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Volume 48 Number 1
Written by Holly L. Angélique (firstname.lastname@example.org), Penn State Harrisburg
Community psychology (CP) has patriarchal roots that have not always embraced feminism (Angelique & Culley, 2007). In this article, my goal is to present a brief history of the Society for Community Research and Action’s (SCRA) standing Committee on Women and to place that history within a context on both successes and setbacks. This article emerged largely from interviews with Anne Mulvey and I cannot begin to thank her enough for her keen memory, invaluable comments and editorial suggestions, as well as her commitment to the advancement of a feminist CP.
In the Beginning: Invisible Women Unite
In 1975, experiences of mostly women students at the Austin Conference set the stage for a contentious relationship between CP and feminism. As one example, Margie Leidig noted, “We sat in the audience and heard numerous jokes at our expense (e.g., ‘community psychology needing new girlfriends’), and when we expressed disdain at these types of comments, some of us were told to ‘not take things so seriously’” (Bond & Mulvey, 2000, p. 608). Additionally, the erasure of the word “women” from a board where participants were listing groups and topics for the field to consider is perhaps the most vivid example of women’s early marginalization in the field (Mulvey, 2008).
Barbara Dohrenwend, the first woman president of the SCRA and the first woman to receive the distinguished contribution award, was a mentor and role model for many women. Barbara encouraged Anne Mulvey to pursue her interests in women’s issues and feminist change by actively participating in the profession. The first meeting that Anne conducted was as the national student representative to the SCRA Executive Committee in 1977 at APA in California. A number of women at the student meeting were interested in women’s issues. Two of them, Rima Blair and Ann D’Ercole, lived in New York as Anne did. They began to meet in New York with other women, including Pat O’Connor and Beth Shinn, who were also interested in women’s issues and feminism.
Around this time, a number of other local groups of women in CP began to appear across the U.S. In 1979, the Chicago Area Women’s Community Psychology Collective was organized by Susan Frank and Stephanie Riger. Other groups came together in Michigan, Oregon and Boston. They began as fairly small isolated groups composed mostly of graduate students who shared an interest in women’s issues and feminist activism (Bond & Mulvey, 2000).
The Task Force and Committee on Women in SCRA: Research and Action
In addition to supporting each other’s work, the New York group wanted greater inclusion of women in the profession and of women’s issues and feminism in CP. They decided that documenting the coverage (or lack thereof) of women and women’s issues in the literature was a way to move toward these goals. They conducted a content analysis of three community journals: the American Journal of Community Psychology (AJCP), the Journal of Community Psychology (JCP) and a mental health journal. The research examined the extent to which women and women’s issues were in the literature and analyzed how findings related to women were interpreted. Unsurprisingly, they found little attention to the concerns of women. What they did find was sometimes victim blaming and usually focused on individuals rather than settings or systems. The study examined the authorship of articles and composition of editorial boards. There were few women authors and even fewer women lead authors. Editorial boards were composed mostly of men (Blair, et. al, 1978a).
The group combined research with activism by using their findings to recommend policy changes in SCRA and to seek to establish a task force on women. They avoided using terms like “feminism” that would sound political rather than professional. An early draft of the study was presented in 1978 at the Eastern Psychological Association in Washington, DC (Blair, et. al, 1978b). A more detailed version that included the policy recommendations was presented at the 1978 APA Meetings in Toronto (Blair, et. al, 1978a). Authorship was based on a coin toss. The paper was never published.
In 1978 on behalf of the New York group, Anne presented their research and policy recommendations to the SCRA Executive Committee. A Task Force on Women was approved. Rima Blair was the first chair. One of the first initiatives of the Task Force on Women was a survey of women in CP regarding their professional experiences (D’Ercole & Passy, 1979, as cited in Bond & Mulvey, 2000). In 1981 the Task Force co-chairs, Anne Mulvey and Lynn Passy, made a request for a standing committee on women that was denied by the Executive Committee. Instead, an ad hoc committee was approved. In 1983 the ad hoc committee co-chairs, Meg Bond and Jean Ann Linney, repeated the request. A standing Committee on Women was approved then. For a detailed account of the early history of the SCRA Committee on Women and of women in the field, see Bond & Mulvey (2000).
The first initiatives of the standing Committee on Women included editing two special issues of The Community Psychologist, one on women’s community based programs (Linney & Bond, 1985a, as cited in Mulvey & Bond, 2000) and the other on professional issues and identities (Linney & Bond, 1985b, as cited in Bond & Mulvey, 2000). In 1986, the Committee on Women replicated the Task Force’s survey and found that 25% of the respondents reported that they had experienced sexual harassment as students (Bond & Linney, 1986). Investigating and challenging sexual harassment became a major focus of the Committee on Women. Paradoxically, while the surveys illuminated the lack of support for women in the field, the Committee on Women was becoming larger and more visible, reaching out to the larger professional community. In 1989, for example, Anne Mulvey, Ann D’Ercole and Meg Bond joined forces with Chris Keys and Lenny Jason to offer a workshop on sexual harassment at the second biennial conference at Michigan State University. By that time, a special issue of the JCP on the theme of women in the community had been published (Mulvey et. al., 1988). Anne Mulvey’s (1988) now classic work on feminism and CP was in the special issue. Feminism appeared to be solidly entrenched in the field.
The Committee on Women: We are Here to Stay
In 2000, a special two-volume issue of AJCP on feminism was published, a project initiated by the Committee on Women (Bond et. al, 2000a; Bond et. al, 2000b). Unaware of the earlier unpublished work, I worked with Marci Culley to conduct an evaluation of both AJCP and JCP to assess the scope of the field’s attention to women’s concerns from a feminist perspective (Angelique & Culley, 2000). We found that less than three percent of the literature was specific to women’s concerns, and much of it was victim blaming. In other words, little had changed since the 1970s! Our general finding was that while feminists had become a strong presence in CP, feminism was not reflected in the literature. However, on a positive note, we did find that in the scant literature that could be considered feminist, CP was “getting it right.” We discovered that the feminist literature focused on gendered issues and paid attention to power dynamics and structural influences at multiple levels of analyses. While our complete analysis was too long to be published in the special issues of AJCP, our second data set that yielded far more positive results was published later in JCP (Angelique & Culley, 2003).
Riding the Waves of Feminism: Tensions from the Second Wave
Most of the history of feminism in CP is rooted in the second wave of feminism. As a brief primer, the first wave of feminism was focused on gaining equal political power and is associated with the suffragist movement of the early 1900s. The second wave of feminism used Marxist principles, but rather than using the labor class as its first and primary focus of oppression, feminism viewed gender as the first and most fundamental consideration of oppression. Second wave feminists noted that even within lower and working class households, gender discrimination existed. Similarly, gender discrimination was evident within different ethnic and racial groups. This led to tensions within the feminist movement as women of color, lesbians, working class women and others felt marginalized, refusing to separate marginalized aspects of their identities for a feminism that they critiqued as white, heterosexual and middle class (Mann & Huffman, 2005).
This tension was felt within CP as well. Some community psychologists left SCRA for other academic disciplines such as cultural studies (Guzman, 2012). After years of expansion, there was a dwindling of activity within the Committee on Women and membership began to decrease. Younger women who joined SCRA did not always identify with the struggles of their foremothers. Stories of marginalization related to gender and other aspects of identity emerged at the Committee on Women’s meeting at the 2005 biennial conference. This underlying tension in the field was expressed in a public performance at the 2007 biennial conference. Narrators told stories of being marginalized around gender, age, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and issues of disability within CP. These stories had a profound effect on the audience members and the sentiments rippled throughout SCRA (Shpungin et. al, 2012). This event was organized by the Committee on Women, with the support of SCRA’s president, Carolyn Swift, and may be considered a turning point in the focus of the Committee on Women to move toward greater inclusion around other marginalized statuses in the field.
The Third Wave Rushes In: Change within Feminist Community Psychology
The third wave of feminism focuses, in part, on the concept of intersectionality. Intersectionality acknowledges that people can be privileged in some ways and oppressed in others. The third wave also goes beyond an analysis of patriarchy to understand many structural barriers, including economic, health, educational and governmental systems (Mann & Huffman, 2005). As the third wave of feminism took hold in the U.S., it also made its way into CP. In 2012, I co-edited a special issue of JCP, Co-creating Feminist Community Psychology, with Anne (Mulvey & Angelique, 2012). Many pieces in the issue focused on intersectionality including marginalized statuses related to class, race/ethnicity, motherhood, sexuality orientation and other identities (Angelique & Mulvey, 2012). It appeared that the third wave of feminism had finally taken hold in the field. However, activity in the Committee on Women had all but stalled.
Despite the success of the special issue and great attendance at conference workshops (Angelique et. al, 2011), there still appeared to be a lack of communication or common ground between the generations of women in the field. Has CP simply grown too large to sustain the sense of community that women were able to find at one time? Are the concerns of emerging women scholars different from their predecessors?
There seems to be new difficulties and challenges for junior women to take on leadership of the Committee on Women in a field that has grown quite large and evolved to include many different committees and interest groups. Many women struggle to stay active across the intersections of their academic interests, that may involve memberships in multiple standing committees and interest groups in SCRA, including LGBT, interdisciplinary, organizational, and environmental groups, just to name a few. With these competing demands, younger women are also seeking practical advice about how to get jobs, be taken seriously as scholars, and maintain work-life balance. They want advice about when to have children in the midst of developing successful careers. They appreciate the hard work of the second wavers, but they watched our struggles and want to move forward. This is why intergenerational initiatives that are aimed at connecting the second and third wave feminists for the benefit of all are becoming increasingly important.
Tensions from the Intersection of the Second and Third Waves Today
If I were to paint a picture of my feminist position, I would situate myself along the shoreline straddling a surfboard with one foot firmly anchored in the sands of second wave feminism and the other being pulled forward by a strong current into the third wave. I was raised by second wavers and found my mentors in Anne Mulvey and Marilyn Frye and in the writings of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Patricia Hill Collins and others. I grew up on Ms. Magazine and have a picture of myself with Gloria Steinem at a book-signing sitting on my desk. But, I’m also a sex-positive, Jezebel reading, pierced, tattoo-loving girl (yes, I have re-claimed the word “girl”). I ride the waves of feminism.
With a gap in leadership in the Committee on Women, I volunteered to chair the committee again (I was chair from 1998-1999). To address the needs of younger women in the field, I proposed a workshop for the 2015 biennial conference focused on the practical needs of emerging scholars and practitioners such as job searching, with a sprinkling of consciousness-raising thrown in for good measure. I started a Facebook group, The Women of SCRA, to provide a social media space for women to discuss issues and find a cyber-sense of community. I was immediately met with two new challenges. First, I was asked to change the focus of my workshop because it overlapped with another proposal by a feminist. I ponder the extent to which women have room for collaboration versus competition in CP. Second, I was asked to take down the Facebook group until SCRA had a solid policy on such things. I could (and might) oblige and change the name, but it leads to more questions. If the goal is to create a sense of community among women in SCRA, should I erase SCRA from the title of our group? How far have we come from the word “women” being erased from a list of CP concerns?
Despite the challenges, there are many wonderful aspects of being a feminist in CP. We continue to have many supportive networks of women, working together across areas of common interests and differences. I would not change my academic home in SCRA for anything in the world. However, we still have tensions to contend with and generational issues to resolve. I firmly believe that the tensions are healthy and will help us move forward. It is my sincere hope that the third wavers will take over and move the field of CP to distant shores that I have yet to imagine. I will keep my eyes on the horizon as new ideas, innovations and actions rise up.
Angelique, H., & Culley, M. R. (2000). Searching for feminism: An analysis of community psychology literature relevant to women’s concerns. American Journal of Community Psychology, 28(6), 793-813. doi: 10.1023/A:1005111800169
Angelique, H., & Culley, M. R. (2003). Feminism found: An examination of gender consciousness in community psychology. Journal of Community Psychology, 31(3) 189-210. doi: 10.1002/jcop.10050
Angelique, H., & Culley, M. R. (2007). History and theory of community psychology: An international perspective of community psychology in the United States: Returning to Political, Critical and Ecological Roots. In S. Reich, M. , I. Prilleltensky & M. Montero (Eds.) International Community Psychology: History and Theories. 37-62. New York: Kluwer Academic Press/Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-49500-2_3
Angelique, H. (Chair), Mulvey, A., Culley, M. R., & Wolfe, S. (2011, June). Creating feminist community psychology: The dynamic co-creation of identities in multi-layered contexts. Roundtable discussion at the 13th Biennial Conference on Community Research and Action (Division 27 of the American Psychological Association), Chicago, IL.
Angelique, H., & Mulvey, A. (2012). Feminist community psychology: The dynamic co-creation of identities in multi-layered contexts. Journal of Community Psychology, 40(1), 1-10. doi: 10.1002/jcop.20515
Blair, R., D’Ercole, A., O’Connor, P., Green, B., & Mulvey, A. (1978a). The representation of women in community psychology: Policy recommendations. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association Meetings in Toronto, Canada.
Blair, R., D’Ercole, A., O’Connor, P., Green, B., & Mulvey, A. (1978b). The representation of women in community psychology. Paper presented at the Eastern Psychological Association Annual Meetings in Washington, D.C.
Bond, M.A., Hill, J., Mulvey, A., & Terenzio, M. (Eds.). (2000a). Feminist theory, research and action. [Special Issue]: American Journal of Community Psychology, 28.
Bond, M.A., Hill, J., Mulvey, A., & Terenzio, M. (Eds.). (2000b). Methodological issues and challenges for a feminist community psychology. [Special Issue]: American Journal of Community Psychology, 28.
Bond, M. A., & Linney, J. A. (August, 1986). Women in community psychology: Status report and challenges for the field. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C.
Bond, M.A., & Mulvey, A. (2000). A history of women and feminist perspectives in community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 28(5), 599-630. doi: 10.1023/A:1005141619462.
D’Ercole, A. & Passy, L. (August, 1979). Women in community psychology: Status functions and obstacles. Presentation at the American Psychological Association Convention, New York.
Guzman, B. (2012). The educational journey of a Latina feminist community psychologist. Journal of Community Psychology, 40(1), 62-76.
Mann, S.A. & Huffman, D.J. (2005). The decentering of second wave feminism and the rise of the third wave. Science and Society, 69(1), 56-91.
Mulvey, A. (1988). Community psychology and feminism: Tensions and commonalities. Journal of Community Psychology, 16(1), 70-83.
Mulvey, A. (2008). Reconceiving myself: Challenging conundrums and creating feminist community psychology. Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, 35, 11-27.
Mulvey, A. & Angelique, H. (2012). (Eds.). Co-creating feminist community psychology. [Special issue]. Journal of Community Psychology, 40,1.
Mulvey, A., Bond, M. A., D'Ercole, A., Keys, C. & Jason, L. (1989, June). Sexual harassment: Perspectives and action for training programs. Workshop presented at the Community Research and Action Conference, Lansing, MI.
Mulvey, A., D'Ercole, A. & Blair, R. (Eds.). (1988). Women in the community: Social, psychological and political contexts. [Special Issue]: Journal of Community Psychology, 16(1).
Shpungin, E., Allen, N., Loomis, C., & DelloStritto, M. E. (2012). Keeping the Spirit Alive: Using feminist methodology to address silencing as a structural issue. Journal of Community Psychology, 40(1), 44-61.
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