The Freudian Mystique
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The Freudian Mystique

Freud, Women, and Feminism

Samuel Slipp

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eBook - ePub

The Freudian Mystique

Freud, Women, and Feminism

Samuel Slipp

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"Lucid and convincing...Makes clear that [Freud's] vision was limited both by the social climate in which he worked and the personal experiences he preferred, subconsciously, not to deal with."
— Los Angeles Times

Sigmund Freud was quite arguably one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. Yet, over the last decade, portions of his theories of the mind have suffered remarkably accurate attacks by feminists and even some conservative Freudians. How could this great mind have been so wrong about women?

In The Freudian Mystique, analyst Samuel Slipp offers an explanation of how such a remarkable and revolutionary thinker could achieve only inadequate theories of female development. Tracing the gradual evolution of patriarchy and phallocentrism in Western society, Slipp examines the stereotyped attitudes toward women that were taken for granted in Freud's culture and strongly influenced his thinking on feminine psychology. Of even greater importance was Freud's relationship with his mother, who emotionally abandoned him when he was two years old. Slipp brings the tools of a trained clinician into play as he examines, from an object relations perspective, Freud's own pre-oedipal conflicts, and shows how they influenced Freud's personality as well as the male-centric shape of his theory.
Not limited to only one perspective, The Freudian Mystique analyzes how the entire contextual framework of individual development, history, and culture affected Freud's work in feminine psychology. The book then looks forward, to formulating a modern biopsychosocial framework for female gender development.

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NYU Press
Historical-Cultural Background

1. Psychoanalysis and Feminine Psychology

Freud and Feminine Psychology

In this chapter we will look at some of Freud’s key views on feminine psychology, as well as the major criticisms of his theories. Certain questions still remain unanswered about his theoretical understanding of feminine psychology, for example:
Why did Freud ignore the role of the mother in early child development?
Why did Freud consider the libido to be a masculine force in both sexes?
Why were only the male genitals and castration anxiety a model for both sexes, and the female genitals ignored?
Why did Freud think that women felt castrated already, did not suffer castration anxiety, and thus did not resolve the Oedipus complex as readily as men?
Why did Freud think that the superego developed only after the resolution of the Oedipus complex, and was a result of internalization of the father and not the mother?
Why did Freud consider the superego development in the personality of women to be less complete than in men?
Why did Freud write that women suffered penis envy and never overcame their sense of inferiority because of it?
Why did Freud think it was penis envy that led women to turn to their fathers, become feminine, and to desire a baby?
Why were men and women considered to be bisexual by Freud?
Why did Freud say that women need to give up active clitoral stimulation, which he considered masculine, and replace it with passive vaginal orgasm to be feminine?
Why were passivity, narcissism, and masochism primarily associated with femininity, and activity with masculinity?
Freud’s final statement about feminine psychology appeared in his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933), where he wrote:
Girls remain in it [the Oedipus complex]... they demolish it late and, even so, incompletely. In these circumstances the formation of the super-ego must suffer ... and feminists are not pleased when we point out to them the effects of this factor upon the average feminine character. (129)
The fact that women must be regarded as having little sense of justice is no doubt related to the predominance of envy in their mental life.... We also regard women as weaker in their social interests and as having less capacity for sublimating their instincts than men.... A woman of the same age (as a man of 30)... frightens us by her psychical rigidity and unchangeability.... There are no paths open to further development... the difficult development to femininity had exhausted the possibilities of the person concerned. (135)
Why did Freud make such grossly biased and incorrect statements about women, when in other areas he was such a perceptive and accurate observer? This is a mystery that cried for explanation. Unfortunately, it was precisely because of Freud’s genius and his monumental discoveries in other areas of mental functioning that credibility was lent to his psychoanalytic theory of women. This book will provide evidence on how the prevailing Victorian cultural world in which Freud lived, as well as Freud’s conflictual relationship with his mother, strongly influenced his thinking about women.
This book is a psychohistory, in which we will analyze Freud’s inner life as well as the cultural context of the Victorian society that influenced him. Indeed, Freud was the father of psychohistory, having written about Leonardo da Vinci, Paul Schreber, Moses, and Woodrow Wilson. Psychohistory not only offers a historical chronicle of events but also tries to provide an in-depth analytic understanding of them. Freud did not interview any of the men in these studies, but he used the insights of psychoanalysis to gain an understanding of each man from his actions, creative works, and written documents. Psychohistory uses such sources, yet the resulting psychological understanding is still speculative.
In this book I also have not used direct psychoanalysis or interviews with people. The autobiographical materials were derived from Freud’s letters, dreams, and other writings, and I use biographical materials as well. In addition, I make an attempt to link Freud’s actual behavior toward women and his choice of art collection to the hypotheses developed in this book. Despite my efforts to make the most accurate analytic constructions, the analyses developed rest on speculations and cannot be presented with certainty. However, the insights that are developed should bring together events in a creative way to provide fresh perspectives and new meanings.
One subject we will deal with is the paradox between what Freud wrote about women and his relationships with his female colleagues. Though he considered the personality of woman to be inferior to that of man in theory, Freud actually opened up psychoanalysis to women, respected their contributions, nurtured their careers, and developed strong personal friendships with many of them. Despite his shortcomings on feminine theory, Freud was a genius who had a profound influence on modern society. Not only did he provide us with a method to analyze the human mind and a way to heal emotional suffering, but he advanced an understanding of child development that fosters healthier child rearing. Freud sensitized society to a greater acceptance of human sexuality and aggression, as well as an acknowledgment of the influence of unconscious determinants on personality formation and relationships. Literature and art, as well as the behavioral and social sciences, have been profoundly enriched by the contributions of psychoanalysis.

Feminism and Psychoanalysis

The renaissance of the feminist movement in the 1960s ignited a controversy about Freud’s theory and treatment of women. Feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir (1961) and Betty Friedan (1963) believed that Freud’s feminine psychology did not promote gender equality but perpetuated the age-old suppression of women. Most of the early feminist writers rejected classical psychoanalytic theory, since they felt it represented a direct reflection of the Victorian bias against women. Instead, feminists turned to anthropology, history, philosophy, politics, and sociology for explanations about feminine psychology and gender relations. However, Betty Friedan, in The Feminine Mystique (1963), acknowledged the debt the feminist movement owed to other aspects of Freud’s work. Psychoanalysis contributed significantly toward emancipating women from existing repressive Victorian sexual morality. However, Friedan posited that Freud’s psychology of women created “a new tyranny of the shoulds, which chains women to an old image, prohibits choice and growth, and denies them individual identity.” Thinly disguised cultural prejudices that consider “women are animals, less than human, unable to think like men, born merely to breed and serve men” were simply reinforced.
One of the early feminist defenders of Freud’s psychoanalytic feminine psychology was Juliet Mitchell (1974), who noted its usefulness as a method of understanding gender development. Mitchell rejected the notion that classical psychoanalytic theory was subjective and influenced by Victorian culture. She viewed psychoanalysis as a value-free science, immune from the investigator’s personal influence. However, as Remmling (1967) and Spence (1987) have noted, no science is value-free. This is particularly the case for the softer behavioral sciences, such as psychoanalysis. All scientific theory is influenced by the personal issues of the theorist, as well as the social and cultural forces of a particular time and place. In addition, the linguistic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein even questioned the objectivity of all scientific theory, despite following the rigorous requirement of the logical positivists that theory be based solely on empirical observation (Janik and Toulmin 1973). Wittgenstein noted that language is not a clear window through which to view the world. Because language is another variable that shapes perception, scientific theory can provide only a symbolic description of the world that is pragmatically useful.
Within psychoanalysis, similar disagreements about Freud’s feminine psychology had been strongly voiced much earlier, especially by female analysts such as Karen Horney (1922), Melanie Klein (1928), and Clara Thompson (1950). Beginning in the 1930s in England, Melanie Klein departed from Freud’s ideas about the entire early period of child development for both sexes. Freud had not acknowledged the role of the mother and emphasized the relationship to the father in the child’s personality development. Klein, on the other hand, found that the child’s relationship to the mother during the first three years of life was the most significant factor in personality development. This was the preoedipal period. Problems in this phase resulted in more psychopathology than during the oedipal period.
The cornerstone of Freud’s theory of neurosis rested on the lack of resolution of the relationship to the father during the oedipal period. The oedipal period, from three to six years of age, resulted from biologically inborn sexual instincts and occurred universally in every child’s development. During this period the child became sexually attracted to the parent of the opposite sex and wished to eliminate the parent of the same sex. Klein’s reformulation, which stressed the earlier preoedipal period of child development and the role of the mother rather than the father, was a radical departure. Klein also felt that the child’s fantasy was more significant than biological instincts in personality development. She further diminished the importance of instincts by relegating them to another form of fantasy experienced in the child-mother relationship.
Klein then went on to construct her own timetable for child development, quite different from that of Freud. Hers was less biological and more relational. It included a two-person psychology: an interpersonal relationship between mother and child, and a one-person psychology that was intrapsychic. She observed that oedipal fantasies and even superego development became manifest as early as the first three years of life for both sexes. In Freud’s formulation, the development of a conscience, the superego, rested on the resolution of the Oedipus complex, which did not occur until five or six years of age. According to Freud, it was only then that the first person was internalized by the child to form the superego. This person was the father and not the mother. Klein disagreed with this formulation and suggested that the infant was relating to and internalizing the mother from birth onward.
The most significant departure by Klein was her belief that the relationship of the infant’s bonding to the mother and later separating from her is the central issue in infant development. For Klein, the child’s attachment was paramount, and not the gratifying instincts as Freud believed. Despite Klein’s differing position, the psychoanalytic movement in Britain did not break into two groups, as it had in the United States, because of the support of its leader, Ernest Jones. Jones had originally invited Klein to come to London from Berlin in 1926. She treated his children, and he agreed with many of her formulations. After heated conflict and negotiations, the British psychoanalytic movement managed to remain whole, yet it divided into classical, Kleinian, and middle groups in 1946.
Deriving many of their concepts from Melanie Klein, British object-relations analysts from the middle group further elaborated on the effects of the real relationship between the mother and infant on personality formation. While Klein had focused mostiy on the child’s internal fantasies of greed, envy, destruction, and reparation, the object-relations analysts also considered the actual impact of the mother on the child. They emphasized that the mother must be responsive to the developmental needs of the child. The object-relations group of analysts included Michael Balint, Ronald Fairbairn, Harry Guntrip, and Donald Winnicott.
In the United States, neo-Freudians such as Karen Horney and Clara Thompson had objected to Freud’s patriarchal and phallocentric orientation in feminine psychology and emphasized postoedipal family and cultural factors. Freud held the view that considered penis envy as biological and universal in all women. Horney and Thompson saw it only as a symbolic manifestation of a male-oriented Victorian culture. Even before Karen Horney emigrated from Europe to the United States in 1932, she had courageously stood up at the International Congress of Psychoanalysis in Berlin in 1922. With Freud presiding, she strongly objected to the presentation by Karl Abraham (her former analyst), which elaborated on Freud’s emphasis on penis envy in female psychology (Gay 1988).
Freud had postulated that young girls considered their vagina a wound, resulting from castration of their penis. The girl then blamed the mother and turned to her father, hoping to receive a gift of a penis, which later changed into a gift of a child. The paper Horney presented at the Congress, “On the Genesis of the Castration Complex in Women” (1922), acknowledged the significance of penis envy and the castration complex in the oedipal developmental period of women. However, she denied that they created femininity or that they led women to reject their womanhood: “But, the deduction that therefore repudiation of their womanhood is based on that envy by no means precludes a deep and wholly womanly love attachment to the father, and that it is only when this relation comes to grief over the Oedipus complex that the envy leads to a revulsion from the subject’s own sexual role.” Horney further speculated that it was masculine bias that was responsible for formulating such a theory that considered women, half the world’s population, as dissatisfied with the sex into which they were born.
After Freud published his paper “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes” (1925), Horney noted that psychoanalysis was created by a male genius, and that it was mostly men who elaborated on Freud’s ideas. She felt it was easier for these men to evolve a masculine than a feminine psychology. She disagreed with Freud’s idea that just because women felt castrated they turned to their fathers and then became feminine. Horney considered femininity as a basic biological given into which women were born, and not an end product developing out of self-disappointment and envy of men.
In her paper “The Flight from Womanhood” (1926), Horney quoted the eminent German sociologist Georg Sirnmel to the effect that modern society was essentially masculine and had forced women into an inferior role; this lack of social equality was the cause of women’s envy of men. Horney stated male and female biology were equal but different. She boldly suggested that the deprecation of women might be related to men’s envy of women’s reproductive capacity, or womb envy.
In her paper “The Dread of Women” (1932), Horney explored the pervasive fear of women across many cultures. She linked it with the small boy’s dread, during the oedipal period, that his penis was too small for his mother’s engulfing vagina. The boy anticipated that he would be rejected and humiliated by his mother, and therefore feared and needed to demean women. In her subsequent writings, Horney considered cultural inequality important but not the only cause for emotional difficulties in both men and women, and she searched for more general universals.
Marie Bonaparte, the French analyst who was a descendant of Napoleon and later helped rescue Freud and his family from the Nazis, also felt that Freud’s understanding of feminine psychology was deficient (Bertin 1982). Although she remained conflicted about Freud’s theory of feminine psychology, she questioned that it was universal and inborn. Instead, Bonaparte looked to transcultural studies to delineate biological factors from the role played by culture in female psychology. Like Horney, Marie Bonaparte also recognized that “man is afraid of woman.”
Freud’s famous biographer, Ernest Jones, strongly disagreed with Freud’s views on feminine psychology, which resulted in the famous Freud-Jones debates in the 1920s and 1930s. Jones defended Karen Hor-nets position at the 1935 meeting of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (Gay 1988). He agreed with Horney that girls envied the penis because it symbolized power and instant sexual gratification. However, Jones believed that the boy envied the girl’s sexual organs, which are capable of reproducing life and symbolize instant creativity. Jones insisted that women’s femininity was developed out of their genetic constitution: women are born and not made. Femininity was innate and biological, even though it was influenced and shaped by psychological issues.
Clara Thompson (1950) noted that women’s subservience to men socially and sexually was simply taken for granted in the patriarchal Victorian culture. As a result, women’s envy of men was wholly realistic, in view of men’s greater power and freedom in society. The penis, so important in Freud’s developmental psychology, was significant only as a symbol of the male’s superior condition socially. Thompson stressed that the social devaluation of women and the denial of their sexuality had a more profound effect on personality formation than simply penis envy. Not only was woman placed into an inferior position socially, but the undervaluation of her genitals and the denial of her sexuality made it difficult for her to gain self-acceptance, self-respect, and self-esteem.
Thompson’s understanding about women fits in with the general sociological finding of Kurt Lewin (1935). Any group that is devalued by society tends to internalize this assault on its self-esteem and to develop a sense of inferiority. The minority group that suffers prejudice, whether on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion, or sex, tends to identify with the devaluation of it by the larger society. The negative self-image that develops becomes part of one’s identity, resulting in self-hatred.
In those early days of psychoanalysis, not only women analysts challenged Freud’s patriarchal and phallocentric view of feminine psychology. In 1908 Fritz Wittels delivered a paper before the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society about the role of culture in shaping women’s personality (Gay 1988). He maintained that society constricted women and fostered their obsession with personal beauty. It was the culture and not women themselves that contributed to women’s dissatisfaction with not having been born men. Wittels acknowledged that social injustice was responsible for the creation of the women’s movement as a way to gain social equality.
Also in 1908, Sandor Ferenczi, Freud’s closest male colleague, wrote a paper published in Hungarian entiled “The Effect on Women of Premature Ejaculation in Men” (Vida 1989). It stated that not only was women’s position in society suppressed by the culture, but their sexuality was as well. Since sexual enjoyment was seen as morally indecent or sinful in society, women felt forced to choose between sexual satisfaction and self-respect. To sustain their self-esteem in this conflict, “good” women could not be active sexually. Instead, they had to assume a passive and masochistic position in sex, and thereby to deny themselves sexual orgasm. Since men also assumed that proper women did not enjoy sex, they made little or no effort to arouse women in sexual foreplay. The result was that most marital sex consisted of premature ejaculation for the male and little or no satisfaction for the female. Ferenczi concluded that the cultural values prohibiting enjoyment of sexuality resulted in incomplete or absent sexual satisfaction for women. He stated that this frustrated sexual satisfaction accounted for so many women suffering anxiety and hysterical neuroses in Europe around the turn of the century. Ferenczi thus implicated the European culture as largely responsible for these neuroses in women.
In 1935 Karen Horney rejected the libido theory, and her specific interest in feminine psychology expanded into a more general inclusion of social and cultural forces in the development of normal personality and psychopathology. She joined forces with Harry Stack Sullivan, Clara Thompson, William Silverberg, and Erich Fromm, all of whom concurred that it was important for psychoanalysis to interact with other scientific disciplines (Eckardt 1978). Hornets two books, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time (1937) and New Ways in Psychoanalysis (1939), emphasized the cultural issues in psychoanalysis.
On April 29, 1941, at a business meeting of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, Karen Horney was disqualified from being an instructor and training analyst because she was allegedly disturbing students with her cultural ideas. She w...