1Freud’s Infamous Psychology of Women

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1Freud’s Infamous

Psychology of Women

  1. The Status of Women

      1. According to Freud...in theory

    1. Women were:

      1. morally inferior (weaker superego) due to lack of castration anxiety.

      2. More rigid in personality and incapable of change

      3. More narcissistic, envious, and insincere than men.

    2. Could such a person as Freud also be a pioneer of gender studies?!

  2. The Status of Women

      1. According to Freud...in practice

    1. At a time when North American psychology shunned women professionally, Freud:

      1. Included women at psychoanalytic meetings and conferences

      2. Corresponded regularly with several women on psychoanalytic matters

      3. Oversaw training of women analysts

      4. Women translated his work into English

      5. Daughter, Anna, read his papers at conferences and took over for him after his death.

  3. Truth Claims / Historicizing Freud

    1. Evaluating Freud’s theory as correct or incorrect is different than situating his ideas in the context of his life and his place and time.

      1. We can discuss his theory in the light of what came before and since: what did ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ mean at the time, and how did those understandings evolve in response to Freud?

      2. Knowledge is perhaps best understood in the context from which the ideas and practices that define it arose, and in the network of meanings from which it came.

      3. Distinguish between “gender pioneer” in the activist sense in contrast with the creation of a discursive space.

  4. Sex & Gender in Historical Context

    1. At the end of the 19th century, there was no distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender.’

      1. Both were considered biological differences.

      2. Religion had, for centuries, deemed men superior to women; science inherited this value judgement.

    2. Perceptions of various sex differences had persisted over centuries, with only occasional periods of anything approaching egalitarianism (e.g., the Renaissance)

    3. Pathology was frequently explained as the patient’s “female condition.”

    4. Freud’s theory was one of the first to try and explain sex differences psychologically.

  5. The Question of Hysteria

      1. A Women’s Only Club?

    1. “Hysteria” had its origins in ancient Greek thought as an exclusively female malady – “hysteria” means “wandering uterus.”

      1. Very common to explain/dismiss disease or mental states as a “female condition.”

    2. Freud argued against biological sex differences.

      1. Freud found that hypnosis could produce hysterical-like symptoms in men

        1. Theodore Meynert confesses to Freud...

      2. His evidence was largely ignored.

  6. The Question of Hysteria

    1. However, why did hysteria affect women so much more often than men?

      1. Freud believe women were more repressed than men, as required by society...but did not believe Victorian social convention and mores could account for this.

        1. The reason for feminine pathology was neither biological nor sociological – it was psychological.

        2. “Psychoanalysis cannot elucidate the intrinsic nature of what in conventional phraseology is termed ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.’”

  7. Biological or Psychological?

    1. Freud rejects the idea that masculine and feminine are innate biological types:

      1. “We do not know the female brain...we have no need to replace a psychological problem with an anatomical one” (1905).

      2. Freud sometimes equated “masculine” with “active sexual aims” and feminine with “passive sexual aims.”

        1. Yet he adds, “there is a single libido, which has both active and passive aims [modes of satisfaction].

      3. Repression was not a [gendered] “feminine phenomenon.”

  8. Sex vs. Gender

    1. Freud maintained throughout his career that humans are constitutionally bisexual (i.e., have active and passive aims): sexuality becomes differentiated though experience in its “object choice.”

    2. The confusion over Freud’s ideas on gender might best be represented by his infamous statement: “Anatomy is destiny.”

      1. But...what does Freud mean by “anatomy is destiny?”

  9. “Anatomy is destiny”

    1. Contrary to the popular reading of this quote, it is not a statement about the reality of biological sex differences.

    2. It is, in short, a statement about the psychological repercussions of sex differences and the responses they create.

      1. Here, Freud (inadvertently) created a space where “gender” as a truly “psychological” category began to emerge.

  10. Envy becomes Elektra

    1. In the second decade of the 20th century, Freud wrote on the Oedipus complex, castration anxiety, and penis envy.

      1. Freud assumes the mother is the first and primary care giver to both boys and girls.

      2. Boys are threatened with imagined castration and begin to ‘identify with the aggressor’ (the father).

      3. Girls are more complicated: why give up their father attachment? Resolution much more gradual.

  11. Psychosexual Development in Phallic Stage

    1. Argues that girls abandon clitoris as main organ of sexual pleasure; libido transferred to vagina.

      1. This arrangement typifies cultural thinking about sexuality:

        1. Sex is defined by biology, is fixed, and is centered around reproduction.

        2. Sex is also penetration: Men=active, women=passive; even at the level of sperm and egg.

        3. Women should achieve orgasm/satisfaction through penetration of penis – not clitoral stimulation (don’t need penis for that!)

  12. Aftermath of Elektra

    1. Penis envy: Blames mom for lack of penis, feels incomplete and inferior.

    2. Develops sense of jealousy, becomes less attached to mother

    3. Abandons masturbation, avoiding her shamefully incomplete genitals

    4. As a compensatory wish, wants a child by the father to substitute for the lack of a penis.

    5. No compelling reason to resolve Elektra complex.

  13. Aftermath of Elektra

    1. As a result, girls have weaker, less potent Superegos.

      1. Women lack the moral strength and independence of men, are more rigid, “narcissistic, deceitful overburdened with shame, and jealous.”

      2. They also lack the creativity of men – contributing only the art of weaving, and that as an (ucs.) attempt to hide their defective genitals.

  14. Freud: Theorizing Gender

    1. However, notice how Freud explains his ‘psychology of women’ –

      1. the only innate or biologically determined difference is that, somewhat abstractly, men are ‘active’ and women are ‘passive’ in their sexual goals.

      2. The ultimate reason for women’s development lay in the fact that girls rather than boys must give up their original love object, and that they must accept a lack of a penis.

  15. Freud on constitution of

Gender vs. Sex

    1. From a developmental psychoanalytic perspective, sex differences would be largely based on the different experiences of boys and girls rather than biological or innate differences.

      1. The most important experience concerns sexual roles, relationships, and anatomy – e.g., castration anxiety, penis envy.

      2. While “insufficient” according to Freud, much of his theory points to societal and cultural conditions as determinative.

    2. The different experiences anatomy affords boys and girls is the foundation for “gender” as a psychological category.

  1. Where Is Gender Located?

    1. In a society as repressive and shame-filled regarding sex as Freud’s, anatomical differences took on, ironically, a larger role than one where such issue are discussed more openly.

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