You Can’t Say That. Or Can You?


In the United States, we have this thing called free speech. We can say whatever we like, however we like. Granted, at times, it may be distasteful, brutal, or lack sincerity and truth, but never the less, we are granted the right to say it.

You may pay some sort of price for it, though.

You can work and then come home and complain about work. But you could get fired the next day based on the rules of your employment.

You can come home and then complain about the government’s policies with no thought of concern about the FBI at your door. But, then again, there’s a limit to that as well.

But even then, you do have a right to fight for justice, whatever that may mean to you. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (n.d.), you are entitled to “the right to freedom of opinion and expression” (Article 19).

In case there’s any confusion regarding what this right entails, the document clarifies: “this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas . . . regardless of frontiers” (Universal Declaration, n.d., Article 19).

So, let’s take this down a notch.

How much interference are you giving yourself in sharing your thoughts, ideas, dreams, insecurities, etc., etc., etc.?

How many chains are you putting on yourself in holding back what you really want to, need to, have to say?

How often do you truly exercise this right?

How often do you hold back for the sake of  someone’s feelings? Or the fear of embarrassment? Or the anxiety of judgment?

How much are you not saying because you are afraid of the change it may bring?

There may be a legitimate reason why you are not exercising your free speech. After all, picking your battles is important. Getting fired may not be worth a moment of free speech. Joking about your need to blow up a government building due to the long line at the DMV may not quite be worth the time spent in the security area of your local police department.

But, how much are you holding back at the expense of your needs? Your desires? Your morals? Your sense of self? Your self esteem?

It may be time to exercise that right of free speech.

Because you may be paying the price for not doing it too.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (n.d.) Retrieved from

Divorce: Being the Bigger Person

relationship shatter

Cheating is the primary reason for divorce. Incompatibility, substance abuse, and simply growing apart are close runner-ups (Amato & Previti, 2003).

But, even with all that against a couple, usually only one part of that couple wants to end it. Women, roughly 75% of the time, are the ones to start divorce proceedings (Lawler, 2007).

The person that takes that step to make it official is called the “leaver” while the other – and kids are “other,” too, by the way – is considered the “victim” (Lawler, 2007, p. 1). Even if it is seems entirely legit as to why the leaver is leaving, you don’t get to claim victim. There’s your first clue that this is not going to be pretty.

And, really, there’s only two ways a divorce goes down – by orderly separation or by disorderly separation. These are nice legal terms that mean sort of tolerable and off the chain horrific.

Clearly, an orderly separation is the best. But it’s also the hardest. It takes interaction, collaboration, and honesty. Possibly, you never had this as a couple, so how in the world do you get it now? And more over, you don’t need this just between the two of you, but with your kids and even the grandparents. Believe it or not, you’re not the only one going through this – feelings of loss and grief are free for the taking (Drew & Silverstein, 372; Salts, & Smith, 2003).

Orderly separation look like this: relationship boundaries and expectations for everyone talked about and agreed upon, plans made ahead of time for everything from holidays to school pickup times, and when something ain’t working you say it then and there and fix it then and there. When spouses can work as cooperative colleagues, adjustments can be made and it can happen quickly and with less negativity (Lawler, 2007; Salts & Smith, 2003).

Damn hard to do. Someone has to be the bigger person. All the time.

If no one takes that role of the bigger person, then a disorderly separation is most likely. This is where the past clashes with the present. This is where the past and present hurt blinds the future possibilities. Granted, it’s damn hard to see through the pain and feelings of desertion and vulnerability. It can put a cloud over anything that resembles “be the bigger person.”

But here’s the deal. Your kids have it way worse than you. They are victims, too, remember. They witness the fighting. They are the ones who get ignored. They are the ones that become the pawns in the ridiculous game of who hurts more (Taanila, Laitinen, Moilanen & Järvelin, 2002).

So, whether you are the leaver or the victim, you gotta work on what happens next. Without the honesty, the placed boundaries, the expectations voiced and understood, even the terminology discussed and dissected and agreed upon, dissension and confusion for all family members will keep growing (Taanila et al., 2002).

Your best bet if you can’t be the bigger person is to get some mediation (Lawley, 2007; Salts & Smith, 2003). Having someone outside of the emotional situation can help a couple come to an understanding about the new roles, boundaries, and expectations that need to occur.

And find yourself some support because you will not get it from your ex. Not the way you need it. Find a divorce group, or sympathetic friend, or a compassionate family member. Get yourself a therapist.

The dissolution of a relationship is nothing short of experiencing a death. Your emotions and coping skills will be unpredictable and extreme. One minute they will be there. The next minute they won’t. You will not be the bigger person all the time, no matter how hard you try. After all, it’s not just you in this.

But give it your best shot. Your kids’ future is worth that. And so is yours.


Amato, P.R. & Previti, D. (2003). People’s reasons for divorcing: Gender, social class, the life course, and adjustment. Journal of Family Issues. 24(5), 602-626.

Lawley, M.K. (2007). Transitioning through divorce: Five steps to a good divorce. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved from

Salts, C.J. & Smith, Jr., T.A. (2003). Chapter 14: Special topics in family therapy. In Hecker, L. L., & Wetchler, J. L., (eds.). An Introduction to Marriage and Family Therapy (1st ed.). Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Clinical Practice Press.

Taanila, A., Laitinen, E., Moilanen, I., & Järvelin, M. (2002). Effects of family interaction on the child’s behavior in single-parent or reconstructed families. Family Process, 41(4), 693–708.

Babble, Anyone?

I believe one of the most exciting times for any caregiver is that moment when language begins to blossom in a young child. All you have to do is go to Youtube and see the millions of hits whereby kids are babbling on and on and the adult listener looks both confused and fascinated because he or she has NO IDEA what that child is saying. But, good grief, that kid has stuff to say!

Chomsky theorized that language is innate (Santrock, 2009). This idea is upheld by the mere fact that we are born with particular parts of the brain, such as Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas, that are hardwired to help us with motor development and language processing. When everything’s working, the timing, structure, and stages in which we learn language seem are virtually the same for everyone. When these areas are destroyed, we lose the ability to understand, relay, process, and perform language, regardless of experience and environment. We all start out babbling – testing things out – whether it be with our gestures, our facial expressions and motions, and in our mimicking of others, or just going for it with a string of crazy sounds (Santrock, 2009).

Kuhl (as cited by Santrock, 2009) discovered that all children, even as early as a few days, can pick up on every phoneme of every language. What this means is we are hardwired for every language in existence. We have the ability to understand and recognize a variety of nuances and blended sounds across cultures and nations. As we grow, we lose this ability simply because we don’t use it – they simply are pruned from our brain.

Don’t use it, you lose it.

But then there comes the environment.  We “talk to learn” (Gardiner & Kosmitzki, 2005). When we babble and coo, someone responds. When we point at something, someone notices and points too. This, my friend, is joint attention. Super important in communication. It lets us know someone’s listening.

And we are listening, too. Ever wonder why when seeing a cute baby or a uber adorable puppy, you talk in that stupid high pitched voice you didn’t even know you had?  This is Motherese. Yep, there’s a word for it. We do this to get their attention and hold it – to engage. Go on, try it. Get your dog. Talk to them in a dumb high pitched voice. It works.


But there’s one more thing here. How does one explain why Sue speaks hundreds of words very early in development while Johnny, now in kindergarten, barely speaks at all? We have a mix of biology and environment at play. Sue may be an only child, who has more attention directed toward her. She may have parents who are able to read with her nightly; they may even have more money. Sue may belong to a blended family in which she is constantly in communication with someone. Johnny may be the complete opposite as far as environment is concerned.

However, what’s incredibly interesting is this may not be the case at all. Johnny may read veraciously. He may have everything that Sue has available and then some. Or there may be one slight change. It could be anything.

Let’s say Johnny has two sisters. They do all the talking for him, you see. Johnny doesn’t speak in class, and his teacher worris about his learning abilities. After all, he barely squeaks out a yes or a no in a day. When the class talks about colors, Johnny sits quietly and listens, but doesn’t engage, as always. When it comes time for recess, the teacher asks Johnny to stay and work on his colors. Johnny wants none of that – he wants to go outside with his friends. So, he goes up to the teacher, taking the colored flashcards with him. One by one, he slaps them on the teacher’s desk, calling out each color correctly as he does so. He then looks at the teacher expectantly and asks to go outside. Johnny knows his colors, can say them perfectly, and understands language and how to use it. But, he doesn’t need to show his teacher. Not until he believes he has reason to.

So, the point? You wanna learn how to communicate better? Maybe your partner and you just can’t get it together anymore on that level? Maybe your voice shakes when you ask for something you want? Maybe you don’t know what to say in public settings?

As with Johnny, you have biology on your side. You also have the environment. That may or may not have worked to your advantage. There’s still time.

But there is also you, the individual. Johnny has biology and environment, and to his upmost credit, he has choice, too.

So, ready to communicate? It takes practice, baby. Start babbling and see what happens.


Gardiner, H.W., & Kosmitzki,. C. (2005). Lives across cultures: Cross-cultural human development. (3rd ed., pp. 101–116). Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Santrock, J. W. (2009). A topical approach to life-span development (custom ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Achievement: How to Get Some

We all want to achieve. Maybe big things. Maybe little things. Maybe just cleaning out the litter box. Or maybe world peace. Maybe getting out of our pjs before noon. Or not.

Doesn’t matter. You chose. What matters is how do we go about it exactly?

Let’s start with Hull and his thoughts about potential. Hull believed that excitatory potential, or action, is a matter of the strength of a habit in combination with the strength of one’s drive (McClelland, 1985).

Say what?

Basically, habit breeds action. Hull also claimed the value of the incentive also had a lot to do with the action.

So, you actually got out of your pjs before noon? You deserve a high five! And a cookie. Unless you want to stay in your pjs until after noon. By all means, do so. You deserve a cookie then, too.

Toleman (as cited in McClelland, 1985) continued with this line of thinking when he discussed the matter of achievement success, whereby one achieves based on the combination of expectancy and probability, along with what one believes the value of that success is.

So here it is in layman’s terms:

You gotta be excited about what you want. Then you just have to go for it. The more you attempt it, the better it will get. And even if failure occurs, you better pat yourself on the back for attempting it in the first place. Otherwise, you’ll get ticked off. And stop.

But the biggest factor is you gotta believe in yourself – you have to expect that you can, assume that you will, and believe that you are worth it.

So, this is what it may sound like in your head:

I can clean out the litter box. Really. I have bags and a litter scoop that cost 6 bucks. I got legs. It’s five feet away. I deserve clean smelling air. Good grief, I deserve to not think about this anymore. After I’m done, I’ll be free to not think about this anymore. Dammit, I can do this. YEAHHHHHHHH!

It’s like Braveheart with a pooper scooper.


Easier said than done, right?

But really? It’s a matter of faking it until you make it.

So you may be grumbling the whole time. Wondering why you ever got the damn cat in the first place. Hating each step to the trash. But, holy cow, you’re done. Huh.

Now you can go back to what you really wanted to be doing in the first place which was eating cookies in your pjs. Man, doesn’t that air smell fresh?


McClelland, D. C. (1985). How motives, skills, and values determine what people do.American Psychologist, 40(7), 812–825.

Turner, J.H. (1987). Toward a sociological theory of motivation. American Sociological Review, 52(1), 15-27.


Get Your Sea Monkeys On or How to Get What You Want


Motive is defined as a drive, an instinct, a biological excitement (Bindra, 1985). One philosopher and psychologist, the one and only Sigmund Freud, had much to say about instinct and motivation.

Clear back in 1915, Freud wrote his famous work entitled Triebe und Triebschicksale. Here, he explained motivation as a part of our soul. We were designed – hardwired – for action. The unconscious had everything to do with innate drives that compel us to do things (Mills, 2004). He wasn’t far off from the biological model of motivation called the drive reduction model in which one is biologically driven to remain in a state of balance called homeostasis (Myers, 2011).

So the reason we get hungry, thirsty, cold, hot, or have to go to the bathroom during an important meeting when that’s the last thing we want to do is make a spectacle of ourselves by rushing to the exit? Yeah, that’s motivation. Your body wants balance and it’s gonna get it.


Freud believed in biological drives but that not all drives were biological. I know, right? He believed that drives had an aim – to create satisfaction and ultimately pleasure – which means they could go beyond biology.

So “the heart wants what the heart wants” ?  Freud would totally agree.

But we need an object of that desire, whether it be real or fantasy, in order to really make it work.

For instance, I see a pair of boots I like, I want them, and then I convince myself I need them. I buy them to satisfy that drive. Is that drive real? Um, no. It is fantasy. Definitely. I don’t need the boots. I want the boots. But, it doesn’t matter – I’m still motivated and it works.

Maybe you’re not into boots. Maybe it’s something else. Like cookies. Or tools. Or sea monkeys.

There’s some fluidity with drives though, says Freud. So, one day you may want boots. One day sea monkeys. Or maybe sea monkeys with boots.

Now we know that Freud didn’t quite cover it all. Frank (2004) and other psychologists say that instincts and drives include not only objects and biological balances but the need for recognition, understanding of events, emotional availability by another, and affirmation (Akhtar, 1999). Frank (2004) suggested that in clinical settings and the like, we need to start focusing on needs and how we develop them over the lifespan. I could not agree more.

Helping others to explore their needs – both immediate and fantasy – are important in working with motivation and drive. After all, how do we know how to strive for something if we don’t know what that something is?

In my line of work, I often find students and clients alike struggling to put into words what they want. However, when focus is given to both the unconscious and conscious desires and they are brought to light, it seems to make motivation to get those things much more accessible.

So, today, give yourself permission to desire, want, and need. Then, you can bring forth the ways to get it.


Akhtar, S. ( 1999). The distinction between needs and wishes: Implications for psychoanalytic theory and technique. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association47, 113– 151.

Bindra, D. (1985). Motivation, the brain, and psychological theory. In S. Koch, & D. E. Leary (Eds.), A century of psychology as science (pp. 338–363). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Frank, G. (2003). Triebe and Their Vicissitudes: Freud’s Theory of Motivation Reconsidered. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 20(4), 691-697. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.20.4.691

Mills, J. (2004). Clarifications on Trieb: Freud’s Theory of Motivation reinstated. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 21(4), 673-677. Doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.21.4.673

Myers, D.G. (2011). Psychology in everyday life. Worth Publishers. 



Making Some Sunshine


Self efficacy is one’s personal belief system by which one thinks, creates action, and makes decisions (Bandura & Locke, 2003).  Emotions and behaviors, we exude through self-efficacy, whether perceived as positive or negative, are super sensitive. They can be changed through external cues such as opinions and judgments of others. They can change on a dime when we compare ourselves to someone else. They can even grow based on encouragement and praise.

Whatever we chose affects how we feel about ourselves, what we think about ourselves, and what we do with ourselves every minute of every day (Bandura & Locke, 2003).

Self-efficacy theories are rooted in the core belief that we have the power to produce anything we want (Bandura & Locke, 2014). You’re like SuperHuman with the cape AND the cool ride. You just gotta know how to use it.

So, here’s the deal. Right now, latch on to one positive aspect that you are bringing to the table right now.

Is it the fact that you are kind to animals? Is it the fact that you can’t let a smile from a stranger go unreturned? Is it the fact that you could have thrown that cigarette out the window but you put it in the trash instead? Grab something, anything. I guarantee you can pick one positive thing. Reading this counts too, by the way. After all, it’s all about improvement, right? Points for you, right here! Woohoo!

When you focus on these positives in yourself, you can build a positive self-perception. Everyone deserves a bad-ass self-perception. You deserve to know you matter.

It matters that you contributed to society by cleaning up your own mess, or spreading a bit of sunshine, playing with an animal that needed attention, or reading something with the hope of self improvement.  

Reiterating and acknowledging your contributions gives you permission to be even more engaged next time around.

And guess what? Imagine what happens when you pick out positives for others to help with their self-perception? We are talking unicorns and cotton candy for all, people.

What is important to remember when thinking about self-efficacy is that we all are sensitive to environmental cues. We can either stifle that in ourselves or others or we can help it blossom. Bandura and Locke (2003) said that “erroneous feedback serves as a form of persuasory influence” (para. 12).

Your words and actions have power. Everything you say, everything you do, can build up your worth or tear it down.

So, give yourself some sunshine. There’s more where that came from.


Bandura, A., &, Locke, E. A. (2003). Negative self-efficacy and goal effects revisited. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(1), 87–99.



Work on Your Right


A few years ago, there was a taping that documented the beating of a transgender woman in a fast food restaurant. Instead of helping, the person taped it. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon response to someone in need. And it was not the first time a transgender female had been viciously beaten and it was certainly not the last. But that one in particular struck a chord with me. The brutality of the beating made me sick to be a part of society, There are plenty of reasons to feel that way and, of course, reasons to feel the exact opposite, but this was definitely one that was in the top 10. The incident was ultimately deemed a hate crime. Damn right it is.

Our society is slowly changing our archaic ways and are warming to those who identify as transgender. But, it’s been a long time coming. Thanks to outspoken, bold people like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox who are catching more media attention than those who have come before them, we are finally getting it as a society. I mean, how far have we come when DC Comics makes the announcement that they will have the first ever transgender comic book character in Batgirl? That’s progress. Slow progress, but progress nonetheless.

Transgender is an umbrella term for a variety of identities, which include transsexual, cross dressers, drag kings/queens, third gender, transman, and transwoman, and gender-queer” (Fee, 2006). Yet, labels tend to define and place us in categories. Categories are stifling. Keen explained that we as a society would be much better off if we eliminated the use of such ideals as “masculine and feminine” altogether (as cited by Garber, 1995).

Gender neutral, anyone?

Here’s the honest truth. There’s a lot we should know about this, but we don’t. The mental health field is slow in getting on the bandwagon in working with those who identify as transgender due to minimal empirical research (Carroll, Gilroy & Ryan, 2002). But, we are getting there. Those who are transgender are paving the way in education and we sure need it.  When there is ignorance, there is fear. When there is fear, there is a whole lot of crap that people will believe that has nothing to do with fact. What we do know for sure is transgendered persons are at the most risk for social ostracism and discrimination (Carroll et al., 2002).

And this just can’t continue. So, wise up, people.

Have you read the International Bill of Gender Rights? You should. Here’s a link:

As Carroll et al., (2002) explained, we need to “rethink [our] assumptions about gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation” and “adopt a ‘trans-positive’ or ‘trans-affirmative’ disposition” (p. 133). This happens by stopping it with the know-it-all attitude and learning about those who may just be different from you. You may find out they’re not that different at all.

Spencer (1995) explained that those who are transgender are not in the wrong, but that society itself is wrong by having such definitive, vested interests in gender stereotypes. So, it’s time to open up that closed mind, everyone.

Nobody likes to be wrong. It’s time to work on your right.


Carroll, L., Gilroy, Paula J., & Ryan, J. (2002). Counseling transgendered, transsexual, and         gender-variant clients. Journal of Counseling & Development, 80(2), 131-139.

Fee, A. (2006). Transgendered identities. Therapy Today, 17(1).

Garber, M. (1995). Vice versa: Bisexuality and the eroticism of everyday life. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Spencer, C. (1995). Homosexuality in history. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company.

Anger is not Bubble Made

angerAnger is perceived in our society as a very individualistic problem. When taking an individualistic approach, anger is recognized by exploring one’s negative perceptions in order to change them. But does this always work? Not so much.

Studies indicate that individual approaches to anger – that somehow one with anger lives in a sort of bubble of his or her own making – are archaic and are not near as helpful as once perceived (Costa & Babcock, 2008; Stop F.E.A.R. Coalition, n.d ). In contrast, a more collectivist approach that embraces the family is being looked at as a new way to address anger. A collectivist approach encompasses the individual but looks at much more than the anger and the person with it.

It takes into account family disagreements, qualities of dysfunction, and the role of expectations. Collectivist approaches are a new way of thinking about the family and its members and the anger that stifles its functioning. All of these factors can create destructive manifestations of anger (Jager, Bornstein, Putnick, & Heindricks, 2012). Studies indicate that a much more holistic approach needs to be taken when dealing with anger and angry behaviors (Costa & Bacock, 2008; Jager et al., 2012).

So, what does that mean for those who are dealing with anger?

You do have a responsibility for your behaviors and you do have to take a long hard look at what you are doing and how you are contributing to your family dynamics. But you also cannot expect to change within a vacuum. Sooner or later, you will have to test these things out in the real world. For most of us, the real world means family, partners and spouses, kids, co-workers.

This means you have to get real.

Let people know you have anger issues. Most likely, they already know. So fessing up gets rid of the elephant in the room.

Let them know you are working on it. And then hold yourself accountable. They will. So the more you add action to those words, the better.

Tell them your coping skills. Explain to them the changes you are trying to make. Ask them to help you make them. Accept that you will not be doing what you did before.

And, honestly? That’s going to freak people out. They may not know how to react. Before, at least they knew what to do. Now, there’s a new game in town. Let everyone know what you’re playing, which will change their game positions, too.

For instance, if you used to stay in the room and would end a fight by punching a wall and now you are trying like crazy to walk away and count to ten before that thought hits your fist, let that person know that taking a breather is the new ending. That you need that. That a hole in the wall is not the end. A walk away is a break and you will be back when you calm down.

Then, they know their part and they can help. They can let you walk away, knowing you will be back without the anger.

This will take time. Learning new lines to a really old play is hard work.

Anger is not just the individual. It affects everyone around you. Don’t pretend they are not there. If you are in therapy for anger, consider bringing them to a session, or two, or five. Let them in. Let them know you are rewriting.

Make a new play together.


Costa, D., & Babcock, J. (2008). Articulated thoughts of intimate partner abusive men during anger arousal: Correlates with personality disorder features. Journal of Family Violence, 23(6), 295-402. doi: 10.1007/s10896-00-9163-x

Jager, J., Bornstein, M. H., Putnick, D. L., & Hendricks, C. (2012). Family members’ unique perspectives of the family: Examining their scope, size, and relations to individual adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 400-410.

Stop F.E.A.R. Coalition. (n.d.) Policy Statement on Couples Counseling & Anger Management in Domestic Violence Cases. Retrieved from

Funny? You Got Everything on Mr. Grey

couple laughing

Why do I find Seth Rogen adorable? Why does Adam Sandler turn me on? Weisfield et al., (2011) tells us that it’s because they are funny. Period. That’s all it takes.

So mates and potential mates? Singles who are trolling and looking and hoping? Long suffering couples in relationships that need some spice in their coupledom? Listen up!

In a sample of 3,024 diverse couples across the United States, United Kingdom, China, Turkey, and Russia, it seems that being funny is the one thing that keeps relationships going strong. Even in arranged marriages, which are traditional in Turkey, and between married couples in Russia, who in this sample had A LOT of children, funny makes it work. Funny makes it all better through all cultural lines through all different kinds of couples. And better yet, it doesn’t matter if it’s funny funny, funny satirical, funny gross, funny stupid – if your mate likes it, that’s all that matters.

So, Mr. Grey, your millions of dollars and chiseled chest aren’t going to get you to Book 4. You can’t tell a joke to save your life. Did Anastasia ever laugh out loud and have milk coming out her nose based on something that you said? Did she ever have tears run down her cheeks because she couldn’t stop laughing based on your dorky dance behind closed doors that no one else will ever see? No, I think not. Your days are numbered.

All you men out there who are feeling a bit competitive or under par since that ridiculous trailer came out? There were no jokes. There are no jokes. It will fade. I promise.

This concept of humor equals strong relationship draws on the Darwinian theory that “humor is universal” put forth in 1872 (van de Vihjer, 2001). With this as the basis, there is an implication that humor helps us survive, adapt, and continue forth. Another interesting characteristic of humor? It seems the most intelligent are the ones who have a sense of humor (van de Vijver, 2001). Money and chiseled abs don’t make you smart. They make you look good for a 2 hour movie. That’s it.

So the best way to make your mate happy? Make ‘em laugh. Show off that smile and that witty mind of yours. Show ‘em you can be vulnerable and dance that goofy dance. When you hear that laugh, you’ll know you’ve got ‘em.


van de Vijver, F. J. R. (2001). The evolution of cross-cultural research methods. In D. Matsumoto (Ed.), The handbook of culture and psychology (pp. 77–97). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Weisfield, G.E., Nowak, N.T., Lacas, T., Weisfeld, C.C., Imamoglu, E., Butovskava, M., & Parkill, M.R. (2011). Do women seek humorousness in men because it signals intelligence? A cross-cultural test. Humor International Journal of Humor Research, 24(4), 435-462. doi: 10.1515/HUMR.2011.025

Feminist Theory – Not Just a Hysterical Idea


“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood.” Gloria Steinem

Feminist Theory is a theory that is near and dear to my heart.  Women’s studies was my minor in my undergraduate studies in Psychology and I have been involved in feminist issues for years.  I met and had lunch with Gloria Steinem and thought I had died and gone to heaven. I would stalk her even now if I thought I could get away with it.

Feminist theory takes the stance that women are in need of empowerment. Johnson & Ferguson (1990) wrote: “No theory can be of real use to a woman unless it takes into account both a woman’s very individual story of growing up to be herself and the shared experience of living in a male dominated society” (p. 45). The key is education – the awareness of a woman’s own defined place in the world. But with this, we must realize that we are not alone.  Feminist theory gives women the tools and the knowledge to call forth what has always been inside them, yet has never been acknowledged.

Women are defined within the context in which they live. What? To think that we are affected, whether we know it or not, by our social surroundings and our social context? That this is how, inadvertently, I live my life as a woman? The first time I heard that, I laughed. How could that possibly be? I am independent, dammit. But, stay with me for a second.

Pick any context or structure – religion, family, politics, work, relationships, media, medicine, gender, psychology – a struggle has been fought for a women’s place in all these things.  Some have been won, some have not.  Even among women themselves, cultures clash and misunderstandings ensue.  Feminist theory is not shy about making sure women understand the many differences in class, race, and culture amongst women and how important it is to work within these differences for change.

Let’s get deep, shall we?

In the family structure, women are stuck between or amongst being a good mother, a strong role model, a productive and successful worker, and a happy partner. We must be agreeable yet not a pushover, strong yet not a bitch, productive but not a threat, a good mother but not too overbearing. In politics and work, we have to find a place of acceptance without backlash. In relationships, we are still being beaten and raped and made to feel weaker and less than. We are shamed and guilted into doing things we don’t want to do all for the sake of peace. In media, we are told to be skinny and beautiful and perfect, regardless how inane that is realistically, airbrushing and starving to death not excluded.

Historically, women have been locked up, drugged into silence, deemed crazy by white men in authority. The feminine ideal of gender is imposed on us from the moment we are born – by being made to wear pink, by being given dolls and play stoves – all in preparation for our future of service.

The term “hysteria” was penned as a disorder that took hold of single, middle class women such as Florence Nightingale and Alice James who didn’t buy that for a minute (Humm, 1989). I think it was said by bell hooks (1994) best: “In our culture, women of all races and classes who step out on the edge, courageously resisting conventional norms for female behavior, are almost always portrayed as crazy, out of control, mad” (p. 207).

Even in the field of psychology, women struggled to be taken seriously. The first president of the APA was a woman and she didn’t even get her degree from the college she actually graduated from. She had to go down to that “other college” and pick it up there. Look it up. I speak the truth.

Jaggar & Rothenberg (1993) discussed feminist theory as the theory that understands “the plights of individual women as connected with each other, as instances of systematic subordination rather than the results of coincidental misfortune” (p. 49).Women had to forge their own theory in order to feel free to embrace themselves. In order to say, hey, so far, you got this all wrong! Feminist theory was not bred by one idea. It was developed from a combination of insights by many different women from a variety of cultures and walks of life. It was formed out of need. It is different in the sense that it is constantly changing and evolving to accommodate the new generations with new ideas, along with the ever present desire to understand and learn from the past. It thrives on positive changes in the community and in the family. It thrives on empowerment and the gift of empathy.

So, women? Do some roaring. Focus on your positives. Give them hell and go mad. And reach out to your sister and support her. Sister, you say? But which one? Let’s start with the one in your mirror.

hooks, b. (1994). Outlaw culture: Resisting representation. New York: Routledge.

Humm, M. (1989). The dictionary of feminist theory (2nd ed.). Columbus: Ohio State University Press:

Jaggar, A.M. & Rothenberg, P.S. (1993) Feminist frameworks (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

Johnson, K. & Ferguson, T. (1990).Trusting ourselves: The sourcebook on psychology for women. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Jordan, J.V, Kaplan, A.G., Miller, J.B., Stiver, I.P., Surrey, J. L. (1991). Women’s growth in connection. New York: Guilford Press.