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History of Psychology                                                                              Copyright 2001 by the Educational Publishing Foundation

2001, Vol. 4, No. I, 79‑91                                                                             1093‑4510/0165.00 DOl: 10.1037//1093‑4510.4.1.79

 

 

"GIVING UP MALENESS": Abraham Maslow,

Masculinity, and the Boundaries of Psychology

 

 

Psychology's boundaries consist of a network of methods, categories, and institutional practices. Strategically important, these markers distinguish the field from common sense and popular psychology. Although psychologists have attempted to define themselves in terms of natural science, gender considerations have also been woven into the fabric of the field. This article examines psychology's gender identity through a consideration of the career of Abraham Maslow. Trained as an experimentalist, Maslow is widely known for his attempt to expand the discipline's boundaries into humanistic domains. He was convinced that psychology had become too masculine for its own good, yet he struggled to find a way to "soften" psychology without completely undermining its "rigorous" foundation. His work highlights the connection between masculinity and science and the difficulty of redrawing psychology's boundaries without undermining its credibility.

 

In recent years, historians of psychology have become increasingly sensitive to the ways in which the discipline has been shaped by competition from rival forms of psychological know‑how. Like all academic disciplines, psychology has made a series of claims to a particular domain of expertise and, like other fields, its claims have not gone uncontested. Common sense, popular psychology, spiritualism, and other academic fields have encroached on the discipline's claims and threatened its professional authority, financial support, and institutional recognition (Coon, 1992; Gieryn, 1983; Morawski & Hornstein, 1991). The field has responded to these threats by constructing an intellectual and professional boundary using the methods and language of natural science (Bumham, 1987; Romanyshyn, 1971; Toulmin & Leary, 1985). In so doing, psychologists have endeavored to position themselves as objective observers of psychological nature while portraying their rivals as self‑interested amateurs mired in custom and mysticism.

 

Although not entirely unsuccessful, the use of the idiom of natural science as a boundary has created difficulties for a discipline committed to examining the psychological complexities of human nature (Ash, 1992). The pursuit of scientific objectivity has often been done at the expense of human interest, and in the past the field has sacrificed a great deal of cultural ground to psychoanalysis, popular

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Ian A. M. Nicholson is an assistant professor of psychology at St. Thomas University and a graduate of the History and Theory of Psychology Program at York University. A recipient of the American Psychological Association Division 26 early career award, his forthcoming book is entitled Inventing Personality: Gordon Allport and the Science of Selfhood.

I gratefully acknowledge the help of Suzanne Prior, David Baker, and the staff at the Archives of the History of American Psychology at the University of Akron


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psychology, and other discursively grounded systems (Hornstein, 1992). Psychologists have not been unmindful of these shortcomings and at various points in the discipline's past attempts have been made to construct defensible boundaries for psychology while simultaneously speaking to the diversity and complexity of human experience. In this article I examine one of the more interesting and historically significant attempts to reconstruct the boundaries of psychology: Abraham Maslow's humanistic psychology. Maslow is widely known as one of the founders of humanistic psychology, and he had an abiding interest in broad, overarching questions concerning the discipline's scope and method. Beginning in the late 1940s, and continuing throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he devoted himself to the task of moving the discipline's boundaries, thereby creating a "larger jurisdiction for psychology" (Maslow, 1962/1968, P. xv). This was as much a metaphysical ambition as it was a bureaucratic project. Psychology's "larger jurisdiction" was to be a zone where conventional distinctions no longer applied: science, religion, psychology, and pseudo-science would all melt into one persuasive and empowering idiom that could take humanity to a higher plane of experience. Implicit in this project was the idea that the problematic elements of the boundary question could be resolved: One could develop a discourse that was popular and scholarly, personal and rigorous, spiritually uplifting and scientifically grounded.

 

Maslow devoted himself to the challenge of bringing about this synthesis in a series of books and articles on humanistic psychology published throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. In his mind, the principal challenge facing psychologists who wanted new borders was disciplinary; one needed to convince reluctant behaviorists in particular of the benefits of methodological and conceptual diversity. This was indeed a concern; however, the question of psychology's borders was also implicated in a issue that extended well beyond theoretical particularities: gender. In this article I argue that Maslow' s attempt to broaden what it meant to be a psychologist was intimately connected to the question of what it meant to be a man. Like many of his contemporaries (Furumoto, 1998), he had been reared on the language of "muscular science" and, for all of his humanitarian leanings, he was convinced that there were an essential masculinity and femininity. Believing that science had become too masculine for its own good, Maslow struggled to find a way to "soften" scientific psychology without completely undermining what he believed was its essentially male nature. His experience illustrates a powerful and largely unacknowledged undercurrent in the history of humanistic psychology while simultaneously revealing the extent to which gender has been woven into the discipline's boundaries.

 

 

"An Intrapersonal Problem"

 

Maslow experienced the challenges of boundary work in psychology in a very vivid and personal way. In his journal he described the task of reconstituting psychology as an "intrapersonal problem" of bringing together "the artist in me & the scientist" (Maslow, 1979, p. 390). Cliched though it may sound, this was a genuine concern for Maslow, for he brought a complex personal and intellectual background to the question of psychology's future. Born in New York in 1908, Maslow's youth was scarred by deep feelings of personal inadequacy. Although


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he was relatively confident intellectually, his sense of inferiority was grounded in what his family regarded as his physical deficiencies. His mother and father often commented on his large nose, "skinny" physique, and "ugly" appearance (Maslow, 1925, p. 39). By the time he was 17, Maslow was convinced that he had "never seen anyone yet who is so ugly or unhandsome" as he (Maslow, 1925, p. 39).

 

The anguish Maslow felt over his body was a reflection of the prevailing standards of American manhood. The Industrial Revolution had transformed the ideal of manliness from an emphasis on character and emotional control to a focus on "passionate manhood": the unrestrained expression of primitive instincts, athletic competition, and militarism (Bederman, 1995; Rotundo, 1993). Within this new discourse of maleness, physical size and strength became important markers of masculinity. Young men were encouraged to take up bodybuilding, gymnastics, cycling, and others forms of strenuous activity to cultivate their manhood.

 

Maslow was among those American boys whose maleness was assuming increasingly physical forms. As a youth, his mind was stirred by dreams of physical prowess. He envisioned himself "beating up whole herds of gangsters and toughs, of performing feats of strength, [and] of having the body of an Adonis or Hercules" (Maslow, 1932). In his spare time, he took up athletics and weight lifting in the hope of becoming a "big‑muscle boy." Unfortunately for Maslow, no amount of physical exertion could transform his modest frame and shy, bookish demeanor into an aggressive, hulking mass. His best efforts brought him only frustration and ridicule, but try as he might he could not shake the idea that true manhood was grounded in an animalistic physicality. In graduate school, he remarked that his "wish‑fulfilment dreams and fantasies are not so much sexual or intellectual as physical" (Maslow, 1932).

 

Graduate school in psychology gave Maslow an opportunity to bring an intellectual focus onto personally relevant questions concerning masculinity, instincts, dominance, and sexuality. He studied experimental psychology with Harry Harlow at the University of Wisconsin, and he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the relation between sexual conduct and dominance hierarchies in monkeys. A hard-working and original student, Maslow was highly regarded by Harlow, who later described him as a "fine monkey man" (Harlow, 1972).

 

Although Maslow spent more than 5 years studying primate behavior, he was never completely enamored with the structure and ethos of laboratory psychology. As a young graduate student he commented critically on the publish‑or‑perish mentality that pervaded the laboratory and the kind of atheoretical anti‑intellectualism that this ethos breeds:

 

I find in this department [Wisconsin] a definitely expressed antagonism toward my interest in theoretical problems .... The emphasis here is all on getting ahead. Getting ahead is synonymous with doing one piffling experiment after another and publishing as a result one piffling paper after another .... Two articles are good, four are twice as good. It's all mathematical apparently. There is a direct relationship between number of articles published and your "goodness" as a psychologist. (Maslow, 1932)

 

The biting tone of this passage spilled over into Maslow's assessment of the


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scholarly substance of psychology. As a graduate student, he was convinced that the discipline had become hostage to a  scientistic sensibility that put loyalty to method ahead of intellectual creativity. Subsequent exposure to  Adlerian psychology and cultural anthropology further entrenched this idea, and by the early 1950s the intellectual poverty of psychology had become a cornerstone of Maslovian thought. In his famous 1954 book Motivation and Personality, he remarked that "the science [of psychology] as a whole too often pursues limited or trivial goals with limited methods and techniques under the guidance of limited vocabulary and concepts" (Maslow, 1954, p. 354). It was the frustration with these limitations that inspired Maslow in his efforts to establish a new humanistic psychology.

 

Simians and Women

 

Maslow' s theoretical and institutional efforts to establish humanistic psychology have been well documented (DeCarvalho, 1991; E. Hoffman, 1988). What has received comparatively little attention is the gender character of his expansionist project. To appreciate the significance of gender in Maslow's psychology it is important to consider his early training as an animal researcher. In graduate school he had become fascinated by the notion of dominance and how this related to sexual behavior. Although Maslow's research interests changed as his career unfolded, his ideas about power, sexuality, and knowledge remained embedded in the culturally weighted interpretations he developed in the 1930s. Particularly problematic was Maslow' s tendency to view different types of knowledge in highly sexualized, gender‑specific terms. Like many of his contemporaries, he conjoined intellectual ability with male sexuality; in his mind the imagery of male sexual potency blended unproblematically with ideas of scholarly power. Complaining about psychology as a graduate student, for example, Maslow described mainstream researchers as a "bunch of intellectual castrates, timid and womanish" (italics added), and he swore not to compromise his own scholarly masculinity. "But God dammit," he wrote, "I'll keep my own intellectual virility if it kills me. To hell with their jobs" (Maslow, 1932).

 

The conjunction of male sexuality and intellectual ability emerged alongside an equally problematic, and depressingly predictable, female counterpart. Maslow's work with primates was particularly important in this regard. As a primatologist, he grew accustomed to moving back and forth between the world of primates and the world of humans. Like the famous primate psychologist Robert Yerkes of Yale (see Haraway, 1991), Maslow was convinced that primates were an ideal mirror for scrutinizing morally complicated aspects of human experience. "I always felt about the monkeys and apes," he remarked, "as if I were seeing the roots of human nature laid bare" (Maslow, 1979, p. 331). Although Maslow fancied himself a part‑time anthropologist and made frequent references to the importance of culture in his published research (Maslow, 1937), he believed that the sexual scripts of monkeys were essentially the same as those of humans. After moving to New York City in 1935 to take up a postdoctoral fellowship, he had an opportunity to examine this idea in detail.

 

Working under the nominal direction of Edward L. Thorndike, Maslow undertook a study of the demeanor and sexual behavior of female students at Barnard College. He was convinced that his training as a primatologist made him

 

 

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eminently suitable for this type of investigation. Simian subjects could be unco-operative and would occasionally "bare their teeth, snarl or run away" ("Barnard Girls," 1936). Schooled in reading sexuality and dominance in the face of such difficulties, Maslow believed that his observations would be even more discerning given the opportunity to study a group of well‑mannered young women. Speaking at a meeting of the Psychology Society of the College of the City of New York, he remarked that "Barnard girls, though complicated by culture, were easier to investigate than the rhesus monkeys" ("Barnard Girls," 1936).

 

Maslow may have found "girls more tractable" than monkeys; however, his new human research did pose one obvious problem to his primatologist sensibilities ("Barnard Girls," 1936): The caged environment of the monkey population had given him an unobstructed view of primate sexuality; now that he was working with female undergraduates this level of visual penetration would obviously not be possible. Undeterred, Maslow endeavored to approximate the panoptical gaze he had achieved with his monkeys and bring it into focus on the sex lives of his female subjects. He devised an "intensive interview" consisting of a series of questions designed to reveal the most intimate aspects of female sexuality (Maslow, 1939, p. 5): "What are your physical preferences during lovemaking? How often do you masturbate? What particular fantasies do you experience while masturbating?" (cited in E. Hoffman, 1988, p. 78). Fascinated by the link between sexuality and dominance, Maslow also quizzed his subjects about their thoughts of and behavior toward others: "Do you ever feel smarter than the man you date? Do you feel superior to most women you know?" He conducted this "conversational probing" himself, and he later admitted that there was a strong element of prurient interest in the sexual confessional he had constructed (Maslow, 1939, p. 5): "I was still sort of young, and got a thrill of excitement interviewing the women" (cited in E. Hoffman, 1988, p. 77).

 

Vicarious thrills notwithstanding, Maslow believed the results of his study of female sexuality confirmed the psychological link between primates and humans. "In general," he remarked in a 1942 article, "it is fair to say that human sexuality is almost exactly like primate sexuality with the exception that cultural pressures added to the picture, drive a good deal of sexual behavior underground into fantasies, dreams, and unexpressed wishes" (Maslow, 1942, p. 291). Thus, for Maslow human gender norms were largely a matter of nature, and any behavioral incongruity one might perceive could be explained by referring to a mysterious psychic "underground" where natural processes and desires played themselves out. Maslow's commitment to this idea is clearly evident in his explanation of the seemingly unnatural phenomenon of the socially dominant woman:

 

Perhaps the best way to describe the situation is to say that in these few women, they strive incessantly to dominate all with whom they come in contact and tend to be sadistic in their dominance in so far as they are allowed by cultural formulations. They do seem to get a sexual thrill of a certain kind from this behavior. But when a man comes along who cannot be dominated, who proves himself stronger, then these women tend to become definitely masochistic, and to glory in being dominated. Apparently the sexual pleasure so derived is strongly preferred over the other kind of thrill derived from dominating. (Maslow, 1942, p. 289)


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Note the socially dominant woman in Maslow's account is still essentially submissive. All that is needed is a sufficiently dominant male to draw out her repressed "natural" desire to be dominated. Maslow retained this primate‑derived essentialist vision of men and women long after he had abandoned laboratory research. Indeed, the further he moved from primate research the more convinced he became of its utility for understanding human nature. His unpublished writings from the 1950s and 1960s are replete with simian analogies of human experience. For example, in 1962 he repeated that men and women respond to biologically encoded cues signaling dominance and submission:

 

It is his strength (ability to give up her love) that will trigger off her surrender reflex (eroticizing her submission‑ fear‑awe‑admiration, her child‑before‑the‑father reflex) so that then she feels inclined to offer him what he deserves and to be thrilled by the thought that this noble lord should want her & that she should be this powerful, with the woman's power of being…sexually delectable & thrilling enough to make him lose his controls & to go wild in sex. (Maslow, 1979, p. 252)

 

A Larger Jurisdiction for Psychology

 

The tendency to read personality characteristics such as dominance and intellect in heavily gendered, naturalized terms placed severe constraints on Maslow as he attempted to transcend long‑established distinctions in psychology between subjectivity and objectivity, science and religion, and psychology and everyday life. His entire critique was built around the idea that these distinctions had been amplified beyond the point of usefulness; they had become rigid parodies of their original forms, and they were standing in the way of self-actualization. But because of his investment in gendered categories of knowledge Maslow had difficulty marshalling his criticisms in a consistent fashion.

 

The dilemma that gender, especially notions of masculinity, posed for Maslow' s humanistic project is apparent throughout his journals. He continued to equate intellectual ability with a highly energized and self‑possessed male sexuality, and he interpreted an absence of virility as a sign of intellectual stagnation that should be acted on by those possessing an expansive sexuality. At times Maslow turned this intellect‑virility conjunction against experimental psychology, just as he had done as a graduate student. He suggested that part of the problem in mainstream psychology was that the field had been taken over by those who were anal retentive and sexually ill at ease: "Again I'm convinced that the basic job‑or certainly a basic job‑in [humanistic psychology is to redefine science and take it back from the tight‑asses" (Maslow, 1979, p. 272). Despite frequent admonitions to this effect, Maslow had difficulty transcending the logic of the rigid dichotomies he had constructed as a primatologist. He was convinced that topics and methods of mainstream psychologists were the purview of sexually inhibited "tight‑asses"; however, his proposal to take psychology into the traditionally female domains of sensitivity, love, and religion also represented a challenge to the conjunction of masculinity and intellect that he revered.

 

Maslow indirectly acknowledged this contradiction, and he struggled to broaden the concept of science while simultaneously preserving its association with male virility. In his book The Psychology of Science (1966), he tried to accomplish this goal by reworking the meaning of masculinity. In a chapter


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entitled "Safety Science and Growth Science," Maslow acknowledged the symmetry between "the boy's conception of what a man should be" and the attributes of the " 'normal' scientist" (p. 35). The scientist, like the boy:

 

enjoys striking fear into the hearts of all the little girls‑and the big girls, too. He taboos his tenderness, his loving impulses, his compassion, his sympathy .... He wants to join the company of men .... He sees men as being tough, fearless, impervious to discomfort and pain, independent of emotional ties, quick to anger and frightening in their anger .... [Men are] earthshakers, doers, builders, masters of the real world .... All this he tries to be. (p. 36)

 

This construction was prevalent, Maslow reasoned, but it was pathologically "defensive," "immature," and in need of reworking (p. 35). However, although Maslow was able to acknowledge the exaggerated, pathological character of the masculine‑scientist ideal, he was unable to completely escape its gravity. For example, at one point he problematized the very notion of masculine and feminine personality characteristics, suggesting that the scientists should think of themselves as "humans" rather than as "men." The "actually mature man," he argued, "is not threatened by what the adolescent would call 'femininity' but what he would prefer to call humanness" (p. 37). However, in the very same paragraph Maslow subverted his own appeal for gender neutrality in science by inviting his readers to think of the scientist in terms of an archetypal male image: the bullfighter. "A certain bull‑fighter, is reputed to have said, 'Sir, anything I do is masculine' " (p. 38). With this image, Maslow reaffirmed the essentially masculine character of science. The research process was still a fundamentally male domain; it just wasn't quite so strident and self‑conscious.

 

Maslow clearly believed that humanistic psychology was compatible with a certain kind of masculine science. However, his own experience reveals a profound incongruity between the ambitions of humanistic psychology and the values of masculine science he had learned while studying primate dominance hierarchies. The discordance between these two frameworks is particularly apparent in Maslow' s discussions of what it meant to be a psychologist. Although Maslow had written extensively about the shortcomings of masculine science, he continued to value a kind of gunslinger ideal as he reflected on his own career. In his journal, he frequently chastised himself for not being hard nosed enough in his scholarly dealings. He thought he needed to

 

stop identifying with all underdogs, with the weak, the exploited, the female (italics added) .... It can all be looked at as a growing will to self‑affirmation, healthy selfishness, to taking a more dominant position .... Must make myself independent of praise & blame, of pleasing others, of being a "nice guy." Have to become a little more of a bastard & let weak take care of themselves. Must put breast back inside blouse" (italics added). (Maslow, 1979, p. 33)

 

This quote clearly reveals the depths of Maslow' s dilemma. He had diagnosed the problem of "muscular science," and in his own personal dealings with people he had endeavored to become more human defined as opposed to male defined. However, the power of masculine discourse was not easily transcended. While acting in the spirit of the humanistic psychology he had described, Maslow came to feel that his own masculinity was being called into question. He felt himself

 

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sliding toward a sentimental, weak‑kneed femininity that he had been taught to despise, and in his journal he described his new scholarly focus as being "almost like giving up maleness" (italics added; Maslow, 1979, p. 731). Because masculinity was so strongly associated with intellect, the threat that Maslow felt to his own sexuality was frequently addressed in academic rather than gender terms. Fearing a kind of creeping feminization of his scholarly self, he repeatedly affirmed what he took to be his essential academic identity: hard, male science. In his journal he condemned work that he had himself undertaken to extend the field's borders beyond the male domain of experimental science: "My impulse (or need or wish or something) is to despise the pure theorist‑speculator in myself," he wrote (Maslow, 1979, p. 113). "I'm very suspicious of being [perceived] hysterical (merely), soft‑headed (only), non‑empirical, etc." (Maslow, 1979, p. 548). In response to these concerns, he insisted that his "hysterical" and "softheaded" elaborations were merely extensions of his essentially scientific‑read masculine‑self. "I think of myself as a scientist," he noted (Maslow, 1979, p. 489). "Ultimately, the scientist‑ checker‑validator is the Supreme Court who gives the final decision" (Maslow, 1979, p. 113).

 

Maslow's repeated affirmation that he was still a real scientist‑and by extension a real man‑came against the backdrop of growing popular success. Many Americans had become disaffected with the gray‑flannel conventionality of the 1950s, and in humanistic psychology they discovered a refreshing alternative (Herman, 1995). Younger people found Maslow's work especially appealing, and for many he became a gurulike figure. He was besieged by speaking requests from across the country‑250 invitations in 1968‑and his colleagues in psychology frequently admonished him for providing people with a "religion‑substitute" (Maslow, 1979, p. 377). The famous counterculture activist Abbie Hoffman was among those who found inspiration in Maslow' s message. "Maslovian theory laid a solid foundation for launching the optimism of the sixties," Hoffman (1980) remarked. "Existential, altruistic, and upbeat, his teachings became my personal code" (p. 26). Although hardly typical of all American youth, Hoffman's remarks are indicative of the sort of cachet that Maslow enjoyed among those searching for a new way of being.

 

Adulation was something that Maslow had craved since his youth, and here again his commitment to the ideal of "passionate manhood" and his background as a primatologist colored his perception. Personal success was interpreted through a set of heavily gendered, primeval images of powerful male hunters and attentive, admiring females. Fulfillment involved ritualistic displays to women of one's predatory prowess. In his journal Maslow (1979) described the completion of an academic work as being analogous to killing a deer and "dumping it down before the wife (or mother) in a lordly way so that she can adore and admire, be awed and a little humbled, and a little frightened" (p. 68). To this image he added the idea of male friendship. He admitted feeling the pull of the "the men, 'the boys,' the gang, [and] the fraternity," a gravity born out of his willingness to confront the dangers of the hunt:

 

Their admiration, the admiration of equals, of others who hunt and conquer and kill the deer so that all may eat, means validation, acceptance, the yielding of doubts, reservations, waiting .... I can go into the men's house where the women


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are not admitted and of which the women are afraid, where the men's secrets are shared, and only the sons look on in admiration, look up to the men‑fathers. (Maslow, 1979, p. 70)

 

With these primeval images in mind, Maslow experienced his growing popular success in the 1960s in profoundly ambivalent terms. Brisk sales of his books and attentive audiences were affirming; however, the constituency that was attracted to his work only served to reinforce his growing fears of emasculation. "I feel uneasy about the company I'm with," he remarked in 1961. "Religionists, philosophers, yearners, utopians, Pollyannas, etc., rather than the tough‑minded scientists I admire so much more" (p. 113). Maslow believed that he had made the intellectual "kills" necessary to prove his manhood, and he wanted to be admitted into that house where the women could not go. However, to his consternation he felt that the "tough" guys of science did not want to know him, and the sense of rejection weighed heavily as he struggled to reconcile his need for masculine acknowledgement with an intellectual sense that something was desperately wrong with male‑defined scientific psychology.

 

To gain the respect of the discipline's "men" Maslow would have to face the prospect of parking his critical faculties and embracing a scientistic perspective that was "simply naive & self‑conscious" (Maslow, 1979, p. 210). However, the alternative was to associate with a soft‑headed, "feminine‑thinking" group. Neither alternative held much appeal, and in his journal Maslow frequently complained about the lack of scholars who combined masculine toughness and feminine sensitivity: "All the tender‑minded ones, the existentialists, the Big Sur group, the religion people, are just not tough enough for me," he remarked. "(And the tough‑minded ones are not tender enough for me?)" (p. 427).

 

The Sexual Specificity of Self‑Actualization

 

Torn by his own inner conflict between masculinity and femininity, Maslow struggled to find a scientific theory of human nature that would do justice to human potential while simultaneously honoring what he regarded as the essential "instinctoid" differences between men and women. Behaviorism and psychoanalysis were dismissed for their pessimistic tone and reductionist character. Unimpressed with the theories psychology had to offer, Maslow undertook the "manly" venture of developing a new, "positive" account of human motivation, the culmination of which was his famous hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1954, p. 199; 1943, p. 394). According to this theory, human beings were motivated by five sets of hierarchically arranged goals: physiological needs, safety, love, esteem, and self‑actualization. When satisfaction had been achieved at one stage, the motivational focus of the person would shift to the next goal. This new and "higher" need would then "dominate the conscious life" of the person and "serve as a center of organization of behavior" (Maslow, 1943, p. 395).

 

Conceived as the "basis for a more universal science of psychology," Maslow hoped his theory would provide a scientific warrant for personal growth and individual freedom. The theory celebrated the language of inner feeling and conviction, and it invited people to question the meaning of "adjustment." "The person who gives in eagerly to the distorting forces in his culture," Maslow (1954) argued, "may be less healthy than the delinquent, the criminal, the neurotic who


 

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may be demonstrating by his reactions that he has spunk enough left to resist the breaking of his psychological bones" (p. 145). This call to respond to one's inner nature was an empowering message, and it was effectively mobilized by 1960s feminists such as Betty Friedan. In her classic book The Feminine Mystique (1963), Friedan drew extensively on Maslow' s work to advance the argument that American culture was maladjusted insofar as it encouraged women to "evade human growth" (p. 316).

 

Although Maslow partially approved of feminist applications of his theory, the egalitarian tenor of Frieden' s work left him somewhat uneasy. He had envisioned the hierarchy of needs in universal terms, and he believed that women could and should strive toward self‑actualization. At the same time, however, Maslow was unwilling to abandon his simian‑inspired vision of a world where male sexuality underwrote male control of society. He believed that the study of monkeys had proven that male and female psychology had a different instinctual foundation, and consequently he was convinced that men and women must pursue a different route to self‑actualization. For women, this involved accepting the "natural" role of mother and nest builder:

 

Self‑actualization for women does not mean a dichotomy between home & career, forcing an either‑or choice. Home & family, etc. are far more basic & important & prepotent, & must remain the base on which higher developments rest. If they're taken away, or rival the foundations, then the so‑called "higher" things, the career, etc., become empty & meaningless .... ...True self‑actualization for the female accepts the primacy of the family. (Maslow, 1979, p. 1139)

 

Maslow clearly held strong convictions about gender roles and their psychological importance. Although he spent a lot of time writing about these issues, he found it difficult to put women in their biological place while delivering a message of human growth and expanded potential. Uncertain how to reconcile biological constraint with psychological possibility, Maslow deliberately played down his views on the sex‑specific character of self‑actualization in his published writings. The topic was not discussed in his 1943 article in which he introduced the hierarchy of needs, and it was mentioned only in passing in Motivation and Personality (1954) and Toward a Psychology of Being (1962/1968) despite the fact that he had accumulated "huge mountains of writing on the subject" (Maslow, 1956). This self‑censorship sat uneasily with Maslow, and it gnawed away at the cherished ideal of scholarship as the pursuit of the brave and virile. His public caution was transformed into private anger, and in his journal he complained bitterly about deviations from masculine and feminine "nature." In one angry passage he described American women as "dominant, castrating, discontent, [and] lousy wives" (italics added) who "secretly keep on yearning" for stronger men (Maslow, 1979, p. 77).

 

Masculine Science and the Boundaries of Psychology

 

Maslow's struggle with essentialist notions of masculine science should not obscure the emancipatory potential that many of his contemporaries attached to his work. As Ellen Herman (1992, 1995) has noted, Maslow's ideas were an important ideological resource for a number of liberationist movements in the


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1960s, including the women's movement. That said, it is important to acknowledge the extent to which questions of gender are subtly and in some cases quite explicitly woven into scholarly debates about the meaning of science and the boundaries of psychology. Maslow's humanistic psychology explicitly acknowledged the gendered character of science, and it endeavored to go beyond the rigid dichotomy of masculinity‑femininity. However, for all his awareness, Maslow remained mired in the essentialist biology and masculine ethos he had learned in the 1930s. As a consequence, his talk of methodological and conceptual diversity and a "wider jurisdiction for psychology" had to be carefully hedged against what he perceived to be the "biological" reality of male dominance and female submissiveness.

 

The profound anxiety that Maslow experienced as he moved away from the idiom of natural science is clearly linked to the biographical particulars of his youth. Ugly and skinny as a boy, Maslow felt himself to be a pathetic failure when measured against the standards of vigorous, powerful masculinity put forward by the culture of the day. Intellectual accomplishment in psychology provided some measure of compensation, but the sense of diminished masculinity‑of not quite being a "real man"‑haunted him throughout his life, and it had a significant impact on his thought. What makes Maslow such a poignant historical figure is his awareness of some of the ways in which masculinity, sexuality, and science can crossconnect and play off each other on a personal and professional level. He was mindful of his fragile masculinity‑even as a young graduate student‑and he struggled to work through his insecurities while simultaneously highlighting the extent to which psychology was itself nervously preoccupied with the cold, steely detachment of the tough guy.

 

Sadly, Maslow was ultimately unable to "give up maleness" with respect to science, and toward the end of his life he felt himself trapped between a freewheeling and daringly transgressive sense of humanistic potential and an equally strong desire for patriarchal order, discipline, and respectability. This was perhaps an unhappy end for one of American psychology's most inspiring figures. However, Maslow' s struggle to come to terms with his masculinity should stand as a testament not to his personal weakness but rather to the power of gender assumptions in psychology and indeed in American professional life as a whole. He was caught in the gravitational pull of a very powerful set of social principles that have structured the status and gender of professional life since the 19th century. The highest status professions have been those involving the greatest degree of abstraction, detachment, and purity (Brumberg & Tomes, 1982; Furumoto, 1987). Lower status professions have involved more direct human contact and the complexities that such contact brings. Women have been historically concentrated in the lower status helping professions, and the values and skills associated with these occupations‑compassion, understanding, connectednesshave come to be encoded in heavily gendered terms.

 

For all of his biological essentialism, Maslow had some understanding of this sort of gender encoding, but his awareness could not completely insulate him from its corrosive effects. By proposing to take his own profession into the heart of subjectivity and complexity he was undertaking a socially discreditable feminization of the field. Irrespective of the intellectual and moral merits of the move, Maslow felt personally and professionally compromised by this reworking of the

 

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field's boundaries, and he oscillated between angry contempt for the discipline's obsessive one‑sidedness and a deeply felt yearning for the acceptance and respectability of the predominantly male world of laboratory psychology. Unhappy with either alternative, but iconoclastic to the end, Maslow stands as a dramatic illustration of how significant the search for a powerful masculinity can be for the seemingly unrelated task of developing a powerful discipline.

 

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Received February 1, 2000 Accepted May 4, 2000