Turning 35 with 35

by Kelli Vaughn-Blount, York University

In 1904, Christine Ladd Franklin noted, “the women have not as yet been given a representation in proportion to their attainment” (p. 3). Ladd-Franklin was referring to the availability of professorships, but the same sentiment could have been applied to the American Psychological Association (APA) some 70 years later.  In the summer of 1973, a second wave feminism was heating up. It was a time of great change for women when it seemed that the Equal Rights Amendment would actually become law and that all members of the psychological community would finally have a voice. Through the pioneering efforts of such feminist groups as the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP) in 1969 and the APA Committee on Women in Psychology in the early 1970s, a new APA division for the  Psychology of Women was born (Astin, 1973).  

Division 35 president Martha Banks has recently noted that Division 35 turned 35 in 2008 (Banks, 2008). I feel a bit of a kinship with this celebration since I too will be turning 35 soon (although to be honest I was still gestating in the maternal Jacuzzi that fateful summer). Unlike my unplanned conception, the original formation of the division had a clear purpose. The division was intended to be the third party in a political ménage à trois of sorts. As Warren reported in 1973:

The Committee on Women in Psychology would monitor and promote the status of women in the field. AWP would function as the political lobbying group outside the structures of APA, and the division on the psychology of women would focus on the research. (cited in Walsh, 1985, p. 23)

However, as has been noted in previous articles, it was not long before the groups found themselves in overlapping territory (see Mednick, 1978; Mednick & Urbanski, 1991; Russo & Dumont, 1997). While I was still struggling to find my toes, many women psychologists were struggling to find the appropriate balance between being political and being professional. When you were born to change the patriarchal framework of a world or a discipline, you have to expect a few bumps in the road.

Negotiating power differentials and working to change patriarchal structures and androcentric theories were not the only items on the division’s agenda in the early years. Feminists also had to teach the discipline, and each other, that just because we were all women did not mean we were all the same. The best examples of the division’s attempts to address this issue can be found in the development of the sections.  

In 1976, while I was training my mother that I was not going to be as easy to manage as my sister (a lesson that  requires continuing education), the women of Division 35 were realizing that diverse women’s needs could not be addressed appropriately within a white, heterosexual framework. Prior to the inception of sections, several formative groups were established that began to provide a collective voice for minority women within the APA framework. The first was the Task Force on Black Women’s Concerns (see Rutherford, 2007), followed shortly by the  Task Force on Hispanic Women’s Concerns that same year. The Task Force for Asian American Women would follow in 1980. However, it was not until around the age of 10 that both the division and I fully began to explore the full range of possibilities for sexual identity and orientation.  The Task Force on Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s issues, established in 1983, was the last of the future sections to be formed. As I was born a girl, grew into an adolescent, and developed into a woman, so did the sections mature within the division; first as task forces that grew into committees, finally developing into fully grown sections. Like many of my cohort, some of the sections remained in their adolescence a little longer than others.

Year Established

Section No.

Title

1984

1

Psychology of Black Women

2003

3

Hispanic/ Latina Concerns

2003

4

Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Issues

2008

5

Concerns of Asian Pacific American Women

Some tried to move out on their own only to find themselves moving back in with their parents after a few years. Section 2, Feminist Professional Training and Practice, was established as a section in 1988 and returned to committee form in 1998. Others are still striving to be recognized, such as the Native American Women’s Task Force that began in 1978 and became a permanent committee in 2001. In the end it seemed that all that mattered was that we had all survived our formative years (Basow et al., 2007; Mednick & Urbanski, 1991; Russo & Dumont, 1997).

It is with this thought that I enter my 35th year with great joy and great sorrow, joy in knowing that I have grown up in a time when an organization like Division 35 can exist and thrive within the discipline of psychology, sorrow in knowing that in our profession and world, Dr. Ladd-Franklin’s words still retain an echo of truth.  After 35 years, Division 35 and I find ourselves beginning a new chapter in our existence at a time when some believe we have accomplished all we can, and others think we have not even begun. We were born at a time when women found their voices, yet we are tired of screaming. Rather, we no longer need to scream, but instead find it is time to share our collective voices from the podiums, pulpits, head of the APA executive tables and the White House steps.  The first line of the new chapter in our shared history: At 35, we found that we had only just begun! 

References

Banks, M. E. (2008) Kicking off 35 is 35. The Feminist Psychologist, 35(4). 1-2.

Basow, S. A., et al. (2007).  Handbook of the Society for the Psychology of Women. Division 35: Society for the Psychology of Women. Retrieved November 19, 2008, from http://www.apa.org/divisions/div35/Hndbk%20Rev%205-07.pdf

Ladd-Franklin, C. (1904) Endowed professorships for women. Publications of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, 3(9) 53-61. Retrieved November 15, 2008, from http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Ladd-Franklin/professorships.htm

Mednick, M. T., & Urbanski, L. L. (1991). The origins and activities of the APA’s division of the psychology of women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15. 651-663.

Mednick, M. T. S. (1978). Now we are four: What should we be when we grow up? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 3(2). 123-138.

Rutherford, A. (2007). Thirty years of advocacy and activism in the section on the psychology of black women. The Feminist Psychologist, 34(1). 16.

Russo, N. F.,  & Dumont, B. A. (1997). A history of Division 35 (psychology of women): Origins, issues, activities, future. In D.A. Dewsbury (Ed.), Unification through division: Histories of the divisions of the APA, V.II. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Astin, H. S., et al. (1973). Report on the task force on the status of women in psychology. American Psychologist, 28(7). 611-616.

Walsh, M. R. (1985). Academic professional women organizing for change: The struggle in psychology. Journal of Social Issues, 41(4), 17-28.