Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Created by one of a group of women who were struggling to formulate a theory and practice of feminist therapy in the early 1970’s, Jean Baker Miller’s Toward a New Psychology of Women affirms a distinctly female psychology. Because men dominate in society, Miller contends that a woman’s way of being has been forced underground and, if it is seen at all, has been highly suspect. She claims that psychoanalysis, in its attempt to probe the depths of the human mind, has unearthed this domain of suppressed qualities that are, essentially, the feminine psyche.

Toward a New Psychology of Women is composed of three sections. In part 1, Miller argues that the male-female relationship is predicated on inequality. This fundamental inequality between men and women is not unlike the sociological imbalances of power found between races, religions, nationalities, and classes. The dynamic of domination-subordination demands that the subordinate group’s identity be constructed around the dominant group’s perceptions and needs. The male-dominated culture has deemed certain human potentials more valuable than others and has shunted the “less desirable” qualities onto women.

Part 2 develops the theme that these very characteristics relegated to women which seem to be weaknesses are, in fact, strengths that hold the potential for an advanced way of living. Qualities such as vulnerability, weakness, caretaking, dependency, and...

(The entire section is 522 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Miller’s small volume has become a classic in circles concerned with women’s issues. In the years since Toward a New Psychology of Women’s publication, the frequency of its citation in journal articles has only increased. In 1979, there were twelve references to this work in professional articles; in 1992, there were sixty-three. Miller’s book has broad implications, since it is cited in fields as diverse as women’s issues, health and medicine, psychology, sociology, education, and the law.

Toward a New Psychology of Women was seminal in suggesting that female psychological development is distinctive, thus challenging a cultural icon, the psychoanalytic tradition. Refuting the notion that a woman must either defer to expected roles or feel guilty for not doing so, Miller maintained that a woman’s impulse toward personal growth is good. She links one of the most common psychological problems women face, depression, directly to the suppression of the impulse toward personal growth.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Chernin, Kim. Reinventing Eve: Modern Woman in Search of Herself. New York: Harper & Row, 1987. Chernin offers her own journey of self-discovery and an interpretation of modern culture’s limitations on women’s lives. She uses religion, myth, literature, and psychoanalysis to suggest transformative images for women.

Chodorow, Nancy. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. Chodorow provides extensive psychoanalytic grounding for her argument that parenting should be shared equally by both men and women.

Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982. Gilligan argues that developmental theories in psychology have been built on the observations of men. Grounded in research, her study illuminates the distinctiveness of female identity and moral development as rooted primarily in connectedness with others.

Gilligan, Carol, Annie G. Rogers, and Deborah L. Tolman, eds. Women, Girls, and Psychotherapy: Reframing Resistance. New York: Haworth Press, 1991. This collection of essays focuses on the psychological development of adolescent girls. Highlighting the unique problems they face, how they cope through the teenage years, and how teenage experiences affect their adult lives, the essays also reveal the social pressures placed on girls to submit and “be nice,” and illuminate their resistance to accepting the limits of socially defined femininity.

Schaef, Anne Wilson. Women’s Reality: An Emerging System in White Male Society. 3d ed. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1992. Schaef elucidates the psychosexual differences between men and women. Based on her experiences as a psychotherapist, she writes an accessible analysis of women’s experience and reality vis-à-vis those of men.