Naomi Weisstein

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Naomi Weisstein (1939 – March 2015) was an American professor of psychology, a neuroscientist, and an author.


Weisstein was the daughter of Mary Menk and Samuel Weisstein. She graduated from Wellesley College, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1961 and received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1964. In 1964, she took a post-doctoral fellowship at the Committee on Mathematical Biology at the University of Chicago.[1] She taught at University of Chicago, Loyola University in Chicago, and at the State University of New York at Buffalo until the early 1980s, when she was stricken with chronic fatigue syndrome, which left her bedridden. She died on March 26, 2015 due to ovarian cancer.[2] She was married to radical historian Jesse Lemisch.[3]

Time at Harvard[edit]

During her time at Harvard Weisstein faced instances of sexual discrimination. On the students’ first day the chair of the department told Weisstein and the other women graduate students that they didn't belong in graduate school - that they instead should be wives and mothers. In another instance, while doing her dissertation research, she had to complete this at Yale because she was told the men needed the equipment at Harvard more and, because she was a girl, she would likely break the equipment there.[4]


Naomi Weisstein was Guggenheim Fellow[5] and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Society. She wrote over sixty articles for such publications as Science, Vision Research, Psychological Review and Journal of Experimental Psychology and served on the boards of Cognitive Psychology and Spatial Vision.

She had difficulty at first obtaining a job after leaving her post-doctoral position in 1966. Due to anti-nepotism rules she was unable to get a position at the University of Chicago because her husband was already working there as a professor. Weisstein was instead able to gain a faculty position at Loyola University.[6]

Weisstein is probably best known for her pioneering essay, "Kinder, Küche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female." The title is taken from the German slogan Kinder, Küche, Kirche meaning children, kitchen, church. This described what the Nazis believed was the proper domain of a woman. She wrote extensively on science, feminism, culture and politics. "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" is characterized as having started the discipline of the psychology of women, and has been reprinted over 42 times in six different languages.[7] She applied growing research in social psychology of the importance of situational and interpersonal factors in affecting human behavior to women's behavior specifically.[8] She argued that psychology could not explain women's behavior without considering societal expectations for women and the environment women occupied.[8] She contributed the piece "Kinder, Küche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female" to the 1970 anthology Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women's Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan.[9]

As a Psychologist[edit]

Weisstein took an active role in studying the sexism within the psychology field and research. In August 1970, along with Phyllis Chesler, Joanne Evans Gardner, and others, Naomi founded American Women in Psychology, now Division 35 of the American Psychological Association.

In her essay, Kinder, Küche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female Weisstein states: “Psychology has nothing to say about what women are really like, what they need and what they want, especially because psychology does not know.”[10]

She also focused on Social psychology and how social expectations influence and confound the research.[11]

As a Neuroscientist[edit]

Weisstein earned her PhD. in neuroscience from Harvard University in 1964. She graduated top of her class after three years.[12] During her career she focused on Visual neuroscience, visual cognition, and Cognitive neuroscience.[13] Her research focused on how the brain forms perceptions. Her work showed that our brains do not passively receive information, but instead that the human mind actively assigns meaning to what it sees.[14] In 1973, Weisstein faced a hostile work environment when she was invited to work with other specialists in the field at SUNY Buffalo. Colleagues would try to get her students to give details about her research or try to run her experiments without her. She also faced sexual harassment during this time.[14]

Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band[edit]

In 1970 Weisstein formed the Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band in order to fight back against the prominent and accepted sexist themes in rock music.[15]

She said about her goals for the band: “It would have us singing about how smart, strong, and hip we were, and how we would have sex only on our own terms, thank you. And we would get so good that soon we would saturate the airwaves, inundating teenage girls with a new kind of musical culture – joyful, playful, funny, and taking no shit from no one.”[15]

They played at various sites, including for events like International Women's Day.[15]


Weisstein was an active and vocal feminist, who wrote that she encountered sexism at every turn when she applied for teaching positions. She was one of the early feminist stand-up comedians, performing in Eve Merriam's One Woman Show.[16] She organized the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band "to shake up the sexist world of pop music."[17] She also recorded with the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band.[16]

Weisstein was among the founders of the 1969 feminist organization, called the Chicago Women's Liberation Union (CWLU), which was founded at a conference in Palatine, Illinois.[18][19] The CWLU’s goal was to fight against sexism while recognizing this could only be done if they also “fought against racism and capitalism, and for gay and lesbian liberation.”[20]

The play The Last of the Red Hot Mammas, or, the Liberation of Women as Performed by the Inmates of the World was first performed at its founding conference, and Weisstein was one of those who performed in the play on that occasion.[21]

In 1977, Weinstein became an associate of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP).[22] WIFP is an American nonprofit publishing organization. The organization works to increase communication between women and connect the public with forms of women-based media.

One of her first demonstrations occurred at Harvard. Females were not allowed in the library on the basis that they would be too much of a distraction to the male students. Weisstein gathered her friends, dressed in leotards, and played musical instruments outside the library windows. They shouted:  "Distraction, we'll show you distraction!"

In her essay “How can a little girl like you teach a great big class of men?” the Chairman said, and other adventures of a woman in science, she says: "'I am a feminist because I have seen my life and the lives of women I know harassed, dismissed, damaged, destroyed. I am a feminist because without others I can do little to stop the outrage. Without a political and social movement of which I am a part – without feminism – my determination and persistence, my clever retorts, my hours of patient explanation, my years of exhortation amount to little.'" [23]



  1. ^ Bell, Laura. "Profile". Psychology's Feminist Voices. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  2. ^ Ball, Laura. "Naomi Weisstein - Psychology's Feminist Voices". Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  3. ^ Lemish, Jesse; Weisstein, Naomi. "Remarks on Naomi Weisstein". Chicago Women's Liberal Union. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  4. ^ Ball, Laura. "Naomi Weisstein - Psychology's Feminist Voices". Retrieved 2018-11-27.
  5. ^ "Naomi Weisstein". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  6. ^ "Naomi Weisstein - Psychology's Feminist Voices". Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  7. ^ "Naomi Weisstein Biography".
  8. ^ a b "A History of Modern Psychology in Context".
  9. ^ "Sisterhood is powerful : an anthology of writings from the women's liberation movement (Book, 1970)". []. Retrieved 2015-05-08.
  10. ^ [New England Free Press : pamphlets.] New England Free Press. 1946–1970. OCLC 838946036.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  11. ^ "Naomi Weisstein: Psychology, Science, and Women's Liberation (Guest Post by Jesse Lemisch) | Society for US Intellectual History". Society for US Intellectual History. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  12. ^ "Naomi Weisstein (b. 1939)". Retrieved 2018-11-29. External link in |website= (help)
  13. ^ Brown, James M. (2018). Pioneer Visual Neuroscience A Festschrift for Naomi Weisstein. Routledge. ISBN 9781351691154. OCLC 1054065392.
  14. ^ a b McNeill, Leila. "This Feminist Psychologist-Turned-Rock-Star Led a Full Life of Resistance". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  15. ^ a b c "Our Band of Sisters". CWLU HERSTORY. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  16. ^ a b "Jewish Women's Archive: Naomi Weisstein".
  17. ^ "The Chicago Women's Liberation Union: An Introduction". Archived from the original on 2010-05-03.
  18. ^ "Politics & Social Movements Timeline". Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution exhibit. Retrieved 2017-05-12.
  19. ^ "Vivian Rothstein — She's Beautiful When She's Angry". Retrieved 2017-05-12.
  20. ^ "CWLU HERSTORY". CWLU HERSTORY. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  21. ^ "The Last of the Red Hot Mammas, or, the Liberation of Women as Performed by the Inmates of the World".
  22. ^ "Associates | The Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press". Retrieved 2017-06-21.
  23. ^ "Naomi Weisstein (b. 1939)". Retrieved 2018-11-29. External link in |website= (help)

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