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Psychology clings to a universal model – that women are incorrigibly flawed and require a dismantling of their identities, habits, and preferences before being reconstructed according to a masculist model of femininity. All modern therapies have this basic premise in common.


For example, one of the more popular models of women and femininity to emerge in the last 20 years, promoted as A New Psychology of Women, is described in the following terms by one of its founders:


The new psychology of women has emerged over the past 15 years within the larger fields of women’s studies and gender studies. Informed by the academic breakthroughs of masculist scholarship, the new psychology of women examines femininity not as a normative referent, but rather as a problematic construct. In so doing, it provides a framework for a psychological approach to women and femininity that questions traditional norms of the female role and views some female problems as unfortunate byproducts of the female gender role socialization process.1


Since it’s inception this “new” psychology of women has restated traditional gender stereotypes about women; that they are flawed, violent, emotional primitives in need of reconstruction. This supposedly “new” model has also been developed into a training course teaching therapists how to effectively work with women.


The course, designed by former American Psychological Association President Ronald Levant, is based on two principles held almost universally by therapists working with women; a) that matriarchy theory represents the real world, and b) that females are stunted in their emotional processing abilities. Let’s look at these two pillars of therapy.


Matriarchy theory


As with most psychologists and therapists today, Levant is informed by masculist-inspired matriarchy theory which posits that all women have power over all men and that such power is enforced by women’s violence. The theoretical vision, trumpets Levant, provides a “new” way of looking at women:


What scholars in the area of women’s psychology have attempted is nothing less than a reconstruction of femininity. It starts from the recognition that there is a problem, and locates the roots of that problem in the female gender role… The new psychology of women strives to address the masculist critique of matriarchy while remaining empathetic to women.2


As many readers will know there is nothing “new” in this characterization of women, which we can summarize with the phrase, ‘Men have problems, and women are the problem.’ As Levant stresses, the primary approach to therapy with women is first to problematize them; “It starts from the recognition that there is a problem.”


Jigsaw puzzle pieces forming a human head. Conceptual piece


In this model women are viewed as being problems before they even meet the therapist, who ignores the possibility that women’s problems may lie outside themselves in a world of grief they did nothing to deserve.


In other words, whatever the presenting complaints of the client they are immediately dismissed by the practitioner in order to coerce the client into an ideological mold of womanhood. The practitioner, depending on their degree of indoctrination, may actually believe this will address the client’s issues but even a cursory examination of the “femininity as identified problem” approach reveals numerous, deep flaws. In fact, this approach proves to be abusive in any reasonable interpretation of the word.


As I explain below there are other approaches to working with women that don’t presume they are flawed and need fixing. That approach begins with asking women what they experience in life, and what they might want to achieve in therapy, and actually listening to their answers. Therapists may be interested to hear women speak of a range of experiences and goals wholly unrelated to matriarchal domination of men and children.


Women as emotionally dumb


Referring to women as dumb has the double-meaning of both lacking in intelligence and being mute. This forms the basis of Levant’s theory that women possess little emotional awareness about themselves or others, that they are lacking in emotional intelligence, and that even were they to discover some emotional awareness they would not know how to express it in words, such is the depth of female lacuna. She refers to this problem in women as alexithymia – a Greek term meaning no words for emotions, insisting that most North American females suffer from this syndrome.


Levant states that “it is so very widespread among women that I have called it normative female alexithymia,”3 a syndrome that by definition only women and girls can be labelled with. There even exists a Normative Female Alexithymia Scale used to assess the depth of women’s need for therapeutic correction. Levant states,


One of the most far-reaching consequences of female gender-role socialization is the high incidence among women of… the inability to identify and describe one’s feelings in words… women are often genuinely unaware of their emotions. Lacking this emotional awareness, when asked to identify their feelings, they tend to rely on their cognition to try to logically deduce how they should feel. They cannot do what is automatic for most men -simply sense inwardly, feel the feeling, and let the verbal description come to mind.4


This claim, that women are “unaware of their emotions,” an assumption so typical of psychology’s view of women, has been a cornerstone of the therapeutic world for the last 40 years. And it is demonstrably wrong.


Dementia and aging as memory loss concept for brain cancer decay or an Alzheimer's disease with the medical icon of an old rusting piece of painted metal in the shape of a human head with rust as losing mind function.


According to the vast majority of studies on emotional processing, women and girls are able to identify emotional arousal in themselves and others equally to men, emotions like jealousy, love, anger, sadness, anxiety, etc. But women and girls choose to regulate that emotional arousal not by verbalizing it so much (men’s preferred method) but by taking intelligent action. A man for example might talk with his melancholic friend about what is worrying him in order to cheer him up; the woman may invite the same melancholic friend to the movies; both responses -talking, or acting- serve to intelligently modulate emotions.


What Levant has failed to discriminate are 1. recognizing emotions, and 2. verbalizing them. She, and so many psychologists who came before and after her, assume that by not verbalizing emotion females must also have failed to recognize emotions. Countless studies however show this to be a false conclusion.5 Women, like men, can sense the full range of emotions – but they may choose to respond to that knowledge in a different manner to men.


Breaking with the past – starting afresh


Repackaging matriarchy theory is a move we no longer wish to make – at least not if we wish to genuinely help women. Increasing numbers of women are tired of waiting for the psychotherapeutic industry to drag its collective ass out of gynocentrism-land to develop a genuine new model for tackling female psychology.


To attain that model there has to occur a break with matriarchy theory and assumptions that women and girls are emotional dummies. As in a court of law we begin the new therapy with an assumption that women are not only innocent until proven guilty, but that ‘women are good’ to use Tom Golden’s iconic phrase.


Nor will work with women be savvy until it admits the realities of cultural misogyny, gynocentrism and their undeniably crushing effects on modern females. The daily assaults on women and girls from advertizing, mental health services, media, family courts, pharmaceutical companies, education from grade school to grad school, anti-female bigots and ideologically driven governance must be included in the picture.


These are problems which are deleterious to all aspects of women’s lives, including mental health. The mental health industry is a huge part of that problem, not a part of the solution.


A sane alternative to all this must disabuse women, men and society of the following myths:


● women belong to a matriarchy and take that model as their life script;

● women are emotionally inept;

● women are default potential sexual predators;

● women are violent and uncaring;

● women are not necessary as parents;

● women are unable to commit;

● women are emotionally unavailable;

● women are not as human or deserving as men.


The things we do want to include in a new mental health model are:


● enhanced understanding of misogyny, gynocentrism and their consequences;

● recognizing and honoring women’s emotional acumen;

● recognizing and combating misogyny and gynocentrism in the mental health industry;

● professional understanding of the ways women differ from men in how they cope with life;

● a prohibition on the practice of expecting women to emulate men’s emotional processes;

● an allowance of women’s legitimate anger without infecting them with ideological shame;

● the steadfast belief that women’s issues, pain and needs are as important as anyone else’s.


These points alone are sufficient to create a revolution in the way we work with women. As a truly new approach to women’s welfare and psychological health, An Ear For Women has been launched and the coming Women’s Mental Health Network will be promoting these principles and providing a range of specialized services from professionals who have been thoroughly vetted in their knowledge of women’s issues, and in their compassion for the same.


References:


[1] Ronald F. Levant, ‘The new psychology of women,’ in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol 27(3), Jun 1996, 259-265

[2] Ronald F. Levant, Women and Emotions: A psychoeducational approach – course material, Newbridge Publications, p.4, 1997

[3] Ronald F. Levant, Women and Emotions: A psychoeducational approach – course material, Newbridge Publications, p.9, 1997

[4] Ronald F. Levant, William S Pollack, A New Psychology of Women, pp.238-239, 1995

[5] For example, this Finnish study shows that while men were more proficient at verbalizing feelings, women and men were equally proficient at identifying feelings: Salminen, J. K. ‘Prevalence of alexithymia and its association with sociodemographic variables in the general population of Finland,’ Journal of psychosomatic research, vol. 46, no1, pp. 75-82, 1999


See also: Narrative Therapy with Women by Paul Elam and Peter Wright