The Psychology of Women

Until the late 1970s, most psychological theories of personality development held male development as the norm and did not recognize female development as anything other than a divergence from that norm or as paradigmatic of a developmental failure.

Sociologist and psychoanalyst Nancy Chodorow, in her seminal work, The Reproduction of Mothering, was the first to explain just where boys and girls differ in development. As early as toddlerhood, when children are able to differentiate between genders, girls and boys begin differing processes of growth. Whereas boys begin seeing themselves as different from their mothers once they recognize their differing anatomy, girls do not have to differentiate themselves from their mothers on the grounds of gender. As a result, girls’ identification with their mothers continues with ease until adolescence. One might say that while boys grow away from – or out of – the relationship with their maternal figure from a very young age, girls grow through and in the context of the mother-daughter relationship throughout their lives.

At heart, this means that how girls and women understand and approach relationships is fundamentally different from how boys and men understand and approach relationships. Despite these differences, the study of graduate psychology remains a male-centered endeavor and the study of the psychology of women continues to be “elective” in most courses of study. While the differences between men and women may seem evident, the fact remains that in order to truly grasp the relational conflicts, parental relationship dilemmas and interpersonal expectations experienced by women, an expertise in the development of the female psyche is required.