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10 The Curious Courtship of Psychology and Women's Liberation
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Psychology Constructs the Feminist

Feminists in the late 1960s and early 1970s doggedly pursued the insight that "psychology constructs the female" and campaigned publicly against the psychological establishment, as we have seen. At the same time, psychology was also helping to construct the feminist, a process that has received comparatively little attention. The remainder of this chapter will illustrate how intellectual and clinical traditions rooted in the career of postwar psychological expertise inspired early feminist theory and mobilized feminist activism, even as they served as targets of protest. Examples discussed in the following pages include Betty Friedan's early adaptation of humanistic personality theory, the central place of "identity" (a concept affiliated with Erik Erik-son) in the cultural reorganization feminists envisioned, and the assimilation of the psychotherapeutic sensibility into feminism through consciousness raising and feminist therapy.

Betty Friedan and the Forfeited Female Self

Years before a mass women's movement materialized, Betty Friedan anticipated Weisstein's analysis and blamed the "new psychological religion" of adjustment for endowing a self-destructive femininity with social and scientific authority.[61] Friedan, a Smith College graduate and middle-class housewife who had once aspired to a career in psychology herself, launched a journalistic attack on psychological experts in her best-selling The Feminine Mystique (1963). Freudian theories about femininity, she claimed, were "an obstacle to truth for women in America today, and a major cause of the pervasive problem that has no name."[62] Her survey of stories in women's magazines like Redbook and Good Housekeeping (publications for which she had written


herself during the 1950s) convinced Friedan that after 1945, "Freudian and pseudo-Freudian theories settled everywhere, like fine volcanic ash."[63] Because the gospel according to Freud allowed women to derive true happiness only from their relationships to husbands and children, popularizers made housewives feel neurotic for hungering after any independent self at all. Convinced that something was deeply wrong with their mental and emotional health, middle-class housewives lined up in psychotherapists' offices, seeking yet more expert help in their quest for feminine adjustment.

These were certainly harsh criticisms, coming as they did at a moment of widespread enthusiasm about psychoanalytic ideas. But Friedan was also careful to note the "basic genius of Freud's discoveries" and insisted there was no conspiracy against women among the experts.[64] Most important, she saw the liberating possibilities of harnessing psychological theory to feminist purposes. She emphasized the notion of "some positive growth tendency within the organism," advanced by Gordon Allport, Carl Rogers, Karen Horney, and Rollo May, among others.[65] Their humanistic formulations, and especially Abraham Maslow's motivational theory, could be used as ammunition to argue that the tragedy of the (middle-class) female condition was due to "the forfeited self."[66] Maslow's theory suggested that people moved progressively through a series of human motivations, from lower, material needs to higher, nonmaterial needs. When their needs for food and housing were assured, in other words, people could be expected to attend to their desires for creative experience and accomplishment. The most popular feature of his theory was Maslow's portrait of "self-actualizing" individuals, a term he used to designate those people who had climbed to the top of the motivational ladder in order to explore their humanity through exciting, "peak experiences."

Friedan was alarmed at the almost complete absence of women on Maslow's list of peakers. (The only two exceptions were historical figures Eleanor Roosevelt and Jane Addams.) She turned women's relative exclusion from the ultimate in psychological integration, at least according to Maslow, into an appeal for feminism. She treated the scarcity of female peakers as powerful evidence that cultural prescriptions requiting middle-class housewives to devote themselves exclusively to the needs of husbands and children also doomed them to a psychological hell, or at least a decidedly second-class emotional existence. The core of the feminine mystique, Friedan wrote, was that "our culture does not permit women to accept or gratify their basic need to grow and


fulfill their potentialities as human beings."[67] Why, she asked, should women be expected to renounce their natural tendencies toward individuality and creativity? Were they not entitled to equal psychological opportunities?

If the ideology of femininity directly contradicted the process of self-actualization, as Friedan maintained, then psychology could provide real support to feminist arguments. Women deserved rights and opportunities, not only to employment and equal pay, but to the less tangible rewards of living as whole human beings. That her commitment to the value of psychological knowledge was not an abstract exercise is evident in the National Organization for Women's 1966 statement of purpose, which explicitly incorporated the humanistic refrain: "NOW is dedicated to the proposition that women first and foremost are human beings, who, like all other people in our society, must have the chance to develop their fullest human potential."[68]


Feminists' discovery that "identity" was politically serviceable did not end with Friedan's book. Subsequent feminist efforts illustrated even more broadly than Friedan's partiality to Maslovian theory how the language and theoretical tools of psychology could be made relevant and usable to the women's movement. Before the 1960s, discussions of "identity" were confined mainly to the literature on developmental psychology. During the 1960s and after, the term served as a clue to who had power, who did not, and why. It became so central to feminists, in fact, that the term "identity politics" circulated widely as a shorthand reference to a particular political position. In an abbreviated fashion, it alluded to the constellation of ideas that held the building blocks of individuality—gender, age, race, class, sexual orientation, among others—to be an efficient means of both understanding and dismantling the structure of social and political inequality. It offered, in other words, a way of tying individual experience to social context.

Throughout the postwar era, the concept of identity was closely identified with the work of German emigré psychoanalyst Erik Erikson.[69] Erikson dated its origin to his clinical work with World War II veterans, who had reported an eerie loss of feelings related to personal uniqueness and historical continuity.[70] It was during the 1950s that "identity crisis" entered the language as a common term for the first time. As a national panic over an epidemic of juvenile delinquency esca-


lated, the concept seemed a convenient way to think about the dangers posed by adolescent male development. During the 1960s, Erikson suggested that young people had also lost their place in history, just like the veterans he had treated. In Erikson's psychosocial ideas, many young people found confirmation (or at least an explanation) of their own commitment to radical politics. Numerous social scientists also used Erikson's work as an aid in exploring the origins of the period's social movements.[71] Erikson repeatedly assented to such sociological applications.[72]

A 1964 article, "Inner and Outer Space: Reflections on Womanhood," brought Erikson to the attention of feminists.[73] Based on Erik-son's work in a two-year University of California child study (which had not been intended as an investigation of gender identity or development), the article explored the gender differences in special relationships that Erikson had observed in children's play. Boys, he found, emphasized outer spaces, protrusions, and people and animals in (sometimes destructive) motion. Girls, on the other hand, emphasized inner spaces and peaceful enclosures containing people and animals at rest.

To Erikson, it was obvious that such differences indicated that "a profound difference exists between the sexes in the experience of the ground plan of the human body."[74] He explained that his concern with women's reproductive biology was not "a renewed male attempt to 'doom' every woman to perpetual motherhood and to deny her the equivalence of individuality and the equality of citizenship."[75] He nevertheless concluded that "women have found their identifies in the care suggested by their bodies and in the needs of their issue, and seem to have taken it for granted that the outer world space belongs to the men."[76]

Erikson came under fierce feminist fire.[77] Kate Millett, in her widely read Sexual Politics, accused him of reducing sexist social arrangements to biological inevitabilities and denying women the freedom he automatically granted to men: to forge identifies not circumscribed by "somatic design."[78] In part, what irked his feminist critics was also that Erikson's analysis sounded benign, at least in comparison to vulgar biological determinism. His sympathy for women, and his willingness to accord them ethical superiority in their presumed fidelity to peacefulness and nurturance, struck Millett as a clever way of leaving unquestioned the "clear understanding that civilization is a male department."[79]


Wounded and angry, Erikson defended himself. He pointed out that the essay was intended as an alternative to orthodox psychoanalytic theory, a direct challenge to the objectionable notion that female psychological development revolved around the absence of a penis. Erikson, who considered himself a friend to women, was dismayed that his ideas had been interpreted as a mockery of women's human potential, and suggested that the unfortunate misunderstanding had occurred because his ideas had been ripped from the context that made them intelligible.[80] Their lack of appreciation for his prowoman stance prompted Erikson to attribute to feminists a "moralistic projection of erstwhile negative self-images upon men as representing evil oppressors and exploiters," a statement that feminists doubtlessly perceived as both a slur and yet another example of how easily experts could dismiss feminist demands by resorting to psychological analysis.[81]

Whatever their differences with and attitude toward Erikson, feminists proceeded to use "identity" in their own way and for their own purposes. Theorists at various points on the political spectrum of feminism quickly latched onto the process of female socialization as the preferred explanation for feminine thought and behavior. It was an explanation that necessarily favored nurture over nature, history and culture over biology. Because socialization was a social process by definition, highlighting it highlighted the power of deliberate social arrangements in the manufacture of gender's meaning. In comparison, most feminists believed, biological sex was purely accidental and altogether trivial.

Kate Millett proclaimed "socialization" to be the ideological foundation of patriarchal power. Without "the formation of human personality along stereotyped lines of sexual category," she argued, consent for a system of male-dominated "sexual politics" would be impossible to obtain.[82] Such uncompromising emphasis upon the social dimensions of subjective experience was a common theme in the early years of the women's movement. Socialist-feminist Meredith Tax, for example, wrote,

We didn't get this way by heredity or accident. We have been molded into these deformed postures, pushed into these service jobs, made to apologize for existing, taught to be unable to do anything requiring any strength at all, like opening doors or bottles. We have been told to be stupid, to be silly. We have had our mental and emotional feet bound for thousands of years. And the fact that some of the pieces that have been cut out of us are ones we can never replace or reconstruct—an ego, self-confidence, an ability to make choices—is the most difficult of all to deal with.[83]


Tax expressed the rage and pain many women felt about "the pieces that have been cut out of us." But the argument that female identity had been distorted by sexist social programming and interpersonal relationships had a very bright side. Identity could be changed through social decisions and actions.

Over the long term, alterations in childrearing practices appeared especially promising as a method of reforming gender socialization. Bringing children up differently held out the possibility of eliminating polarized roles, traits, and behaviors and encouraging gifts and boys alike to explore a wider range of human possibilities. Nancy Chodorow, a graduate student in sociology during the late 1960s, was interested in how the division of childrearing labor reproduced gendered personalities. Inspired by the work of culture and personality anthropologists, she noticed that although wide cross-cultural variation existed in behaviors and traits categorized as either masculine or feminine, women were always the primary socializers of infants and young children. Female caretaking was an apparent "cultural universal."[84] She hypothesized that a developmental process requiring both girls and boys to separate from their mothers in order to gain an independent psychological identity was at the root of problematic gender differentiation.

In hers, as in the other feminist critiques reviewed above, a central theme was that most psychologists, anthropologists, and other social and behavioral experts had done a terrible disservice by transposing malleable feats of culture into supposedly ironclad facts of nature. Chodorow's analysis offered an alternative. The sharp division of socializing labor between men and women because of the alleged fit between childbearing and childrearing was revealed to be a thoroughly cultural construct with profound implications for the production of gendered personalities and the maintenance of male supremacy. Chodorow tried to illustrate how the construction of gender identity might be treated as a social process while still conserving the psychoanalytic tradition's close attention to the significance of early childhood and the familial environment.

Shocked to learn they were different from their female caretakers, she speculated, boys had to actually do something in order to achieve masculinity, and that something often involved distancing themselves from the feminine by attributing power and prestige to whatever activities were culturally defined in masculine terms. Girls' development was smoother, but the results were more self-destructive. Because they were not different from their female caretakers, their identity did not have


to be earned through activity distinguishing them from their mothers. Feminine identity simply was. Ascribed as a product of nature, women's identity was readily internalized by girls as a given, only to be re-created through the next generational cycle of childrearing. "Until male 'identity' does not depend on men's proving themselves, their 'doing' will be a reaction to insecurity, not a creative exercise of their humanity, and woman's 'being,' far from being an easy and positive acceptance of self, will be a resignation to inferiority."[85]

Chodorow was neither the only theorist impressed by women's exclusive responsibility for child care nor the only one to stress that gifts and boys alike would benefit from growing up around men and women whose creativity managed to encompass child nurture and a wider range of other activities than were typically allowed by either masculinity or femininity. An equal division of domestic labor between men and women, from dishes to diapers, became one of the movement's central demands. Organizing projects were formed to draft men into child care, to promote nonsexist educational materials, and to ease women's domestic responsibilities. Practical equality, feminists maintained, was a simple matter of social justice for women. But it was also, as Chodorow had suggested, a matter of everyone's mental health. If men and women were equally represented as socializers, and if children were exposed to a diversity of adult possibilities, the result might be a new, and improved, experience of self. Girls and boys alike would grow to be more integrated, secure, and fully human women and men.

The Psychotherapeutic Sensibility in Feminism

Imagining cultural rearrangements durable enough to produce nongendered personalities in future generations was both a radical project and a very optimistic one, since it simultaneously required a great deal of patience and men's cooperation. The women's movement also advocated short-term approaches less dependent on reaching cultural consensus. Women, for example, could simply jettison the niceties of gender expectations. If enough women refused to make their behavior conform, then getting angry would amount to an effective political strategy. "A woman should be proud to declare she is a Bitch," one typical statement pointed out, because "bitches seek their identity strictly through themselves and what they do. They are subjects, not objects."[86]


Bitches are aggressive, assertive, domineering, overbearing, strong-minded, spiteful, hostile, direct, blunt, candid, obnoxious, thick-skinned, hard-headed, vicious, dogmatic, competent, competitive, pushy, loud-mouthed, independent, stubborn, demanding, manipulative, egoistic, driven, achieving, overwhelming, threatening, scary, ambitious, tough, brassy, masculine, boisterous, and turbulent. Among other things, a Bitch occupies a lot of psychological space. You always know she is around. A Bitch takes shit from no one. You may not like her, but you cannot ignore her.[87]

Being a bitch, many women discovered, was easier to appreciate in theory than to realize in practice. Layers of female socialization could not be shed so easily or comfortably, and acts of feminist willpower, no matter how resolute, were inadequate to the task. Those who did succeed found that their defiance, whether expressed at home or in public, met with swift and certain reaction, not infrequently in the form of punitive psychological intervention, as Weisstein, Chesler, Bart, and others had painstakingly shown. On the one hand, this frustrating state of affairs made the paternalism of psychological experts ever more galling to feminists. On the other hand, it confirmed the centrality of both "psychological oppression" to women's subordinated status and "psychological liberation" to a vision of sexual equality. In its early years, the women's movement addressed women's subjective experience explicitly and continually, making it the building block of movement organization, the foundation of feminist theory, and the justification for reforming the psychotherapeutic enterprise.

Consciousness raising (CR) groups, not coincidentally, were sometimes called "bitch sessions."[88] The practice of group discussion and support which formed the organizational nucleus of the movement's radical wing during its early years embodied a respectful attention to emotion and a desire to communicate the subjective feel of women's everyday lives, which ran the gamut from anger to anguish. CR groups originated with New York Radical Women (NYRW), a radical feminist group formed in the fall of 1967. After a meeting during which the women experimented with going around the room to describe their own feelings of oppression, NYRW member Kathie Sarachild coined the term "consciousness raising" to describe both the practice and the resulting insights. As a veteran of the civil rights movement and the student Left, Sarachild understood that this quintessentially feminist practice was inspired by recent civil rights activism, as well as more distant models among Chinese revolutionaries and Guatemalan guerrillas (fig. 19).[89]


Figure 19. Consciousness raising group. Photo: Women's Movement
Archives, Women's Educational Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

CR groups were small, met regularly, and often recruited members through friendship networks as well as feminist organizations. They emphasized introspection, emotional self-exposure, and the sharing of personal, experiential testimony. Pamela Allen's "Free Space," one of the best-known statements about CR, outlined four stages in the feminist group process. "Opening up" in a nonjudgmental context was the first, followed by "sharing, "analyzing," and "abstracting." "It is imperative for our understanding of ourselves and for our mental health," she explained, "that we maintain and deepen our contact with our feelings. Our first concern must not be with whether these feelings are good or bad, but what they are. Feelings are a reality."[90] The egalitarian practice of encouraging each woman to speak, the refrain of unconditional emotional acceptance, and the value placed on emotional awareness and mental health made CR reminiscent of humanistic psychotherapeutic trends such as Carl Rogers's client-centered psychotherapy. "We always stay in touch with our feelings," began one of Sara-child's descriptions of the place of CR within feminism.[91]

But the stated goals of CR—to develop feminist theory and build a women's movement—sharply distinguished it from psychotherapy, as many feminists were at pains to point out. That the distinction was


crucial is evident in numerous, repeated warnings against "thinking that women's liberation is therapy" and "thinking that male supremacy is only a psychological privilege."[92] "Our oppression is not in our heads," Jennifer Gardner vehemently declared.[93] "Therapy assumes that someone is sick and that there is a cure," Carol Hanisch retorted.[94] Psychotherapy insulted women by appeasing them, whereas CR sessions "are a form of political action."[95] "Consciousness raising is not a form of encounter group or psychotherapy," Barbara Susan reflected. "I've been involved in both and I can tell you they are very different."[96]

Still, questions persisted. "Is women's liberation a therapy group?"[97] At all points on the feminist political spectrum, women answered with a resounding no. Reducing women's status to the psychological obstructed individual consciousness and social change by trivializing the possibility that women could act collectively on the basis of a politics of gender. Dangling the illusion of a "personal solution" before women was a futile form of "go-it-alonism," according to radical feminist Kathie Sarachild, whose influential guidelines for running small feminist groups included a list of classic forms of resistance under the heading, "How to Avoid the Awful Truth."[98] Leftists interested in the radical potential of cultural politics also tried to remain alert to the difference between "life-style revolution" and "cultural revolution." In her article on this topic, Gall Kelly cautioned, "We have gotten so bogged down in the way we live that we lose the possibility of becoming relevant to the way others live."[99] For her part, Betty Friedan worried that feminist groups might deteriorate into "navel-gazing and consciousness-raising that doesn't go anywhere."[100] CR may have begun with feeling, but it was supposed to lead to thinking and acting.

The passion of feminist qualifications made it apparent that the differences between CR and psychotherapy were as elusive as they were important. There was just no way to sidestep the pressing psychological problems women brought with them into CR groups, and, for the most part, movement activists did not try. The healing spirit and communal support system CR offered were among the new movement's most conspicuous and attractive features.

Feminism's rapid growth through the vehicle of small groups was not lost on practicing psychotherapists either, especially psychotherapists with feminist sympathies. A flurry of research studies attempted to systematically analyze the group process of feminist CR.[101] Some clinicians and clinical researchers went so far as to suggest that women's liberation was really a misnomer, disguising a movement dedicated to


self-help and personal sustenance with fraudulent political rhetoric.[102] Many others, however, were sensitive to the differences between feminism and psychotherapy, as well as the striking similarities. The expert guide, symbol of unwelcome authority, had been banished from the group, but CR still had therapeutic results and was "ideally suited to the exploration of personal identity issues."[103] It was possible to see the feminist practice as simultaneously a challenge and an alternative to conventional psychotherapy.

Annoyed by all the talk about psychotherapy, which they found dismissive, many feminists redoubled their efforts to convey the urgency of their political goals. But the confusion between psychological and political change endured. Feminists themselves were partially responsible. Practically every woman who spoke or wrote about CR mentioned its therapeutic results because it was obvious that collective sharing reduced the burden of self-blame and made women feel a lot better. In our groups, Pamela Allen wrote, "we begin to build (and to some extent, experience) a vision of our human potential."[104] Even feminists who worried that CR groups would "never get beyond the level of therapy sessions" to realize their "revolutionary potential" had to admit that "the rigid dichotomy between material oppression and psychological oppression fails to hold."[105] Carol Payne was one of many to describe how her own group wrestled with the perplexing relationship between individual needs and collective action.

We argued about this [the purpose of the CR group]. A women's group shouldn't be group therapy, we decided. But there were elements of group therapy in what we were trying to do, to help each other deal with personal problems. . .. We never resolved the question of what a women's liberation group was supposed to do. There was always a conflict between those who favored the personal, psychological approach and those who felt that a women's group should be building a bridge between the personal insight gained by being in a small group and political action with a larger body of women.[106]

It was simply impossible to separate women's complaints about their lives and aspirations for change from an overall assessment of women's status as a gender category and, in the end, this was precisely the point. Feminists faced this dilemma because they treated women's experience as raw data, refusing to wall off "the personal" from "the political." Barbara Susan put it simply: "Consciousness raising is a way of forming a political analysis on information we can trust is true. That information is our experience."[107]

Surely this twin belief that experience was truthful and deserved a


prominent place in comprehending public issues was one of feminism's most enlightening contributions. It was also deeply flawed, as Alice Echols has argued in her history of early radical feminist groups and ideas. Echols documents the internal factionalism that grew logically out of the erroneous assumption that most radical feminists made about the nature of that experience—namely, that women constituted a cohesive sex/gender class.[108] Kathie Sarachild, one of CR's architects, pointed out that the movement's group practice and the idea that gender necessarily unified women were inseparable. CR assumed "that most women were like ourselves—not different," by which she meant white, well-educated, and middle-class.[109]

When movement organizations came face-to-face with the major internal challenges raised by working-class women and lesbians, many simply crumbled, as Echols has shown, unable to digest the fact of "differences" among women. A feminism based on the assumption of common experience could not long survive after that assumption was exposed as false. "The dream of a common language" was exchanged for "lies, secrets, and silence," and the very divisions and conflicts that (white, middle-class) feminists feared most came to the fore.[110]

Although the notion of a sex/gender class became suspect in later years, faith in the truth of experience remained at the heart of the women's movement. The conviction that "experience" was "information we can trust" continued to inspire the production of theory and the direction of activism in the late 1970s and 1980s, as a chorus of new feminist voices proceeded to describe how varied that experience could be and challenge the women's movement to account for the difference that "difference" made.[111]

"Feminist therapy" surfaced early in the movement as a possible alternative to the sexist practice of traditional therapies, as we have already seen. What it was exactly and how it differed from CR were notoriously difficult to determine, but the persistence of discussion about it, and the strong demand for it by potential consumers, illustrated yet again the abiding place of the psychotherapeutic sensibility within feminism.

Predictably, CR was an important model considered by feminists who were also practicing psychotherapists interested in offering sensitive services to their female clients. "The CR groups of the women's movement have implications for the treatment of identity problems of women in therapy," concluded one examination of the relationship between the two, which also noted that many members of CR groups had


apparently had previous experience in psychotherapy.[112] "I prefer to view therapy as a consciousness raising process," wrote Anne Kent Rush, one of the authors of Feminism as Therapy, a superficial book that conflated feminism and psychotherapy and reasoned that anything that was "healing" and respectful must be both therapeutic and good for women.[113]

Most early efforts to define feminist therapy began and ended with the proposition that women's social environment, rather than their intrapsychic makeup, was the primary source of individual psychological problems. More specific, practical questions went unanswered. Was psychotherapy more likely to be feminist in individual or group forms? What could feminist therapy offer men, if anything, and could they practice it too? Did the theoretical orientation of the clinician make any difference? Were Rogerian psychotherapists more feminist than orthodox psychoanalysts? In the absence of guidelines for therapeutic form and content, the general feeling seemed to be that virtually any school or style of psychotherapy could qualify as feminist—from cognitive reprogramming to psychodrama and gestalt—as long as a feminist practiced it.[114]

This muddled thinking did little to interfere with the growing popular interest in therapeutic services with a feminist slant. One of the AWP's early projects, for example, was to compile a national Feminist Therapy Roster as a service to the larger feminist community.[115] A brief comment in the AWP newsletter about who should be included reflected the nebulousness of feminist therapy itself: "If they don't know what that [feminist therapy] is, then we don't want them."[116] In order to be listed, the AWP asked psychotherapists to specify their credentials, describe their services, and write up a "statement of your position on feminism."[117] The first edition of the roster was a mere twelve pages long and included only forty-five resource listings in the entire country, a very modest effort indeed compared to the thriving industry in feminist therapy that would appear in the late 1970s and 1980s.[118]

While feminists declared war on the sexism of psychological experts, they were also willing to appropriate those aspects of psychological theory and practice perceived as potentially liberating for women or strategically useful to the women's movement. I have tried to show that the culture of psychology is not adequately understood as a competitor for women's hearts and minds, peddling adjustment while feminism pledged genuine change. Psychological expertise functioned as friend


and foe, with both roles facilitating feminist mobilization and lending credence to feminist thought.

That feminists quietly welcomed certain aspects of psychology while loudly denouncing others produced a paradox—but perhaps it was merely wisdom in paradoxical form—at the heart of feminism. Psychological knowledge could be feminist or antifeminist. It could promote feminist consciousness and inspire social change. It could instill self-hatred and vindicate the status quo. At times this state of affairs was extremely perplexing. Should the women's movement actively support personal growth strategies, or insist that women's only hope was in eliminating systemic barriers such as legal inequalities and discrimination? What would it matter if women achieved institutional gains, only to have their subjective experience remain mired in dependence and powerlessness? Could a line even be reasonably drawn between psychological and social experience?

The curious courtship of psychology and women's liberation thus recapitulated the ambivalent political dynamic that earlier chapters have demonstrated was so crucial to the overall historical direction of psychological expertise after World War II. Capable of soothing and exacerbating social and political ruptures, psychological experts were technologists of pacification one moment and prophets of renewal the next. For feminists, who understood keenly the danger of reducing women's social status to the psyche, the challenge was to link the dots between self and society, between the personal and the political, without making either appear to be a by-product of the other.

"Experience" was what the women's movement offered as connecting tissue. To grasp it was to anchor truth, probe the validity of theoretical formulations, and test the effectiveness of collective action against the inescapable measure of subjectivity. Historically rooted yet in constant motion, experience was feminism's ultimate evidence. It certified that psychology was a trap for women, but it also hinted that psychology might offer a way out of the trap. Experience was slippery and useful, demoralizing, liberating, and terribly confusing. Little wonder that women seeking to comprehend their past, chart their future, and realize their own humanity would sometimes long for some clearer, more reassuring way of understanding their lives. They did not find one.


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