Gender in Close Relationships: Public Policy vs. Personal Prerogative


  • Judith Worell

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    1. University of Kentucky
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      JUDITH WORELL is Professor and Chair, Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology at the University of Kentucky. She was the recipient of the APA Committee on Women Distinguished Leader in Psychology and the Kentucky Psychological Association Distinguished Psychologist Award. She is the current Editor of Psychology of Women Quarterly, and author of numerous books, most recently Feminist Perspective in Therapy: An Empowerment Model for Women. Her research concerns gender issues in close relationships, as well as feminist approaches to education and therapy.

Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0017.


The interface of research on gender in close relationships with applications to social issues is considered within the context of the dialectic between public policy and private transactions. The distinctions between public and private are discussed in terms of three dimensions proposed by Benn and Gaus (1983): access, agents, and interest. Each of these dimensions may play a role in determining how interpretations of public and private translate across particular issues. The principle of interest is expanded to demonstrate how close relationship research and public policy may be reciprocally influenced. Conceptualizations of gender will also influence choice of policy interventions with respect to transactions within close relationships. Three concepts of gender are defined, and are applied to specific contexts in which social policy implications can be drawn. It is suggested that in research on close relationships as well as in relevant applications to social policy, public and personal values may influence both the scientific effort and its applications to social action.