Paula Caplan, 74, Dies; Feminist Psychologist Took On Her Occupation

The couple divorced in 1978. A previous marriage also ended in divorce. Together with her daughter, Dr. Caplan survived by her son Jeremy; her brother Bruce; and five grandchildren.

After moving to Canada, Dr. Caplan was a psychologist at Toronto Family Court for three years. Her first efforts included a study of assertiveness among girls and boys, which followed the work of well-known German-American psychologist Erik Erikson in which he concluded that boys were affected by Naturally, they were more assertive than girls.

Dr. Caplan showed something else. She focused on very young children and decreased the presence of adults in the room during the study, showing that it was gender socialization, not biology, that made girls behave less confident than boys.

Dr. Caplan was a professor at the University of Toronto from 1979 to 1995 and director of the Center for Women’s Studies in Education from 1985 to 1987. She later taught at American University, the University of Rhode Island, Brown University and most recently Harvard, where she led the Voices of Diversity Project at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research.

Dr. Caplan’s work went beyond academic psychology. As an actress since high school, she had small roles in television shows and commercials, only some of which had anything to do with her intellectual preoccupation.

She has written plays and directed documentaries, including Isaac Pope: The Spirit of an American Century (2019) about a black man who served in the Army under her father in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.

The film was of a play with her latest interest, veterans, and especially those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis she largely disapproved of. There is nothing pathological about having a strong, even debilitating, response to the horrors of war, she said, and our desire to make those responses medical enabled non-veterans to ignore how terrible war could be.

“Leaving this work to psychotherapists alone can be detrimental not only to soldiers, but also dangerous to us as a nation,” she wrote in 2004 in the Washington Post about waging war again. “

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