Re: feminism

Stephanie Harter (
Thu, 27 Mar 1997 10:08:53 -0600 (CST)

Hi Kaia,

I have been following your dialogue with the list with interest and
appreciated your concise summary of feminist psychology. I enjoy lurking on
the list for the challenge of listening to alternative constructions and
questions of personal construct psychology, but have not previously
contributed myself. I am caught in the chaotic system of the pre-tenure
process and frankly don't often feel that I have the intellectual resources
free to usefully to contribute to the conversation, so I resonated with your
request that people not ask you too many impossible questions!

I did want to say that I really appreciate your obvious interest in learning
and trying out alternative perspectives. I too am intrigued with the
relationship between the "personal" in personal constructs and the social
contexts in which I believe that our constructs inevitably develop. I
wanted to suggest that you might look at Miller Mair's work on personal
construct psychology as storytelling (refs. follow). "We inhabit the great
stories of our culture. We are _lived_ by the stories of our race and
place." (Mair, 1988, p. 127) I found it very provocative when I was a
graduate student in terms of challenging me to look beyond the
self-contained, rigidly bounded individual in considering constructive

While the process of construing may in some senses be embodied within the
individual, IMHO it also occurs in the medium and within the constraints
imposed by the relationship between the individual and the social, cultural,
and linguistic context. Perhaps Kelly's discussion of the dialectic between
freedom and determinism in personal construing could be extended to the
dialectic between construing as a personal and as a social, cultural
process.--"This personal construct system provides him both with freedom of
decision and limitation of action--freedom, because it permits him to deal
with the meanings of events rather than being helplessly pushed about by
them, and limitation, because he can never make choices outside the world of
alternatives he has erected for himself." (in Mair, 1969, p. 88)

I haven't gotten as far along in the process as I would like, but I think
that some of my work may have some relevance to a feminist perspective, so
I'll include a few references to that. Mair's work particularly provoked me
to (re)consider constructions of borderline personality disorder leading to
a paper in Constructivism in Psychotherapy. I am quite sure that there are
others on the list who could suggest other work integrating social and
personal constructivist positions and I also would be interested in what
they are doing. Rosen & Kuehlwin's edited book, Constructing Realities,
contains a number of chapters dealing with social constructivism and/or the
social context of construing that you may find helpful.

Sorry for the long note, I don't speak too often, because I have difficulty
being concise. I hope that there is something here you will find helpful.
Mostly I wanted to encourage you to continue questioning and conversing.
Best wishes,

Stephanie Harter
Psychology Department
Texas Tech University

Harter, S. L. (1995). Construing on the edge: clinical mythology in
working with borderline processes. In R.A. and G.J. Neimeyer (Eds.),
Constructivism in psychotherapy. American Psychological Association.
Harter, S. L., & Neimeyer, R. A. (1995). Long term effects of
child sexual abuse: Toward a constructivist theory of trauma and its
treatment. In R. A. & G. J. Neimeyer (Eds.), Advances in Personal Construct
Psychology, Volume III, pp. 229-269. Greenwich, CN: JAI
Kelly, G. (1958,1969). Man's construction of his alternatives. In
Maher, B. (Ed.), Clinical psychology and personality: The selected papers of
George Kelly. Wiley.
Mair, M. (1988). Psychology as storytelling. International Journal
of Personal Construct Psychology, 1, 125-137.
Mair, M. (1989). Kelly, Bannister, and a story-telling psychology.
International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 2, 1-14.
Rosen, H., & Kuehlwein, K.T. (Eds.) (1996). Constructing realities:
Meaning-making perspectives for psychotherapists. Jossey Bass.

At 10:21 AM 3/26/97 -0500, you wrote:
>Dear Bob,
>One of the reasons that men were not mentioned much in my explanation is
>because the source of the information comes from a text generated for
>counseling women. Men can be counseled from a feminist perspective, although
>there has been very little work/research in this area. The specialty area of
>counseling women evolved because many theories (not necessarily PCP)
>devalued women and represented the natural development of men as that of all
>human beings and women were somehow deviant because they did not follow the
>same developmental path. Most theories of personality were developed by men
>who embraced (or were emeshed) in a patriarchal white western culture.
>The driving force behind a feminist counseling perspective (as I understand
>it) is framing of the person's diagnosis/disorder/problems within the social
>context. For example 50% more women than men suffer from depression. It
>would be erroneous to say there must be something intrinsically wrong with
>women because there are so many of them who are depressed (which is how most
>intrapsychic theories would frame it, especially a psychoanalytic
>perspective). Instead, a feminist theorist would assert that depression is
>the logical result of living in an oppressive society. A feminist theorist
>will not let society off the hook. Certainly there are some aspects of
>depression which are located within the individual (if this were not the
>case all women and all minority groups would be depressed and no middle
>class white males would be). I believe the feminist approach would work well
>with men. Those men in a minority group are oppressed through racism (and
>often poverty). It is also possible for men who are part of the majority to
>be oppressed, by the desire not to follow strict sex role socilization
>values endorsed by the larger culture for example. It is my opinion that
>white men are under a great deal of pressure to succeed and embody the
>values of the perfect-male-provider.
>I am trying to reframe PCP so that it is compatible with a feminist
>perspective. The largest obstacle to this goal is the intrapsychic component
>of PCP. Yes one's constructs are created, in part, through one's past
>experiences and one's anticipated replication of events. This involves
>her/his interaction with the environment. However, I am unclear as to the
>role of living in our society is given in PCP. Maybe if the role of society
>is involved in viewing the creation and perpetuation of the construct, then
>I could incorproate a feminist perspective into a personal construct theory
>of a person's existence. I guess if I see it how I see it then anything is
>I enjoy studying PCP and there are many aspect of it that I feel leave the
>individual free and gives the individual the option of choice. To me this is
>very empowering. On the other hand viewing a person in her/his social
>context can be very empowering as well.
>Kaia Calbeck