Thursday, 21 February 2019

The Life of Social Psychologist Mamie Phipps Clark

Image Description: A black and white photo of Mamie Phipps Clark and her husband Kenneth Clark. Mamie is on the left and is wearing a knit dress and string of pearls. She is smiling and looking directly at the camera. Kenneth is on the right, dressed in a black pinstripe suit, white shirt and black tie. He is wearing tortoiseshell glasses and looking lovingly at Mamie. His hand is rested on her forearm.

Racial segregation affected the lives of every black American during the middle of the 20th century. Mamie Phipps Clark was a pioneering social psychologist who investigated its influence on young black children’s self-esteem and identification. She was also the first black woman to graduate from Columbia University, in New York, with a doctorate in social psychology.

Clark was born on October 18th, 1917, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Her father was a doctor, while her mother stayed home to raise Clark and her siblings. She had a moderately comfortable and happy life growing up, despite witnessing a lynching when she was six. Her parents were very supportive and encouraged her educational interests.

In 1934, Clark enrolled at Howard University, in Washington, to major in mathematics. However, she quickly became disillusioned with the subject and department, as she felt she had no support from her professors. Around this same time, she met her future husband, Kenneth Clark. They married in 1937. He persuaded her to pursue psychology, like himself.

In 1938, Clark got a job in a civil rights lawyer’s office and the experience had a profound effect on her personal and professional life. She then started her master’s degree at Howard; her thesis was called First Interests in Children and Development of Consciousness of Self. The work focused on young black children and how segregation shaped their social development.

In 1939, Clark and her husband received a fellowship and moved to New York. Now at Columbia, Clark studied under Henry Garret, a notoriously racist professor. In 1943, Clark and Kenneth became the first black Americans to graduate and receive a doctorate of psychology from the university. Clark also had two children and raised them while she studied.

While at Columbia University, Clark and Kenneth produced important and cutting-edge research. Their most famous experiment was the Dolls Test. It involved nearly 300 black children, aged between 3 and 7. The test was designed to determine their racial identification and self-awareness. Each child was shown four identical dolls with different coloured hair and skin and had to choose their favourite. The majority picked the white doll. Not only that, but the children associated the white doll with ‘good’ and the black doll with ‘bad’.

In another study, Clark and Kenneth gave black children drawings of an apple, leaf, orange, mouse, and boy and girl. They then asked them to colour them in using a box of crayons. With the boy and girl illustrations, children were told to use a colour that represented their own skin shade. They could choose whatever colour they wanted for the opposite sex drawing. The results suggested children experienced anxiety when deciding which colour to use.

Clark and Kenneth’s research was pivotal in the landmark court case Brown v. Board of Education. By 1954, the case had travelled all the way to the United States Supreme Court. It eventually ended racial segregation in public schools and saw the integration of white people and black people into the same educational facilities. In the process, Clark had to refute her former Professor, Henry Garret, who argued black children were genetically inferior.

After receiving her doctorate, Clark found it difficult to find employment in her field. Her husband found a teaching position at the City University of New York. As a black woman with her qualification, Clark felt like an ‘unwanted anomaly’She eventually became a research psychologist at the US Armed Forces Institute but hated it. She left after one year to join the Riverdale Home for Children. Here, Clark found her passion in helping underprivileged and homeless black children.

Clark was shocked by how little support was available for black children. Many of the children had mental health issues which went untreated. Those who sought medical treatment were incorrectly diagnosed. Clark suspected black children labelled as low intelligence by white medical specialists actually had treatable learning disabilities. 

In 1946, Clark and Kenneth opened the Northside Child Development Center. The facility provided psychology services for local children in the Harlem area. It was a small operation, with professionals donating their time to keep it running. Clark was the facility’s director until her retirement in 1979. Four years later, she died of cancer. Although Clark faced difficulties in establishing the facility, it still exists today. Clark’s work made a huge difference in the lives of underprivileged children.

Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD, and Kenneth Clark, PhD (
Mamie Phipps Clark – Psychology's Feminist Voices (
Meet Mamie Phipps Clark, the social psychologist who helped outlaw segregated schools (

By: Matthew J. Healy

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of The Sydney Feminists. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of writers to put forth their ideas and explore topics. To learn more about the philosophy behind TSF’s Blogger/ Tumblr, please read our statement here:

Thursday, 14 February 2019

The Position of Women in the Jehovah’s Witnesses Cult

Jehovah’s Witnesses is an exclusive and restrictive religion whose members claim to be on the path to an enlightening and everlasting life. However, women raised in this cult claim some of their practices represent a serious violation of human rights. For example, there is no gender equality, and women are prevented from advancing in their careers. Lara Kaput, a former Jehovah’s Witness, reveals the position of women in this organisation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses is a millenarian evangelical religion founded in 1870 by Charles Taze Russell. The Witnesses believe their cult is a restoration of first-century Christianity and the doctrine is based on the entire Protestant canon of scripture, which is considered the inerrant word of God.

Female members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses face multiple restrictions in their life. First, they have the lowest positions in the religious hierarchy and, most of the time, they are excluded from any governing decisions.

“I [was] many levels down the hierarchy. The hierarchy is in this order: The Governing Body, The Travelling Overseers, The Congregations, The Elders, The Ministerial Servants, then men and then women.” - Lara Kaput.

Image of a Bible lying open midway on a table. Most of the picture is in greyscale, except for the strip of fabric acting as a bookmark, which is bright red. 

Lara claimed she was depressed and felt her intelligence was a threat to the community. In the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion, women are supposed to be housewives and dedicate their life to witnessing (a common practice of converting new worshippers through door-to-door preaching). Furthermore, it is rare for Jehovah’s Witnesses women to have access to higher education, because they must procreate and not build careers.

“Females are expected to spend lots of hours witnessing, [therefore] there is no time for a college degree or any other intellectual activities.” - Lara Kaput.

Since childhood, Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to be submissive and not question anything with regards to their religion. This cult often uses mind control, especially with young women. The elders of the community make sure the women get married, give birth to children and then educate them in the spirit of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion, there is also another traumatizing experience called shunning. If a member disrespects the community or refuses to fulfill orders, they will be automatically excluded from the congregation. Therefore, there are many cases when families are separated, and even close relatives are not allowed to talk to the shunned members.

“I always got into trouble a lot in childhood because I was a critical thinker. If you’re continually questioning [what] you have been taught, you’ll be shunned.” - Lara Kaput.

Black and white image of a white woman's upper torso up to the neck, with arms in the prayer position. She is wearing a floral dress and holding a cross on a chain. 

The mind control goes even further because the personal lives of women are controlled in detail by the elders. Women are pressured to get married and, if they don’t, are labeled as difficult people. So-called leftover women are seen as aberrations, and they are often rejected by the community. There is also a great deal of pressure placed on the intimate lives of women. Jehovah’s Witnesses women are expected to be virgins upon their marriage. The dating process is also very religious. When a young woman decides to date someone, the prospective couple is supervised by family friends or acquaintances to avoid premarital sex.

“If you break the law and have sex, you will be unable to get married and automatically excluded from the organisation.” - Lara Kaput.

Reconciliation is possible. However, the shunned woman is judged by a special committee which decides whether to keep her or not. The members of this commission are allowed to ask her very intimate and uncomfortable questions. For instance, they may ask her to speak in detail about sexual intercourse.

All these practices represent a serious violation of human rights and young women especially are endangered because they are easily manipulated. To conclude, in this religion, men and women are not equal, and there are different expectations for both genders. Men have to provide for the family, while the women have to dedicate their lives to the process of witnessing.

By: Adela Marian

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of The Sydney Feminists. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of women to put forth their ideas and explore topics. The opinions shared in these pieces belong to the authors.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

STEMinist – Girlfriends

As a woman in STEM and the reluctant inheritor of a resting bitch face, paychecks and imposter syndromes have been easier to navigate than the perplexing relationship I’ve had with other women. I have found that I generally get along more easily with men than with women. I am aware that I am not the only woman who experiences this phenomenon, and that there are many factors which may have contributed to this, but I do believe that a rather large number of women in STEM fields seem to feel the same way.

While there are undeniably women in every field that face similar situations with fellow women, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of them in fields related to science, math and technology. Personally, I’ve always had to make more effort to connect with most other women than with men, and the ones I did well with seem to face the same struggle. For the longest time I thought it was just a personality thing, which it perhaps is, in part. But being surrounded by other women from STEM who think like this makes me believe that our choice in careers may have had something to do with it.

For one, I’ve mostly been around men while studying and at workplaces. The simple lack of women in my life may have made it tougher to understand how women prefer to communicate, versus how men do. One isn’t better than the other, but exposure to one more than the other would have surely determined how I learned to express myself in public.

With permission from Rebecca Abrantes, a computer engineer who had an all-male bridal party

Secondly, I think there’s a certain amount of awe that the society places on women in such fields, something we must strive to change in the next few generations by making the presence of women in STEM a common occurrence. Perhaps that extra attention or respect from society causes these women to sometimes face the contempt of other equally hard-working, talented and professional women and may even lead the former to develop a feeling of superiority, which further causes rifts in communication and understanding.

Lastly, I think being in any male-dominated field (not just STEM fields) and any discrimination within these fields forces one to develop a sort of an impermeable outer layer as a shield of protection. Being constantly asked to “man-up” doesn’t exactly encourage a free flow of expression and emotion; this can be a hindrance to forming relationships with anyone, not just women. To take it a step further, some women in male-dominated fields even end up buying into the culture of toxic masculinity and wind up perpetrating the abuses of male patriarchy onto their female peers. Call it toxic femininity, if you will.

As I took stock on how being in a STEM field has impacted my ability to connect with other women, I had lengthy discussions with the female engineers, mathematicians and scientists in my circle. It wasn’t astounding that almost all of them could empathize. Most of what I heard was:

“Women can be too judgmental and stand-offish about us; guys don’t really beat around the bush and are a little more straightforward.”

“Maybe it’s just the severe lack of women that I never really learnt how to talk to one.”

“Women compete with other women, as men do with men. Maybe men don’t consider us competition, which is sexist, but it makes talking to them easier. The landscape would be very different once they start viewing women as competition.”

“Some women in STEM are territorial; like males in a group who are both type A personality. They’re used to being the only ones in a group.”

“Women were mostly in clerical jobs in the last century; very few made it into what they call a “thinking job”, labelled as intellectually superior. The labelling continues although women have come so far in every field. Doesn’t help.”

“Maybe women in STEM actually consider themselves superior. STEM fields are given a lot of reverence in society.”

“We’re all in our own cocoons so we don’t talk much about things.”

I also spoke to a doctor who could not relate, so we’re clearly not all like this, thankfully! But I imagine that there is little way forward in the advancement of equal rights until we learn to better connect and bond amongst ourselves than we currently do.

The reason this disparity occurs can be broken down as follows: not enough women in STEM results in those who are in STEM fields struggling to connect with other women, making it harder for them to be “well-socialized” role models able to inspire more women to enter these fields.  It’s a vicious circle. Encouraging both boys and girls to enter every field unabashed, and exposing them to the possibilities of the world early on by degenderizing toys and hobbies, seems to be one of the fastest ways to break this cycle. We cannot begin to relate to each other until we stop enabling toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. And we cannot unite under the umbrella of a common goal if we cannot relate to our peers.

By: Shreyasi Mukerji

This is Part Three in Shreyasi's STEMinist series.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of The Sydney Feminists Inc. Our Blogger and Tumblr serve as platforms for a diverse array of writers to put forth their ideas and explore topics. 

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