Psychology, Social Psychology

Past Voices and Present Voices: Feminists Making a POW in the Now

Over on the Psychology’s Feminist Voices blog, Katherine Hubbard has written a post about some work she’s done with our Rose Capdevila about people’s engagement with the Psychology of Women Section (POWS) of the British Psychological Society – just recently renamed the Psychology of Women and Equalities Section (POWeS).


One of the most wonderful things about Psychology’s Feminist Voices is its resurrection of the voices of women from the past. These women, until now, have so often been forgotten in histories of Psychology. Their stories, their narratives and their reflections are so informative and help to flesh out and contextualise our understandings of the discipline in rich and important ways. The calls for more diverse voices and for further marginalised experiences has grown. These calls have been somewhat answered by projects such as the I am Psyched! exhibition which presents the contributions that women of colour have made to the field. The mining for marginalised voices is ongoing and is a global historical project that I fully support. My own research has explored some of the women who led queer feminist lives in early British Psychology. Their words remain just as important today as they were in the early 20th century. They contextualise a discipline which looked quite different to the one I am part of today; they are the experts of this history I explore.

Yet, alongside these voices from the past it is important to consider the voices of the present; those feminist psychologists working in the here and now. This blend of historical and present thinking gives us the potential to see where we, as feminists, have come from, and where we have to go. Where in the past have we struggled, resisted, and fought? How were these battles for equality won? And, importantly, who actually won and which women were left on the side-lines?

Together with Dr Rose Capdevila (Open University) and PhD student Lois Donnelly (University of Worcester) I am looking at people’s engagement with the Psychology of Women Section (POWS) of the British Psychological Society (BPS). Specifically, we’ve been asking POWS members and people who attend POWS events, to reflect on what the Psychology of Women Section means to them and what they would like to see in its future. POWS was first established in 1987 and had a turbulent beginning: the BPS initially rejected the application for the Section. This was the first time an application had been rejected. It was on the basis that the Section was ‘too political’. The term ‘feminist’ in the Section’s name was also rejected and debate continues as to whether the ‘F word’ should be in the name and if the BPS would allow it. Wider engagement with POWS is much larger than the Section itself as demonstrated by its Facebook discussion group. Its history is fascinating and the aim of the 2017 conference was to look both backwards and forwards on its growth as a reflection on the past 30 years. It was at this conference we presented our initial findings of how people in the present thought about the past and the future of POWS. Read more…


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