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Rachel Liebert


Training Location(s):

PhD, City University of New York, (Present)

MA, University of Auckland, (2006)

BA, University of Auckland, (2004)

BSc, University of Auckland, (2002)

Primary Affiliation(s):

Media Links:

Psychology's Feminist Voices Oral History Transcript

Professional Websites

New View Campaign

Dr. Vajayjay's Privatize Those Privates


Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Developing a Feminist Identity

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Merging Feminism and Psychology

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Activism and the Academy

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Feminism Today



Career Focus:  Psychopharmaceuticals; qualitative research methods; youth madness; bipolar disorder; female genital cosmetic surgery; women’s sexuality; critical psychology; surveillance/security; public education; scholar-activism; decolonizing epistemologies; participatory and creative methods.


When Rachel Liebert began studying psychology at the University of Auckland, she hated it. She was interested in human connections and relationships and she felt that the type of psychology she was being taught stripped humanity of its humanness. In her own words, “I felt like all I was being trained to do was to take things that I already knew from being a human being and to remember the name of the white man who named it as something first and what year he did it in.” Disappointed, Liebert changed her major until a friend persuaded her to take a critical qualitative methods course with feminist psychologist Virginia Braun. This course, as she described it, “totally shook up my world.”


The course sent shockwaves through Liebert’s life. Not only had she found an academic niche that she wanted to inhabit, but it provoked her to critically examine her own past, the gendered and classed dynamics of the environment she grew up in, and the social and political injustices happening around her. In her words, it also allowed her to see how her own white privilege was interconnected with others’ oppression.  Raised by a strong, creative single mother in New Zealand, Liebert recalled and drew on the experiences of injustice she had witnessed to help solidify her new found feminism and activism.


Reinvigorated by the critical feminist approach, Liebert continued to pursue psychology. Her research focus at this time included youth madness as well as psychopharmaceuticals. She was primarily concerned with the widespread rejection of evidence that antidepressants can have serious and harmful adverse effects. She interviewed several individuals whose lives had been touched by the aggression or suicide associated with antidepressant use. This work, later published in Social Science and Medicine, was Liebert’s Master’s thesis, which she had undertaken under the mentorship of Nicola Gavey.


During her graduate studies in New Zealand, Liebert maintained her feminist approach to research, employing qualitative research methods and using gender as an analytic category. Her interest in these topics exposed her to the work of both Michelle Fine and Leonore Tiefer. Both women are heavily involved in community research, social justice, and activism, all areas with which Liebert identified. Since both Fine and Tiefer were working out of New York City, Liebert applied for and was granted a Fulbright New Zealand General Graduate Award. This allowed her to obtain a student visa and move to New York.


Once in the United States, Liebert took her activism to a new level. She approached Leonore Tiefer, founder of the New View Campaign against the medicalization of female sexuality, and expressed an interest in becoming involved in her work. Tiefer immediately gave Liebert the task of scoping out all the surgeons in New York City who offered female genital cosmetic surgery. This required Liebert to take pictures of the outsides of the buildings (sites for potential rallies!), as well as the insides of the offices. Since then, Liebert has remained a fixture within the New View Campaign. She co-wrote and produced the video Dr. Vajajay’s! Privatize Those Privates!, a parody of the  marketing of female genital cosmetic surgery. As well, Liebert has been integral in the organization of Vulvagraphics, an art exhibition celebrating female genital diversity.


In addition to the New View, Liebert is involved in many other activist groups including The Icarus Project. This project promotes change in the way mental health and madness are represented in society. She is also the founder of the International Vulva Knitting Circle which handcrafts knitted representations of the vulva. In her academic career, Liebert strives for her research to be emergent and progressive. Although critical of the ways feminism itself has historically been deployed to exclude and marginalize, Liebert is nonetheless committed to exploring how to reinvigorate and redefine feminism in a new generation. As she put it, “I think of my feminism in terms of my process rather than my content. I definitely don’t seek to just have female participants, for example, but I do like to use gender as an analytic category, as intersecting always with race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and class. In terms of my process, I think of my feminism as really, really helping me to think through things like relations of power to really embrace or value the richness of bodies and feeling and different epistemologies and ways of being in the world that can usually get really marginalized in a really very heavily positivist discipline.”


When asked where she sees herself ten years from now, Liebert responded “In the community. Somewhere in the community. I don’t see myself being in the tower. [I want to] keep on doing activism and creative, collaborative work. That’s what I love. That’s what I love.”


by Meghan George (2012)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works:


Liebert, R. (2010). Feminist psychology, hormones and the raging politics of medicalisation. Feminism & Psychology, 20(2), 278-283.


Liebert, R. (2010). Synaptice peace-keeping: Of bipolar and securitization. Women's Studies Quarterly Special Issue, Market, 38(3&4), 325-342.


Liebert, R., & Gavey, N. (2006). "They took my depression and then medicated me into madness": Co-constructed narratives of SSRI-induced suicidality. Radical Psychology, 5.


Liebert, R., & Gavey, N. (2008). "I didn't just cross a line I tripped over an edge": Personal accounts of SSRI-induced suicidality and/or aggression. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 37(1).


Liebert, R., & Gavey, N. (2009). "There are always two sides to these things": Managing the dilemma of serious adverse effects from SSRIs. Social Science & Medicine, 68, 1882-1891.


Liebert, R., Leve, M., & Hui, A. (2011). The politics and possibilities of activism in contemporary feminist psychologies. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35, 697-704.

Photo Gallery:


Interview with Rachel Liebert: Developing a Feminist Identity

Interview conducted on March 29, 2012 by Alexandra Rutherford in New York City, New York. U.S.A.


Interview with Rachel Liebert: Merging Feminism and Psychology

Interview conducted on March 29, 2012 by Alexandra Rutherford in New York City, New York. U.S.A.


Interview with Rachel Liebert: Activism and the Academy

Interview conducted on March 29, 2012 by Alexandra Rutherford in New York City, New York. U.S.A.


Interview with Rachel Liebert: Feminism Today

Interview conducted on March 29, 2012 by Alexandra Rutherford in New York City, New York. U.S.A.