Self-Defeating Personality Disorder: A Feminist View

By Patricia J. Anderson

Clinical Assessment & Diagnosis, Fall 1997, Denis Ferguson

Self-Defeating Personality Disorder

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM IV) a personality disorders is, “… an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment” (First, 1994, p. 629). Personality traits are enduring patterns of how we see, relate to, and think about our world and ourselves. Personality disorders are diagnosed only when these traits are inflexible, maladaptive and cause subjective distress or significant functional impairment (First, 1994).

Self-Defeating Personality Disorder (SDPD) (previously called Masochistic Personality Disorder) was included in Appendix A of the DSM-III-R which qualified it as a proposed disorder that needed further research. The word masochism was eliminated to avoid its association with older psychoanalytic views of female sexuality and the implication unconscious pleasure gained from suffering. The most basic aspect of SDPD is it’s pervasive pattern of self-defeating behaviors that start in early adulthood and occur in a variety of situations (Williams, 1987).

Core Criteria

“A.  A pervasive pattern of self-defeating behavior, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts. The person may often avoid or undermine pleasurable experiences, be drawn to situations or relationships in which he or she will suffer, and prevent others from helping him or her, as indicated by at l least five of the following”  (Williams, 1987, pp. 373-374):

“(1) chooses people and situations that leads to disappointment, failure or mistreatment even when better options are clearly available

(2)  rejects or renders ineffective the attempts of others to help him or her

(3)  following positive personal events (e.g., new achievement), responds with depression, guilt, or a behavior that produces pain (e.g., an accident)

(4)          incites angry or rejecting responses from others and then feels hurt, defeated, or humiliated (e.g., makes fun of spouse in public, provoking an angry retort, then feels devastated)

(5)  rejects opportunities for pleasure, or is reluctant to acknowledge enjoying him or herself (despite having adequate social skills and the capacity for pleasure)

(6)          fails to accomplish tasks crucial to his or her personal objectives despite demonstrated ability to do so (e.g., helps fellow students write papers but is unable to write own)

(7)          is uninterested in or rejects people who consistently treat him or her well (e.g., is unattracted to caring sexual partners)

(8)     engages in excessive self-sacrifice that is unsolicited by the intended recipients of the sacrifice” (Williams, 1987, pp. 373-374; & Spitzer et al, 1989, p. 1563 & Skodol et al, 1994, p. 563).

“B.         The behaviors in A do not occur exclusively in response to, or in anticipation of, being physically, sexually, or psychologically abused

The behaviors in A do not occur only when the person is depressed Note: For coding purposes, record: 301.90 Personality Disorder NOS (Self-defeating Personality Disorder)”  (Williams, 1987, pp. 373-374).

Behavioral & Emotional Manifestations

Despite the availability of better options, clients with SDPD repeatedly get involved in relationships or situations that are self-defeating and painful. The DSM-III-R offers an example a woman who enters relationships with alcoholic men who aren’t available emotionally or a man with excellent qualifications who is continually underemployed, failing to obtain recognition or optimal salary (Williams, 1987). It’s common knowledge that the spouse and family of an alcoholic suffer some type of abuse, but the criteria deny the application of SDPD when the behaviors occur as the result of abuse. The DSM-III-R example of a woman with an alcoholic man is a poor example because it simply adds to confusion, rather than clarifying the diagnostic criteria. Teacher comment: Absolutely.

When these clients need any type of help, they reject reasonable offers, by politely refusing or with behaviors that sabotage efforts of help. They loan money to friends, but won’t accept loans for themselves. Despite not being asked to do so, they’re excessively self-sacrificing toward others. The sacrifice lacks any reward as one might gain from altruism. The sacrifices induce guilt from others which leads others to avoid or reject them. It’s characteristic for SDPD clients to behave in ways that bring anger or rejection from others. After belittling their spouse in public they feel hurt when their spouse retaliates. They might describe numerous situations where they failed to do things they were capable that would have brought them  personal success. Accomplishment or praise leads to depression, guilt, or to their doing something that leads to a negative occurrence (Williams, 1987).

These clients may not contact a physician when they’re sick. They may not take vacations. When they do participate in pleasurable activities, they may deny enjoyment. People who treat them well are perceived as boring. Caring relationships, whether personal, professional or with a needed therapist, are rejected. They may describe great sex with volatile or insensitive partners, and not find caring partners attractive. In therapy, they may make requests for special attention and feel rejected when attention is denied; they’re non-compliant with agreed upon treatment plans  (Williams, 1987).

Potential Diagnostic Confusion with Other Categories & Differential Diagnosis

Predisposing factors include being physically, sexually or psychologically abused as a child or witnessing a parent being abuse while growing up. Initial clinical studies suggest that SDPD may be one of the more common personality disorders. Sex ratio, according to clinical samples, is 3:2 for females and 2:1 for males. According to familial patterns, SDPD is more common among first-degree biological relatives of others with the disorder than among the general population (Williams, 1987).

A person experiencing abuse may behave in ways that seem to be self-defeating. A woman may stay in an abusive relationship or may avoid the pleasure of seeing her friends. These behaviors might merely be coping strategies to avoid threats to her life if she leaves the relationship or further abuse if she spends time with friends. The diagnosis is not  made if “self-defeating” behaviors occur only in response to, or in anticipation of abuse, however there are occasions when the diagnosis is appropriate for a person who has or is being abused. In such a case it needs to be determine that the self-defeating behavior is a persistent pattern, not limited to situations of actual or threatened abuse. An example being a person with a long history of SDPD who has only recently being abused  (Williams, 1987).

A person may exhibit self-defeating behavior as a symptom of the Mood Disorder. The diagnosis of SDPD is not made if the self-defeating behavior occurs only when depressed. People with SDPD frequently have superimposed Major Depressive Episodes or Dysthymia (Williams, 1987).  Teacher comment: Good clarification.

To make a diagnose of personality disorder, the clinicians need to evaluate the client’s long-term patterns of functioning in which problematic personality features appeared early adulthood. The clinician should establish stability of personality traits over time and in different situations to distinguish between characteristics that came about in response to specific stressors or more transient mental states, such as Mood or Anxiety Disorders, Substance Intoxication. Assessment of personality disorders in general may be complicated because clients sometimes experience them as ego-syntonic. When personality changes emerge and persist after an individual has been exposed to extreme stress, a diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder should be considered (First, 1994).

SDPD shares some features with other personality disorders, especially Borderline, Dependent, Passive Aggressive, Obsessive Compulsive, and Avoidant. Complications include Dysthymia and Major Depressive Episodes; suicidal ideation or behavior may also be present (Williams, 1987).

Validation Studies

Robert Spitzer, Janet Williams, Frederic Kass and Mark Davies (1989) summarized criticisms in psychological literature about SDPD’s potential inclusion in the DSM-III-R. One is lacking validity. Second, some think it’s sexist and potentially harmful to women. Third, when the criteria were developed transient coping responses to abuse weren’t included. Spitzer et al (1989) did a National Field Trial with the hope of shedding empirical light on the diagnostic viability of SDPD. A questionnaire was sent to two thousand psychiatrists with a special interest in personality disorders. Fifty one percent said they believed there was a need for the diagnosis. Spitzer et al (1898) found no relationship between the respondents sex, despite the fact women were the most vocal opponents. The researchers expected to find that those from psychotherapeutic orientations and those trained many years ago when the concept of “masochistic personality” came out of the psychoanalytic perspective would endorse the diagnosis. None of these hypothesis were validated because they found no relationship between type of practice or years of clinical experience (Spitzer et al, 1989).

Borderline, Dependent and SDPD were diagnosed more commonly among women, forty two percent of female and twenty eight percent of male clients met the criteria. There was a relative lack of independence and overlap among these three personality disorders, ninety percent of the cases of SDPD were associated with Dependent or Borderline Personality Disorder (Spitzer et al, 1989).

Among the large sample of psychiatrists, over half believe that none of the DSM-III personality disorders adequately described the pattern of SDPD. Many psychodynamically oriented practitioners felt that their experience supported the validity of the diagnosis. Others claim that the concept lacked empirical evidence, was sexist, and did pose a serious danger to women. Despite the fact that the diagnostic criteria conform well to the practices of those who find the category useful, SDPD was rarely the only personality disorder diagnosed. The high threshold of five criteria show that the behaviors described in the criteria aren’t unique to SDPD. Despite the fact that SDPD is not now a part of the DSM-IV, psychiatrists in this National Field Trial showed that many of them are using it as a diagnostic category. The responding psychiatrists lacked consensus regarding the need for the category and the analysis provided limited descriptive validity and considerable overlap with Borderline and Dependent personality disorders. Similar to many other established personality disorders, the criteria for SDPD doesn’t have high descriptive validity (Spitzer et al, 1989).

Andrew Skodol, John Oldham, Peggy Gallaher, and Sophia Bezirganian (1994) also conducted a study to assess the validity of SDPD. They used one hundred each of applicants for inpatient treatment for personality disorders or psychoanalysis. Each client was independently evaluated in face to face interviews by experienced clinicians using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R and the Personality Disorder Examination (Skodol et al, 1994).

Like Spitzer et al (1989), Skodol et al (1994) found overlap between SDPD and other psychiatric disorders. It’s not a problem within the paradigm of psychoanalysis, but raises questions within other modalities. Some have argued that the diagnosis of SDPD might obscure a coexisting affective disorder; while others think SDPD is sufficiently described within Dependent and Passive-Aggressive personality disorders. SDPD co-occurred significantly with six other personality disorders per the Personality Disorder Exam and with seven according to the Structured Clinical Interview. Both interviews noted significant co-morbidity between Borderline and SDPD. Examination of axis II co-morbidity using the consensus personality disorder diagnosis noted significant co-morbidity of SDPD and Borderline and Dependent personality disorders (Skodol et al, 1994).

The diagnosis of SDPD did not differ significantly as far as sex ratio than that of other personality disorders, seventeen diagnosed with SDPD were female and seven were male. The internal consistency was identical to the 0.61 reported by Spitzer et al (1989) in a National Field Trial. However, Spitzer et al’s (1989) studies relied on unstructured clinical evaluations, not structured assessments. Results regarding the discriminant value of individual criteria confirm those of Spitzer et al, (1989) in that SDPD criterion 1 is the most discriminating (Skodol et al, 1994).

In Spitzer et al’s (1989) study all the participants had personality disorders. Forty two percent of Skodol et al’s (1994) group had no personality disorder. Skodol et al (1994) concluded that item sets for both Borderline and Dependent personality disorders were stronger in every respect than those of SDPD. Because SDPD overlapped substantially with Borderline and Dependent personalities it was redundant to include them in the DSM-II-R. To resolve the problem of multiple overlapping disorders, a hierarchy may be needed to discriminate between personality disorders (Skodol et al, 1994).

The authors found a significant association between SDPD and a current mood disorder despite the exclusion criterion requiring that features of SDPD not be limited to periods of depression. It’s not known whether clients diagnosed with SDPD would continue to meet the criteria after affective treatment of their mood disorder. Clients with SDPD were more likely to be employed than those with other personality disorders which contradicts the self-sabotage aspect of the SDPD construct. Despite rigorous methods, Skodol et al (1994) found only fair internal consistency, difficulty in measurement, overlap on other axis I and axis II disorders, and no relationship to validators for the proposed DSM-III-R  SDPD category (Skodol et al, 1994).

Feminist Perspectives to Treatment Approaches

Rhoda Unger and Mary Crawford (1992) claim that the notion of SDPD is merely a label for women’s masochism in staying in abusive situations. Victims of interpersonal violence have high rates of mental illness, yet a study of this diagnosis never asked the three hundred women about abuse (Unger & Crawford 1992, p. 593). When removed from abusive situations for six months, symptoms either disappeared altogether or were diminished. This finding argues against a disorder of personality itself. SDPD is an example of a double bind that blames women if they don’t keep the family together, but labels them crazy if they stay with an abusive partner (Unger & Crawford, 1992).

Psychologist, Paula J. Caplan, (1992) says the sexism of mental health professionals results in oversights, inadequate treatment, mistreatment and harm, disproportionately to women, but sometimes also to men. Caplan (1992) says that other biases also profoundly twist and skew the diagnostic process, such as, racism, homophobia, ageism, and classism. Caplan (1992) was watching while the debate ensued about the misogynistic proposal for including SDPD in the DSM. Despite changing the original title, “masochistic personality disorder,” the criteria and their implications were the same for women. The criteria included putting other people’s needs before your own, not being appreciated even though they really are, and settling for less when they could have more (Caplan, 1992).

Caplan (1992) posits that the diagnosis applies to what she calls the , “good wife syndrome” (Caplan, 1992, p. 74). Women are socialized to place the needs of others before their own (which is referred to as being unselfish) and to settle for less when they could have more. Caplan (1992) argues that a person with low self-esteem doesn’t realize they could do better. It’s well documented that women’s traditional work that revolves around children and housework, isn’t appreciated. After a women conscientiously learns her culturally prescribed role, she’s then subject to being labeled psychiatrically disordered (Caplan, 1992).

The diagnosis is a description of a typical psychologically or physically abused women. These women endure the destruction of their self esteem by the abuse, and then they try even harder to be “good women” by becoming more self-denying, giving and undemanding in the attempt to stop the abuse. Using the label SDPD, “is a pernicious form of victim-blaming” (Caplan, 1992, p. 74). In spite of the DSM’s caution about not applying SDPD when abuse is involved, it’s well documented that therapists rarely ask about abuse and when they do, clients are reluctant to discuss it due to fear and shame (Caplan, 1992).

SDPD is dangerous because it leads therapist and clients to believe that the problem stems from the woman’s pathological need to be abused and unappreciated – the problem comes from within the woman herself. In the process of writing her book, The Myth of Women’s Masochism (1987), Caplan (1992) heard from hundreds of women who had been in years of traditional therapy and were regularly told by their therapists that they brought on their problems. She offers an example dialogue between a typical client and therapist, “But Fred was wonderful … when we were dating. It wasn’t until our wedding night that he started to beat me,” the therapist too often replies, “So consciously  you didn’t choose an abusive man. But your self-defeating motives are unconscious!” (Caplan, 1992, p. 75). Caplan (1992) believes that this “treatment”, (p. 75) is a major cause for depression in women because they’re given the unjustified message that they can’t escape the abuse because their sick unconscious motives will inevitably lead them to another abuser. What could be more depressing than this belief!

Proponents of SDPD’s inclusion in the DSM revision have said themselves that clients with a diagnosis of SDPD have “negative therapeutic responses” (Caplan, 1992, p. 75), that therapy makes them worse. Caplan (1992) compares this to treating a broken leg treated by placing a cast on your arm – your leg gets worse. Not only does the belief in SDPD among therapists not help clients, it actually make them worse. Caplan (1992) wonders why insurance companies don’t resist SDPD because most nice women and virtually all battered women could be diagnosed with SDPD.

Caplan (1992) says SDPD shares an amazing aspect  with Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Neither have corresponding equivocal diagnosis for men. There’s no DSM category for extreme forms of male socialization, such as, “Macho Personality Disorder” or an equivalent to PMS such as, “Testosterone-Based Aggressive Disorder” (Caplan, 1992, p. 76). Unger and Crawford (1992) suggests that if we twist the SDPD to make it fit males, it would be called, “Delusional Dominating Personality Disorder,” describing the pathological social norm of the “real man” (Unger & Crawford 1992, p.569).

Work Cited

Caplan, Paula J. (1992). Gender Issues in the Diagnosis of Mental Disorder.  In Women & Therapy. Vol 12, (4).

First, Michael B., (Ed). (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (Fourth Edition). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, pp. 629-634.

Skodol, Andrew E., Oldham, John M., Gallaher, Peggy E., & Bezirganian, Sophia. (1994). Validity of Self-Defeating Personality Disorder. In American Journal of Psychiatry, 151: pp. 560-567.

Spitzer, Robert L., Williams, Janet B. W., Kass, Frederic., Davies, Mark. (1989). National Field Trial of the DSM-III-R Criteria for  Self-Defeating Personality Disorder. In American Journal of Psychiatry. 146:12, December, pp. 1561-1567.

Unger, Rhoda and Crawford, Mary. (1992). Women and Gender: A Feminist Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Williams, Janet B. W., (Ed). (1987). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (Third Edition-Revised). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, pp. 367-374.

Feminist “Scores” …

Feminist Scores:” Their Impact on Psychological Testing

By Patricia J. Anderson

Psychological Assessment I (LAP 501), Spring 1997, Dr. Karen Jaffe

After testing nine thousand three hundred thirty seven people in his Anthropometric Laboratory in eighteen eighty four, Sir Frances Galton summarized his findings this way, “women tend in all their capacities to be inferior to men” (Lewin & Wild 1991, p. 582). Over a hundred years later, this erroneous type of belief still lies deeply internalized within the minds of many men and women.

In their essay, Miriam Lewin and Cheryl Ward include the findings of women psychologists whose findings dispute those of Galton. In eighteen ninety five, Mary Whiton Calkins and her student Cordelia Nevers repeated work done by Joseph Jastrow (a follower of Galton) on the “mental traits of sex” (Lewin & Ward 1991, p. 582). Calkins and Nevers results did not demonstrate female inferiority (Lewin & Ward 582).


Helen Thompson Woolley argued against the popular views of Darwin and Galton in her book, The Mental Traits of Sex (1903). A psychology student of Woolley, Leta Stetter Hollingworth also challenged male theories about women’s biological inferiority.

During the nineteen twenties work by Beth Wellman, Marie Skodak and Harold Skeels on intelligence testing had a vital impact by demonstrating the profound effect of social environment on supposedly static intelligence traits. Their work has been crucial to debunking sexist and racist thinking within psychological testing (Lewin & Ward 582).

Rhoda Unger and Mary Crawford (1992) also discuss Galton’s work. Galton measured things like reaction time, grip strength and height because he thought these were innate and were a mirror to intelligence (76). The only people who questioned Galton’s theories were women, but because of their perceived inferior status, were not heard when they posited that opportunity and life experience were involved in intelligence (Unger & Crawford 76). Despite future testing that revealed no differences in variability, brain structures or intelligence between the sexes, the belief in women’s inferiority lives on to this day (Unger & Crawford 76). From the vantage point of today, it’s relatively easy to see how racism and sexism among past researchers might have led them to find justification for labeling women and people of color inferior (Unger & Crawford 77).

Despite the not doubt hard work of these aforementioned feminists, I have not found their names cited in any of the numerous books on psychological testing that I have been reading. The textbook for this class Psychological Testing (1997) makes no mention of these early feminists work that challenged Sir Frances Galton’s findings. Unless these harmful and erroneous findings are actively challenged traditional assumptions of female inferiority are left to linger in our brains. If the works of these women were included in psychology programs, along with the history of men like Galton, today’s students would be much more enlightened about the issues of sex differences and testing. Teacher comment: These sex differences are not mentioned in our textbook.

Lewin and Ward have provided an update on the progress, or lack there of, that has resulted since the recent inclusion of women’s voices in the field of psychological testing. They specifically discuss the Strong Campbell Interest Inventory and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI).

There are many reasons why feminists have criticized psychological tests. One is that some measures discriminate against females. Some measures address things from the perspective of typical males in stereotypical male settings. Secondly, feminists have found that assumptions have been made (without adequate evidence) that women as a group have less of a particular characteristic if their scores were lower than men’s.  Teacher comment:  Like what?   No one considers males as lacking in any way when they score less of a stereotypical female trait. A third reason for feminist criticism are traditional concepts about femininity and masculinity, masochism, violence and rape as variables (Lewin & Ward 582). If not for feminist inquiry, new concepts such as androgyny, sexual harassment, date rape, and the Rape Myth Acceptance Scale wouldn’t be in existence (Lewin & Ward 582-3). Fourth, feminists posit that operational definitions must be of concern if the originating conceptual definitions are questionable. They offer an example in which femininity was measured via a criterion group of thirteen gay males without first proving that gay males were validating examples of femininity. Lastly, feminists have thought that biases within tests and measures resulted in women being denied admission to schools, denied jobs, and were improperly diagnosed with mental illnesses, when their actual problems stemmed from oppressive environments (Lewin & Ward 583).

Women’s historical not measuring up to male standards on tests created by males, has been used to prove women’s lower status and to justify men’s higher status and power in society. Feminists refute the notion that the standards that we should all be directed to or measured against are those that come from dominant males. Some feminists would go so far as to say that “their way” held the possibility of being “… even better than, the stereotypical male way” (Lewin & Ward 1991, p. 583).

Lewin and Ward ask, “How can we approach truth”? (1991, p. 584). Surely truth cannot come only from male or female perspectives. Surely a combination that includes the experience and “knowing” of women can come closer to “truth” than historic masculinist models.

The most widely used psychological test is the MMPI. It’s most extensive revision the MMPI-2, was put out in nineteen ninety. Scale 5, Mf (masculine-femininity) was validated for femininity in nineteen fifty six by a criterion group of thirteen gay males. Original descriptions of the scale clearly attest to the fact that their attempt to measure “sexual inversion” was a failure (Lewin & Ward 1991, p. 585). However, this fact was less prominent in test manuals (Lewin & Ward 585).

Feminists had minimal success in effecting change within the MMPI. Only four of the sixty items on the Mf scale were deleted due to their offensive nature. New norm samples were drawn on the United States population to get new means, percentiles and scale score distributions. Despite these new means the basic Mf scale 5 was never validated by correlating to any type of criteria (Lewin & Ward 585). Among revisions made on the F scale of the MMPI, one was done because of sexist language (Rothke, et al 1994).

The new MMPI-2 now includes scales that can be used for both sexes; the Gm (masculine gender role scale) and the Gf (feminine gender role scale) were taken from items on the old scale. These new scales include only items that seventy percent of one sex respondents label true and no more than sixty percent of the other sex respondents agree. Items are scored for extremes only. Lewin and Ward give the example of how the question, “I like to read mechanics magazines” is scored: Because men split about half in agreeing with this item, men will get no point no matter how they answer this question; when a female answers false to this question gets point in favor of femininity due to the fact that seventy percent or more of women in the sample answered false (585-586). The authors rightfully question whether we can gauge femininity and masculinity in this manner (Lewin & Ward 586). Also couldn’t one be feminine and like to read mechanics magazines? Couldn’t a man be masculine without enjoying mechanics magazines? These measures serve to trivialize the meaning of both genders.

Face validity is also questionable as far as the meaning of the concepts rated. Women get positive femininity on items such as, “I like to talk about sex”, “I am worried about sex” when they answer false to these questions; males gets points for answering true to these. What do these concepts mean (Lewin & Ward 586)? Could it not be that men and women like to talk about and worry about sex?

Lewin and Ward call into question the manual’s explanation of characteristics used to gauge femininity and masculinity. The manual claims that males scoring highly feminine are likely to be sensitive, aesthetic, passive and may even have a low heterosexual drive in contrast to males who score low and are deemed to be aggressive, crude adventurous, reckless with narrow interests – no evidence is offered to substantiate these claims about these traits. Despite the fact that the authors of the MMPI-2 have admitted that the Mf scale is ambiguous, people who use the test may not know this (Lewin & Ward 586).

This leaves feminists to ask whether this test ought to be used to screen people looking for jobs. Employer bias could occur in either direction. Masculine men may be thought unlikely to be happy in a creative type job and a woman who scores high on femininity may be questioned as far as her ability to fire someone if she were in management. There is a class action suit pending in California against a department store that used the old MMPI as a hiring tool (Lewin & Ward 587).

The Mf (MMPI) scale isn’t a valid measure of sexual preference or of how masculine or feminine a person is. The fact that femininity was measured against responses from gay males speaks for itself (Lewin & Ward 587). The fact that test creators would even consider using gay men to measure women demonstrates the extent to which men are consistently used to develop “norms” that women are expected to measure up. The criterion also wrongly assumes that gay men are feminine.

According to Friedman, expert on the MMPI, Scale 5 (masculinity-femininity) of the MMPI-2 was originally used to detect homosexuality. Today it’s used to measure interest patterns (Friedman 1997). Friedman says that low scores on this scale reflect the fear of being cared for and the missing joy of being card for (1997). He used a fellow author and friend to demonstrate how a male can be married with kids, but also love fashion and shopping (Friedman 1997). Clearly his description of the Mf scale does represent evidence of feminist influence. His description gave me hope that, at least within psychology, stereotypical attitudes about gender are being challenged.

Friedman (1997) also says that the MMPI can detect men who would commit date rape. As a feminist, I immediately ask myself why the test hasn’t been used to weed out potential rapists? What use of testing could be more important than the protecting women from harm? If the test can detect date rapists, then the test could also be used to detect therapists who would take advantage of their clients by having sex with them. Since rape is about control and power, not sex, therapists in essence do rape clients when they have sex with them. Why isn’t this test being used to prevent harm? Teacher comment: Individual rights are protected on both sides.

One of the major causes cited for malpractice claims against therapists is sexual misconduct. Occurrence rates for sexual intimacies and harassment inflicted by therapists are shocking and have been increasing (Corey 1996, 74). Corey credits better reporting procedures and increased public awareness with these increases (1996). With shocking rates of sex occurring between therapists and clients wouldn’t it make sense to use a psychological test that could weed out potential client abusers?

Feminists have yet to make a dent in the way people are assessed for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not a single study used women to develop the measures. Women rape or incest victims, or army nurses could have been used in the seventeen studies done with male combat veterans and prisoners of war (Lewin & Ward 587).

Lewin and Ward also talk about the Strong Campbell Interest Inventory as an example of where feminist critique has had a positive result. Here feminists asked whether women should be judged by what a typical male feels about his occupation. After studying sex bias in the inventory, the American Measurement and Evaluation in Guidance Commission found that the fourth edition had been much improved. The fourth edition was found to have only five out of two hundred and seven occupations lacking in samples taken from men and women (Lewin & Ward 588).

The evolution of the Standards for Educational and psychological Testing is evidence of the inclusion of women. It’s nineteen eighty five revision says that there is a concern about the role of testing in the attainment of social goals. New developments such as, gender specificity, cultural bias, validity generalizations, interpretations done via computer and scores flagged for those with disabilities are some cautions that were brought out (Lewin & Ward 589). The previous nineteen seventy four standards didn’t address gender issues; the nineteen eighty five revision does address differences in gender, bias of certain items and differential predictive measures. The Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education (1988) agrees with the nineteen eighty five revision, along with all majors testing organizations in education (Lewin & Ward 589).

Women score lower on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than men, but these tests fall short of predicting how women will perform in college because women are known to get better grades in higher education (Unger & Crawford 87) . On the actual abilities gained from courses reflected on the tests girls continually attain higher grades (Unger & Crawford 93).  As a result of women’s lower test scores they loose out on many scholarships; more than seven hundred and fifty organizations award scholarships according to a test score. Women also loose when they are wrongfully denied inclusion in gifted programs. These concrete losses are compounded by the fact that lower test scores effect women’s sense of confidence about their ability to succeed in school (Unger & Crawford 87).

The Educational Testing Service mandated a sensitivity review process in nineteen eighty. Its effect resulted in changes in the SAT Verbal tests to a more balanced referencing of males and females. Items that were thought to be related to being male or female specifically were dropped from scoring (Lewin & Ward 590-591). There has also been an increase in the number of women on test committees. In nineteen seventy-seventy one, there were only six percent women on the testing committee for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), compared to twenty nine percent in nineteen ninety-ninety one. Other programs demonstrate moves in the same direction (Lewin & Ward 591).

Unger and Crawford (1992) explain that it’s language that has described women and men as “opposite sexes” (67). The journal Psychological Abstracts reported 16,416 articles on sex differences between nineteen sixty seven and nineteen eighty five. They claim that the differences thought to be discovered between women and men are rarely related to biology. They refer to sex differences as carrier variables in personal history and experience. Thus feminist psychologists describe differences found as gender-related  (Unger & Crawford 1992 p. 67).

Feminist critique the very definition of gender-related differences, the problem of measuring them, and understanding the results due to issues of interpretation and values. Feminist researchers discovered that historically women’s unequal status was justified by differences documented as scientific facts. Finding new differences between the sexes neglects to explain the societal influences that led to the differences. Feminists argue that differences between women and men are far less actual commonalties (Unger & Crawford 67). The notion of statistical significance can be far removed from the practical meaning of the word significance. “… Statistical significance is not the same as importance” (Unger & Crawford 69).

Unger and Crawford use the image of looking through a microscope as way to explain how researchers perceive their hypothesis in terms of results. If the researcher gazes through the microscope and views what was expected the hypothesis is deemed correct. If the view down the microscope shaft is blurry or shows nothing, the methods are blamed, the procedures are tried again, instead of concluding that the hypothesis was wrong to begin with (Unger & Crawford 70).

Within studies of gender-related differences many times researchers have studied only one of the sexes and posited the results as difference between the sexes. Measuring only hormonal differences as they correlate with mood among women, and then saying that only females experience this phenomenon (Unger & Crawford 71). Feminists also question taking samples for many research studies from college students. These female and male students may have equal levels of formal education, but may differ greatly on the types of classes taken from the start of high school and will frequently be very different while in college. These differences may be crucial to women’s lives (Unger & Crawford 72).

My own experience serves to validate what Unger and Crawford have said. The Miller Analogies Test that had little face validity for me. I never had a college math, philosophy or literature course. I studied nursing, physical and social science and medical ethics. Despite the fact that I graduated with honors from my nursing associate degree program, held a 4.0 GPA (four point scale) in the rest of my baccalaureate studies, and had already obtained A’s on five graduate courses at DePaul University, I failed this test. Out of one hundred questions, I got twenty eight correct, placing my score within the twenty fifth to thirtieth percentile. I can now see that the courses I chose to study did indeed explain why its face validity prepared me for failing. Thanks only to my feminist education and due to the last ten years of excellence in undergraduate and graduate school, my self confidence was not affected by this apparent failure.

My experience validates the claim of Unger and Crawford that, “A valid psychology of gender difference must account for how individual experiences and situational variables interact with sex (Unger & Crawford 74). Even new sophisticated techniques of meta-analysis do not lead us to any conclusions about the causes of differences historically found in published studies (Unger & Crawford 75). Traits usually connected with people of color and women, when compared to those of the “reference group,” are less affirming and desirable. “… Separate but equal …” stratifications remains illusive (Unger & Crawford 77).

Most psychological research measures behaviors outside of their social environment, which feminists question as far as then extrapolating real world validity; taken out of context, objectivity faces a mirage (Unger & Crawford 98). According to testing specialist, Phyllis Teitelbaum, standardized tests are androcentric in their epistemology in that they fail to measure skills such as creativity, intuition, verbal and non-verbal communication, cooperatives, sensitivity and supportiveness, all of which reinforce the androcentric model’s values and way of seeing the world. When something’s not tested it’s less valued than items included on tests (Unger & Crawford 98).

Because of feminist inquiry some psychological tests have been revised for the better. Sexism is more likely to be challenged today because of the work of feminists, despite the failure to promote change on the MMPI-2 Mf scale. The field of psychology and testing will evolve slowly along with the increasing presence of women in the field (Lewin & Ward 593).

Work Cited

Anastasi, Anne., and Urbina, Susana. (1997). Psychological Testing. Prentice Hall: New Jersey.

Corey, Gerald. (1996). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Fifth Edition. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company: New York.

Friedman, Alan. (1997). Lecture on the MMPI Test. National-Louis University, Wheeling Campus. May 5.

Lewin, Miriam., and Wild L. Cheryl. (1991). “The Impact of the Feminist Critique on Tests, Assessment, and        Methodology.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, (pp. 581-596).

Rothke, Steven E., Friedman, Alan F., Dahlsrom, W. Grant., Greene, Roger L., Arredondo, Rudy., and Mann, Anne Whiddon. (1994). “MMPI-2 Normative Data for the F-K Index: Implications for Clinical Neuropsychological, and Forensic Practice.” Assessment. vol 1, number 1, pp. 1-15.

Unger, Rhoda., Crawford, Mary. (1992). Women and Gender: A Feminist Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Feminist Therapy: Valuing Women

Feminist Therapy: Valuing Women

By Patricia J. Anderson

Frida Kerner Furman, MALS 477, Feminist Ethics, March 14, 1996


My interest in feminist therapy stems out of my own difficult experience with non-feminist therapy. Like many women, I have gone into therapy at various times in my life, basically wondering, What’s wrong with me? Why was I so unhappy? Why was I so sad, incompetent, and worthless? I was sure that the inner inferiority and confusion was within me, that it was my fault.

I will illustrate how “traditional and/or family values” have actually had a part in causing women’s mental health problems. I will tease through feminist therapy ideas, principles, disorders common to women, and women’s diversity to illuminate the feminist values that inform this field that offers real promise to women’s mental health.

Feminist Therapy, Do We Really Need It?

A personal friend’s experience with therapy provides an insightful example of the need for feminist therapy. She sought therapy to help her get away from an abusive husband. She began to tell me some of the therapist’s responses to her explanations of the type of abuses her husband inflicted upon her. It became clear to me that this therapy was never going to help her to gain the psychological strength she needed to escape.

Examples of the therapist’s responses to her depictions of the physical and psychological abuse were: Maybe you should stay home on Saturdays and do housework; Do you really have to go to the movies with your girlfriends?; Have you really tried to cook the foods that he likes?; Maybe it’s a good idea to let him handle your paychecks, maybe he’s better with money?

It took months to convince my friend that this therapist was not only not helping her, but was functioning to maintain the abusive relationship. The therapist was blaming her for the abuse, trying to get her to conform to the passive, obedient feminine role that would support her husband’s dictates! The solution was simply for her to follow the prescribed feminine role and her marriage would be alright. It was assumed that the problem stemmed from inside her, her patriarchal disobedience was in need of fixing!

Rather than empowering her to act in defense of her self, the therapist reinforced her internalized inferiority. My friend’s experience with psychotherapy is not an isolated one. Many women have had similar experiences, although perhaps not as obvious and easy to articulate. Therapy’s perpetuation of oppression can be as subtle and invisible as it sometimes is in society, especially when combined with the client’s emotional vulnerability.

Medicine and Morals

Kathryn Morgan describes women’s moral status as akin to a moral groupie, dependent upon males deemed capable of full moral integrity (149-150). The male moral model claims that “… women’s bodies are interpreted as capable of acting on the mind so as to occlude consciousness, thought, and moral feeling” (Morgan 150). If women lack societal power to live according to their own values, it serves to explain why women are so frequently unhappy.

According to Rhoda Unger and Mary Crawford, the male medical model sees “… a direct connection between the uterus and the mind” (572). Throughout history the uterus has been blamed for women’s so-called hysteria/insanity. The term most women are very familiar with, hysterectomy, refers to the removal of the uterus – the source of women’s insanity. Hysteria is used to label stereotypical behaviors of exaggerated femininity including: “… being demandingly childlike, overly dramatic, scatterbrained, and sexy, but frigid” and according to Rachel Mustin, may actually depict, “… a caricature of women”, not a mental illness (597).

Imagine an opposite affliction in males, “testeria.” Despite common accusations that men think with their penises, “We need never worry about disabling testeria in men” (Morgan 151). Sometimes turning things around can illuminate the preposterous nature of the masculinist arguments about women’s so-called “hysteria.” Can you imagine books titled, Men Who Love Too Much or Men Who Feel Guilty When They Say No?

The Genderization of Women’s Psychological Disorders

Many psychological disorders are actually exaggerations of masculinity and femininity. In our society characteristics that define femininity also define maladaptive behaviors. Thus the gendered societal norms that we have internalized are at the root of many of the psychological problems frequently seen in women.

Traditional therapists see the world through the same gender-colored lenses that the rest of society does. Women are diagnosed and treated by a system that places women’s psychological disorders within the individual women. However, many of women’s problems are the result of societal oppression.

The development of mental illness may be influenced by sex roles that demand that women repress negativity, strive to satisfy men, be passive, helpless and at times to even exaggerate their femininity (Mustin 595). Judith Rodin and Jeannette Ickovics say that a person whose social role lacks power and control is more likely to be victimized by violence, sexual discrimination and harassment (1018). It’s not healthy to be confined within a role prescribed by someone else, let alone some one else who seeks control.

Unger and Crawford describe the social constructionist view of mental illness which claims that psychological distress encompasses personal and social aspects (Unger & Crawford 569). Morgan recommends, “… a vigilant deconstructionist attention to sexist, racist, heterosexist and class presuppositions” (161) as one solution to women’s internalized “moral madness”. The personal is political definitely applies to women’s psychotherapy.

Women’s unequal status has robbed them of the power to define and even to name themselves. Men have held the power to name and/or diagnose the acceptability of women’s behaviors. “The power to name is also the power to control” (Unger & Crawford 569). “… Under some circumstances, simply being a woman is sufficient reason to be considered `mad'” (Unger & Crawford 571). Many disorders common to women come out of stereotypical roles expected of them, thus the naming and treatment of their disorders can’t be value-free (Unger & Crawford 571). Within this cultural power dynamic how could women’s therapy be therapeutic, let alone ethical?

Despite a lack of knowledge about women’s psychology, mental health services for women have flourished due to the pervasive nature of women’s unhappiness. Women’s responses to oppressive “… social, economic, ethical and legal conditions,” instrumental in causing women’s problems, are labeled pathological, and are thus subject to psychiatric intervention (Mustin 593).

Erickson explains women’s masochism in allowing their own exploitation by theorizing that women only find identity when they figure out who to marry (Mustin 594). Erickson’s theory is a patriarchal rationalization and justification for female exploitation. The notion of a woman’s self, found only in conjunction with a male, dependent upon exploitation for development is beyond unethical – it’s evil. Applying Nel Noddings’ theory of evil, this notion has caused women great psychic and physical pain and has separated women from their sense of self. And as a result of the internalization process, harmful ideologies become invisible, leaving women helpless in escaping their psychological grasp (91).

Typical Genderizations

Morgan quotes Andrea Canaan regarding intellectual growth and its connection with her womanly virtue of altruism, “The open heart and forgiving soul stifled my rightful indignation, gagged my rage, and forced my fear, my needs, my rage, my joys, my accomplishments, inward” (154).  Psychological disorders reflect gender roles. Women become depressed, anxious, passive and unassertive; their behaviors are viewed as mental health issues (Unger & Crawford 597). Men exhibit psychic disorders through acting out, which involves anti-social behaviors–toughness–and because they’re dealt with in the criminal justice system, aren’t seen as psychological disorders (Unger & Crawford 597-600). The fact that women take their psychic pain inward and seek mental health services makes it look like women have more mental disorders (Unger & Crawford 600).


Studies show that married women experience depression more than men and that husbands of housewives experience the least depression. Conflicting expectations between trying to care for children and maintaining a job plus the stress of multiple roles plays a part in the depression married women experience (Unger & Crawford 579). The Task Force on Women and Depression of the American Psychological Association found that women’s low social status, poverty, and sexual/physical abuse was depressing to women (Unger & Crawford 579). How … shocking!

The medical model posits a connection between women’s biology and depression. Three basic syndromes are blamed for women’s depression: Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), postpartum depression and menopausal syndrome. There are also three no’s that apply to these diagnoses: No symptoms or pattern of signs define them, there are no tests to prove their existence and there is no cure or effective treatment for them (Unger & Crawford 581). Contrary to the claims of medicine, studies have demonstrated that menopause is rarely a crisis to women (Mustin 596). And yet the pathologizing goes on.

Women’s cyclicity has not been valued. Biological connections with female emotionality is just another way to justify and rationalize women’s inferiority, lower status and vulnerability to psychological problems (Unger & Crawford 581-582). The knowledge of all this alone is depressing.

Healthy self-esteem protects people from depression and self-esteem reflects cultural values. Signs and symptoms of psychological disturbances are likely to occur when people are prevented from expressing behaviors that enhance their self-esteem (Unger & Crawford 579). Women are likely to experience poor self esteem because they’re not valued in society.

Anorexia and Bulimia

Unger and Crawford suggest that the pandemic nature of women’s “normative discontent” with their weight is inseparable from the fact that women are the major victims of anorexia and bulimia (585). The connection between this disorder and the societal mandate for thinness is obvious. Traditional mental health has no effective treatment to offer patients with these life threatening conditions (Unger & Crawford 588). The collective rejection of the perfect, skinny female body could prevent this disease but presents a monumental task.


Agoraphobia serves as a perfect example of a disease that is inseparable from notion of femininity gone too far – the phrase, “a woman’s place is in the home” fits this disease. Agoraphobia is usually seen in married women and means “fear of the marketplace.” Another name for it is “housewife’s disease.” The client fears leaving home or a safe place (Unger & Crawford 590). The severity of symptoms ranges from fearing elevators, crowds, expressways to fearing separation from home or trusted person (Unger & Crawford 590-591). Agoraphobia requires relationality. They’re passive, dependent on others for basic needs, and unable to make decisions. Husbands of agoraphobics report satisfaction with their marriages, perhaps due to the wife’s obvious femininity (Unger & Crawford 591).

Self-defeating Personality Disorder

Self-defeating personality disorder (a concept derived from psychoanalytic theory) serves as a label for women’s masochism exhibited by remaining in abusive situations. Victims of interpersonal violence have high rates of mental illness, yet a study of this diagnosis never asked the three hundred women about abuse (Unger & Crawford 593). Interestingly, when removed from abusive situations for six months, symptoms were diminished or disappeared altogether, thus arguing against a disorder of personality itself (Unger & Crawford 593).

This diagnosis is an example of a double bind that blames women if they fail to keep the family together, but labels them crazy if they don’t get out of abuse (Unger & Crawford 593). If we twist the diagnosis to fit males, a new diagnostic category  blooms into being: “Delusional Dominating Personality Disorder,” describing the pathological social norm of the “real man” (Unger & Crawford 569).

Traditional Therapy and The Male Medical Model

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R) classifies disorders of the American Psychological Association (1987). Judith Worell and Pam Remer assert that the DSM-III-R is an offshoot of the sexist medical model. It focuses on personal pathology, denying oppression and institutional stressors (153). Established norms come from healthy male models, making pathology itself genderized (Worell & Remer 156-8).

Over seventy percent of psychotropic medications are prescribed to women (Mustin 595; Rodin & Ickovics 1018), despite the fact that they were not included in most of the research done on these drugs. The disproportionate use of these drugs among women is linked to the fact that, instead of being viewed as a psychosocial issue, stress has been designated as a medical pathology (Rodin & Ickovics 1027).

Studies examining clinicians’ beliefs about normal and appropriate characteristics of men and women parallel the rest of society. Therapists don’t make distinctions between healthy adults and healthy males (Unger & Crawford 597). If male behavior is the norm – no wonder women seem crazy.

According to The President’s Commission on Mental Health (1978), providers and administrators of health care are mostly male, but most clients are women. There’s no reason to believe that these males have less oppressive attitudes toward women than any other male. Male therapists have encouraged women to accept and adjust to the unhealthy behaviors implicit in our societal roles; males frequently lack insight into women’s experience and reinforce the patriarchal power that brought women into therapy to begin with (Mustin 594).

Over the last forty years, psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theories have dominated psychotherapy that specify, “… women’s innate nature as passive, dependent, and morally inferior to men” (Mustin 594). Rarely even recognized by therapists is the injustice women face within the traditional family (Mustin 596). With a chauvinistic physician you risk your physical health; with a chauvinistic therapist you risk your sanity.

Psychodynamic therapy assumes problems are “all in the head” of the individual stemming from unconscious forces (Unger & Crawford 601). Androcentrism is more likely to view behaviors of women and minorities as disordered, thus traditional psychotherapy acts as a social control (Unger & Crawford 601, 602). Women are expected to the behave within male norms; when they deviate from these norms they’re labeled less than. Freud’s penis envy theory places a penis in a “better than” position with vagina and uterus (Worell & Remer 85).

Traditional therapy denies the oppressive social context of women’s problems, thus denying the lack of justice at the root of many woman’s problems. A misogynistic society guarantees large numbers of unhappy women for mental health professionals to treat (Unger & Crawford 602). The mental health system also stands to profit from its misogyny. If traditional therapy maintains women’s oppression while making a profit, how therapeutic might it be?

Feminist Therapy’s Values

Susan Sherwin posits that the basic criticism that feminist ethicists have with traditional biomedical ethics is that its discourse excludes people’s oppression, thus it’s unethical (54). Biomedical ethics addresses issues of importance to doctors and ignores problems of importance to women, minorities and other health professionals, despite the serious effect they have on patient care (Sherwin 4). The mental health system’s same lack of ethicality is compounded by the fact that the exclusion of women’s values and oppression has itself caused many of women’s mental health problems.

Inclusion of Diversity

Inclusion is a fundamental value for feminist therapy. Traditional therapy has not addressed the needs of the many diverse varieties of women. Psychological diagnosis and symptomology include assumptions about class, race, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation that are enmeshed in the labels attributed to people (Unger & Crawford 570).

African-American Women

Angela Neal and Midge Wilson discuss how Black women have not only been compared to the norms of healthy males, but to the beauty standards of white women. In therapy, Black women frequently need to deal with anger and resentment about an additional discrimination they face in their own community related to skin color and features. A light-skinned Black women may be concerned about her ancestral history and may feel guilty about privileges that she might enjoy because of her light complexion and Caucasoid features. A dark-skinned woman may feel unattractive and might resent Black men who prefer lighter skinned women (330). Therapy can help Black women to realize that images of white beauty are inappropriate and must be redefined within the Black community (Neal & Wilson 332). Therapy and social change must fit the context and needs of particular women’s experience.

Asian-American Women

Connie Chan says that Asian women have been viewed as sexual objects and prostitutes by American soldiers (34). Their portrayal in Western media as exotics has fostered the fantasy of Asian women as passive sex slaves and created a booming market for mail-order brides in America (Chan 34-35). Mail-order brides are prime targets for exploitation and abuse for several reasons: they come from desperate poverty, to a strange country with a new language and culture, to a husband of a different race and nationality who has enormous power over them (Chan 35).

Asian-American women seem quiet, submissive, unlikely to be rejecting, and invisible while at the same time alluring. Values developed from her Asian-American culture make it likely that women will be agreeable, gentle and will defer to the needs of others. Chan shares that in her practice with Asian-American women there is a conflict between their own values, and feeling unrespected and abused within the American system that values placing one’s own needs first (36). They frequently use denial to deal with uncomfortable feelings of objectification by men (Chan 36). After initially feeling vulnerable when they realize how they’re stereotyped, they experience ambivalence about the desire for invisibility and wanting attention for who they really are (Chan 36-37). Like most women, they blame themselves for their problems (Chan 37).

Hispanic-Latina Women

Lillian Comas-Diaz describes Marianismo as a concept taken from the Catholic church’s Virgin Mary that serves as an example of female superior spirituality that provides women with the strength to endure male abuse (43). This image forbids women to express interest in sex, even after marriage, but expects men to be interested in sex all the time (Comas-Diaz 43-44).

Machismo is about male virility, male as provider and protector of female relatives from other men’s advances. The extreme form of machismo includes alcoholism and physical abuse. Hembrismo, a sort of revenge to machismo, is an image of female strength similar to feminists (Comas-Diaz 44). In Puerto Rican culture Hembrismo women use their power in a spiritual sense which might be compared to the superwoman image in America (Comas-Diaz 45).

Acculturation issues sometimes mandate role reversal. The fact that female immigrants find work easier than men in America has led some Chicana women to reinforce machismo in their mate as a means to soothe their lower status (Comas-Diaz 48-49).

Physical and psychological problems aren’t separated in Hispanic/Latino culture and it’s believed that strong emotions lead to physical illness. Somatization is not only an accepted way to express one’s needs, but is rewarded with support from the family (Comas-Diaz 51).


Laura Brown discussed three themes that explain the lesbian and gay identity: Biculturalism, marginality, and normative creativity (New Voices 452). The bicultural aspect allows lesbians and gays to incorporate the ambiguous nature of more than one cultural identity at the same time (Brown, New Voices 452). “The experience of having both self and other within one’s identity development creates a singular and potentially powerful heuristic model for self-understanding” (Brown, New Voices, 450).I would go beyond biculturalism to multiculturalism. Being a lesbian or gay man adds another separate cultural layer of identity, in addition to being Black or white, Asian or Hispanic, Jewish or Hindu. There are Jewish Black lesbians.

Another layer of identity involved in lesbianism is the butch\fem\androgyny concept. This involves women developing various degrees of stereotypical masculinity, femininity or a combination of the two. There is much confusion and ambivalence within the lesbian community about this topic. Research is needed in this area of psychological development to help lesbians avoid mirroring the dominant culture’s harmful stereotypes.

Living along the margins, inside and outside of dominant culture, provides lesbians a view into both homosexual and heterosexual worlds (Brown, New Voices, 452). The feminist value of inclusion demands that we value lesbian identities that include multicultural visions of the world not available to heterosexuals.

Brown describes normative creativity as the ability to invent workable limits where there were none, and with make-shift tools (New Voices 453). Brown says that her experience with psychotherapy ethics sees “… ethical action as a continuous variable” and that “… having rules about what to do narrowed my thinking and excluded that which had never been considered, thus making it invisible” (New Voices 453). A great argument for a creative ethicality in feminist therapy in general.

In the context of large number of homosexuals who have received or are in therapy, Brown questions whether it’s due to pathology or whether it’s a health-seeking mechanism to deal with the societal ambiguity they live in (New Voices 456)?

Principles/Feminist Values in Therapy

Your therapist’s values CAN hurt you! Worell and Remer warn that, without conscious awareness, each therapist’s values will be communicated in therapy. They discuss three basic principles of feminist therapy: The personal is political, egalitarian relationships, and valuing the female perspective (Worell & Remer 91). Feminist values lie within their context.

The Personal is Political

This very basic feminist principle asserts that what happens to individuals also has political aspects and acknowledges that social experiences are at the core of women’s problems. This principle leads feminists to address three areas of therapy: Separating the external from the internal, reframing pathology, and initiating social change (Worell & Remer 92).

Therapy’s goal is to assist clients to externalize problems so that their societal core becomes visible. Clients can then choose whether or not they want to work on change, not only within themselves, but in their environment. Instead of looking for ways to cope with dysfunctional situations, therapists focus on the unhealthy situation (Worell & Remer 92). Thus women’s societal experience is valued.

Instead of blaming the client, therapists help clients to see their “pathology” as coping mechanisms to deal with numerous societal dysfunctions. This reframing would make symptoms of depression natural, “normal,” and even logical in the face of discrimination. This perceptual change has the power to remove the “crazy” label imposed upon the client’s self and can lead women to understand that nothing is wrong with them; Thus the fuel of empowerment to facilitate change is instilled (Worell & Remer 92).

Women aren’t only taught to express their anger, but to use it’s energy to effect change. The client is also held responsible for making changes (Worell & Remer 92). Feminist therapists also assist clients to become involved in social change within their communities. Social change becomes enmeshed in preventative mental health care for women (Worell & Remer 93).

The ultimate goal of women’s therapy is to help women to see and overcome* the ways in which they facilitate their own oppression and to help women to see their power (Unger & Crawford 602).

Egalitarian Relationships

The therapist/client relationship itself serves as a model of egalitarianism. Therapy’s use as social control is minimized, the therapist’s values are not imposed and the imbalance of power so often experienced by women is rejected. Rather than an expert\sick mode, therapy is a collaborative process that empowers the client by viewing her as expert on herself and her experience (Worell & Remer 94). This egalitarian process starts with the therapist sharing her values with clients, educating clients about feminist therapy itself, along with its goals, thus making the client an informed consumer (Worell & Remer 95).

Self-disclosure is used to reveal common experiences, divert the focus from internal causes and reduce role distance and power (Worell & Remer 95). Self-involvement is a tool that allows the therapists to respond emotionally to the client, allowing the client to safely test how she is perceived. When feelings are mutually expressed, vulnerability is reduced and the therapeutic relationship models healthy communication along with acceptance of and the expression of anger (Worell & Remer 95). The traditional model of “the objective, emotionally- distant, expert-therapist” is replaced by feminist values of “… empathy, sharing of common experience, nurturance, and mutual respect (Worell & Remer 95-96).

Valuing the Women’s Perspective

By helping women connect with devalued parts of their self, feminist therapists help women to rethink weaknesses and negativity in terms of strength and positivity. Harmful double binds are pointed out so they can be disregarded (Worell & Remer 97). Women can be assisted to reject male definitions of femininity. Therapists help them to validate, value and trust their experience, offering the opportunity for self discovery and for the development of women-centered world views (Worell & Remer 97-98). Feminist values: Empathy, nurturance, cooperation, intuition, interdependence and relationship are priorities. Valuing the female self and female relationships can lead to self-nurturance, healing and social change (Worell & Remer 98).

Brown’s value system also includes self-care for the therapist (Ethical Issues 333). Feminist therapists need to be valued as much as their clients. Within small communities the number of feminist/lesbian therapists may be limited. As a leader in the community the therapist may feel obligated to always project an image of competence and complete mental health which may result in her personal feelings being ignored. A therapist whose role stress and self-care is ignored is more likely to slide down the ethical continuum toward problematic action (Brown, Ethical Issues 333). If you don’t take care of yourself you’re more likely to make “ethical errors.”

Ann Stanford eloquently synthesizes the work of three African-American fiction writers whose characters find healing outside of the medical/mental systems. Stanford’s synthesis artfully blends connections between personal health and societal illness, so that their inseparability is unquestionable. She argues that health professionals have not only overlooked social change as a therapeutic option, but their very treatments serve as a means of duplicating and perpetuating oppression (Stanford 30). The African-American women authors refuse to name the illnesses of their characters, illustrating that without medical labels illnesses “… are out of medicine’s reach” (Stanford 31). She refers to a poignant metaphoric phrase taken from one of the novels, “… the `poison of reality,'” spreading like gangrene through a woman’s body (Stanford 39). One might envision oppressive ideologies causing psychological gangrene that destroys parts of a woman’s self.


Unless therapy comes out of women’s experience it harms women and as a result is unethical. For women’s therapy to be truly therapeutic it must deconstruct the social context and so-called symptomology attributed to their so-called madness. Women themselves must create a feminist paradigm of therapy that comes out of lived experience. We must de-internalize patriarchy’s notions of who we are. Within a racist and sexist society, “… the community is both the disease and the cure” (Stanford 34).

I think feminism itself is therapeutic, simply sharing feminist values among women offers the potential to heal societal wounds. Any therapeutic environment must honor women’s experience, diversity, and values. It needs to address the unjust and oppressive environment women live in and must emphatically reject blaming women for their situations. Feminist therapy teaches women they’re not crazy, that the craziness lies in the ill society. Internalized “norms” that have actually caused women’s disproportionate unhappiness must be revealed and rejected. Feminist values themselves contain the power to heal societal wounds and ills. If women lived in a society that valued and really loved them, most women wouldn’t need therapy.

One last thought. If one believes that the mind, body and spirit are inseparable, it would make sense that if we improve women’s psychological health we stand a good chance of also improving their physical health. If you feel good about yourself, odds are you’ll be less likely to become physically ill. I think feminist therapy has the potential to also enhance women’s physical health and well being. A loved self and valued body is less vulnerable to stress and illness.

Teacher comments:  This particular stance might be arguable. More convincing would be to say that standard therapy harms women and it is unethical.

Works Cited

Brown, Laura S. “Ethical Issues in Feminist Therapy: Selected Topics.”  Psychology of Women Quarterly 15 (June 1991):  323-336.

___.  “New Voices, New Visions: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Paradigm for Psychology.”  Psychology of Women Quarterly 13 (1989): 445-458.

Chan, Connie S. “Asian-American Women: Psychological Responses to Sexual Exploitation and Cultural Stereotypes.” Women and Therapy 6 (1987): 33-38.

Comas-Diaz, Lillian. “Feminist Therapy with Hispanic/Latina Women: Myth or Reality?” Women and Therapy 6 (1987): 39-61.

Morgan, Kathryn Pauly. “Women and Moral Madness.”  Feminist Perspectives  Eds. Lorraine Code et al. (n.d.): 146-167.

Mustin, Rachel Hare T.  “An Appraisal of the Relationship Between Women  and Psychotherapy: 80 Years After the Case of Dora.” American Psychologist (May 1983): 593-601.

Neal, Angela M., and Wilson, Midge L. “The Role of Skin Color and Features in the Black Community: Implications for Black Women and Therapy.”  Clinical Psychology Review 9 (1989): 323-333.

Noddings, Nel. Women and Evil. Los Angeles: U of California P, 1989.

Rodin, Judith, and Ickovics, Jeannette R. “Women’s Health: Review and Research Agenda as We Approach the 21st Century.” American Psychologist 45, no 9, (Sept 1990): 1018-34.

Sherwin, Susan. No Longer Patient: Feminist Ethics in Health Care. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1992.

Stanford, Ann Folwell. Mechanism of Disease: African-American Women Writers, Social Pathologies, and The Limits of Medicine. NWSA Journal 6, no 1, (Spring 1994): 28-47.

Unger, Rhoda, and Crawford, Mary. Women and Gender: A Feminist Psychology.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992.

Worell, Judith, and Remer, Pam. Feminist Perspectives in Therapy: An Empowerment Model for Women. New York: Wiley, 1992.


Brown, Laura S.  “Ethical Issues in Feminist Therapy: Selected Topics.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 15 (June 1991): 323-336.

___.  “New Voices, New Visions: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Paradigm for Psychology.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 13 (1989): 445-458.

Chan Connie S. “Asian-American Women: Psychological Responses to Sexual Exploitation and Cultural Stereotypes.”  Women and Therapy 6 (1987): 33-38.

Comas-Diaz, Lillian. “Feminist Therapy with Hispanic/Latina Women: Myth or Reality?” Women and Therapy 6 (1987): 39-61.

Enns, Carolyn. and Hackett, Gail. “Comparison of Feminist and Nonfeminist Women’s Reactions to Variants of Nonsexist and Feminist Counseling”.  Journal of Counseling Psychology 37, no 1, (Jan 1990): 33-40.

Enns, Carolyn., Hacket, Gail., and Zetzer, Heidi. “Reactions of Women to Nonsexist and Feminist Counseling: Effects of Counselor Orientation and Mode of Information Delivery.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 39, no 3 (July 1992): 321-330.

Gilbert, Lucia Albino, and Osipow, Samuel. “Feminist Contributions to Counseling Psychology.”      Psychology of Women Quarterly 15, 1991: 537-547.

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The Cosmetic Industry

The Cosmetic Industry: The Externalization of Women’s Identity

By Patricia J. Anderson

Dr. Midge Wilson, Advanced Psychology of Women, 561

De Paul University, Chicago, Illinois, November 15, 1995


Personal experience with the use of cosmetics led me to look at how the cosmetic industry got started and how it “hooked” women psychologically into believing that artificial beauty was a requirement of femininity. Patriarchal images of beauty have gone far beyond “powdered noses”. Beauty that was initially obtained through make up and hair care products led to surgical procedures like face lifts and breast augmentation. While cosmetic surgeon’s knives carve into a women’s physical body, the scars are actually inflicted much deeper, into a women’s core – her sense of self. For this reason, I also look at the “choice” involved in cosmetic surgery through a feminist ethical lens.


My reason for doing research on make up and cosmetic surgery was very personal. I started wearing make up around age thirteen, in response to peer pressure from my friend Iris. She applied mascara to my reddish-blonde lashes and eye brow pencil to my also light brows. What a drastic difference it made! For years I had lived with barely visible lashes and brows – how had I survived without make up? I was hooked. I could never again go back to being plain and colorless.

My dad’s initial response to seeing me with make up on was quite emphatic, “No daughter of mine is gonna wear that crap on her face! Go wash it off!” But dad wasn’t in charge of make up – it was mom’s thing and mom said okay.

A few months later I came to the breakfast table without make up on. Dad immediately threw up his hands covering his eyes (to shield himself from my ugliness) and said, “Jesus Christ, redhead go and put your make up on”! Dad was kidding, right? He WAS a kidder. I’ll never know.

At thirteen my beauty ego was very fragile, girls at this age are very influenced by what their fathers think of them. I was shattered! I really believed I was ugly without make up on. Despite the fact that my feminist consciousness was raised a long time ago and the fact that I’ve never had a lover express any negativity about my appearance without make up, I still rarely leave the house without make up.

                 Creating a Market for Make Up

According to Kathy Peiss (1994),Victorian times viewed women’s make up as illegitimate and unrespectable. Many women had refrained from wearing make up due to, religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and cost. Most working class women who wore make up were prostitutes, so respectability was an issue. A boundary had existed between respectability and promiscuity, gentility and vulgarity – paint marked that boundary (Peiss 1994).

Things changed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, American women started wearing face powder, rouge, lipstick and other visible cosmetics – make up turned into an essential sign of femininity (Peiss 1994). Naomi Wolf (1991) says that since the industrial revolution, women’s “beauty” was used as a form of currency among men. Ideas about beauty and money became parallel economically (Wolf 1991). Capitalism set out to redefine a woman’s everyday needs; cosmetics became enmeshed within the mass consumer industry. The challenge was to define women’s external appearance and then make their cosmetics compelling to women (Peiss 1994). They did.

              Making Beauty a Necessity

Women’s faces started to look different in the culture’s mirrors: motion pictures, women’s periodicals and advertising, store windows, fashion runways and department stores. National advertising in women’s magazines became a dominant force by the early nineteen twenties. Advertising stressed the safety and cleanliness of the products and even claimed product’s invisibility, guaranteeing women that they wouldn’t appear immoral or painted (Peiss 1994).

Egalitarian marketing techniques were employed. High priced items were marketed in exclusive salons aimed at wealthy customers; lower priced products were marketed to teenagers and working class women in drugstores and discount beauty outlets. There were also specific ethnic markets that targeted African American, Hispanic, Asian and other women of color (Peiss 1994).

To women who had devoted themselves to their families the message made beauty an irresistible duty. One cosmologist said, “Don’t be ashamed of your desire for beauty” (Peiss 1994, p. 375). The logic of the popular idea that everyone could be beautiful led to the assertion that all women should be beautiful–it was a duty to husband, children, necessary for business success and vital to the attainment of romance. If you weren’t beautiful, you had yourself to blame (Peiss 1994).

The relationship between femininity and appearance was reshaped by a beauty industry that promoted the externalization of the gendered self to be achieved cosmetically (Peiss 1994). The multi-billion dollar industry convinced women using deeply imbedded feelings of fear, anxiety and self-hatred to seek “hope in a jar” (Peiss 1994, p. 391).

           Cosmetics and African American Women

African American women’s lower economic status limited their ability to buy cosmetics. However, growing racial segregation and the migration of Black middle class to the cities led entrepreneurs to develop businesses marketed to Black consumers. One of the leading Black businesses pioneered with the development of beauty products for African American women (Peiss 1994).

Black women’s grooming centered around hair care. Entrepreneurs marketed hair tonics (straighteners for kinky hair) to Black women by way of almanacs and ad cards that used African American ministers and school teachers to promote the products (Peiss 1994).

Black women found good employment opportunities in a sex and race segregated market within the beauty culture. Here was a business that was in great demand, easy to learn and required little capital to get started. This resulted in the establishment of businesses in homes, small shops and door to door sales. High Brown face powder was sold door to door by an army of agents (Peiss 1994).

White racism in the beauty culture exploited issues like the natural inferiority of Blacks noting their unruly hair, promiscuity and sloppy dress and marketed toward the Black woman’s desire for respectability. There was controversy over the adaptation of white aesthetics, but the fact that products were marketed door to door among friends and neighbors fostered a web of support and assistance to Black woman’s culture (Peiss 1994).

             Female Development of a Remade Self

The hospital nursery sweeps an infant girl’s hair into a curl, by age one year her ears are pierced, by age two her nails are polished, she has ribbons in her hair, and ruffles on her skirts. Femininity becomes associated with beauty, beauty becomes a part of a girl’s self perception; pretty is the framework for her self image (Freedman 1990).

Rhoda Unger and Mary Crawford (1992) discuss the fact that much of girls play revolves around glamour. Make up is flavored like candy and geared to girls as young as three. Toy stores market numerous hair and nail products especially for little girls (Unger & Crawford 1992). The prettiest, most popular fashion doll, Barbie, even has her own make up. Cosmetic kits for the girls themselves, reassure parents that they are suitable for children as young as three and promise to help their daughters create dozens of fashion looks. After all, she’s only putting on the same disguise that mommy wears. Parents approve of her beautifying herself; she learns that her own face, though pretty, is inadequate, needing to be made lovelier–a double message fostering negative body image and self doubt (Freedman 1990). Girls learn that their faces and bodies are not good enough and need improvement (Unger & Crawford 1992). Girls are surrounded with constant subtle demands for beauty that become invisible once internalized. They believe that beauty is something they want – it’s a fun choice they make.

Beauty contestants can be very young. Freedman (1990) discusses the opinions of pediatrician Lee Salk about beauty contests for girls. Girls feel tremendous pressure to accept and identify with exaggerated images of beauty. When they realize that they lack the winning look, suffer deep feelings of inadequacy. Nearly half of twenty thousand teenage girls in a survey said they frequently felt ugly (Freedman 1990).

Compared to boys, twice as many teen girls want to change their appearance and a greater number of girls are unhappy with a part of their body. Girls think other girls are better looking than they are; boys think other boys are less attractive than themselves. The smarter a boy is, the more satisfied he is with his looks; there is no similar correlation among girls (Freedman 1990). Freedman (1990) thinks that’s probably because the brighter a girl is the more she realizes “she can never attain the beauty ideal” (p. 390).

The socialization of girls teaches them to seek their identity through male attention. To obtain that attention they must conform to societal demands for beauty defined by white heterosexual males. Under these circumstances girls really don’t have a choice in seeking beauty. The connection between appearance and worthiness can be so deeply ingrained in puberty that a woman is insecure about her appearance (and herself) for the rest of her life (Freedman 1990). This is true of feminist women, as I serve to demonstrate.

Puberty is the time when differences in self esteem between the sexes starts to take place (Unger & Crawford 1992). The enactment of the beauty role is shaped by the way a girl’s father reinforces her appearance (Freedman 1990). I now understand why my dad’s behavior had such a powerful impact on my emerging sense of self.

Make up has become an essential prop necessary to the development of womanhood. Babysitting money is spent on mascara and bust developers (Freedman 1990). When I was eighteen I told my friends that I didn’t need much money while I lived at home – my only expenses were make up and hair spray! Little did I realize just how true and how sad that was.

A newspaper printed an ad to potential advertisers from a teen magazine: “Seventeen readers don’t love you and leave you. As adults 34% still rinse with the same mouthwash and 33% use the same nail polish. Talk to them in their teens and they’ll be customers for life” (Freedman 1990, p. 392). Cosmetic advertisers have been shown to affect the “conception of reality” of teen girls; a girl learns rather than to ask the mirror, “Who am I?” to ask, “What should I look like?”, illustrating a distorted identity that sees its goal as packaging the self as product (Freedman 1990, p. 392).

Susan Brownmiller (1984) said it well, “Cosmetics have been seen historically as proof of feminine vanity, yet they are proof, if anything, of feminine insecurity, an abiding belief that the face underneath is insufficient unto itself.” (Brownmiller 1984, p. 158-159).

Even cosmetic surgery is directed at young girls through advertisements in teen magazines. Parents pay for girls, not boys, to have plastic overhauls, provided by a medical system that reinforces myths about female beauty (Freedman 1990). Girls learn that their desirability is measured by their looks, and that they can never measure up, no matter how hard they try (Unger & Crawford 1992). These societal messages will keep cosmetic manufacturers and cosmetic surgeons in business.

Patriarchy profits financially and perpetuates its control of women through this psychological phenomenon. Women who are beautiful, don’t see themselves such, but their so-called success makes them vulnerable to exploitation – because of their beauty (Freedman 1990). Women really can’t win.

            Cosmetic Surgery: A View of the Knives

Morgan (1991) displayed a page of knives, scissors, needles, and sutures used in cosmetic surgery in her essay, “Women and the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Women’s Bodies”. She suggested that her readers look at them carefully, for a long time, and to imagine them cutting into your skin (Morgan 1991). I did.

As a nurse, my first glance simply revealed surgical instruments – no big deal. Then I looked at them with care, for a long time, and imagined them being used on me as the author suggested. When I looked through my feminist lens, I saw mutilating, controlling devices used by patriarchy to manipulate women, to make women fit the image of beauty defined by white men. I saw how far beyond powder the industry had come and how enormous the greed for profit and control had taken patriarchy.

The technological beauty imperative gives cosmetic surgeons the powerful and explicit mandate to explore, breakdown, and rearrange women’s bodies (Morgan 1991). Cosmetic surgery is an example of the medical system’s power to define, not only what is normal or pathological, but what is beautiful. No aspect of medical training certifies physicians to evaluate beauty. The message is: “The ideal woman is made, not born, with a little help from the surgeon’s scalpel” (Unger & Crawford 1992, p. 334).

Kathryn Morgan (1991) quotes a plastic surgeon (director of plastic surgery education at a university): ” … I think people who go for surgery are more aggressive, they are the doers of the world. It’s like make up. You see some women who might be greatly improved …, but they’re, I don’t know, granola-heads or something, and they just refuse.” (Morgan 1991, p. 26). Frightening, this man teaches future surgeons and no doubt perpetuates these attitudes.

Weight standards for attractive women have been reduced in our society (Unger & Crawford 1992). Even Barbie has gotten thinner than since her appearance in nineteen fifty nine (Unger & Crawford 1992; Freedman 1990). In such a society, puberty itself has negative consequences for girls whose normal development includes increases in fatty tissue. Girls are seen as lacking what’s defined as normal – boys lean bodies, also causing a girl to deviate from the “ideal” thin female image (Unger & Crawford 1992).

The most popular cosmetic surgery in nineteen ninety was lipo-suction. Fat cells are vacuumed from beneath the skin – never to return. Women risk their lives in surgical procedures that promise to make them fit the imposed image of a lean body. Lipo-suction has resulted in at least twelve deaths from hemorrhages or embolisms (Morgan 1991).

Facelifts (an umbrella term for several procedures) are recommended to women in their early forties with subsequent repeats every five to fifteen years, costing $2,500 to $10,500. Various styles of rhinoplasties (nosejobs) are available and styles go in and out of fashion from time to time. For $2,000 to $3,000 they will whittle down your nasal bone or add a piece of bone from another part of you body that will answer fashion’s call (Morgan 1991). In one study thirty percent of women said they would have a face-lift if they could afford it (Unger & Crawford 1992).

Dr. Robert Mendelsohn (1982) says women frequently ask him about getting plastic surgery, women he knows are looking to cure problems in their marriages that they attribute to their inability to qualify as a model for Vogue. He doesn’t encourage plastic surgery and thinks its use other than in correcting true traumatizing disfigurement, ” … is the biggest rip-off on the medical scene” (Mendelsohn 1982, p. 39). Mendelsohn (1982) mentions one female plastic surgeon who said that some of her peers act as if they’re hairdressers and “give the field a bad name” (Mendelsohn 1982, p. 39).

        Feminist Biomedical Ethical Perspectives

One of the reasons Morgan (1991) gives for writing about cosmetic surgery is that the field of bioethics has been relatively silent about the issues present in this area of medicine, feminist or otherwise. Morgan (1991) thinks that feminists need to ask why women would reduce themselves to potentialities to fit the heterosexual image, illustrated by an enormous and growing demand for cosmetic surgery. Women invest years of their savings to fix natural flaws through dangerous and painful operations to make their bodies fit images designated by fashion editors (Morgan 1991).

The relationship between the means and the ends is no longer unilinear, it has becomes circular, with the new technologies presenting the possibility of new ends. The possibility of what one might desire has new objectives added. Technology’s role has become to transcend, control, transform, exploit and destroy; its object viewed as inferior, thus justifying it’s higher purpose in providing a fix (Morgan 1991). This is congruent with what traditional bioethics has historically done – used rationalization to justify what doctors are already doing (Sherwin 1992).

We’ve become technological subject and object, transformable with the ability to literally create ourselves with biological engineering. Technology plays the role of transcendence, transformation, control, exploitation, or destruction of the object, viewed as inferior.  A higher purpose is served in perfecting the object because it’s harmful or evil. To the Western medical model the body is a machine whose parts can be replaced (Morgan 1991). One plastic surgeon clarifies his role, “Patients sometimes misunderstand the nature of cosmetic surgery. It’s not a short cut for diet and exercise. It’s a way to override the genetic code” (Morgan 1991, p. 31).

Most women are socialized to accept the knives of technology in Western societies. Knives can be used to heal: saving a the life of a baby’s in uterine distress, removing cancerous growths, straightening crooked spines, or giving back functioning to arthritic fingers. But other knives perform episiotomies and other types of genital mutilation, remove our deviant tendencies by cutting out our ovaries, unnecessarily amputate our breasts with prophylaxis used as justification or in cases where less drastic measures could have been employed, slice out uteruses of women beyond child bearing age or of those of undesirable color, and perform unnecessary cesarean sections so doctor’s time isn’t delayed by nature (Morgan 1991).

The skin is nature’s vital protective barrier that protects and contains our body’s integrity; any time skin is broken you are at risk. It should never be taken lightly (Morgan 1991). Morgan (1991) refers to the knives of cosmetic surgery as, magic knives, in a patriarchal white supremacist culture. I’m afraid of these knives that have historically illustrated great ease in penetrating and controlling women – beyond the skin.

After listening to the voices of women who underwent cosmetic surgery, Morgan (1991) gives examples and assessments of their various reasons: “I’ve gotten my breasts augmented. I can use it as a tax write-off” – professional advancement and economic benefit (33); “There will be a lot of new faces at the Brazilian Ball”, – class and status symbol (33); “If your parent had puffy eyelids and saggy jowls, your going to have puffy eyelids and saggy jowls”, – control, liberation from parents, avoid hereditary (33); “… we want a nose that makes a statement, with tip definition and strong bridge line”, – domination and strength (33); “A teacher who looks like an old bat or has a big nose will get a nickname”, – avoid cruelty and aging (33); “I’ll admit to a boob job” (Miss America 1986), – competitiveness, attain prestige and status (33); “People in business see something like this as showing an overall aggressiveness and go-forwardness the trend is to, you know, be all that you can be”, – success and personal fulfillment (33). Her list went on to include reasons such as: a gift to self, erasing a decade of hard work, economic gain, possible denial of grand motherhood, emotional control, and happiness (Morgan 1991).

Sixty to seventy percent of cosmetic surgery patients are female. Why, when the risks are so great, are women willing to sacrifice other parts of their lives to have reconstructed bodies? Risks that include: bleeding, infection, embolism, unsightly scars, skin loss, blindness, disability, pulmonary edema, facial nerve injury, and death. Despite these facts medical ethics doesn’t discuss these issues (Morgan 1991). As a feminist health professional, I feel that our silence on the issue makes us complicit in enlarging the scope of avenues to patriarchal power.

The extent that patients and cosmetic surgeons are committed is shocking to what Morgan (1991) sees as, “one of the deepest of original philosophical sins, the choice of the apparent over the real” (p. 28). Technologically created appearances are perceived as being real (Morgan 1991).

Morgan (1991) thinks we are technologizing women’s bodies in Western culture. Cosmetic surgery is moving out of the sleazy, suspicious, deviant or pathologically narcissistic, to the norm. With this shifting it may actually become deviant not to have cosmetic surgery. This changing societal perception has the potential to lead viewing those who don’t elect cosmetic surgery as deviant (Morgan 1991). Cosmetic surgery has gone far beyond the “duty” that make up became in the nineteen twenties. Morgan’s prophecy is not at all far fetched.

                        Silicone Breast Implants

Breast augmentation with silicone implantation is the second most frequently performed plastic surgery. Over one million women have had these implants, costing from $1,500 to $3,000 (Morgan 1991). “Jacobs (a plastic surgeon … ) constantly answers the call for cleavage. `Women need it for their holiday ball gowns'” (Morgan, 1991, p. 25).

Augmented women appear to have a higher incidence of breast cancer (Morgan 1991). To date there have been seventy two deaths and ninety one thousand injuries related to silicone implants (Winfrey 1995a).

Plastic surgeons and manufacturers rationalize that silicone breast implants are a matter of a woman’s free choice, after all it’s an “elective” procedure. However, women should think seriously about trusting physicians and manufacturers who not only stand to profit significantly by satisfying women’s “choices”, but who are the very same white males who dictate the patriarchal beauty images that women “choose” to comply with.

Oprah Winfrey (1995a) recently did a show on the controversy over breast silicone implants; she had Dow Corning’s Stephanie Burns, Manager of Women’s Health and FDA Issues and Dow’s chairman and CEO Richard Hazleton on the show. Audience members described symptoms they began to experience soon after receiving silicone breast implants: migraines, numbness in hands and fingers, terrible rashes on chest, axilla, and down their sides, rock hard breasts, and burning pain in the breasts and armpits (Winfrey 1995a).

Other than migraines, these signs directly relate to the areas of the body near the breasts. However, doctors told these women they didn’t know what caused their symptoms and mammograms failed to show abnormalities (Winfrey 1995a). Recent studies demonstrate that mammograms are very difficult to interpret because implants block X-rays by casting a shadow on surrounding tissue (Morgan 1991).

It’s now common knowledge that Dow Corning suppressed negative data about the safety of their silicone gel implants. Women who have received the implants say that they have led to the development of autoimmune diseases; diseases in which the bodies own cells attack itself. A disease that may very well correlate with the psychological phenomenon involved in the negative body image that led women to obtain implants. It’s almost as if the body was speaking out metaphorically through the development of autoimmune responses; the body’s way of expressing the evil it has experienced.

Audience members (Winfrey 1995a) knew their doctors thought they were crazy because they couldn’t find answers their symptoms; the women felt like they were loosing their minds. Miraculously, their symptoms went away when implants were removed. Some women who had had implants learned, after having other types of surgeries, that their surgeons found silicone gel on their livers, uteruses, and ovaries. Autopsies have revealed gel in the brains of implanted women (Winfrey 1995a).

Stephanie Burns (Winfrey 1995a) said that the implants can cause local complications: infection, capsule formation around the implant, hardening of the breast and rupture, and that when rupture outside of the capsule occurs, the gel can migrate. Burns (Winfrey 1995a) also admitted that when migration occurs the gel and implants must be removed. One woman showed the actual gel that had leaked out of her implant into her rib cage and lymph nodes. It was obvious that the sticky, stringy material would be difficult, if not impossible, to remove from the inside of the body (Winfrey 1995a).  Burns (Winfrey 1995a) said that eighteen studies have come to the same conclusion, there is no correlation between the implants and autoimmune or other diseases. Burns (Winfrey 1995a) said this despite the fact, (brought out by audience members), that the package insert actually LISTS scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis (autoimmune diseases) as possible side effects. Women in Winfrey’s (1995a) audience said that they didn’t see package inserts – the packages are opened in surgery and physicians have not shared the package inserts with them. I wonder if the physicians themselves read the inserts? My guess is that the good old boy network mentality could allow some doctors to simply trust the manufacturer.

Richard Hazleton said he doesn’t believe the implants are causing the women’s problems. Hazleton suggested that women needed to get beyond their anger and really need to understand the facts. He repeatedly referred to women’s choice in having the implants (Winfrey 1995a).

Many of the women said Dow did not follow ethical standards because women were not informed of the possible dangers. According to an audience member, the FDA said that it’s up to the company to prove that the implants were safe, not the responsibility of the medical community to prove that they’re not safe (Winfrey 1995a). I think both the manufacturer and the physicians are responsible. One woman in the audience said that “buyer beware” is not an acceptable practice (Winfrey 1995a). Both of Dow’s representatives kept citing the evidence from the studies that claim no correlation between the implants and any disease. A woman in the audience said, “We are the evidence. Study us!” (Winfrey 1995a). A great idea!

Historically women have been socialized to use beauty as a power (Morgan 1991). Morgan (1991) includes a quote from Mary Wollstonecraft from 1792, “Taught from infancy that beauty is a woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison” (p. 34). Morgan (1991) asks, whether women today are making free choices to have cosmetic surgery or are they too simply adorning their prisons?

        Psychological Aspects of the “Choice?”

An inexcusable tragedy is that women expect that the plastic surgery will fix their lives, not just change their features. They soon discover that even fixed, they’re not good enough and the same problems still exist. The psychological impact is likely to produce a even deeper depression than before the surgery when the subsequent disillusionment sets in (Mendelsohn 1982).

Women receive complex negative messages about their bodies and can lead to low self esteem and alienation from one’s physical and sexual self. These negative attitudes remain throughout a woman’s life and can result in constant worry over weight, looks and feeling unsatisfied with her physicality. Despite the fact that these negative body images are distorted one researcher claims that there is an “epidemic of `flesh loathing’ among women (Unger & Crawford 1992, p. 333). Cosmetic surgery is increasingly viewed as a cure for aging and body variance (Unger & Crawford 1992).

Beauty’s affirmation brings with it privileged heterosexual affiliation which includes forms of power not available to the plain, ugly, old or those unable to reproduce. Women who seek cosmetic surgery have compelling voices; their voices tell of their search for transcendence, achievement, liberation and power. The youth and beauty artificially created by the surgery doesn’t only appear to, but often actually does (emphasis added) give a woman a sense of identity that she, to some extent, had a choice in. By increasing her desirability to men (especially white men) it offers the possibility to raise her status socially and economically (Morgan 1991).

A woman’s beauty is a valued commodity. Beauty may be a kind of power for women, their looks can be used in exchange for financial and material gains. Further more, when males treat females well it validates her beauty and enhances her social standing (Unger & Crawford 1992).

In the commitment to pursue beauty, a woman integrates her life with a consistent set of values and choices, bringing with it societal approval which results in an increased sense of self esteem. The process of acquiring cosmetic surgery may expose a woman to people who treat her body in a caring way, something women frequently lack in their lives on a daily basis. The pursuit of beauty through transformation is frequently associated with experiences of self-creation, fulfillment, transcendence, and being cared for – powerful experiences. At the same time that beauty can confer an increase in self esteem to a woman, it also involves being entrapped by its interrelated contradictions (Morgan 1991).

According to cosmetic surgeons, women come to their offices demanding: “Bo Derek” breasts, nose reductions, frequently sought by Jewish women to obtain an Aryan look, Western eyes, sought by Asian women and light skin, through the use of toxic bleaching agents, sought by Black women. The goal isn’t simply beauty, but to mold oneself to fit racist, anti-Semitic, White, Anglo-Saxon, and Western images (Morgan 1991). For women, this molding is at the expense of her precious self.

Initially one might argue that it’s a choice, but Morgan (1991) argues what appears to be the result of reflection, deliberation and a self-creating choice signals conformity at a deeper level. The images of male identified beauty sometimes live as ghosts in the reflective awareness of women clothed in a diffuse manner. It’s not always obvious to women that their bodies are being viewed as raw material, primitive entities, seen only as potentials for exploitation by the colonizing culture (Morgan 1991).

Sometimes the culture’s power source is explicit, it’s brothers, fathers, male lovers, or cosmetic surgeons who offer free advice on how they can cure deformities and problems at women’s gatherings. Sometimes the diffuse power dominates a woman’s consciousness without an apparent outside source (Morgan 1991). That unapparent source is her own internalization of patriarchal values.

Women who are involved in self-surveillance behaviors, like fixing their make-up all the time, or monitoring everything they eat, are maintaining obedience to the patriarchal powers that be. The men that women transform themselves for are male-supremacist, heterosexist, ageist, ableist, racist, anti-Semitic and classist (Morgan 1991). Women don’t see this because their so-called decision comes out of internalized values that tell them they’re not pretty enough. The same self blame that occurred in the nineteen twenties in regard to the use of make up, happens to women today in regard to cosmetic surgery. The basic phenomenon is the same, the behavior that results from the internalization digs in deeper today.

Coercion and domination are frequently camouflaged by theories and rhetoric that appear benevolent, voluntary and therapeutic. Technology’s ideological manipulations serve to destroy and disadvantage aspects of women’s integrity. Rather than escaping the constraints of their given physicality they are becoming more vulnerable, in seeking independence they are actually more dependent on male assessment (Morgan 1991).

The woman who seeks cosmetic enhancement seems to fit the paradigm of making a rational choice, but she makes that choice at significant cost to herself in terms of lengthy post-operative pain and in terms of financial costs (health insurance doesn’t cover elective cosmetic surgery). The term elective has a seductive role in the ideological camouflage regarding apparent choice (Morgan 1991).

Loni Anderson discussed her cosmetic surgeries on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Loni admitted to having two breast reductions and having her eyes done. Winfrey (1995b) asked Loni, “You believe if you can do it – do it?” Loni answered, “I think it’s maintenance, it’s not changing, it’s maintenance” (Winfrey 1995b). Like car maintenance, if you don’t change the oil every three thousand miles you’re engine will be destroyed. What will happen to women’s identities if they don’t do maintenance? Maintenance is certainly a frighteningly harmless sounding description of what is increasingly becoming an expectation for women.

Morgan (1991) quotes an article marketed toward homemakers, “For many women, it’s no longer a question of whether to undergo plastic surgery—but what, when, by whom and how much” (28). Just as make up came to define femininity in the nineteen twenties, today’s cosmetic surgery is becoming necessary for “maintenance” of femininity.

As cosmetic surgery becomes more and more normalized in the media, women who refuse to submit will be viewed in one way or another as deviant. Their stigmas will include being viewed as unliberated, uncaring about their appearance, which is considered a disturbed gender identity by some health care professionals, and as refusing to be all they can be (Morgan 1991). Imagine an ad where therapists offer to help women to overcome their fear of cosmetic surgery: “Gentle, caring therapist will help you overcome you fear of plastic surgery. You just need a little help – we can help you to attain YOUR dream of ultimate beauty!”

“…  the technological imperative and the pathologic inversion of the normal are coercing more and more women to “choose” cosmetic surgery (Morgan 1991, p. 41). Normal variations in women’s bodies are redefined as deformities, ugly protrusions, inadequate breasts, unsightly fat areas, all designed to magnify feelings of shame, disgust and see relief in what cosmetic surgeons offer (Morgan 1991).

Although admittedly not likely to ever be achieved, Morgan (1991) says that women could collectively chose to exercise their power, and refuse cosmetic surgery. Refusal holds the possibility of drastically affecting the market, possibly leading surgeons back to healing (Morgan 1991).

Morgan (1991) suggests that feminists not turn away from women who chose cosmetic surgery, as this decision may be one of the only decisions that she perceives as having power over in her life. It is essential that we acknowledge the power of the gender-constituting, identity-confirming role femininity plays in bringing a woman into existence, while at the very same time makes her a patriarchal defined object. Under these circumstances, refusal may mean renouncing one of the only life-conferring choices a woman may have. While cosmetic surgeons are flooded with new clients and new research in the field is rapidly leading to more body parts becoming objects of redoing, it may be that the best we can hope for is to increase awareness of the numerous double-binds and compromises that affect all women’s lives (Morgan 1991).

In Conclusion

Morgan suggests that women could protest in a culturally liberated manner with events such as Ms. Ugly/America/Canada contests utilizing cosmetic surgery to attain the right look (Morgan 1991). If we cringe at the idea of women altering themselves to win a Ms. Ugly contest, Morgan (1991) says it may just make the point of how strongly the beauty imperative has us all hooked. One might think of these surgeries as mutilations, but Morgan (1991) says it’s just as mutilating to de-skin and alter healthy tissues to go with the flow of fashion.

A revolt Morgan (1991) suggests is to parallel the current market for breast implants with commercial protest booths (set up at health conventions and outside of cosmetic surgeons offices) with before and after photos of penises, the display signs might read, “The Penis You Were Always Meant to Have” (p. 46).

Perhaps feminists could also develop a continuum of handsomeness for males, similar to the one to ten model devised to judge female beauty. It might be fun for feminists and has the potential to even raise the consciousness of non-feminists. Women might be more inclined to see how ridiculous and damaging the beauty imperative is.

Cosmetic surgery’s language fits with the surreal images that women are expected to comply with. Another word for cosmetic surgery is plastic surgery, the word “plastic” is actually more descriptive of the image imposed. Even the word augmentation is revealing to one with a feminist consciousness. Wolf (1991) summed things up well, “The beauty myth generates low self esteem for women and high profits for corporations as a result” (p. 49). The cosmetic industry demonstrates how very personal the political/economical really is.

                                   Work Cited

Brownmiller, S. (1984). Femininity. New York: Linden Press/Simon Schuster.

Freedman, R. (1990). “Myth America grows up”. In Issues in feminism an introduction to women’s studies. (Ed) Sheila Ruth. Second Edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing, pp. 384-393.

Mendelsohn, R, M.D. (1982). Male practice: How doctors manipulate women. Chicago: Contemporary Books.

Morgan, K. Pauly. (1991, Fall). “Women and the knife: Cosmetic surgery and the colonization of women’s        bodies”  Hypatia. 6  (3), pp. 25-53.

Peiss, K. (1994). “Making faces: The cosmetic industry and the cultural construction of gender, 1890-1930”. In Unequal sisters. Second Edition. (Eds) Vicki L. Ruiz & Ellen Carol DuBois. New York: Routledge, pp. 372-394.

Sherwin, S. (1992). No longer patient feminist ethics and health care. Philadelphia: Temple    University Press.

Unger, R., & Crawford, M. (1992). Women and gender a feminist psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Winfrey, O. (1995a, October 13,). Topic: Controversy over silicone breast implants. On The Oprah Winfrey Show. The American Broadcasting Company, Channel 7. Chicago: Harpo Productions, Inc.

Winfrey, O. (1995b, November 9,). Topic: Loni Anderson speaks out about her divorce from Burt Reynolds. On The Oprah Winfrey Show. The American Broadcasting Company, Channel 7. Chicago: Harpo Productions, Inc.

Wolf, N. (1991). “Work”. The beauty myth: How images of beauty are used against women. New York: William Morrow & Company, pp. 20-57.

Media Violence: Teaching Our Daughters About Misogyny

Media Violence: Teaching Our Daughters About Misogyny

 DePaul University, Major Seminar, June 1991, Instructor Grave Levit

 The Problem

Whether in the form of television, popular music, movies, or  video games, one would have a hard time finding a young person today who has not functioned as a media consumer. The problem, is that the product delivered to these young consumers contains enormous amounts of violence – a disproportionate amount of that violence is directed against young women.

Among the worst of the misogynist media are the “slasher” or “slice and dice” films in which young women are victimized by a crazed male. Any teen can tell you that Freddy Krueger and Jason may be back. Even the popular prime-time soap, “Twin Peaks”, is about the torture-murder of a homecoming queen.

The real life statistics about the occurrence of violence against women are chilling, especially if put together with what we know about how children learn – they learn by observing models and can, with repeated exposure become desensitized to gore. I have no doubts that the violence against women in the media is interrelated with some of these statistics.

In 1988, the National Coalition on Television Violence reported that of the ninety-five most popular videos games, 83% contained violent themes. 1

The United States is known to have the highest rates for murder, rape, and wife and child abuse in the world! 2

An FBI study, revealed that 81% of 36 serial sex killers said pornography ranked highest among their sexual interests. 3

“Five years ago, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta declared interpersonal violence a major public health problem, comparing it to cancer and heart disease in potential years of life lost and costs to society”.  4

Estimates in the U.S., reveal that a woman is battered every 15 seconds; a rape takes place every 6 minutes. The largest cause of injury to women in the U.S. is battering. Four to six million women are abused in their homes every year by husbands or lovers. Twenty per cent of single offender rapes are committed by males under 21; 62% of multiple offender rapes are perpetrated by males under 21. 5

“One out of 4 women will be sexually assaulted on a college campus. (Only 1 out of 10 will report it). Their attackers will be fellow students 80% of the time”. 6


What effect has the violent misogynist media had on the girls in my daughter’s high school graduating class? How has their desensitization differed from the boys? Are they more likely to identify with same sex models, as my daughter hypothesizes? If so, how does that affect them?


I think that girls are deeply affected by this media; their desensitization is different than that of boys because they are portrayed as victims rather than aggressors. I imagine that, like their mothers, they suppress and deny the awareness – it’s too frightening to face. Women have developed denial as a coping mechanism in order to cope and function in their lives. (Similar to women who, in their thirties and forties, suddenly remembered being victims of incest).

                        The Literature in Review

Albert Bandura’s social learning theory postulates that we do not come into this world knowing how to be aggressive; we must be shown how to aggress upon others. 7  Tan (1981) further explains Bandura’s theory as our learning from direct experience, in addition to modeling or observation. He claims that Bandura’s theory works well when applied to media violence. The media can see to it that children learn all different types of violence.

Tan (1981) describes one of the earliest studies done by Bandura, et al, where they exposed nursery school children to researchers kicking and hitting a large inflated doll. They frustrated all the children by giving them neat toys and then taking them away. They found that children in the groups who viewed the aggressive modeling were observed in many more aggressive acts on the inflated doll afterward than a control group.

Tan (1981) reveals another study in which Hicks sought to learn whether or not children would remember aggression they had seen modeled on TV. He found that even 6 months later, despite not seeing the aggressive model again, the children were able to imitate the aggression only slightly less than immediately afterward.

Eron and Heusmann (1986) were involved in cross-national studies involving hundreds of first and third grade children. (I am relating only the U.S. studies). They used questionnaires, parental interviews, self evaluations, peer reports, IQ tests, psychological tests, TV character identifications, and levels of fantasy use, to assess each child’s level of aggression. The children selected the shows they watched the most and used self evaluations about the amount of time spent watching them.

They found that boys were more aggressive than girls and watched more aggressive shows. They found that children’s viewing habits were related to aggression and could even be predictive of future aggression. Infrequent viewing of severe violence was less likely to be associated with aggression than regular viewing of mild violence.

The child who watched violent shows the most, who saw the portrayals as realistic, who identified with the aggressive model, who fantasized about aggression and who, if a girl, identified with boy activities was most likely to act out aggressively. Parental perceptions about the reality of the violence did affect the child’s perceptions; the more real they see the violence the more likely they are to model it.

They think there is a critical age range (6-11 years old) when children are more likely to be influenced by television. Aggressive tendencies obtained during this period seem to defy extinction. So the aggression becomes habitual and eventually gets in the way of the child’s intellectual and social success. Bullies are not popular, don’t do well in school, become frustrated about their situations – leading to more aggression. A sad cycle ensues ensuring failure and isolation.

Meltzoff (1988) did a fascinating study to evaluate the imitative abilities (immediate and deferred) of 120 infants ages 14 months, and 24 months after viewing a model on TV; they made a take-apart toy out of materials in the lab that could easily be repeated by  the infants. The results showed that the infants who watched the target behavior on TV were more likely to produce the act than a control group when given the toy immediately after viewing and 24 hours later.

According to Pollak (1988) The National Coalition on Television Violence charted the responses of 8-10 year old boys who played a video game called, “Captain Power”. In the games they shot interactive laser weapons at enemies displayed on the TV set. They found an 80% increase in fighting behavior on the school playground right after playing the game.

Donnerstein et al (1988) report a Gallup poll of American teens that showed: 84% of 13 to 15 years olds have seen an R-rated movie; one in five of them have seen an X-rated movie. This implies that boys this young ARE watching this type of movies.

The authors used 156 male college freshmen to study the effects of emotional desensitization to 3 different type of films: violent against women, sexually explicit/degrading and non-explicit/non-violent on their beliefs about rape and using women as sex objects. The men were tested for affective and cognitive perceptions after viewing one of the films. They then also judged a defendant and victim in a rape trial.

Donnerstein et al (1988) claim that prolonged exposure to violence and degradation of women may have two separate effects: First it may inhibit emotional reactions, not only to the violence in the film, but sensitivity toward the suffering of women in real life. Second, exposure to non-violent sexually degrading films, may lead to perceiving women more as sex objects who are promiscuous.

After repeated viewing the subjects related: diminished anxiety, less depression and enjoyed the films more as they viewed more. They were experiencing greater emotional comfort; material previously described as degrading and violent became “not so bad”. It blunted their awareness about the severity and frequency of violence; it may also decrease sensitivity to emotional cues, thus further decreasing the perception of the violence. The amount of sympathy for a rape victim and the judgement of severity of injury was less among those who viewed the violence and correlated with the subjects perceptions of violence.

The end result is altered affective and perceptual reactions which could also alter perceptions and judgments about real-life violence. They discovered that 2 films were enough to bring about desensitization.

Donnerstein et al (1988) also relate the results of a study done by Zillman and Bryant in which they exposed college males to long term exposure to non-violent, but degrading pornographic films. They found that the subjects became tolerant of more bizarre forms of pornography, were less empathetic in response to statements about sexual equality, and assigned less punishment to a rapist.

Bushman and Geen (1990) used 100 male and female freshmen college students to learn about individual differences in modeling aggressive TV violence. They tested the thoughts and emotional reactions of subjects while watching violence after completing various personality tests. They tested for irritability, assault and verbal hostility, and stimulus screening, (a tendency of the person to ward off stimulation in the tapes by using selective attention). They showed subjects either a violent or a non-violent tape and then asked them about thoughts they had while viewing.

They found that as the level of violence increased so did aggressive thoughts and ratings of the violence. Those whose personality showed a high amount of stimulus screening were found to have the least violent cognitions; they were able to block out the violence.

Basically their findings showed that media violence does bring out violent cognitions and affects emotional responses related to aggression. Men who were more physically assaultive experienced more violent thoughts during viewing. As far as emotions, the most violent tape increased self reports of hostility and elevated blood pressure. Individual personality did have an effect and also in moderating responses, those who were more susceptible emotionally also felt more hostile after viewing.

According to Bower (1989), New York University Psychiatrist, Dorothy Otnow Lewis, is involved in an ongoing study of violent juvenile delinquents and has done previous research on death row inmates. In a seven year follow up of 95 young men, who were initially contacted while in a correctional school, at age 15, 77 of them were considered VERY violent (murder and rape) and 18 less violent. She has found that the men who committed the worst violent offenses had other problems: hallucinations and paranoia, epilepsy, recurrent psychotic symptomatology, abnormal EEG (brain wave tests) results, neurological problems, lower reading ability and intellectual ability, and were brought up in abusive, violent homes.

Landau (1990) reports that Leonard Eron, of the University of Illinois, was able to show that there is a direct correlation with the amount of violence children view to the amount they act out. He did a long term study of children in New York that started when they were 8 years old and followed them through to 30 years old. They were able to use the amounts of violence viewed at 8 to predict aggressiveness at 19. When the criminal offenses were tallied at age 30, they matched with the amount of TV violence back at age 8.

Crowell et al (1987) relate a study in Canada, by Granzberg and Steinbring, who brought television to a group of Cree Indian children who had never seen TV. They found that the children who had begun watching a lot of TV showed large increases aggressive behaviors.

Crowell (1987) described a study done by Belson in England involving 1650 boys ages 13-16. He assessed them as far as socio-cultural history, violent behavior and attitudes, and the amount of exposure to TV violence. Boys with saturated exposure to TV violence were 47% more likely to commit violent acts than the group who were light viewers.

Crowell (1987) related several studies about children’s moral judgments. They presented young children with various social actions and then asked them questions to find out about their moral judgments, i.e. Would hitting be ok if there were no rules against it? Would it be all right for schools to have rules letting children hit each other? The results showed that their judgments did not depend upon any rules. Children said that institutions that allowed people to hurt other people were wrong. Social rules and the dictates of authority do not mandate a child’s moral judgments.

Davidson et al, also according to Crowell (1987), studied moral reasoning in older children; six to ten year olds were told stories that they could identify with and were familiar to them (theft of a toy from a school). Interestingly, they found that the type of story most children found familiar was about a bully aggressing on other kids. “The issue of physical harm was more familiar to children than issues such as theft, scapegoating, embezzlement, and dereliction of duty”. Avoiding harm to others and caring for other people were the most important justifications to children. The older children evaluated rules on the basis of harm to others and on the basis of rights and mutual obligations.

These studies serve as insight into the complex sophisticated moral abilities of children. They serve to illustrate that children are uniquely perceptive in picking up the double and the conflicting messages they get often get from adults. They CAN read between the lines and make moral decisions that go beyond the confusion they learn from adults. For instance when adults don’t practice what they preach.

Crowell (1987), used David Pearl’s summary to describe the results of numerous studies about TV’s ability to influence aggressive behavior. Aggressive modeling is most likely to be copied when:

It pays off, the problem was solved with aggression.

No social sanctions were attributed to the aggressor.

The violence was, in the plot, justified.

The violence is shown as being socially acceptable.

It appears real to the child.

The motivation to hurt is shown as deliberate.

The portrayal gives the child cues that fit into his reality.

The child can identifies with the model.

Pearl also illustrates messages that will inhibit aggressive  imitation among adults and teenagers:

The aggressor is punished, crime does not pay.

Displaying the destructive, painful consequences that        violence leads to.

Remind the audience that this violence is against moral and ethical values.

Josephson (1987) did a study to test responses of 396 second and third grade boys to televised violence, considering characteristic aggressiveness ratings done by teachers, timing of frustration, and the effect of cues in moderating response. Some boys were frustrated before viewing the violence and some afterward. She assessed aggressiveness comparing viewing violence only and violence along with a cue. The boys were observed playing ice hockey after viewing the violence.

She found that violence viewing did increase aggressiveness, but only in the boys with high characteristic aggression scores; they were even more aggressive if also subjected to a cue (called the “cueing” effect, which serves as a reminder of the violence). In the violence-plus-cues condition, the less aggressive boys seemed to be more aggressive as a result of having the highly aggressive boys in the group. In the less aggressive group, frustration before viewing resulted in less aggression than if frustrated after viewing.

Potts, Huston and Wright (1986) did a study on the affect of TV form and violent content on 3 to 6 years old boys social behaviors and attention spans. The subjects were 64, white middle class boys from a university preschool and two private day care centers. They observed changes in styles of interaction and increases in some prosocial behaviors after viewing violence. They found that fast moving action, not violence, got the boy’s attention; the action content had no affect on behavior. Cues in the environment were found to have an effect on watching TV violence; prosocial cues can over-ride short term television violence.

Peterson and Pfost (1989) showed 144 undergraduate males various forms of erotic, violent, non-erotic-non-violent rock videos to assess the effect they might have on attitudes toward women. Viewing the non-erotic-violent rock videos led to a much higher score on the Adversarial Sexual Beliefs indicator. The findings led them to believe that aggressive rock videos can lead to an antagonistic, callused attitude about women; more so than erotic or erotic-violent material.

They relate their findings to Bandura’s ideas about emotional incompatibility; mild erotica stimulates pleasurable feelings that do not allow for aggression. Non-erotic-violent videos do not elicit the pleasure reactions, so they do not supply the inhibitory effect that would block the aggressive feelings. High levels of anger, frustration and anxiety are known to promote aggressive behavior.

For men who already view women as weaker and justifiable targets, combined with extensive viewing of violent rock videos, it is certainly possible that they might take their aggressive feelings out on women. (39.6% of the men in this study indicated some likelihood of committing rape, if they could be assured of avoiding punishment – further evidence that attitudes of violence against women remain widespread).

Atkin (1983) studied 96 fifth and sixth grade boys and girls from lower middle and working class backgrounds; he showed them tapes including fantasy and real violence. He theorizes that adolescent aggression increases along with perceived realism of the violence. He claims that Bandura’s theory of observational modeling applies in that the actuality as perceived by the viewer is very important.

Aggressive responses were much higher from the groups that viewed the violence on the news, significantly more than with recreational violence. They observed that the teens paid much more attention to the violence in the news than they did with fictional violence.

Frost and Stauffer (1987) administered personality tests to 150 persons, then exposed them to 20 minutes of dramatized violence while using skin conductance and blood pulse volume to test for autonomic arousal. 72 were non-paid volunteer, white, affluent, undergraduate college students; 78 were paid volunteer, racially mixed, inner city housing project residents; both groups were ages 17 to 24, and included males and females.

They discovered that both the college students and the housing project residents were aroused the most while viewing a female killing another female. The college males were aroused quite a bit less by rape scenes than the inner city dwellers.

The major finding was that the city dwellers became much more stimulated by 10 types of violence than the college students. Apparently when the violence viewed matches what one see in their neighborhood it enlarges the reality and thus the response.

When evaluating the approval of the films through post viewing questionnaires, the inner city persons were much more positive about the violence; greater physiological arousal correlated with greater approval.

The researchers did not find gender to be a factor, they did not observe any difference between genders in physiological arousal. They, however, did find great differences in the approval ratings. The college females expressed much more disapproval than did the inner city females and males or the college males.

Steinfeld (1979) tells of researchers at Penn State University observed 92 kindergarten children and recorded levels of verbal and physical attacks. Over the next 4 weeks, they divided them into 3 groups, and had them watch different half hour TV shows. Group 1 watched “Batman” and “Superman” (containing physical and verbal assaults); group 2 watched “Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood” which had puppets teaching kids how to cope with their feelings. Group 3, the control, watched neutral films.

Children with low aggression scores did not show a response one way or another. Children considered to be less well off, who watched “Mr. Rodger’s”, demonstrated amazing improvement in cooperation, going along with rules and relating to others. Half the total amount of children scored high on the aggression score and displayed much more aggression with the other children.

This shows that we can use POSITIVE models to teach children skills useful in developing successful POSITIVE social communication. In other words, we can use what has been learned about the powerful affects of modeling violence and use it to teach children about being humane human beings.

Proposed Research Methodology


Before starting the actual research, I would do some pre-testing to learn about teen vocabulary; if I am able to use the teens “lingo” I will probably get better results. I will want to know how they describe these type of films – do they know what “slasher” or a “slice and dice” films are?  Do they have others words to describe these films?

I also need to develop a sense of “where their heads are” in terms of this type of media. Will they shock me by demonstrating a clear understanding about their media victimization? I need to obtain this type of information if I am to accurately learn the affects that it has upon them. (After all, I am making some assumptions going only by my daughter, who was raised by a feminist and by observations made of adult females).

Out of the 225 students in the graduating class, I plan to use one class with 10 students to pretest my questions within a group, then I will interview 5 students individually to pre-test the best questions to ask individually. I will use random selection throughout to form groups of students.

I would use two types of semi-structured interviews, using what I learned from the pre-testing. I will then interview 25 girls in a group setting and 15 in individual interviews. I would use the same basic format to interview the girls in the classroom as I would in the individual interviews; I want to see if there are differences in what they say in a group compared to individual responses.

I am very biased on this subject so I will try to remain aware of it to avoid infecting the results. I will document the data obtained from the interviews as soon as possible after completing them. I do not choose to tape or take notes during the interviews to prevent distraction to the respondents and to allow myself to really listen and concentrate on not only what is being said with words, but on what they are communicating with gestures and body language that I might miss while writing things down.

I will initially tell the girls that I am doing research on a subject that they are experts at. They, as teens, see tons of movies, watch rock video, play video games and are at times true “couch potatoes” with either TV or movies on the VCR. I will assure them that ONLY they have the answers to my questions. I hope to enhance their self esteem about the opinions they hold about media; if I tell them they are experts, I may very well get “expert” data from them.

First I would ask some easy questions like, how old are you? I would gradually work up to the questions dealing with the research. I would end the interviews, again with easy questions. Here are some examples of questions that I imagine I could use:

-Do you watch “slasher or “slice and dice” films?

-Imagine explaining a “slasher” movie to someone who has never seen one. How would you explain it?

-Think of a “slasher” film you have seen. Explain how it made you feel?

-Tell me about the plots in these movies.

-Tell me what these movies make you think about.

-How close to real life are these films?

-Tell me about the victims in these films.

-What do boys say about “slasher” films?

-What affect do you think this type of media has on you?

-What kinds of things do you think I will learn from these interviews?

My goal is to learn about basic themes that are present in the adolescent girls perceptions of media misogyny. I want to learn first of all, whether or not they see themselves as being portrayed as victims, if they do, I want to know what they think and feel about it. If they do not see the victimization, then I want to learn how they do perceive it. Their perception of the films will be used to guide me in ascertaining the affects that the films have had upon them.


I would also utilize questionnaires, I would pre-test them as I did for the interview questions using a group of 10 girls. I will pre-test with less structured questions and devise more structured questions from what I learn. I will administer questionnaires to 25 girls. I could compare results reflected in them to the similar questions asked in a group or in person to what they might answer in the anonymity of a questionnaire. I will use explorative questions in the hopes of gaining insight into their perceptions.

As with the interviews, I would begin with easy to answer questions, gradually get more in depth and end up with easy questions again. Most of my questions would be open-ended to allow them to use their own words. Some closed-end questions will probably be used but I will be much more interested in the open-ended questions because I seek to learn about complex sociological and personal affects of media violence.

With questionnaires you could even allow space for the girls to draw pictures about perceptions they have about violent films. If they are at a loss for words pictures could tell reveal feelings. Some possible questions might be:

-Describe a “slasher” or “slice & dice” film.

-Give an example of a “slasher” film that you have seen.

-Pick one “slasher” film you have seen and explain the plot and what the movie meant to you.

-Does violence in movies affect you in any way? Please describe.

-Do you enjoy “slasher” films?

-Who do you watch these type of movies with?

-If you do NOT like these type of films, and you do view them, what promotes you to do so?

-Who are the usual victims of media violence?

I would use triangulation, in that, after finishing all the interviews and questionnaires, I would repeat studies on the same girls, 2 months later, to see if just being a part of the research may serve to make the girls more aware.

I might also do the same questionnaires and interviews with daughters of NOW (National Organization For Women) members to see if having a feminist mother makes a difference in how girls perceive media misogyny. I also entertain the idea of questioning daughters whose mothers are in a battered women’s shelter and compare results among them also.

Another type of study could use role playing; the girls could be assigned to summarize a “slasher” film (of their choice) by role playing what they perceived about the film. You could simply observe their role playing or you could video tape it, and watch it with them later, while they narrate. Who knows what you could learn from this type of observation.

In evaluating the results of the research I would do a content analysis looking for word use, similar feelings and basic themes or attitudes about media violence. What was loudly NOT said, and conflicts noted between verbalizations and body language, may also be enlightening.

                            Expected Outcomes

I expect to find that the girls are not aware of their victimization in the media; they may be aware of the violence, but I doubt they will see how much it is directed against themselves. I also think that peer pressure has a powerful affect on their movie viewing behavior; teens have a desperate need to “fit in”. Since media violence is popular – they must watch it. I think that daughters of feminists will be more cognizant of the “slasher” films than those with non-feminist mothers. I imagine that girls who view physical violence against their mothers in their homes may have an even more powerful need to suppress and deny.

Just being involved in this research may have an affect on the girls; just being encouraged to think about the subject may change their future perceptions; some may be able to perceive the victimization, but most will not – most will continue to deny its existence. I project that a few girls will change the way they perceive the misogyny after being involved in the research.

End Notes

1.Pollak, Richard.  (1988). “Videotic Maniacs”.  The Nation.  December 19, pg. 673.

2.Landau, Elaine. (1990). Teenage Violence. New Jersey: Julian Messner, p. 39.

3.Russell, Diana E. H., & Caputi, Jane. (1990). “`Femicide’: Speaking the Unspeakable”  MS. vol. 1 September/October, p. 36.

4.Dobie, Kathy.  (1990). “Growing Up With Violence”.  Vogue vol. 180. December, p. 313.

5.Majo, Kathi. (1990). “Hooked On Hate? Unfunny Comedians, MTV, Tabloid, Television, Fright Films and Other Media Invasions”  MS.  vol. 1, September/October, p. 45.

6.Hirsch, Kathleen. (1990). “Fraternities of Fear, Gang Rape, Male Bonding and the Silencing of Women”  MS. September/October, p. 52.

7.Braun, Jay., Linder, Darwyn E. (1979). Chapter 28  “Conflict vs. Cooperation”.  Psychology Today Textbook 4th ed. p 627.

Note to self, reading this over 6-13-98 – the word slasher, if broken apart is quite stunning: slas-her


Anker, Roy, M. (1989). “Yikes! Nightmares From Hollywood”. Christianity Today. June 16, vol. 33.

Atkin, Charles. (1983, Winter). “Effects of Realistic TV Violence VS Fictional Violence on Aggression”. Journalism Quarterly.  vol. 60, pp. 615-621.

Bower, Bruce. (1989).  “Adding Up Violent Vulnerabilities.”  Science News. vol. 135.

Braun, Jay., Linder, Darwyn E. (1979). Chapter 28 “Conflict vs. Cooperation”.  Psychology Today.  Textbook 4th ed.

Bushman, Brad J., Geen, Russel G. (1990, January). “Role of Cognitive-Emotional Mediators And Individual Differences in the Effect of Media Violence on Aggression”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. vol. 58, pp. 156-163.

Colen, B.D. (1989, March). “BANG, BANG!”  Health. vol. 21, pp. 90-91.

Cottin-Pogrebin, Letty. (1989, September). “Boys Will Be Boys?” MS. vol. 18, p. 24.

Crowell, David H, Evans, Ian M, O’Donnell, Clifford R. (Eds). (1987). Childhood Aggression and Violence:        Sources of Influence, Prevention and Control. New York: Plenum Press.

Dobie, Kathy. (1990, December). “Growing Up With Violence.”  Vogue.  vol. 180, pp. 314-343.

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A Way To Die?


A Way To Die?

I was just touching him, caring for him

He was a kindly old soul

I found joy in comforting him

His unseeing eyes said thank you

His unhearing ears heard my concern.

His spirit left before his heart stopped

The alarms sounded, they came running – The Great Saviors.

I held his hand, his body shook –

They pounded his chest, they forced air in.

“They” did this – the Intruders.

At 91, who should force his stay?

How dare they slow his natural way.

He needs to go, I let him go.

I tell him so aloud!

They are aghast at my candor.

I touch his face,

A wrinkled, now unfeeling face

This touch is for me

I’m glad to have been with him,

That he was not alone.

Class: Writing From the Inside

November 3, 1990

Published:  The American Poetry Annual

Patricia J. Anderson, “A Way To Die?,”  In The American Poetry Annual. The Amherst Society: USA. p. 30. (1991).

The Fuel of Woman Abuse

Ideology and Myths: The Fuel of Woman Abuse

By Patricia J. Anderson

Indiana University Northwest

Social Problems, Soc 163, Winter 1983

Ideology and Myths: The Fuel of Woman Abuse

Wife abuse was first seen as a social problem by feminists in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. By sharing their research and experience in helping battered women they are trying to pull society’s head out of the sand so that they can see what a devastating problem it is. In more than 14 years, these feminists have not yet succeeded in making wife abuse a commonly known and understood problem.

The problem affects: Battered women, the batterers, their children and extended families, the police, (called in, in cases called domestic violence), the judicial system (offers little or no help to alleviate the problem), the clergy (who usually are confided in and in turn send the battered wife back to the batterer), and human liberation in general.

“A battered women is one who is repeatedly subjected to any forceful physical or psychological behavior by a man in order to coerce her to do something he wants her to do without any concern for her rights. To be classified as such, a couple must go through the battering cycle at least twice”.  1

“It is estimated that 50-60% of all women will be battered victims at some point in their lives”.  1, 2

“The problem includes physical and psychological abuse; both types of violence exist in battering couples and cannot be separated”.  1


Many myths function that keep wife abuse from being dealt with in a positive and helpful way by society; a few of the most common ones are:


Like rape it is an unreported crime; it usually takes place at night, in the home, without witnesses. It is estimated that only 1/10 of cases are reported. Of 500 divorce suits filed in New York in 1976 – 57.4% listed physical abuse as the cause.


All socioeconomic classes, educational levels, income levels, cultures, and races are victims of wife abuse. Middle and upper class women are less likely to report it for fear of embarrassment and exposure of their batterer, who is a “pillar of the community”. A study in England revealed a high incidence among police, doctors and service professionals (lawyers, executives, college professors and elected officials).


Case histories show no provocation in the majority of cases at all or the precipitating factor may be something like a dinner served 5 minutes late. Batterers loose control because of their own internal reasons; this myth robs responsibility from the male. Out of thousands of women’s stories not one showed any signs of masochism.


They do not have the freedom to leave; she knows that her man is capable of gross violence; he makes chillingly frightening threats about what he will do to her friends of family if she leaves – she believes him!  Frequently she knows no one who will believe her. He keeps her isolated a great deal, so that her sphere of helpers is minimal – usually she has no where to go.


Common characteristics of the battered women and their batterer are quite revealing:

1.SHE: Has low self esteem.

HE:  Has low self-esteem.

2.SHE: Believes myths about wife abuse.

HE:  Believes myths about wife abuse.

3.SHE: Is a traditionalist, strongly believes in family unity and prescribed feminine stereotyped role in the family.

HE: Is a traditionalist, believes in male supremacy and the stereotyped masculine role in the family.

4.SHE: Accepts responsibility for his actions.

HE: Blames others for his actions.

5. SHE: Suffers from guilt yet denies terror and rage that she feels.

HE: Is pathologically jealous.

6.SHE: Presents passive face to world, but has the strength to manipulate her environment enough to prevent increased violence and/or being killed.

HE: Presents a dual personality.

7.SHE: Has severe stress reactions, with psycho-physiological complaints.

HE: Has severe stress reactions, during which he uses wife battering to cope.

8.SHE: Uses sex as a way to establish intimacy.

HE: Frequently uses sex as an act of aggression to enhance self-esteem in view of waning virility. May be bisexual.

9.SHE: Believes that no one will be able to help her resolve her problem except herself.

HE: Does not believe his violent behavior should have any negative consequence.

Some battered women grew up witnessing their mothers abuse by their father; some were treated like fragile dolls by their fathers; these pampering fathers taught their daughters that they were incompetent and had to be dependent on a man – sex role stereotyping.

An overwhelming majority (if not all) batterers were their fathers apprentices; father showed them how to beat up mom, some even let their son get a few licks in early on mom too – for practice. Definitely a learned behavior.

The core of the problem lies in the ideology perpetuated by the traditional attitudes shared by the wife, the batterer and society (police, courts and clergy). He MUST dominate and keep his wife in line; she sees him as her ruler who has super human abilities.

During hospitalizations for fractured ribs or jaws (or both), she thinks to herself that he may have gone a little overboard, but the dinner WAS served 10 minutes late. The batterer dotes over his wife after the beating: brings flowers and candy, tells her how much he loves her and begs forgiveness.

The husband is not sanctioned for his violence by his wife or society. If police are called to an acute battering episode they don’t see it as a crime, they merely tell him to clam down; they see domestic violence as a nuisance, they don’t arrest the batterer or report it as a crime. The wife is too terrified of what would happen if she pressed charges: they usually have enormous trouble in proving it and judges are not interested in sticking their noses in either.

His wife forgives him in spite of the fact that during the acute battering incident he does not stop even when she is obviously severely injured. The wife has no legal action with any teeth in it to prevent another beating; police will not remove him from the house, so she must leave if she wants to get away from him.

I went to Haven House, a battered women’s shelter, in Hammond, In. The psychologist who runs it is Joan Cmar who was happy to share information with me because one of the solutions to help battered women is to spread understanding of the problem through as many people as possible.

Joan doesn’t hold much hope for the problem in Indiana. Since Reagan took office the federal funds that support the shelter have been cut drastically and she fears may be cut altogether. Donations are not enough to keep it open.

Right now Indiana offers no legal recourse or protection for the wife. The woman who manages to get out and get to the shelter can only bring what she can carry. The police will not go with her so that she may get her belongings. She faces starting life all over without clothes, money or a place to live, (the head of the house holds all the money). 5

There is a bill now pending in the Indiana legislature that would allow women to press charges on their word alone and have the batterer arrested. A similar bill when passed in Illinois, immediately brought out 1600 cases filed; only 2 batterers were prosecuted. 5

She says the police do respond quickly if a batterer attempts to cause trouble at the shelter, so she feels fairly safe.  5

The police and officials of the courts are mostly male, they frequently share some of the traditional ideas about a man’s right to dominate his wife; they help support the problem by turning their heads and blaming the victim – why doesn’t she just get divorced? 5

When I asked Joan about the clergy’s helpfulness (all denominations) she became quite angry. She says they are the worst! Most priests and ministers are also male (churches are quite traditional and sexist). They instruct battered women to return home, be better women and keep the family together at all cost. An extremely high percent of batterers also engage in incest and child abuse toward their daughters. The clergy still think the family should stay together!  5

She says there are no counselors in Northwest Indiana who are either knowledgeable about or trained to help violent men and their families. So even if the couple, by miracle, get into marriage counseling they have almost no possibility to ever have a violence free relationship. Even in other parts of the country with expert counselors almost none progress to violence free relationships – divorce is the only answer. If counseling were to work, the husband would need to give up a great deal of power which is very unlikely. Also unless the wife gets assertiveness training she’s likely to marry another batterer.  5

A personal acquaintance of mine recently revealed that she is a battered wife. I was shocked because they own a very successful business and seem to be very nice people. She was beaten by her mother as a child; her husband and four of his brothers beat their wives just like their father did. This was my friend’s third abusive relationship.

I personally know a female anesthesiologist who is a victim of a battering husband. She had three babies in 30 months! Batterers don’t allow their wives to use birth control. The doctor lost her job because when she was called out on an emergency case the husband would sit at the nurse’s station in surgery and wait for her – he didn’t believe that some cases could take as long as they did. He ran in to surgery one day to see if she left by the back door; this behavior let her secret out of the bag and the hospital couldn’t have him doing that again.

Society looses these women because they must gear every waking moment to seeing that life goes smooth for their husbands so that they can avoid them getting upset and beating them again. Even if she works he usually picks her up and takes her there; he doesn’t allow social relations with her coworkers. Most of the case histories that I have read reveal that whenever possible the men take their wives to work with them. (My personal acquaintance says that not only does she go to the business with him, but she can’t even grocery shop without him. To the outsider it looks like they are just so cozy).

Society as a whole is held captive to this pervasive ideology as long as it continues to invade the minds of the violent family’s children, thus ensuring another generation of oppressive batterers and their victims.

A great deal of money is spent and time wasted by police in having to go to “calm down” domestic violence.


-Continued and increased federal support to shelters.

-Laws to make wife abuse a crime. Mandatory 48 hour incarceration of batterers who have obviously beaten up their wives. This would involve police education and a change in attitudes about the problem. The batterer must be negatively sanctioned. Mandatory psychiatric help to those known to beat their wives.

-Hotlines for batterers, their children and battered women. 2

-Educate educators about the problem and discuss its existence in schools; drug abuse is now taught in public schools. 2

-Nurses and doctors should be taught to ask suspected cases if someone did this to them; this may very well open the subject to the victim and it tells her that you would believe her and take it seriously. Records could be used later in court to prosecute batterers. 2

-The clergy need an educational overhaul to bring the problem to light with them.

-Movies about the realities can be enlightening. An increase in men’s liberation would help. Hopefully an awareness could be stimulated to encourage men to express their feelings more openly. Machoism really hurts and traps them too; with the traditional stereotypes.

-We could teach our children to be more expressive, especially boys – let them cry! Children are taught about why the clouds do what they do – why not teach them the psychology of why people do what they do?

-I would like to see more men like Rosie Greer in the public eye.

-Radical feminism is not the answer. The equal rights amendment will not change people’s minds or hearts. Women will not be free until men are too. I hope to see a new social movement for Human Liberation; men will be allowed to knit and cry and women will be elected president or become pipefitters if they choose.

While researching this subject I learned about myself – I am a feminist, but I think the ones that are too radical have discouraged its real growth.


1.Walker, Lenore E. (1979). The Battered Women. Harper & Row.

2.Davidson, Terry. (1978). Conjugal Crime. Hawthorn.

3.Roy, Maria. (1977). (Ed). Battered Women: A Psycho/sociological Study of Domestic Violence. Van Nostrand.

4.Personal acquaintance.

5.Cmar, Joan. Counselor – Haven House, Hammond, IN.

6.Personal friend, volunteer – Haven House, Hammond, IN.