The Changing Face of Feminist Psychology. Directed by Alexandra Rutherford. Toronto: The CENT Research Collective, York University, 2009.

Reviewed by Rachel Liebert

The Changing Face of Feminist Psychology is a 40-minute documentary that draws upon interviews with feminist psychologists, as well as archival and published material, to examine the trajectory of North American feminist psychology after second-wave feminism confronted an androcentric, if not misogynist, mainstream psychological “science.” As a pedagogical tool in the feminist classroom, it seems particularly useful as a well-grounded political and personal introduction to the field. The film’s narrative traverses the landscape of interviewees’ experiences with their own feminist consciousness, professional discrimination, establishing an organized feminist presence, intersectionality, work-life balance, and current concerns for feminist psychology. It touches upon these key and complex areas succinctly, while effectively situating them within broader sociopolitical goings-on.

For young scholar-activists such as myself who are negotiating a third-wave feminist identity, it was wonderful to be able to put faces to names of the inspiring feminists who have, often unbeknownst to them, mentored us from afar. I relished this opportunity to connect with the shared dilemmas in doing this kind of work. Many of us can recall our life-changing “conversion” to feminism; as Hope Landrine described in the film, “there’s no turning back; once you are feminist, you just are.” Feminism changes the way we view the world, and our place and purpose in it. Thus, as the film emphasizes, it is so important that we work together. By constructing this history with narratives of diversity and solidarity, the film itself makes an invaluable contribution to such collective efforts.

To this end, The Changing Face of Feminist Psychology also offers seeds for discussions that could bear witness to the experiences of newer generations of feminists, and of feminist psychologists from other parts of the world. How, for example, might their stories resonate, or not, with those in the film? As a highly accessible “history of the present,” the film provides fertile grounds to examine current negotiations of feminism within the postmodern milieu of gender, race, class, sexuality, and geography, particularly as the definitions, practices, and politics of feminism itself become an increasingly contested (if not co-opted) site for neoliberalism, consumerism, and supposed “post-feminism.” For example, this film could converse with the scholarship of Virginia Braun, Rosalind Gill, and Angela McRobbie, as well as the recent film Orgasm Inc., which includes the activism of Leonore Tiefer.1

These pieces illuminate (and disrupt) challenges for modern-day feminism, which students could discuss in terms of their influence on the development of the “F-word” discourse—of women’s reluctance nowadays to adopt a feminist agenda within scholarship and activism—and the broader sociopolitical implications of this docility.

Feminist psychology has a history that is fuelling in its passionate and disruptive activism toward sociopolitical justice. Although to some degree the film could have more so embodied the exhilaration of doing this kind of work, I nevertheless loved the placement at the end of the film of the quote from Emma Goldman offered by Laura Brown: “if I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution.” Indeed, if we want to inspire others to embrace the “F-word” we need to show how fabulously we dance, and this film certainly adds to the beat.

1 Virginia Braun, “In Search of (Better) Female Sexual Pleasure: Female Genital ‘Cosmetic’ Surgery,” Sexualities 8, no. 4 (2005): 407-24; Virginia Braun, “‘The Women are Doing it for Themselves’: The Rhetoric of Choice and Agency around Female Genital ‘Cosmetic Surgery,’” Australian Feminist Studies 24, no. 60 (2009): 233-49; Rosalind C. Gill, “Critical Respect: The Difficulties and Dilemmas of Agency and ‘Choice’ for Feminism: A Reply to Duits and van Zoonen,” European Journal of Women’s Studies 14, no. 1 (2007): 69-80; Angela McRobbie, “Post-feminism and Popular Culture,” Feminist Media Studies 4, no. 3 (2004): 255-64; Orgasm Inc., directed by Liz Canner (Sausalito, CA: Roco Films International, 2009).

Rachel Liebert ( is a doctoral student in Social-Personality Psychology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She uses a critical feminist framework to explore young women’s psyches/bodies as contested (and resisted) sites for social, economic, and political interests. Her research has included the use of psychopharmaceuticals, and she is involved in activism around the medicalization/ commodification of sexualities.