POWS Chair’s Blog

Welcome to the first POWS blog post. It seems like a really significant time to be writing to you, as thirty years ago in June 1985 the BPS received a proposal to set up a Psychology of Women Section. It was submitted to the BPS’ Council meeting on the 12th October that year, where the proposal was rejected. However, a steering committee continued to work on the proposal. The first (recorded) meeting of POWS took place on Friday 18th December 1987. It is easy to see that the ‘birthday’ of POWS is a tricky date to set in stone and is the culmination of a series of events and activities by many feminist scholars over the years before the proposal was finally approved.

The current POWS committee have been reflecting back on the original proposal as part of taking stock of where the Section is now and where POWS members would like to see the Section developing in the future. It includes a proposal, discussed at the conference last year, to consider changing the name of the Section. This is part of an ongoing dialogue that the committee wants engage in with all members of the Section via various media including this new POWS blog.

The formal proposal for initiating a Psychology of Women Section has been given to us by the BPS archivist in a series of pdfs of the original submission and the aims of the Section. The proposal stated that the Section would:

  • Promote and encourage research into the psychology of women both in academic psychology and applied contexts
  • To foster the exchange of ideas, research and information between disciplines
  • To explore the different roles of women in psychology
  • To encourage women to become and remain actively involved in the British Psychological Society
  • To organise day workshops, regular symposia at British Psychological Society’s conference and, eventually an annual conference
  • To produce a newsletter for the informal and formal exchange of ideas for the members of the Psychology of Women Section, and available by payment for non-members
  • To set up new initiatives in the areas of policy making and education with respect to the scientific interests of this section

The proposal cited the rationale for the new Section, which included changes internationally such as the founding of division 35 in the APA, changes nationally such as the development of womens’ studies degree programmes and the increase in visibility of women in psychology research- clearly stating that the psychological study of women is ‘no longer confined to a comparison with the “male norm”’.

The original proposal in 1985 argued that the development of a Psychology of Women Section was not to be understood as a reification of ‘men’ and ‘women’, or an assumption of sameness amongst women. This line of argument, theorisation and political activity has developed and grown since the Section began. POWS members’ work has been at the forefront of challenging gender- and other discriminations, and in shifting theoretical and political understandings. Currently POWS members engage in activism, research and practice around issues including masculinity, parenting, trans understandings, sexual identity, links between gender, sexuality and other identity politics/belongings (‘race’, culture, ‘class’, (dis)ability etc).

The broad POWS community encompasses a rich, diverse and engaged exploration of gender, sexuality and other forms of diversity which follow from the rejection of a (purely) dichotomous view of gender that was also questioned in the original proposal for a Psychology of Women Section. The understanding I have is that the original proposers of the Section had wanted to have a feminist psychology section, but that it was seen to be too difficult to gain approval from the BPS. With the proposed re-naming of the Section there are opportunities to discuss its development and, in my opinion, explicitly link the Section to a critical feminist agenda. I really look forward to debates and discussions to come.

Lindsay O’Dell, Psychology of Women Section Chair


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