Toward a New Psychology of Women Critical Essays

Jean Baker Miller


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Toward a New Psychology of Women emerged out of Miller’s therapeutic work with women. Through observing the problems that women confront in their lives, Miller became convinced that there is a distinction between male and female psychological development. Miller believes that traditional psychoanalytic theory’s organizing principle for personality development, autonomous selfhood, is descriptive of male experience. The goal of autonomy is separateness and self-direction. Women’s selfhood, is predicated on the opposite principle of affiliation, or the need to be in relationships.

Miller contends that the culture sets up a double bind for women. On the one hand, the male-dominated society relegates the very qualities it fears to women. Women are conditioned to develop passivity, dependency, cooperation, emotion, and nurturing of others. On the other hand, women are seen as psychologically immature for making relationships central to their lives and are thus punished for having the very qualities that have been assigned to them by the culture. Miller concedes that there are women who have chosen to follow self-directed paths of growth but holds that the woman who does so violates “a dominant system of values that says she is not worthy . . . that there must be something wrong with her for even wanting alternatives.”

In the context of a dominant-subordinate culture, truly mutual affiliation is impossible. In this relationship of...

(The entire section is 487 words.)