changed as a result of new knowledge and changing social mores, in some ways the practices surrounding female sexuality remain much the same. For example, Matlin (2012) points out that many women still report that their first sexual experience was not a positive one, and that heterosexual couples have difficulty communicating about sexual issues.
Many women confront the issues of birth control and abortion at some point in their lives. Although attitudes and practices surrounding birth control and abortion have changed over the past decades, most forms of birth control still focus on women’s rather than on men’s anatomy, effectively making birth control a woman’s responsibility. And the fact remains that many sexually active women still do not use reliable methods of birth control.
For women, one of the major consequences of engaging in unprotected sex is the risk of pregnancy. Some women may choose to terminate unwanted pregnancies through abortion. While free access to legal, medical abortion procedures decreases the physical risks to women, social and cultural attitudes surrounding abortion continue to take their toll. Major et al. (2009) examine women’s emotional responses after an abortion and discuss the harm that can ensue from constructing a post-abortion syndrome. Russo (2008) has noted that “when a child is unwanted, there are well-documented severe and negative health, social, and economic consequences for the child, the mother, her family, and society” (p. 184). In contrast to these outcomes, Russo suggests that “having a legal abortion appears to be a relatively benign experience, particularly if it occurs in the first trimester” (p. 184). With respect to abortion, she asks that we place concern for women’s physical and mental health and well-being above personal, religious, and political agendas.
Pregnancy and Childbirth
In Chapter 10, Matlin (2012) points out that psychological studies related to pregnancy and childbirth are virtually invisible, and that “mother–infant relationships are rarely explored in depth” (p. 324). As a remedy to this situation, she invites us to explore the major biological components of pregnancy, women’s emotional and physical reactions, the reactions of others, and the ways in which women combine pregnancy with employment outside of the home. Chapter 10 also presents information on alternative models of childbirth.
Everyone has an image of what “motherhood” means. However, such images often come not only from our own personal experiences, but also from the many stereotypes of motherhood that confront us. Matlin (2012) suggests that these stereotypes are well established and often contradictory. On the one hand, mothers are expected to be protective, nurturing, and self-sacrificing, and on the other hand mothers are described as domineering, overly protective, and ultimately responsible for all of the ills and so-called evils that befall their infants and children. Hager (2011) explores what she calls the “modern myth of motherhood” through her own personal life story as a mother.
Matlin’s (2012) discussion of motherhood includes such topics as the realities of being a mother, motherhood and women of colour, lesbian mothers, postpartum disturbances, breastfeeding, and women’s return to the workplace after childbirth. She also covers issues related to infertility and to a woman’s choice to have, or not to have, children. If society perceives women as natural nurturers and caregivers, how does this view affect the many women who choose not to, or are unable to, have children?
Gender and Health
Earlier units discussed the impact that gender typing can have on the choices that girls and women make with respect to their intellectual pursuits and activities, as well as the effects that stereotyping has on women’s work preferences. Gender roles also affect patterns of physical and mental illness. In Chapter 11, Matlin (2012) stresses that “gender makes a difference in the kinds of health problems people experience . . . . [and] in the way a disease is diagnosed, viewed, and treated.” She goes on to point out that “illness is an important part of many women’s experience” (pp. 351-352). Keep these observations in mind as you study this unit, with respect not only to women’s physical health, but also to their psychological well-being.
Olena Hankivisky, in collaboration with the Canadian Women’s Health Network, produced a report for a meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March 2005. One of the report’s objectives was to focus on research and evaluation. As discussed earlier, when bias enters the research process, the knowledge that results is usually compromised.
Bias can affect medical research and women’s interests in the same way. Several proactive initiatives have been undertaken in Canada to increase knowledge about women’s health, including initiating policies to ensure that women are involved in clinical trials, establishing the Institute of Gender and Health (IGH)—despite strong recommendations from women’s organizations for a Women’s Health Institute, undertaking research initiatives through Health Canada’s Women’s Health Indicators Project, and establishing other policies and projects informing women’s health issues in Canada (Hankivisky, 2005).
It is only through awareness of policies and programs such as those described by Hankivisky, in conjunction with persistent government lobbying, that gender-sensitive changes to health care systems will ensue. Olkin (2008) offers critical insights into the stigma and discrimination that people with disabilities face. She also describes the “additional stigma experienced as a woman with a disability” (p. 191). Along with the need for constant lobbying for gender-sensitive changes to the Canadian health care system, Olkin points out that
the more nondisabled people educate themselves about disability and work for the advancement of civil rights for people with disabilities, the less burden there is on people with disabilities constantly to represent disability issues (p. 202).
Women’s Psychological Health
As Matlin’s (2012) Chapter 12 indicates, women are two to three times more likely than men to suffer from clinical depression. Women are also more likely to suffer from a variety of eating disorders and to develop phobias and anxiety neuroses. However, it is possible that the socialized feminine role predisposes women to express their distress in manners that are symptomatic of depression and anxiety. It is also likely that more women than men will seek professional help when confronted with psychological distress, and this may have an effect on the incidence statistics. It is also quite likely that gender stereotypes affect the way that others respond to, and the manner in which professionals diagnose, such symptoms. In other words, men and women who seek medical treatment for a similar condition may be treated differently by physicians, psychiatrists, and counsellors who care for them.
As with physical health issues, gender-based analysis is necessary to a discussion of women’s psychological health. As Matlin (2012) notes, gender roles affect patterns of mental illness. One factor in gender-based analysis is that women are more likely than men to talk about and seek treatment for their symptoms.
Gender roles can affect women’s mental well-being in other ways. As discussed earlier, women still carry the majority of the burden of household tasks, regardless of whether they are working full-time, part-time, or are not employed outside the home. Interestingly, the relationship between marital status and psychological distress for women is dramatically different than it is for men. For example, the rate of mental illness is considerably higher for married women than for married men. However, the pattern is reversed for single people, with single men showing higher rates of mental illness than single women. How might women’s roles contribute to this pattern?
Matlin (2012) also points out that therapy can reflect some of the same sexist biases found at the diagnostic level. The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) (2001) has taken steps to reduce bias in psychotherapy by promoting education and training sessions, and by publishing guidelines for gender-and culture-sensitive therapy (CPA, 2001). The CPA has also prepared a handbook of educational materials designed to help therapists evaluate their own gender and culture biases. McMullen and Stoppard (2006), however, express concerns that feminist-informed understandings of depression are absent from CPA’s public accounts of depression.
Insight into the potential for problems to be caused by bias in the therapeutic relationship, particularly with respect to gender roles, has given rise to the development of feminist therapies. These therapies have in common the elimination of all gender-stereotypic assumptions about behaviour. Feminist therapies incorporate understandings of different gender roles and status, and acknowledge their potential to cause harm. Feminist therapies also emphasize the need to empower the client, and do so by encouraging the client to see her or his problem in its appropriate social and political context. (See, for example, the work of Brown, 2006; Rader & Gilbert, 2005; and Ross, 2011.)
The complexities of women’s lives in areas such as work, relationships, sexuality, and motherhood are not, as you have seen, separate and distinct from the issues associated with women’s physical and mental health. Multiple factors must be considered in achieving an understanding of the causes of women’s ill-health and/or their well-being.
he Many Faces of Violence Against Women
In 2005, Glamour Magazine in the United States named Mukhtaran Bibi their Woman of the Year. Bibi, a 31-year-old Punjabi villager living in Pakistan, was gang-raped on order of the Council of Elders in her community. Eventually, 13 men were put on trial for the crime (Walsh, 2005). There is nothing glamorous about rape, but the publicity surrounding Bibi’s case helped bring to the foreground the severity of, and the growing intolerance for, violence against women.
In 1993, the United Nations issued a Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In this declaration, the UN defined violence against women as
any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. (1993, p. 2)
This definition emphasizes that acts of violence against women are rooted in gender inequality. It is important to note that neither the United Nations nor any other legal, social, or political body (either outside or within Canada) in any way denies that men also experience horrendous acts of violence. Violence against women merits special and separate attention, primarily because violence against women is generally assumed to result from very different causes than violence against men. Matlin (2012) points out that “sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the abuse of women are among the most terrifying events that a woman could experience” (p. 417). In terms of violence against women, men are generally the violators.
Since the late 1980s, there has been an increase in evidence showing the extent of the violence perpetrated against women. More studies about violence have been conducted, and more disclosures about acts of violence against women have been reported from various countries. Although violence can take many different forms, all acts of violence against women tend to share the same characteristics.
First, the violence does not usually occur as a unique incident, but instead, is insidious and has often carried on over many years or even decades. Second, women are most likely to know the perpetrator before the first violent incidence occurs. It is not unusual for the victim to live with or interact regularly with her perpetrator. Relative to rape, Matlin (2012) cautions that “women who are worried about rape need to be especially concerned about someone they already know, rather than a stranger” (p. 425).
Violence against women often involves “victim blaming,” in which individuals and society tend to blame the woman for the violence she has been subjected to. Women who experience intimate partner violence, for example, are often accused of having provoked the violence. Women who have been sexually assaulted or raped are frequently described as looking as if they were “asking for it,” suggesting that the way the woman dressed or behaved was the cause of the violence.
Matlin (2012) notes that violence against women can take many forms, but the most common and frequent form of violence against women worldwide is intimate partner violence, also referred to as “domestic violence” or “spousal abuse.” In these cases, the violence may include acts of physical assault ranging in intensity from shoves, slaps, punches, and kicks, to assaults with weapons and even to murder. Intimate partner violence can also include sexual assault. Both the physical and sexual violence are often accompanied by ongoing emotional abuse that may involve the belittlement, humiliation, intimidation, and isolation of women. Isolation occurs when women are in some way prevented from seeing family and friends or contacting support agencies. Emotional abuse can also include economic restrictions, such as preventing women from working, or confiscating their earnings when they do work outside of the home.
Over the past two decades, more than 50 population surveys on intimate partner violence have been carried out worldwide. The findings from these studies suggest that 10% to 50% of women in intimate relationships—married and common-law partnerships—have been physically assaulted by their intimate partner over the duration of the relationship (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). Worldwide, horrendous acts of violence against women and girls are committed every day.
The sheer scale of violence against women forces the question of what it will take to translate increasing recognition of the global prevalence of this abuse into meaningful, sustained, and widespread action (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002, p. 1237).
Violence as a Human Rights Issue
Violence against women is the most pervasive violation of human rights. It occurs every day, in every region, and in every country around the world. This particular type of violence is not sensitive to the woman’s age, race, colour, religion, or socioeconomic status, nor is it related to the level of a country’s economic development. Although many figures are reported, discussed, and publicized, the true extent of the violence against women is not known. For many women, the fear of reprisal for reporting abuse is high; for others, the knowledge that nothing will be done in response to their reports is debilitating. Both situations suggest that the available figures of violence against women significantly underestimate the magnitude of the problem worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly one in every four women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused within her lifetime (Heyzer, 2005).
Women and Older Adulthood
Matlin (2012) provides an overview of a number of topics that are important to older women. Many of the issues covered in previous units are clearly of importance to women in their senior years. For example, long-lasting relationships (Chapter 8), sexuality (Chapter 9), and health concerns (Chapter 11) all have an impact on older women’s lives. Rather than conceptualizing “older adulthood” as a separate period in which women are regarded as distinct from women at other ages, women in this stage should be viewed as people with many of the same concerns that all women, of any age, share. Women in their advancing years do, however, shoulder additional burdens, which occur primarily as a function of age.
Matlin (2012) begins her discussion of older women by looking at ageism, which is a bias (not unlike sexism) that is based in age as opposed to gender. It is important to note that many older women must also deal with sexist attitudes. Matlin talks about the role the media plays here, and discusses the “double standard of ageing.” Research findings suggest that a double standard is evident in assessments of the personal and social characteristics of the elderly as well as with respect to their love relationships. What is deemed socially acceptable for one group is not always thought to be proper for the other. Matlin (2012) reminds us that the “double standard” that older women face is simply a variant of one of the themes introduced early in this course: that “people judge elderly women even more harshly than elderly men” (p. 458). In Chapter 14, Matlin (2012) sees cross-cultural views as an opportunity for exploring the consequences that can ensue when positive rather than negative attitudes are held about women’s ageing.
Moving On . . .
Throughout this course, you have looked at various theories, scientific findings, and sexist myths that surround male and female differences. You have seen some of the unique challenges women face—from infancy through to older adulthood. Each of these challenges has the potential to profoundly affect, at any age, the quality of women’s lives; and each contributes, alone or in combination, to women’s psychological and physical well-being.
You have explored many topics in this course and examined numerous articles. You have been asked to think critically about a number of issues related to women. Matlin’s (2012) final chapter asks you to reflect on the future of the discipline of the psychology of women. She points out both the encouraging and discouraging trends that confront all women in contemporary society. Hopeful trends include increased interest in, and the number of, women’s studies courses available to students at most colleges and universities; the development of a more inclusive psychology of women; and the continuation and evolution of the women’s movement (and men’s movements) worldwide.
Matlin (2012) leaves you with a number of suggestions that she believes are imperative to fostering change in ways that will make the world a better place for women. She challenges each one of us to actively become part of the “hopeful trend.”
Research Proposal: This is Part 1 of the assignment. Time Frame 1 week
Please submit this first and upon approval continue to Part 2 of the assignment.
Research question: Derive your research question, which will be used to frame your project, from your interests and your understanding of the course materials. Develop your research question from your reading on a particular topic. It should be a question that could realistically and ethically be explored and answered through a research project.
Develop your research question from within a major topic area covered in this course (Units 1 through 9). It should be a topic that lends itself to further investigation and one where additional, reputable resource materials (i.e., journal articles; book chapters; books; or web resources such as Statistics Canada, World Health Organization, Canadian Psychological Association) to inform your project are conveniently available to you.
Length: 8 pages (2000 words)
Before you begin this assignment, you must have completed Assignment 4 and received approval from your tutor to proceed with the topic and research question you have proposed.
Prepare a detailed research proposal on a topic relevant to the material presented in this course. Important: You are not to conduct the actual research.
Your research proposal should be designed to investigate one of the major topics presented in this course that is of particular interest to you; it is to based on the research question approved in Assignment 4.
The goal of this project is to allow you to explore more fully either the role feminism and feminist analysis has played in the psychology of women; or the role feminist psychologists have played in reframing understandings about women. The overarching goal of this assignment is to allow you to familiarize yourself, in some depth, with relevant literature that will allow you to generate your own questions and analysis of the issue, area, or problem you have elected to focus on.
This proposal should not exceed 8 typed/word processed), double-spaced pages (approximately 2000 words). This page limit does not include the title page, reference section, or any appendices that you may want to attach.
Your written research proposal must include the following elements in this order:
- Title: The title should reflect the general topic area covered in your proposal and should be derived from the topic approved from Assignment 4.
- Literature review: The literature review portion of your research proposal will form the largest segment of this proposal. Include an annotated analysis of the articles that you examined as you researched your proposal topic; your proposal must review, and refer to, a minimum of 5 articles. All of these articles must be articles from peer-reviewed journals. You may also want to include materials from secondary sources such as books, book chapters, or non-refereed articles found on reputable websites. If you choose to include such sources, these are to be in addition to, rather than instead of, the 5 journal articles.
Think of this literature review as a short (4–5 pages) essay whose main purpose is to contextualize the research question you have framed. As you write this segment, you should consider using your introduction as a space that will answer, for the reader, questions such as: “What have other researchers said about the topic?” “What main findings do other researchers present to support their hypotheses?” “Are there theoretical approaches used by the authors that help frame the topic clearly?” “Do other authors point out particular flaws or gaps in the research? “
- Research question: Approved from Assignment 4. Present your research question in one or two sentences.
- Research methods: Clearly describe exactly how your research project would be conducted. Include the following:
Sample: In this section, briefly describe the potential research participants (i.e., the sample group). This section should answer such questions as, “Who will be participating in my study?” “How will I recruit them?” “What special characteristics do individuals need to have in order to take part in my study (e.g., should they be women, adolescents, mothers, professionals?)?” “How will my sample help me address my research question?”
Procedures: In this section, describe for the reader exactly how you, the researcher, would go about conducting the study and collecting the data that would allow you to answer your research question. This section should answer such questions as “What steps do I need to take to conduct the study?” “Will I need special equipment to conduct my study (e.g., audio or video recording equipment)?” “How will I measure the behaviours or attitudes that I need to measure in order to answer my research question?” “How will I collect the data I need in order to answer my research question (e.g., observing participants in natural settings, observing participants in experimental settings, interviewing participants, asking participants to fill out surveys or questionnaires)?”
- Proposed results: In this section, provide a brief overview of the results you would expect to see if you (or someone else) were to conduct your proposed research project.
- Discussion: In this section, briefly discuss how the anticipated results (above) of your proposed research project would answer your research question, and how the expected findings would contribute to the literature on the topic you examined in your literature review section.
- References: In this final section, include all of the references you used in your proposal. Be careful to use APA style in formatting the references for this section.
All references and citations must conform to APA style. (The AU Library website has additional information on style guides and citing sources.)
If your study proposes the use of a survey or interview instrument, provide a brief outline of the kinds of questions that would be asked. Although you will not be conducting this study, pay attention to the ethical guidelines established by the Tri-Council Policy (TCP). Information on research ethics is available on the National Council on Ethics in Human Research website.