Statistics on Women • According to the U.S. Census 2010, there were 156,964,211 women in contrast to 151,781,326 men. • Women because of society’s patriarchal structure continue to face discrimination. • This chapter focuses on feminist issues. • Feminism refers to efforts directed toward gender equality on social, economic, political, and other fronts. • Feminist therapists believe that patriarchy contributes to women’s stress and psychological symptoms, so they focus on empowerment and strengths.
Societal Pressures • Women are still expected to be caregivers and are still evaluated by physical beauty. • Many women are employed outside the home and now see marriage as an option. • Women continue to be treated as sexual objects. • There is still pressure for women to be thin, which can lead to self-esteem issues and disordered eating. • Women are often socialized to meet the needs of others and take on the roles of nurture and caregiver.
Discrimination, Harassment and Victimization • Women continue to face sexism in professional settings. • Sexual harassment continues to be prevalent. • Sexual victimization and intimate partner violence disproportionately affect women.
Educational Barriers • Girls are underrepresented in math and science; female students receive less attention and encouragement; female students may be sexually harassed. • Young women are penalized for speaking out.
Economic and Employment Barriers • Women continue to face barriers in many career tracks—especially math and science. • Stereotypes against women inhibit their performance. • Women also continue to earn only about 77% of what men earn. • If a woman behaves in a task-oriented style, she may not be as likable. • Women continue to be overrepresented in lower wage jobs (e.g., cashier, secretary, nurses aide, and teaching). • Women leaders confront divergent expectations (e.g. assertive versus demure). • Barriers to corporate women’s advancement include tokenism, old boys network, and less effective mentoring.
Ageism • With the emphasis on youth and sexism, older women are viewed more negatively than older men. • Women increasingly outnumber men as they age (two men for every five women over the age of 75). • However, post menopausal women discuss feeling more independent and self-assured (especially among well-educated women). • Be aware of the various life transitions that older women go though and be prepared to provide support to them.
Depression • Up to 7 million women currently have depression, which is twice the rate found in men. • Factors contributing to depression include poor socioeconomic status, unhealthy societal gender standards, and posttraumatic stress. • Deviation from beauty standards can lead to self-doubt and poor self-image. • Minority women face multiple discriminations that also contribute to depression.
Gender Bias in Therapy • Assess your own biases in terms of what it means to be a woman. • Be aware that you may interrupt women in therapy. • Gender microaggresions can reduce the effectiveness of the working alliance and decrease empowerment. • Biases can exist in diagnosis (e.g., personality disorders such as borderline and histrionic). • Differentiate normal menstrual issues with premenstrual dysmorphic disorder. • Psychological theories are gender biased (e.g., enmeshment).
Embracing Gender Strengths • Affliative qualities such as being concerned with relationships, sensitivity, and nurturance can be effective at maintaining effective interpersonal relationships. • Consensus building, teamwork, and cooperative efforts can help in the workplace.
Implications for Clinical Practice • Possess up-to-date information regarding the biological, psychological, and sociological issues that impact women; for example, knowledge about menstruation, pregnancy, birth, infertility and miscarriage, gender roles and health, and discrimination, as well as their impact on women, is important. • Recognize that most counseling theories are male-centered and require modification when working with women; for example, cognitive approaches can focus on societal messages. • Attend workshops to explore gender-related factors in mental health and be knowledgeable about issues related to women.
Implications for Clinical Practice • Maintain awareness of all forms of oppression and understand how they interact with sexism. • Employ skills that may be particularly appropriate for the needs of women, such as assertiveness training, gender role analysis, and consciousness-raising groups. • Assess sociocultural factors to determine their role in the presenting problem. • Help clients realize the impact of gender expectations and societal definitions of attractiveness on the mental health of women so that they do not engage in self-blame. • Be ready to take an advocacy role in initiating systems-level changes as they relate to sexism in education, business, and other endeavors. • Assess for the possible impact of abuse or violence in all women.