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The Ascendant of Feminine Psychology: The Beginning of a New Era

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Boston chapter.

For those, like myself, who are majoring or are fascinated by psychology, do you ever wonder where the representation of women is in the subject? Why do we mainly learn about male psychologists and their point of view on topics that only women can sympathize with or fully understand? Or why we never read papers written about femineity or the different intellectual concepts of it? Do you ever roll your eyes when reading Freud in lectures and wonder why, in 2023, we are still learning about outdated theories that have been proved to be wrong? All these questions boggle my mind and make me think about what can be done to fix this and how there can be more female representation in psychology. When researching female psychologists, the concept of the psychology of women, more commonly known as “Feminine Psychology,” came about. With its unique theory, Feminine Psychology became an interest that led me down a rabbit hole of answers and, in turn, created the topic for this article. To those who ask the same questions or are just fascinated about the field of psychology, I hope this article enlightens you and starts a very much-needed conversation. 

Since the origin of psychology, women’s thoughts and perspectives have been turned down and ignored. Even before Freud, there were clear, sexist views of women that simplified women to sex, attraction, and pleasure for men. Sexism isn’t just reflected in works but in the psychology/psychiatry field workplace as well, such as when female psychologists are paid less than their male counterparts. The excuse made for the wage gap, “when women are more qualified and around longer, they will earn the same salaries,” pinpoints an idea that will never happen. Not giving women a voice to speak their minds, or opportunities to do so, only feeds the cycle of misogyny and corrupt workplaces. Women have been pillars of psychology since its origin; however, have never obtained the spotlight to express their ideas or theories due to discriminatory views. Even when trying to conduct research for this article, the search was limited due to the lack of information that was available on the subject. The establishment of the psychology of women is an approach to psychological issues that spotlights the role of the female perspective in thought, action, and emotion. This plays into the life of the individual and society, and it is an idea that counterbalances the traditional male-oriented field of psychology. Likewise, Feminine Psychology confronts the political, economic, and social ideas of women. The brilliant mind behind the making of this theory was created by Karen Horney, who used her established works to create the idea of psychology of women.

Karen Horney was a German Neo-Freudian psychologist who focused her research on feminine psychology, self-psychology, and the role that self-analysis and self-help play in mental health. The experiences in Horney’s troubled early stages of her life inspired the development of her theories and led her to introduce the “Feminine Psychology” theory in 1967. Her main objective was to challenge Freud’s theories by publishing a series of works that focused on feminine psychology and marriage. Her main criticism of Freud’s work were his views on female psychology and the concept of “penis envy” (when a woman realizes she does not possess a man’s genitals, and experiences an envy of the male, which Freud thought accounted for much of female behavior), which she declared to be both inaccurate and demeaning to women. In response to this “envy,” Horney proposed the idea of womb envy, the idea that men experience feelings of inferiority because they cannot give birth to children. She wrote about this particular idea in her papers, “Feminine Psychology” and “Our Inner Conflicts.” The feedback Horney received for her publications created a wave of praise from feminists who believed the papers were stepping stones “in the evolution of her own theories of neurotic development.” Considering Freud’s theory, which opposed women’s emancipation and focused on how females were dominated by their sexual reproductive functions, having an outspoken woman that challenged his views was unheard of. Horney became a figure of change, which encouraged the first step to reformed thinking and gave hope to feminists whose mission was to radicalize men’s thinking on women. Horney’s contribution came at a time when misogyny and sexism were are its peak in psychology. Her arguments and approaches generated more interest in Feminine Psychology.

Nonetheless, despite Horney’s efforts, she was not given enough credit for her work, nor did her work get the recognition that it deserved from the psychology community. Today, psychology is still a male-dominated career field, as are many career fields in this day and age. Feminine Psychology’s whole theory is to include, incorporate, adapt, and improve the study by using women’s concepts and perspectives. However, where is the representation? And what can we do to better improve the thinking of generational thoughts? For one thing, I suggest reading Horney’s works, as they bring up good ideas, might inspire progressive thinking, and are just a fascinating read. She, like other female psychologists, was overshadowed by male counterparts; however, by creating a conversation (like I hope this article can start), hopefully the field can progress past outdated theories. After all, it is 2023: New and old ideas are adapting each and every day. Hence, we must think about how far women have come since the times of Freud and the outdated theories. We can vote, we are not considered property any more, we are able to work, and are not forced to be stay-at-home wives. We, as a gender, have progressed beautifully. However, we are still not equal when it comes to our male associates. Whether that be reproductive rights, the wage gap, or getting an education in certain countries, women still have a long way to go. But with leaders and feminists, such as Horney, maybe we stand a chance at having a voice for once.

Bella Barreto

U Mass Boston '25