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Myth of Women'S Masochism

Myth of Women'S Masochism

Copyright Date: 1985
  • Book Info
    Myth of Women'S Masochism
    Book Description:

    Soon after publication in 1985, The Myth of Women's Masochism became one of the most influential works in women's psychology. Paula Caplan rejects the accepted wisdom that women enjoy pain and abuse, and argues that, on the contrary, much of the pain women endure is to avoid further, or worse, treatment. Women stay with abusive husbands in order, for instance, to protect themselves and their children from the greater suffering of poverty. She makes the point that the quintessentially feminine traits of nurturing, patience, and self-denial are not pathological, as is often stated. Her book confronts the myth of women's masochism as it affects every aspect of women's lives; it challenges psychiatry to change the way it percieves women; and it offers women a positive new view of themselves.

    In the new preface to this edition, Paula Caplan regrets that most of the data still apply, and speculates why that is. She also provides an update on the views of the American Psychiatric Association on women's masochism, theerby revealing much about the condition of women in our civilization.

    The Myth of Women's Masochism is likely to remain relevant for some time, a key text for women's studies courses and a source of confidence for women themselves.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7749-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface to the 1993 Edition
    (pp. xi-xliv)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Why Do You Do This to Yourself?
    (pp. 1-16)

    When I’m frustrated about my children or my job, people sometimes ask me, “Why do youdothis to yourself?,” suggesting that I set out to put myself in unhappy situations. Such words are the most common expression of the myth of women’s masochism, the myth that is responsible for profound and far-reaching emotional and physical harm to women and girls. “Masochism” means the need to derive pleasure from pain, and that is what usually comes to mind when we hear the word spoken. In theRandom House Dictionary of the English Language, “masochism” is defined first as sexual masochism—...

  5. CHAPTER 2 What the “Experts” Have Said
    (pp. 17-42)

    When authorities tell us that women are naturally masochistic, we don’t have to accept their word as gospel even though by refusing to believe their claims we risk being brought low, like Eve. We wouldn’t buy an appliance without knowing something about how it works and what it was designed to do, and the same rule should apply for all of us as “consumers” of personality theory. Like all salespeople, personality “experts” can be intimidating because of their aura of mystery, because they want us to think that they have some special knowledge. We are often left feeling we couldn’t...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Mothers
    (pp. 43-68)

    The myth of women’s masochism seriously impedes women’s attempts to function competently and happily in nearly every aspect of their lives. Since women’s worth is largely gauged by their success as mothers, the harm done by the myth to women as mothers is particularly devastating.

    As explained in Chapter 2, from the psychoanalysts came the theory that, since pregnancy and childbirth can be painful but are essential to our species’ survival, it is natural for women to suffer. It is interesting that the theory of woman’s innate need to suffer was developed long before most of the current methods of...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Child’s Growth Toward “Masochism”: “Expert” Opinion and Reality
    (pp. 69-80)

    In William Styron’s novel,Sophie’s Choice,we learn gradually that Sophie’s father was a steely-cold, rejecting, vicious man both in the way he dealt with the world in general and in the way he treated his daughter. Styron writes: “Her subservience to her father . . . was complete, as complete as in any neopaleolithic pigmy culture of the rain forest, demanding utter fealty from the helpless offspring.” Styron describes further “her virtually menial submission, the ‘Yes, Papa’s’ and ‘No, thank you, Papa’s’ she was compelled to say daily, the favors and attentions she had to pay, the ritual respect,...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Women in Relationships with Men
    (pp. 81-112)

    Do certain women become involved with certain men because they need to suffer, and do they stay involvedbecausethe men bring them pain? A character in John Updike’s novel,The Witches of Eastwick,thinks so: “She needed pain to remind her she was a woman. She needed to get down on her knees and drink some horrible man’s nice cold come. She needed to be beaten.” I do not think that women seek suffering in their relationships with men, but I do think that we need to examine these relationships very closely in order to understand what gives rise...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Women’s Bodies
    (pp. 113-132)

    Society tells women to starve, paint, pinch, push, and otherwise distort our bodies in order to be thin, colorful, busty, hippy, and firm—but not too thin, colorful, busty, hippy, and firm. We are taught to do these things to appear attractive and we learn that being attractive—besides being nurturant and “nice”—is the route to Real Womanhood. We are also told that women are supposed to have babies, but soon after giving birth we are to return to our slender, youthful appearance, despite the major physical upheavals of pregnancy and delivery and despite the much-interrupted sleep that goes...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Women as Victims of Violence
    (pp. 133-168)

    Feminist Gloria Steinem and pornographic movie star Linda Lovelace would seem an unlikely pair of allies. But in an article inMs. Magazinein 1980, “The Real Linda Lovelace,” Steinem showed how the myth that Lovelace loved to be sexually used and humiliated was created by her husband, Chuck Traynor, who kept her his prisoner and knew how to “work the media.” According to Steinem, Traynor boasted, “When I first dated [Linda] she was so shy, it shocked her to be seen nude by a man. . . .I created Linda Lovelace.”He “created” her, says Lovelace, by putting...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Women at Work
    (pp. 169-188)

    In the work place, as at home, women are often forced to choose the lesser of two (or more) evils and then are blamed for bringing their unhappiness on themselves. Women have always been underpaid and underpromoted and, what’s more, have learned to swallow the “justification” for this. It has not been unusual to hear women say, “I don’t mind being paid about half as much as a man who does my kind of work, because after all he has to support his family,” or, “He would feel threatened if I got paid as much as he does.” According to...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Women in Therapy
    (pp. 189-218)

    Every year millions of women who want to be free of the unnecessary psychic pain in their lives seek the help of psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. But since it is some mental health professionals who have been responsible for developing and perpetuating the belief in the myth of women’s masochism, women as consumers of therapy services need to be aware that they may well have a therapist who believes in the myth. Some therapists do not hold that belief, but those who do are not likely to volunteer the information to prospective patients. A woman seeking psychotherapy may, without...

  13. CHAPTER 10 The Beginning
    (pp. 219-228)

    Perhaps this book can help women who have suspected that they are not pain seekers begin to see the health and strength within themselves. Although no single book could cover all of the manifestations of the myth of women’s masochism, some of the most salient phenomena that have been mistakenly labeled as signs of women’s masochism have been highlighted here.

    Now that we have looked in some detail at the way the myth has operated in a variety of areas of women’s lives, it seems clear that virtually everything that has been called women’s masochism has, in reality, been a...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 229-254)
  15. Bibliographical References
    (pp. 255-271)
  16. Index
    (pp. 272-280)