Women and Femininity:
Changing Roles but Not Changing Definitions

Elizabeth N. Nissim
Fairleigh Dickinson University


Throughout history, women have been labelled as the weaker gender, yet it has not always been that way. In the prehistoric and historic periods of religion, there was a greater equity in the value of female and male spheres, certainly in both Mesopotamia and Egypt in which the co-occurance of both female and male deities would seem to attest to this. In the next historical time era, a patriarchal society arose that started with Adam and Eve where strict rules and duties were written into the law of the bible. However, as the decades passed, women gained status in the industrial world in the fields of business, medicine and psychology. Nevertheless, the definition has not changed even though the roles of women have.



In our society, adults have clear sex-role stereotypes. Men as being competent, skillful, assertive, aggressive, and able to get things done. Women are perceived as warm and expressive, tactful, quiet, gentle, aware of others' feelings and lacking in competence, independence, and logic. (Williams & Best, 1990, p. 302)

The term femininity carries the connotation of the subservience of women to men; the assumption is that masculinity is superior to femininity, and that femininity is not a beautiful and powerful thing in its own right. Men, because of physical strength and money-making abilities, are the successful executives, while women are the 'good' housewives whose 'office' is the kitchen. However, in the 90s, women are no longer bound to their husbands, kitchens, or homes. Women have been earning college degrees, building successful careers and continue to raise children. In fact, 40% of all law and medical school graduates are females! Yet, we still live in a patriarchal society where masculine qualities are viewed as best, powerful and important, and feminine qualities are still portrayed as inferior, weak, and trivial. Even though women's roles have changed and are continuing to change, the definition of femininity has not.

Today, I will argue, women are not an endangered species, rather femininity is. The meaning of femininity is not encouraged, not without a sneer or snicker anyway. The main point of my argument is that women are encouraged to think of themselves as equals of men, and yet the qualities that differentiate men from women are derided and devalued. It is not masculine qualities that are under attack, but rather the feminine attributes of sensitivity, courteousness, and patience. In the end, this results in the construction of mostly a masculine society, where female traits are most oppressed. Through this work, I will attempt to demonstrate that even though women have made some great strides, they are precluded from advancing to their full potential due to traditional societal values and attitudes that have not changed regardless of how women have changed all over the world.

Roles of Women in Egypt

Queens had greater power and honour than Kings in Egypt. Women, not men, were responsible for courting the man of their choice and it was women who chose their husbands. In fact, they could divorce their husband by paying them in the form of money for their time spent as husband and father. Even in private life, women had authority over their husbands -- husbands agreed to the marriage contract that they would be "obedient in all things to their wives" (Stone, 1976, p. 57). Women had great freedom, control of their lives, their husbands' lives, and economic independence. It was common for women to go to the market place, take care of business affairs, while the men stayed home and were the weavers. As a result, matriarchy, a society ruled by women, existed (Stone, 1976).

Roles of Women in Mesopotamia (Sumer and Babylon)

In Mesopotamia, women were permitted to take two husbands if they desired -- this is known as polyandry. Women also managed their own estates. The mother was considered the goddess of the house, and any sin against her was punished by banishment from the country. In fact, children were named after their mothers. Women also had sexual freedom, or the freedom to sleep with other men even while married, and for this, there was no punishment. In addition, men had subordinate roles in the religious community (Stone, 1976).

How Matriarchy Came to an End

The Levites of the Old Testament claimed that their deity gave them the Land of Canaan, or the Promised Land, which was an occupied land. Upon the arrival of the Hebrew tribes from the Sinai desert, they sent an envoy into the cities of Canaan. They entered with the intent to take the land and claim it as their own, yet they had to conquer the inhabitants who were not ready to give up their land. The Hebrews realized that Canaan was a large, fortified town, but they were willing to violently destroy the existing religion and replace it with their own. They claimed that these were the commands of Yahweh, their male god. They were to destroy their alters and idols (who were the woman statues) and worship no other God except for the Lord who is a jealous God. With this order, the Hebrews began their invasion of Canaan.

The Hebrews killed every man, woman, and child. But Moses and Aaron's orders were "kill every male dependent and kill every woman who has had intercourse with a man, but spare for yourselves every woman among them who has not had intercourse" (Numbers 31:17). The polytheistic nature of worship was replaced with monotheism, purity of life, and severe codes of ethics. The wives of the Israelites were the women who witnessed the murders of all their families and friends and the destruction of their homes and town. The fear and trauma caused by this rapid destruction forced them to abandon their childhood customs and female religion and accept the new patriarchal laws. All lands that continued to worship female deities were perceived as violating the second commandment of the Christian religion: "thou shalt not worship idols." The Hebrews bore the burden of destroying these idols that were perceived as sacrilegious.

Though many towns and cities were massacred, the city of Ashtoreth was not. In fact, there are many accounts of the worshipping of the Queen of Heaven and Baal in the Bible. Over the centuries the suppression and persecution of the religion of the female deity continued. The statues were desecrated by knocking off the tip of their ears or noses. The civilization that worshipped the Goddess which brought about inventions in methods of agriculture, medicine, architecture, wheeled vehicles, ceramics, textiles and written language was mocked, degraded, and eventually destroyed. At this time, it was established that it was the duty of every Hebrew and then every Christian to suppress and destroy the worship of the female deity wherever it existed (Stone, 1976).

How Female Religion Has Been Denied

Most of the information and artefacts concerning female religion, which existed thousands of years before the rise of Judiasm, Christianity, and Greek Gods, were dug out of the ground only to be re-buried in unknown archaeological texts that have been hidden in stacks of university and museum libraries. Goddess figurines excavated from the Neolithic and early historic periods of the Middle East reveal that the statues had female characteristics. In addition, the writers of the Judeo-Christian Bible overlooked the sexual identity of female deities who held sacred positions for the Hebrews in Canaan, Babylon, and Egypt. The Bible does not have a word for Goddess; Goddess is referred to as Elohim, which is translated as God, in the masculine gender. The archaeologists, theologians, and historians who compiled the artefacts and information were all males; therefore, there was a sexual and religious bias (Stone, 1976).

Women in Theological Perspective

The family was called the "father's house;" the father was called the "master, lord, owner" of his wife, home, and children. According to the first chapter of the Bible, (Genesis 2:4b-25), God made man who is male and female; therefore, man consists of two parts: man and woman.

Eve, the first woman, was made of Adam's rib. Therefore, she was brought into being in order to act as Adam's companion and helpmate, to prevent him from getting lonely. Women were portrayed as gullible and easily deceived by the evil serpent. It was woman who tricked man into eating the apple as well. As a result, women must bear pain in childbearing and, yet their "desire shall be for [their] husband and he shall rule over [them]" (Genesis 3:16).

Before marriage, a woman belonged to her father. When a young man was interested in a young woman, the prospective groom asked for her hand from her parents and it was not until after her father agreed was her consent asked. Pre-marital sex was forbidden. In fact, males and females mingling was prohibited as well, because "too much freedom could get a girl in trouble and she might be exposed to the violence of the young men" (Bier, 1968, p. 5). It was the father's duty to protect his daughter's virginity for it was the desire of the man to marry a virgin. The proof of virginity was obvious - blood-stained linen that was kept and hung on the line the morning after the wedding to show off to the entire town. If a young woman's virginity was violated before marriage, the young man was fined 50 shekels in addition to the punishment of marriage (Bier, 1968).

The term 'marriage' can be defined as a covenant existing between two people encompassing sexual gratification, companionship, empathy, economic behaviours of earning and spending income, and procreation. In other words, it is a union of two people who become one individual. However, this definition did not hold true, for a married woman was perceived as her husband's possessions, along with his ox and ass. Women did not have any rights of inheritance, neither from father or husband, unless there was not any male to inherit it. At this time, a man could divorce his wife, and she would have to return to her father's home; however, a wife could not divorce her husband. In fact, if a woman had extra-marital affairs, she and the man could be sentenced to death. However, there was no prohibition if a married man had intercourse with an unmarried woman.

A wife's chief "responsibility" was to bear many children. An infertile wife was an object of scorn and mockery -- she was viewed as "defective." A woman was to take care of the household chores, tend to flocks, draw water from the well, cook, work in the fields, and educate their children -- when these activities were done, and done well, she brought honour to her husband -- "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is a breath: the wise woman will be praised" (Proverbs 30) (Bier, 1968, p. 6).

In countries like Kenya, China, Japan, and Mexico, a bridal price, in the form of money, livestock or other goods, is paid by the groom to the bride's father. This payment signifies a compensation to the woman's parents for the loss of her domestic services and symbolizes a linkage between the family of the bride and the groom. In addition, women did not have the freedom to choose their own mate. In fact, there were two primary perspectives of marriage: the owner-property arrangement and the head-complement arrangement. The owner-property arrangement can best be explained by writer Eva Figes' definition of marriage -- "marriage is basically the purchase of sexual favour in return for board and lodging" (Williams, 1977, p. 61). In the 19th Century, husbands used a horsewhip to keep their wives in subjection -- this was held by the New York courts to be within his rights. In fact, a horsewhip was defined as a "reasonable instrument" and wife-beating was legal in almost all states as late as 1850.

Under the head-complement marriage arrangement, the husband is the head, while the wife is the complement. Wives have nothing more than survival rights to food, shelter, and clothing, while the husbands reap benefits from her services. In this point of view, wives are viewed as the counterparts to husbands and wife is expected to meet her husband's love and affection needs, her sexual desires, her need for emotional support, companionship, understanding and open communication (Williams, 1977).

Women in Public and Religious Life

When it came to religion, women were permitted to share in the festivities of the three great feast days of Passover, Pentecost, and Booths; however, they could not become priests because of their gender and their spiritual uncleanliness -- women menstruated making them defiled and soiled. In the church, women did not have any power in the decision-making process, nor could they be priests, deacons, or teach on an informal level. They had to remain silent in the church, and if they desired to speak, they were commanded under obedience. And, if they had any questions, they were to ask their husbands at home, "for it is a shame for women to speak in the church (I Corinthians 11: 3, 7, 9)" (cited in Bier, 1968, p. 10).

Women in Contemporary Theology

According to the Bible, man and woman were created for each other, to love, and perpetuate each other. Both sexes were created in the image of God; therefore, both must possess gentleness, sensitivity, compassion, strength, initiative, and firmness of will, and both must work together in order to procreate and ensure the existence of a future generation who will repeat this cycle of life.

Up until 1945, the church did not perceive women as significant members. It was only after social, scientific, economic, and political upheavals were they recognized. In 1945, Pope, Pius XII recognized that the duties of women were not only in marriage and family, but that they could also play a role in social and political life. In fact, it was noted that God may deliberately place women in circumstances where they would have to leave the home and play a role in the larger society. For example, Mary, the mother of Christ, played an active role in the church. At this point it was determined that women were to receive the same professional training as men. This marked the beginning of equality on the social and political level and this was the starting point for some resolution prominent in a woman's life: freedom vs. femininity.

However, women were faced with prejudice that kept them out of the masculine world. In order to achieve equality, a woman would have to relinquish her feminine qualities and become more and more like a man, thus ignoring her uniqueness and originality and think like a man. There is, however, an equality of man and woman in their relationship with God. There is neither male nor female.

Until modern times, women were excluded from Church affairs because they were thought to be incompetent intellectually and mentally. Through baptism, women participated in the priesthood of Christ, but only men were ordained to the official priesthood of the church. However, involvement in church affairs did not necessarily mean priesthood, rather women wanted to have an official voice. Today, women teach and take part in many decisions on the parish level and there are women priests and deacons/deaconess (Bier, 1968).

History of Women in Psychology: A Lack of Change

Throughout history, some people have been denied the opportunity to become psychologists solely because of their gender. In addition, some psychologists have faced discriminatory practices within the field that have kept them from making the best use of their abilities. In most academic fields of study in the United States, women were traditionally excluded from colleges and universities. When Harvard University was founded in 1636, for example, women were not permitted to enrol. The primary reason for this restriction was the myth of male superiority; the belief that men naturally possessed intellectual pre-eminence. And even if women were granted educational opportunities similar to those of men, their inherent intellectual deficiencies would inhibit them from advancement. The largest supporters of this view were scientists such as Charles Darwin, and psychologists of the 19th century, such as G. Stanley Hall, E.C. Thorndike, R. Cattell, and S. Freud (Schultz & Schultz, 1996).

This myth of male superiority was actually derived from Darwinian theories of male variability. According to Darwin's findings, males showed

a wider range of development of physical characteristics and abilities than did females; the characteristics and abilities of females were found to be more clustered around the average. (Schultz & Schultz, 1996, p. 466)

Women's proclivity for "averageness" was thought to make women less likely to benefit from education and less likely to achieve in scholarly work. Males, on the other hand, were more variable, therefore, they could benefit more from a stimulating environment. Another popular theory related to the Darwinian theory stated that women who were exposed to higher education suffered physical and emotional damage. In fact, G. Stanley Hall believed that "educating women endangered their biological imperative to motherhood by disrupting the menstrual cycle and weakening their maternal urge" (Schultz & Schultz, 1996, p. 466). If women were to be educated at all, Hall stated that "they should be educated to motherhood" (Diehl, 1986, p. 872). Edward Clarke, a former Harvard medical school professor argued that "identical education of the sexes was a crime before God and humanity" (Clarke, 1873, p. 127). In addition, he described the effects of higher education on women as "monstrous brains and puny bodies; abnormally active cerebration and abnormally weak digestion; flowing thought and constipated bowels" (Scarborough & Furumoto, 1987, p. 4). Edward Titchener, the supporter of Structuralism, did not permit women to attend informal lectures because he wanted "oral reports that could be interrupted, dissented from, and criticized in a smoke filled room with no women present, for ... women were considered too pure to smoke" (Boring, 1967, p. 315).

Today, more than half of the graduates who receive Ph.D.s in psychology are women. Two thirds of psychology graduate students are women, and three-fourths of psychology undergraduate students are women (Martin, 1995). However, the history of psychology has doubted women's intellectual abilities, and has been dominated by men. Even after women were admitted to degree programs to pursue careers in psychology, women faced restrictions and inequalities in graduate schools and job opportunities. In fact, for nearly 20 years after psychology was found as a scientific discipline, it was difficult for women to become psychologists or make significant contributions to the development of the field (Schultz & Schultz, 1996). In addition, it was difficult for women to obtain faculty positions except at women's colleges. Even when women were hired at universities, they faced limitations regarding promotion and tenure. They tended to be kept at the lower faculty ranks and received lower pay than men in comparable jobs. Despite all this discrimination against women, by men, psychology's record is one of the more enlightened than any other scholarly discipline or profession. By the beginning of the 20th century, 20 women had earned doctoral degrees in psychology. And in the 1906 edition of American Men of Science, 12% of the listed psychologists were women -- a high figure taking into account the barriers of women's graduate education (Schultz & Schultz, 1996).

Women today are participating in the field of psychology in increasing numbers relative to men -- 67% graduate psychology students and 62% completing their doctoral degree (National Science Foundation, 1994). This development has been referred to as the "feminization of psychology," (Ostertag & McNamara, 1991) and it carries a number of potential negative implications -- how the changing sex ratio will affect the prestige and income of psychologists, and women may not be recognized with the appropriate compensation or advancement. The fundamental question is why would the field of psychology's prestige be affected? The answer is the devaluation of women's roles in comparison to men's roles. For example, female-dominated occupations, such as secretary, bank teller and teacher, which were once male-dominated occupations, show a decline in prominence when they were "feminized." In fact, the increasing representation of women in an occupation is often viewed as a sign that the status of that occupation has deteriorated because women a field when the men have left for more lucrative career opportunities (Pion, et al., 1996).

Prestige and income are two interrelated issues. As with prestige, there is the notion that with the increase of women in the field of psychology, there will be a decrease in income for psychologists. Throughout history, women have been rewarded less for their efforts, and "pink collar" occupations are always associated with lower incomes. In addition, according to the National Science Foundation, women in psychology tend to receive lower salaries than do their male colleagues (Ostertag & McNamara, 1990).

Gender Roles

From birth until death, human feelings, thoughts, and actions reflect social definitions of the sexes. As children interact with others, they quickly learn that their society defines females and males as different kinds of human beings; by as early as age three or four, they apply these gender standards to themselves. Just as gender affects how we think of ourselves, it teaches us to act according to cultural conceptions of what is masculine and feminine. Gender guides how females and males think about themselves, how they interact with others, and what positions they occupy in society as a whole. Gender roles, or the collection of rules that determine the proper attitudes and behaviour for men and women, as defined by culture (Wade & Tavris, 1993), express gender identity. That is, as culture defines masculinity in terms of ambition and competition, we expect males to engage in team sports and to seek our positions of leadership; as culture defines femininity in terms of deference and nurturing, we expect females to be good listeners and good mothers (Macionis, 1994).

Construction work is an acceptable type of work for men, as defined by their gender roles, but it is uncommon for people to think of women wearing hard hats, construction boots, and building your homes. Yet, even though women compose only 2 % of the workers in the construction trade, they are still out-there constructing buildings. Because construction work is a "man's" job, women face sexual harassment, mistreatment, stress and more work injuries. This was based on a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that involved 213 female construction workers in Seattle and Portland, Oregon. Here, 41 percent of the women said they had been mistreated because they were women, while 34 percent reported that co-workers or supervisors had made unwanted sexual references or suggestions to them. Furthermore, 16 percent stated that they had experienced unwanted physical contact from male co-workers, including sexual contact, 37% said co-workers or supervisors had insulted them while on the job, 10% reported that their work had been vandalized, and 10 percent said they had been threatened physically (DeAngelis, 1996). In short, sex-role stereotypes are extremely resistant to change.

Bem's Gender Role Schema

Thirty years ago gender roles were nothing to discuss, it was assumed that men were the "breadwinners" while women were the mothers and schoolteachers. According to Bem's gender schema theory, individuals are relatively schematic with respect to gender. Gender is the primary schema for sorting and conceptualizing information. A schema is a framework whose main function is to organize and direct understanding of incoming information. Stereotypes, similar to schemas, are generalized beliefs about groups of people that influence the recall of and thinking about these groups of people. In addition, stereotypic beliefs produce systematic biases in information processing. Bem stated that sex-typed individuals hold stronger schemas for gender, assuming that men and women are more distinctly different in terms of the attributes they possess. In addition, possessing strong gender schemas influences perceptions of other people as well (Hudak, 1993).

In our current culture, stereotypically masculine traits are valued more than feminine characteristics (Hudak, 1993). In fact, females are more stereotyped than males, and female attributes are scorned and are viewed negatively. Based on a study of 'masculine' men, it was found t hat they regarded women as highly feminine and very low on masculinity. Another study shows masculinity to be a strong correlate of self-esteem and femininity to be relatively unrelated to self-esteem (Heppner, Burnett & Anderson, 1995). The person-environment interaction suggests that a masculine environment may place women who are low in masculinity at a particular risk for low self-esteem. In the 1970s, researchers thought that a greater degree of psychological well-being would be associated with an androgynous orientation (a.k.a. masculine traits). Bem (1974) believed that androgyny may define the standard for mental health. In addition, researchers attempted to demonstrate that androgynous individuals would have greater self-esteem and overall better psychological adjustment than would people who adhered to more traditional gender roles (Cook, 1985). By 1987, Cook's research supported the idea that masculinity was more strongly related to self-esteem than femininity.

The "male supremacy effect" states that masculine traits are more valued in our society because they have more social utility in American culture. In addition, those who possess masculine traits receive more positive social reinforcement and higher self-esteem (Yagar & Baker, 1979). One must keep in mind that not all male traits are innate, rather most, if not all, are influenced by the environment. Scher and Good (1990) proposed that the environment provides powerful cues about how an individual ought to behave as well as the fact that masculinity and femininity are social constructions. The results of a study conducted by Heppner, Burnett, and Anderson (1995) confirm the existence of a masculine bias in the American culture; those who possess a larger amount of masculine characteristics such as decisiveness, independence and competitiveness report greater self-esteem than do those with less of those traits. The correlates of masculinity, traits such as goal directness, high achievement motivation, competitiveness, and assertiveness, are highly valued, whereas feminine traits such as docile-ness and nurturing were correlated with low self-esteem. These findings were consistent with past research (Whitley,1983); individual masculinity was significantly correlated with self-esteem for both men and women, but feminine traits were not significantly related to self-esteem in either gender.

Gender Roles and the Media

Ever since the 1950s, television has placed the dominant segment of the population -- white men -- at centre stage. Even though our society has evolved, allowing for more gender equality, the intelligent detectives, the courageous explorers, and the deft surgeons are still men. Women, on the other hand, continue to be portrayed as objects, dependent on men, and the target of comedy. In fact, change has come most slowly to advertising, which sells products by conforming widely to establish cultural patterns, resulting in the presentation of the two genders in very stereotypical ways. Too often, ads have presented women in the home, happily using cleaning products, serving food, modelling clothes or trying out new appliances. Men, on the other hand, advertise cars, travel, banking services, industrial companies, and alcoholic beverages. Also, the "voice-over" in television and radio advertising is almost always male, with the exception of Candice Bergen (Macionis, 1994).

Media coverage of women portrays them in peripheral roles, underestimates their accomplishments and treats them as sex objects. Too often, women are depicted through the use of stereotypes, portrayed as the homemakers who prepare dinner, make the beds, and care for the "little Jenny" when she has the flu. And when they are not the nurturers, they are portrayed as the weaker sex or as the victims. This circumstance leads to the reinforcement of patriarchal power relations -- it highlights how the media perpetuates trivial and powerless images of femininity and acts as an institutional barrier to the participation of women in the larger society. In addition, most of the literature is focused on the urban mass media, with very few local rural newspapers investigating how gender relations are reported, nor the way that images and symbols in the rural media actually perpetuate the subordination of women (Macmillan, 1993).

When women do finally receive some coverage, it is usually recognition for traditional female activities that are confined to the middle pages of a newspaper. Things such as the "local Country Women's Association meetings and the fund raising activities of the auxiliary and the local branch of the Red Cross" (Macklin, 1993, p. 53). This type of news tends to focus on the contribution of women to the well-being of the entire community. For example, a report about the local RSL Axiliary (Garralong Advocate, 12 February, 1990) notes that it made donations of several thousand dollars to the local branch of the RSL and related institutions. The reported activities of the group included participation of members in traditional female activities, such as cooking sewing, serving and catering. When the rare opportunity arrives when a woman is featured in a non-traditional role, her actions are trivialized. One of the few occasions when a woman was portrayed in a business role, she was pictured with the State premier at a local function, the picture was headlined "Nancy matters to Nick." The caption noted that this businesswoman, Nancy Morris, had the "ear of the premier, Nick Greiner, and he seemed to be enjoying it!" (Macklin, 1993, p. 54). This would not be the case had a male identity been chatting to the Prime Minister; one would not see "Bill Babbles to Bob." This headline insinuates that she did not have anything serious to discuss with the premier, thereby reducing this woman's contribution to the economic life of the community and devaluing her role as a competent and serious business-woman.

Too often, women are depicted as the daughters, the wives, and the mothers in newspapers, magazines, and on the news; this continues to marginalize women. These stories construct women only in relation to men. They are the images of dependency that reduce the possibilities for women to achieve independence. The media also devalues the roles which may allow women to develop autonomy (Macklin, 1993).

Freud's Views on Feminism

Freud is well known for his theory of the role of anatomy, biology and the constitution of their development, while neglecting the role of familial and social contributions. Due to differences in the unconscious infantile fantasies of women and men, this would inevitably determine the functioning of the respective psychic structures of each gender. Freud believed that for a female, anatomy is destiny. He emphasized that a woman's castration complex is central to her feminine personality development and constitutes the biological basis of women's sexuality. Penis envy, female masochism, passivity, depression, and a poorly developed superego influence the female character. As a result, a girl, after having discovered her genital inferiority and being unaware of having a vagina, gives up active sexuality. She stops clitoral masturbation, and following the Electra phase, enters latency, remaining sexually dormant until puberty. At this time, she is sexually active again, due to a pubescent awakening, and a girl is ready for a man (Lax, 1995).

Jones (1922) believed that femininity is innate and the girl's masculine position reflects a retreat from disappointment of incestuous feelings for her father. Freud (1937) believed that the ultimate difficulty in the analysis of women was due to their refusal to overcome their wish for a penis -- their deepest envy and lasting shame. Freud also regarded shame as a particularly feminine characteristic due to feelings of genital deficiency. As a result, the female patient, in comparison to a male patient, was viewed as less aggressive, less defiant, more dependent, and more compliant. A woman was more likely to develop erotic transference with the male analyst, because she wanted to be the patient her analyst wants and she wanted to be loved (Freud, 1933).

Freud believes that the gender of children will determine their entire life. However, to what Freud refers as destiny, is really the reality of reinforcement for adherence to the gender stereotypes so prevalent in our society. In so many cultures, the birth of a female child into a patriarchal world is an unwelcome event because sons are the ones who care for their parents in their old age, while a daughter gets married and leaves the house to care for her husband and future children. According to Freud, a female child's primary object of identification is her mother who is frequently devalued because she is a woman, and she, in turn, will devalue her daughter who is unwanted. Evidently, societal-cultural gender stereotypes are transmitted from one generation to the next, and the unconscious and conscious attitudes of mothers and fathers are passed down to the child depending on the gender. As a result, Freud's historically pivotal statement that "a little girl is a little man" (Freud, 1933, p. 188) is a prevalent explanation for women demanding equality.

Women in the Psychology Workforce

Because women were prohibited from seeking university positions for much of psychology's history, they found employment in the applied fields, particularly the "helping professions" such as clinical/counselling psychology, child guidance and school psychology. Once again, women were placed in the "female" fields, even though they have made significant contributions in those areas, especially in the development and application of psychological tests. Even though women psychologists became successful in areas of testing, their work in applied psychology proved to be a disadvantage. This is because jobs in non-academic settings do not provide the time, the financial assistance, nor the graduate assistance needed to conduct research and write articles which are the principal avenues for professional visibility. In general, work in the applied field is rarely recognized beyond the setting of the organization.

In addition, women professors and graduate students did not always receive credit for their work. Bernstein and Russo said it best:

We will probably never know how much work was done by women but credited to men: how many footnotes of appreciation should rightfully have been co-authorship, how many times junior authorship should have been senior authorship, or how many times it was the male co-author who should have received the footnote. (1974, p. 131)

And even when women's work was published, it was impossible for readers to recognize that the author was a female due to the accepted method of citation (Smith, J. instead of Smith, Jane). As a result, academic psychologists perceived applied work in a negative view, considering it to be "menial, inferior, and women's work" (Schultz & Schultz, 1996, p. 469). The published histories of psychology tended to underestimate applied psychology and the contributions of the women who worked in hospitals, clinics, research institutes, and military and government agencies. Another interesting fact is that even though by 1941 one third of its members were women, a female was not elected president of the American Association of Applied Psychology, the one field with which they were associated.

Women in Psychology Today

Historians of psychology are paying more attention to issues of discrimination and are striving to give recognition to women psychologists when they deserve it. Since the 1970s, the literature on the role of women in psychology has grown enormously. The American Psychological Association established a task force on the status of women and a committee on women in psychology. The purpose of this committee was to "ensure that women achieve equality as members of the psychological community" (Women in the American Psychological Association, 1986, p. 1). Division 35, A.P.A.'s Division of Psychology of Women was formed to encourage the study of women and the appreciation of their contributions to the field. One of their main priorities is to bolster the participation of ethnic minority women and the development of a multicultural approach to studying the psycho-social aspects of women's lives. Even though women's role in the field of psychology has changed, inequality still exists in universities. 81% of tenured college faculty are men; half of all male faculty members achieve full professor rank while only one fourth of female faculty members achieve full professor rank. In addition, only 13% of all graduate psychology departments are headed by women (Denmark, 1994). In fact, a survey of a random sample of two A.P.A. divisions found gender inequality at all career levels. In graduate school, men were more likely than women to find role models among faculty members. Men developed personal relationships with faculty members and received assistance in finding jobs much more readily than women. Men also achieved more publications and earned higher salaries from full-time jobs in psychology than did women (Cohen & Gutek, 1991).

Professors who identified themselves as feminists reported that colleagues and administrators were non-supportive, hostile toward their views, and they also reported that they were even the targets of sexual harassment. These professors were often denied tenure and were warned that topics concerning gender issues were inappropriate in the classroom (Denmark, 1994). Other problems reported by women and minority faculty include heavier workloads than white men faculty, feelings of isolation, under-valuation of research on gender and ethnic issues and a lack of mentoring (Gainen & Boice, 1993).

Although the number of women psychologists has increased over the last two decades, having more women working in the field has not made the mainstream more aware of these issues. Even though the idea is "psychology must make visible women's viewpoints and experiences... promote women and other underrepresented groups into key positions where they can influence the direction taken by psychology... From the classroom to the laboratory practice, we must make psychology more feminist" (Denmark, 1994, pp. 329, 334), this goal has not yet been achieved.

Women in the General Workforce

Women's economic and political rights continue to grow apart in the twentieth century. Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963 in order to address the changing workplace/workforce. This act did not attempt to equalize wages across professions, but rather to prohibit wage gaps based solely on gender. Consistent with the principle of equality of opportunity, it offers protection under the law while recognizing that women are equal to the challenge of competition. One year later, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed. This act included gender in the (U.S.) federal protection of constitutional rights of traditional victims of discrimination. Gender is mentioned in Title VII on Equal Employment Opportunity, where it specifically states inappropriate hiring practices, adding gender on to the list that includes race, religion and colour. Even though these laws exist, stating that discrimination no longer exists in America is a bogus claim.

Two basic myths exist about women in the workforce: defenders of preference programs claim that women owe their success in the marketplace to their programs. Based on an editorial in the New York Times, "for all its imperfections, [affirmative action] has made a difference in the lives of women and minority groups and has helped us achieve the constitutional commitment to the ideal of equality and fairness" (Sowell, 1995, p. 40). But advocates must remember that correlation does not show causation. Ice cream sales and rattlesnake bites increase at the same time of year, but this does not insinuate that one causes the other. Another myth about women in the workforce is due to the use of statistics to measure discrimination. This leads to the emergence of the "residual fallacy" which is

one of the grand non-sequiturs of our time, as common in the highest courts of the land as on the political platform or in the media or academe. At the heart of the fallacy is the notion that you really can hold variables constant. (Sowell, 1995, p. 38)

According to Sowell, it is meaningless to compare the median wage of all women to that of men because common sense tells us all the factors affecting wages could never be constant over such a broad level of denomination. It is much easier to deal with aggregates than with individual cases, but this method does not yield accurate results, in this case.

Education and marriage are significant events that affect a woman's career and shape her opportunities, and are the major factors considered when making commitments of time and energy. Education is an area in which the "residual fallacy" can be especially misleading. Comparing annual earnings by the highest degree earned between men and women reveals that men are still earning more than do women. However, there are other factors that affect earnings in addition to the level of degree a person has earned, such as age, profession, continuous years in the workforce, seniority, and the field of study. Therefore, when we examine the degrees women hold, we can see that it's not discrimination, but educational and career choices that account for earning differences (Pacific Research Institute, 1995).

In 1992, more than one third of the bachelor's degrees earned by women were in the fields of communication, education, English literature, health professions, and the visual and performing arts. In this same year, fewer than 4% of women earned degrees in engineering and mathematics, and less than 1% earned a degree in the physical sciences. The largest category of bachelor's degrees earned by women was in business (20%). In the same year, 26% of men earned bachelor's degrees in business and 13% earned their bachelor's in engineering (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1994).

The gap becomes wider when we compare advanced degrees earned by men and women. In 1992, 37% of master's degrees and 27% of doctorates earned by women were in education while 34% of master's degrees earned by men were in business, and 22% of doctorate's were earned by men in engineering. This reveals that while one out of every four women earned a Ph.D. in education, earning a mean monthly income of $3,048, one out of five men earned a doctorate in engineering, earning a mean monthly income of $4,049 (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1994).

In 1992, women earned 75% of the master's degrees and doctorates conferred in education, 70% of the master's degrees and doctorates conferred in public administration, 65% of the master's degrees and doctorates conferred in English literature, and 63% of the master's degrees and doctorates conferred in ethnic and cultural studies. In the same year, men earned 86% of the master's degrees and doctorates conferred in engineering, and 75% of the master's degrees and doctorates conferred in physical sciences and science technologies. They also held 65% of the master's degrees and doctorates conferred in business management, administrative services and marketing, and 60% of the master's degrees and doctorates conferred in mathematics (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1990). Thus, it is true that women earn less, but for the reason that they earn different degrees and make different career choices.


Married women tend to earn less themselves but improve their overall standard of living through a shared income. As a result, marriage has an asymmetrical effect of earnings on women. According to Dr. Thomas Sowell (1985), marriage has the opposite effect on the earnings of men and women. "Marriage increases a man's rate of participation in the labour force compared to single men and reduces a woman's labour force participation rate compared to single women" (p. 93). Even though Sowell's assertion dates back to 1985, today, married men still participate in the labour force at higher rates than single men while married women's participation decreases. Although the gap has narrowed significantly over the last 33 years, in 1993, married men still participated in the labour force at a rate 30% greater than that of married women.

Figure 1. Labour force participation rates for married women and married men, 1960-1993.

Labour force participation rates directly affect income levels. The strongest connection lies among labour force participation rates, continuous years in the labour force, and seniority. As a result, labour force participation rates correlate positively with continuous years in the workforce. The U.S. Bureau of the Census clarifies this point. A Census study done by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, in 1992, examined the relationship between education level and earnings, and found that at every education level, men spent more months working consistently than did women. In addition, while only 1.6% of a man's work years is spent away from work, 14.7% of a woman's work years is spent away from work. These findings led to the following conclusion made by the U.S. Department of Labour (1993), "women spend significantly more time away from work and are apparently unable to build the seniority that men achieve" (p. 8). It makes sense, women bear, raise, and care for their children. As a result, they spend fewer hours in the office than men, which means less time, lower salaries and fewer opportunities for promotion.

Apparently, the gap in income is not between men and women, but rather married women and married men, single men, and single women. It is not necessarily due to labour force discrimination, but rather voluntary domestic division of labour. A married man's working hours increase annually with the number of children. A married woman's hours, on the other hand, decrease as the number of child increases. Married men work more and earn more than single men, while married women work less and earn the least (Post & Lynch, 1995).

The Role of Family Responsibilities

Having children in the home has proven to have a significant impact on a young woman's decision to interrupt her work. Burch (1985) believes that men and women possess different rationales for work interruption: at all ages, the major reasons for work interruption for men is layoff, school and illness, while for women, childcare, marriage and layoff are the reasons. Ross and Shillington (1991) show that more women (56.8%) than men (46.8%) quit their jobs, while more men (39.8%) than women (31.5%) lost their jobs (p. 50). They also found that women tend to quit their jobs more often than men for two reasons: 1) personal or family responsibilities and 2) change of residence, which is mostly family related. Men, on the other hand, tend to quit their jobs in order to return to school or because they found a new job. Women tend to carry the burden of family responsibilities. Their "line of work" spans from care-giving their children to care-giving their elderly parents, and even paying the bills, bookkeeping and fixing the car. Because women are rapidly entering the paid workforce, the burdens of these roles are greater than they have ever been. Due to increased longevity, the growing burden of "daughterwork" puts an enormous demand on working women. As a result, women tend to leave their paying jobs or move to part-time jobs so that they may care for an elderly parent or a growing child. (Women and..., 1996

With women entering the labour force, husbands have done very little to ease a woman's responsibilities to her home, children, and elderly parents. Gendered division of labour may be eroding and new patterns are emerging, yet change is an ongoing battle for couples on an individual level. Women receive little support from outside sources when trying to achieve a more egalitarian division of labour within the home. Men are not granted benefits like "paternal leave"*1 so that they, too, can take equal responsibility for infants. It is a difficult process for couples to negotiate their roles; it is not only acceptable, but expected for women to take maternity leave, while it is unlikely of for a man to take two weeks off to help his wife care for their new-born (Women and..., 1996).

*1 Editor's note, this may be so in the United States, but in Canada fathers have the opportunity to take "parental leave".

Working women must, too often, stop working for some time. As a result, previous research assumed that women's work patterns were highly sporadic; however, this is not entirely true. There are specific factors, such as presence of pre-school children and some measure of economic need, but the predominant factor is family responsibility. Shaw (1985) suggests that if the economic situation remains stable, then women's work patterns will continue. And with increasing education levels of women and the decreasing family size, attitudes toward women working can be expected to become more favourable. However, the recession of the 1990s, along with economic restructuring have created a new situation that will affect women and how and when they will work. With the chance of a depression, this might interrupt the upward trend by making it "especially difficult for women to become strongly attached to the labour market" (Shaw, 1985, p. 54). If this were to happen, many women might not find steady employment. As a result, inconsistent work might increase more rapidly than continuous labour force participation.

Although Armstrong and Armstrong (1994) believe that women's work patterns are becoming more like men's, women were only paid 60% of men's wages in 1990. However, this gap can be attributed to the domestic work that helps keep women, but hardly men, from working year-round and full-time.

Still Fighting

"...[O]r are we going to be grateful for crumbs and not get our full due?" (p. 40).
Women have come a long way in the last 100 years, but the fight for equality is certainly not over. At the APA-hosted second Women's Health Conference, September 19-21, 1996, Pat Schroeder, Representative of Denver, Colorado, urged women to "take pride in past accomplishments, but to push for further achievements in securing better health care and equal status in society" (p. 40). She emphasized that women need to be very careful or else their gains would be taken away; she knows this based on first-hand experience in Congress, especially the current Republican majority. Schroeder, who will retire at the end of this sessions states that the 104th Congress is like "a raging sea of testosterone" (p. 40) meaning mainly male dominated. One of its first acts was attenuating the Congressional Women's Caucus.

She states that they have no staff, no offices and no phones on the Hill. "Newt Gingrich has crippled us, as well as the Black and Hispanic caucuses. Now we don't even see our Republican sisters" she stated (p. 40).

Schroeder also discussed the struggles that she witnessed in passing certain laws and acts in favour of women. She described the struggle to pass the Violence Against Women Act, which authorized $1.67 billion over six years to fund women's shelters, domestic abuse hot lines, rape education, and prevention programs. Legislators and judges were hesitant in supporting this, stating that violence should be determined by each state. However, what they failed to realize was that women were abused and hurt, and nothing was being done at the state level. Schroeder stated that violence against women was so vast in a specific city that "...more women were killed by their policeman husbands than policemen were killed in the line of duty" (p. 40) -- Congress eventually passed this act, but gave it only 60 percent of the proposed funding.

In the 1980s, the National Institute of Health's (NIH) research was on men and men only -- "men who eat fish, men who drink coffee, men who take aspirin" (p. 40). Schroeder called the NIH and asked them if their data applied to women as well. They said no. Even research on breast cancer was based on men! Congress eventually passed a law requiring NIH to increase its studies of women's health, and President Clinton signed it into law. But, there is still a long way until women's health studies are equal to those of men's. Women, for example, are more likely to need mental health care "which attributes in part to how American culture treats women" (p. 40). Schroeder's last act in Congress, before she retires, is to introduce a 'Safe Motherhood Act' which will mandate a study on maternal health and set standards for maternal health care; a topic last discussed in the 1920s. For example, "more women were dying of childbirth than anything else, yet the federal government was spending more on hog inoculations than women's health" (p. 40). Schroeder also presented data that proved how much we are in need of legislation, where 25% of deliveries (vaginal and Cesarean section) result in serious health complications for the mother, pregnant women over 40 are nine times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications. The unintended pregnancy rate among women over 40 is 77%, while for teens, it's 82% (Martin, 1996, p. 40).


Even though women have come a long way in the past 100 years, there is still a great deal more to be achieved. Women need to strengthen their voices in politics and keep pushing for what should already be. Despite the radical changes in the roles of women in the decade, women are still pictured as the weaker gender. Because they biologically continue life by bearing children, society assumes that the sole responsible person for a child is the mother. This view stops society from redefining femininity to fit the "new" 90s woman that goes to work while her husband is raising the children. It is believed that if a woman appears forceful, logical, direct or masterful, she risks undermining her value as a woman. Imagine that! These are the 90s, the "years of enlightenment", and yet we still accept these archaic and primitive views. Society still insists upon defining ways in which women "should" be and "should" act instead of accommodating their changing roles. The truth is, we must be forceful, get our hands dirty, and risk our femininity if it means getting true equality with males. And this can be achieved only if women are paid equal salaries for the same work and allowed the same opportunities in the work environment. Also, if more organizations and businesses adopt recruitment and selection processes that are based on education, experience, and solid credentials, rather than gender, child-bearing potential, stereotypes, personal bias, or generalizations. Furthermore, it is als crucial that the government supports and enacts women's equality through research, communication and public information, and that it gives priority to promoting and protecting the full and equal enjoyment by women and men of all human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction of any kind. Additionally, it is important that the government provides constitutional guarantees and enacts appropriate legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender for all women and girls and assures women of all ages equal rights and their full enjoyment. And finally, that the government strengthens and encourages the development of programs of protection of the human rights of women in national institutions and ensure that these institutions pay adequate attention to problems involving the violation of the human rights of women. These are not far-fetched strategies; they can be enacted allowing women to enjoy the equality they should have had years ago.


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