Toward a New Psychology of Women

Jean Baker Miller's (1976) pioneering work focused on gender inequality and the implications for personality development of membership in dominant and subordinate groups. In her view, because women are the subordinate group in society, they develop characteristics such as passivity and dependency to help them cope with this status. Focusing on relationships of dominance and subordination, Miller concluded that women differ from men in their orientation to power. Thus, the distinctive psychology of women arises from their position of inequality. She noted that psychology has no language to describe the structuring of women's sense of self, which is organized around being able to make and maintain affiliations and relationships. Miller conceptualized this difference as holding the potential for more cooperative, more affiliative ways of living. She called for a "new psychology of women that would recognize that women have a different starting place for their development that they stay with, build on, and develop in a context of attachment and affiliation with others" (Miller, 1976, p. 83). Relational-cultural theory, an approach to feminist therapy that grew out of Miller's work, emphasizes women's movement through connections, disconnections, and transformative new connections throughout their lives (Comstock et al., 2008).


Jordan and Surrey's (1986) self-in-relation theory reflects a collaborative effort among women at the Stone Center in Massachusetts to reformulate women's development and psychology. Their work followed in the tradition of Miller and Gilligan, who argued for the development of new concepts, language, and theories to describe and understand female development. Jordan and Surrey paid particular attention to the positive, adaptive aspects of the mother-daughter relationship and offered a new model of female development that positively redefined the mother-daughter dyad and affirmed traditional female values of nurturance and connectedness. Their model challenged the traditional psychoanalytic tendencies to pathologize female development, particularly the mother-daughter relationship, and to engage in mother-blaming as a way to explain adult psychological dysfunction. Postulating that mother-daughter sameness facilitates the development of empathy and the capacity for relatedness, they saw the core self of women as including an interest in and an ability to form emotional connections with others. According to self-inrelation theory, "women organize their sense of identity, find existential meaning, achieve a sense of coherence and continuity, and are motivated in the context of a relationship" (Jordan & Surrey, 1986, p. 142).

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