What is Feminist Psychology?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Feminist psychology applies to a number of theories and therapies. Its roots are often traced to the well-known neo-Freudian Karen Horney, who refuted many of the classic Freudian concepts, especially the idea that women spent their lives experiencing penis-envy. The women’s movement in the 1960s brought many more ideas into feminist psychology, including sociological/anthropological notions about the nature of most women in the world and theories on how to empower women to embrace their femininity and seize their power.

Feminist psychology seeks to correct problems with the way women are viewed by psychological frameworks.
Feminist psychology seeks to correct problems with the way women are viewed by psychological frameworks.

In its emergence, feminist psychology sought to correct several problems with the way women were viewed by psychological frameworks. Theorists felt that traditional theories of psychology were based on observation and the study of men and did not account for gender differences. If the baseline for study was male behavior, then things like a tendency towards greater emotionality in women could be viewed as emotional deviance or “insanity.” Overwhelmingly, theorists wanted to create a psychology that was specifically representative of the female viewpoint, to counter the earlier problems with male-based models.

Some areas of feminist psychology are focused on gender identity issues, and may be of interest to those who feel isolated due to their sexuality.
Some areas of feminist psychology are focused on gender identity issues, and may be of interest to those who feel isolated due to their sexuality.

There have been a number of ways that feminist psychology has worked in educational, research, and clinical settings to further the cause of understanding the female mind and experience. Research focused exclusively on women provided evidence that there were indeed differences in the way women and men might work, problem-solve, and navigate relationships. This research was then used in teaching settings and among counseling feminist psychologists to help empower and teach women about their differences, which were finally divorced from a sense that such differences implied inferiority or weakness.

An important thrust of feminist psychology is that, in many cultures, women are still subject to men’s rules. In a counseling setting, a client might explore her experience of discrimination. In some cultures, this has changed to a degree, but many feminist psychologists assert that it has not changed as much as people think. This can be shown by things like the lower salary that most women earn, as opposed to the higher salaries of men at all professional levels. Feminist psychologists also suggest that an important part of the experience of most women is being part of a discriminatory society, and this may have numerous effects on how women perceive themselves.

Another area in which feminist psychology has shown interest is in gender, sexuality preference, and identity theories. Some of the theories on these specialized areas of study are adapted from feminist theories. Practicing counseling feminist psychologists may not only work with women but may also work with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBTQ) communities. Feminist psychologists may also work with heterosexual males, especially on issues like sensitivity training, though generally they have worked more closely with female or LGBTQ clients.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I actually think that we have come far in terms of feminine psychology. I would hate to live in a world where I would be labeled abnormal because the norm is based on male psychology. I also know that scientific studies differentiate between men and women clearly now and analyze results of both groups separately, based on separate norms. Women are at a good place now. Of course there are still issues with inequality and discrimination but slowly, they are being addressed and there are many women's groups lobbying to make sure that women are treated equally and respected in every situation and in every field in the US.

Obviously, these things take time. Most societies have spent most of their existence in male domination. Men have made the rules and women followed. Social structures cannot change overnight. People need to learn to think differently and see things in a new light. And I'm not just talking about men, I'm also talking about women. Things are definitely going in the right direction. But we need more scholars concentrating on feminist psychology.


@SarahGen-- The world is definitely late in discussion feminist theory and psychology. Unfortunately, these movements haven't even occurred in some parts of the world as of yet. And even in Western countries who have lead these movements, feminism is yet to take root. Most people unfortunately think that feminism means hatred of men or anti-men movements. It's difficult to teach people about the differences of men and women in a positive way when even the discussion of feminism is understood as a threat.


Before ideas about feminism and psychology came along in the 60s, were psychologists unaware that men and women's psychology differ greatly?

Today, even doctors say that a woman's brain and a man's brain functions differently. This must have been known before the 60s, it doesn't take much to see that men and women think and function differently. I think that feminist psychology took prominence too late. These studies and movements should have taken place much earlier.

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