Feminist Therapy – “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby”


you've come a long way baby


Thesis Statement

Would it surprise you to learn that pink was not always for girls? Ladies’ Home Journal article in June 1918 said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for boys, and blue for girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl” (Maglaty, 2011).

Feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks justice for women and the end of sexism in all forms. Consequently, the research of this paper grew beyond the bounds of feminist therapy to incorporate the theory of Feminism, its background, and the methodology, derived from the following history of three waves of the modern-day feminist movement: (Haslanger, Tuana, 2012)

A. First-wave feminism arose from an industrial society and liberal politics but is connected to both the liberal women’s rights movement and early socialist feminism in the late 19th and early 20th century, concerned with access and equal opportunities for women,

B. The Second-wave of feminism emerged in the 1960s to 1970s in postwar Western welfare societies, when other “oppressed” groups such as Blacks and homosexuals were being defined and the New Left was on the rise. It is usually, erroneously, defined by being closely linked to radical voices of women’s empowerment and differential rights.

C. The Third-wave manifests itself in “grrl” rhetoric, which seeks to overcome the theoretical question of equity or difference and challenges the notion of “universal womanhood,” and embracing ambiguity, diversity, and multiplicity in theory and politics.

Like the evolution of feminist theory, feminist psychology continues to change and develop multiple identities. Feminist psychology is typically conceptualized as one of the theoretical underpinnings found in both gender studies and the psychology of women (Charting 2002).

Feminist Therapy

History responds to “how long has feminism been in existence?” as such: Feminism has been around since the beginning of time; some would argue, “When Eve tempted Adam to eat the proverbial apple.” Scientifically, feminism began when we left the natural order of tribal living and moved into a hierarchal civilization, advancing when, not only privileged, but also common women were allowed and encouraged to be educated. Simone de Beauvoir wrote that “the first time we see a woman take up her pen in defense of her sex” was Christine de Pizan, who wrote Epitre au Dieu d’Amour (Epistle to the God of Love) in the 15th century (Slote, 2012).

Although earlier proto-feminists exist, theirs tend to be solitary voices not constituting any kind of democratic movement, or even a clear philosophical tradition. Feminism is generally understood to have arisen within the context of the modern age. To understand feminist psychoanalysis, it is important to first follow the history and plight of women in our modern-day, American culture.

First Wave Feminism: In the United States, organized women’s issue groups began forming between 1865 and 1870, during the historical era known as the Reconstruction era. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified to establish political equality for all Americans—not including women—disappointing advocates of women’s rights.

Women had played a prominent part in the (Civil) prewar abolitionist movement, and in the eyes of many women the struggle for black freedom and the crusade for women’s rights were one and the same. However, feminist leaders reeled with shock when the Fourteenth Amendment, which defined equal national citizenship, for the first time inserted the word male into the Constitution in referring to a citizen’s right to vote.

When the Fifteenth Amendment proposed to prohibit denial of the vote on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” women’s rights leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wanted the word sex added to the list. It was denied. In 1920—eighty years after the first calls for suffrage at Seneca Falls—the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, giving all American women the right to vote. (Cohen, Kennedy, Piehl, 2008)

Second Wave Feminism (post suffrage)1960s and 70s: In the United States the difficulties of the preceding 15 years were followed by a new culture of domesticity. Women began marrying younger and having more children than they had in the 1920s. By 1960 the percentage of employed female professionals was down compared with figures for 1930.

The women’s movement of the 1960s and ’70s represented a break with the Ozzie & Harriet suburban life depicted in American popular culture. The foundation of the new female rebellion was born out of the college-educated mothers’ frustrations, spurring their daughters into action. If first-wave feminists were inspired by the abolition movement, their great-granddaughters were swept into feminism by the civil rights movement.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 offered the first guarantee against discrimination, unequal pay, legal inequality, expanded child-care services; and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was amended to bar employers from discriminating on the basis of sex. Women of all ages and circumstances were in hot debates about gender, discrimination, and the nature of equality (Pacific, 2008).

After the initial inroads of the 1960s, the 1970s are infamously marked by flamboyant demonstrations, including bra burning, historical Woodstock, and the quintessential 1970s, Virginia Slims, You’ve Come a Long Way Baby woman. Known for producing one of the best eras of music, perhaps the greatest victories of Second Wave Feminism was the passage of Title IX, 1972, which allowed women equal access to education, college and professional schools, while protecting people from sex discrimination (Britannica).

The Third Wave Feminism emerged in the mid-1990s. It was led by the so-called Generation X who, born in the 1960s and’70s in the developed world, came of age in a media-saturated and culturally and economically diverse milieu. Although they benefitted significantly from the legal rights and protections that had been obtained by first and second wave feminists, they felt there was unfinished work of second wave feminism. The concepts include “universal womanhood,” body, gender, sexuality and heteronormativity.

An aspect of third phase feminism that mystifies the mothers of the earlier feminist movement is the re-adoption by young feminists of the very lipstick, high heels, and cleavage that the first two phases of the movement identified with male oppression. This new position has been expressed as, “It’s possible to have a push-up bra and a brain at the same time.”

The “grrls” of the third wave have stepped onto the stage as strong and empowered, eschewing victimization and defining feminine beauty for themselves as subjects, not as objects of a sexist patriarchy. They have developed a rhetoric of mimicry, which belies derogatory terms like “slut” and “bitch” to subvert sexist culture and deprive it of verbal weapons.

The web is an important aspect of the new “girlie feminism.” E-zines have provided “cybergrrls” and “netgrrls” another kind of women-only space. At the same time — rife with the irony of third-wave feminism because cyberspace is disembodied — it permits all users the opportunity to cross gender boundaries and so the very notion of gender has been become more problematic. This is in keeping with the third-wave’s celebration of ambiguity and refusal to think in terms of “us-them” or in some cases their refusal to identify themselves as “feminists” at all.

Grrl-feminism tends to be global and multi-cultural and it shuns simple answers or artificial categories of identity, gender and sexuality. Its transversal politics means that differences such as those of ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, etc. are not only celebrated, but recognized as dynamic, situational, and provisional. Reality is conceived not so much in terms of fixed structures and power relations, but in terms of performance within contingencies.

The third wave was much more inclusive of women and girls of color than the first or second waves had been. In reaction and opposition to stereotypical images of women as passive, weak virginal, and faithful, or alternatively as domineering, demanding, slutty, and emasculating, the third wave redefined women and girls as assertive, powerful, and in control of their own sexuality. Third wave feminism broke boundaries. (Britannica)

From the three waves of feminism, a sisterhood developed in which women came together to share their experiences, beginning in a grassroots manner. It, therefore, followed that feminine therapy groups operated from the same norms as the consciousness-raising groups, including nonhierarchical structures, equal sharing of resources and power, and empowerment of women.

Therapy was, legitimately, a means to effect change, and mutuality was built into the therapeutic process. Counselors took the stance that therapy needed to change from psychopathology perspectives—in which the sources of woman’s unhappiness, so often, resided within her—to a place of understanding the social, political and pathological forces in society that damage and constrain girls and women, as well as males (Corey, 2009).

Concepts of the feminist view of human nature are fundamentally different from that of most other therapeutic models. Many of the traditional theories grew out of a historical period in which social arrangements were assumed to be rooted in one’s biologically based gender. Men were thought to be the norm and the only group studied or understood; women were often dismissed as individuals—viewed only as an extension similar to the male species.

Worell and Remer (2003) describe the constructs of feminist theory as being gender-fair, flexible-multicultural, interactionist, and life-span oriented. Gender-fair approaches explain differences (not better or less than) in male/female behavior, instead of on the basis of our innate natures. This concept avoids stereotypes in social roles and interpersonal behavior. Flexible-multicultural perspectives use concepts and strategies that apply equally to individuals and groups regardless of age, race, culture, gender, ability, class or sexual orientation. The interactionist standpoint allows for concepts specific to the thinking, feeling, and behaving dimensions of human experience and accounts for contextual and environmental factors. The life-span perspective takes into account that human development is a lifelong process which personality patterns and behavioral changes can happen intermittently rather than set in stone during childhood (Corey, 2009).

Feminist therapists emphasize that societal gender-role expectations profoundly influence a person’s identity from the moment of birth and become deeply ingrained with expectations well into one’s adult personality; i.e., pink is for girls, blue is for boys. Feminist therapists try to counteract these assumed theories—reminding us that traditional gender stereotypes of women are still prevalent in our cultures—by teaching their clients that uncritical acceptance of traditional roles can greatly restrict their range of freedom. Therefore, suggesting that not being cemented to a single behavioral style, women and men who reject traditional roles are stating that they are entitled to express the complex range of characteristics that are appropriate for different situations. They are open to their own vulnerability as human beings—without gender distinction (Corey, 2009).

The Therapeutic Relationship with feminism is based on empowerment and egalitarianism. The structure of the client-therapist relationship models how to identify and use power responsibly. There is an inherent power differential in the therapy relationship, and feminist therapists work to equalize the power base in the relationship by employing a number of strategies. The therapist is sensitive to the client and strives to desensitize any abuse of power on the therapist’s part. Instead, therapists actively focus on the power their clients have in the therapeutic relationship.

Therapists encourage clients to identify and express their feelings, to become aware of the ways they relinquish power in relationships with others as a result of socialization or as a means for survival, and to make decisions with this knowledge as the basis. Feminist therapists work to demystify the counseling relationship by sharing with the client their own perceptions about what is going on in the relationship, by making the client an active partner in determining any diagnosis, and by making use of appropriate self-disclosures. A definitive theme of the feminist client-counselor relationship is the inclusion of clients in both the assessment and the treatment process. Collaboration with the client in all aspects of therapy leads to a genuine partnership with the client (Corey, 2009).

Techniques and Strategies have been developed by feminist therapists, and others have been borrowed from traditional approaches and adapted to the feminist therapy model. To name a few of prime importance: Consciousness-raising Techniques that help women to differentiate between what they have been taught is socially acceptable or desirable and what is actually healthy for them. At the heart of feminist strategies is the goal of empowering the client. Feminist therapists use therapeutic self-disclosure to equalize the client-therapist relationship, to provide modeling, to normalize women’s collective experiences, to empower clients, and to establish informed consent.

A pointed technique, often used in feminist therapy, is Gender-role Analysis and Intervention. This begins with clients identifying the societal messages they received about how women and men should be and act by placing it in the context of society’s role expectations for women. Assertiveness Training teaches and promotes women to become aware of their interpersonal rights, transcend stereotypical gender roles, change negative beliefs, and implement changes in their daily lives.

Group Work has become popular as a way for women to discuss their lack of voice in many aspects of society. Groups provide a supportive context where women can share and begin to critically explore the messages they have internalized about their self-worth and their place in society. Members learn to use power effectively by providing support to one another, practicing behavioral skills, considering social/political actions, and by taking interpersonal risks in a safe setting (Enns, 2004). Participation in a group experience can inspire women to take up some form of social action (Corey, 2009).

The feminist therapy would be very applicable where a cultural problem existed. Of all the theoretical approaches to counseling and psychotherapy, feminist therapy and multicultural perspectives have the most common. The choice between these two particular perspectives would be based on the client’s goal—change and go against the tide or adjust. The one difference between the multicultural and feminist perspectives is that multiculturalists honor culture whereas feminists challenge culture. Therefore, this agenda could pose some problems when working with women from cultures that endorse culturally prescribed roles that keep women in a subservient place or from cultures that are grounded in patriarchy. Remer claims “a potential danger inherent in feminist counseling is that counselors’ values will too strongly influence clients or will conflict with clients’ values” (Corey, 2009).

Because feminist therapists are advocates for change in the social structure—especially in the area of inequality, power in relationship and the right to self-determination—this type of therapy could be useful to young women who are embarking on an education and then marriage.

Role Play – Sally is about to enter college. She cannot determine which course of study to follow for her Associate Degree. Sally begins by saying, “Though I am not in any relationship yet, I still feel obligated to choose a curriculum that will allow for me to earn a substantial salary once I am married and have children.” The counselor decides to use the Power Analysis technique to help Sally understand how unequal access to power and resources can influence personal realities. A reality being that empowerment was not attained so that women could make it easier for the man by holding two jobs—motherhood and an outside career. The therapist asks, “Your choice of study for a career, at this point, is the main consideration, is it not?” Motherhood is a full time job. Working outside the home is not an obligation once a woman has children. This decision needs to be an agreed upon choice with one’s partner, based on several factors—need, financial, wanting to continue a career, values, culture, etc. Without the burden of future responsibility, Sally felt the freedom to choose, for herself, the course of study that would best serve her interest and in which she was most likely to succeed—the rest would follow. She became empowered to make a choice for her present reality, not on expectations.

Having lived through the second and third wave of the women’s movement, researching this final term paper has leant an even greater respect and understanding of the intricately involved evolution of today’s woman. It has been an undertaking that found me studying far more than could possibly be incorporated into the final writing, simply because of the interest it held. Feminist Psychology has opened a door for me to seriously consider Women’s Studies as a discipline for a Bachelor’s degree. It is fascinating and one with which I can completely identify.

In closing, the entire process of studying, researching, and writing this paper, I believe, can be summed up with Helen Reddy’s first hit song. It is as timely today as when it was declared the United Nations Women’s Year theme song in 1975.

Yes, I am wise, but it’s wisdom born of pain….Yes, I paid the price, but look how much I gained…I can do anything…I am strong…I’m invincible… “I Am Woman”


Corey, G. ©2009, 2005. Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy, eighth edition. pg. 345-362.

Cohen, L., Kennedy, D., Piehl. M. ©2008. American pageant, history of the republic, seventh edition. pg. 233, 328, 329, 330, 393-4, 443, 570-1, 575, 638-9.

Goodhart, R., Koppelman, K. ©2011. Understanding human differences, multicultural education for a diverse America, third edition, pg. 211-228.

Haslanger, S., Tuana, N. ©2012. Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.

Maglaty, J. Smithsonian, 2011 Smithsonian magazine, When did girls start wearing pink?

Rampton, M., Fall 2008. Pacific. The magazine of pacific university, Three waves of
feminism, vol.41 No. 2.

Chrisler, J., Collins, L., Dunlap, R. 2002. Charting a new course for feminist psychology, ISBN 0585407282 (electronic bk.) The psychology of work [electronic resource] : theoretically based empirical research / edited by Jeanne M. Brett, Fritz Drasgow.

Eagly, A. H., Eaton, A., Rose, S. M., Riger, S., & McHugh, M. C. (2012). Feminism and psychology: Analysis of a half-century of research on women and gender. American
psychologist, 67(3), 211-230. doi:10.1037/a0027260


Slote, M. 2012. The impossibility of perfection: Aristotle, feminism, and the complexities of
ethics. (482): 529-532, doi: 10.1093/mind/fzs035

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Feminist Therapy – “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby”

  1. Pingback: Feminist Therapy – “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby” | Maverick7's Weblog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s