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The Freudian Mystique: Freud, Women, and Feminism

Samuel Slipp
Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    The Freudian Mystique
    Book Description:

    "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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8892-9
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    How could Freud, one of the great geniuses of our modern age, be so wrong about women? This is particularly puzzling because out of his sensitive introspection into his own and others’ emotional difficulties, he was able to create a universal understanding of personality functioning, psychopathology, and treatment.

    Many writers have contended that Freud’s views on feminine psychology were erroneous because they basically reflected and perpetuated the Victorian bias against women. This is in all likelihood true, but the picture is more interesting than this simple explanation alone. To understand how Freud developed his views on female development, it is...

  5. PART ONE Historical-Cultural Background

    • 1. Psychoanalysis and Feminine Psychology
      (pp. 11-19)

      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...

    • 2. Magic, the Fear of Women, and Patriarchy
      (pp. 20-28)

      In this chapter we will explore how social attitudes toward women evolved out of an effort to gain magical control over nature and to master existence. Historically, women have been closely associated with nature, since, like nature, their bodies created new life and provided sustenance. This connection to nature was furthered by women’s menstrual cycles, which were seen as similar to the cycles of the moon and the seasons. Women were also mysteriously tied to another cycle—life, death, and rebirth. Because of these fantasized ties to nature, women and their sexuality were feared and had to be controlled. We...

    • 3. Preoedipal Development and Social Attitudes toward Women
      (pp. 29-36)

      Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) proposed the biogenetic law in evolutionary Darwinism thatontogeny recapitulates phytogeny, that is, that individual embryological and behavioral development repeats the history of a group or species. Freud, inCivilization and Its Discontents(1930), insightfully proposed that the reverse is also true in terms of behavioral development: “At this point we cannot fail to be struck by the similarity between the process of civilization and the libidinal development of the individual.” Thus,phylogeny also recapitulates ontogeny. The history of a group can be compared to a repetition of individual personality development. Freud’s insight can be expanded...

    • 4. Dethroning the Goddess and Phallocentrism
      (pp. 37-45)

      In this chapter we will further develop the hypothesis that phylogeny also recapitulates ontogeny—the history of a culture parallels individual psychological development. In the previous chapter we examined mythology in primitive cultures as an externalization of the adaptation used in the early preoedipal period of child development. In this chapter we will explore the outward expressions of the phallic and genital periods of child development in later cultures.

      As already noted, Gimbutas (1974) speculated that the great mother goddess was dethroned and replaced by male warrior gods about six thousand years ago, when waves of Indo-Europeans on horseback invaded...

    • 5. Projective Identification and Misogyny
      (pp. 46-58)

      Even though misogyny, the hatred of women, is based on irrational magical thinking, it persisted in Europe into and beyond the Enlightenment, when rationality and science were emphasized. In Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory of natural selection and Herbert Spencer’s philosophy of the survival of the fittest, women were seen as emotional, less rational, and passive, as well as physically weaker and hence inferior to men. Women’s skulls and brains were smaller than men’s, and this was taken as proof that women were less intelligent. Evolutionary theory was used to justify the cultural bias against women.

      As in prescientific days, women...

  6. PART TWO Freud and Feminine Psychology

    • 6. Freud and His Mother
      (pp. 61-70)

      A detailed picture of Sigmund Freud’s earliest years is provided by his biographers Ernest Jones (1953, 1955, 1957), Paul Roazen (1984), and Peter Gay (1978, 1988). Freud’s father, Jacob, had come from an Orthodox Jewish background. A widower, married once or possibly twice before, Jacob was twenty years older than Freud’s mother, Amalie. He lived in a small town in Moravia, which became part of Czechoslovakia following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I. Jacob’s oldest son, Emanuel, was married and lived nearby with his wife and child. His younger son, Philipp, nineteen years old and only...

    • 7. Sex, Death, and Abandonment
      (pp. 71-79)

      One of the most significant events that shaped Freud’s emotional life occurred when he was almost four years old. After living a year in Leipzig, his entire family left by train for Vienna in March 1860. In the same October 3, 1897, letter to Fliess, Freud also wrote:

      Between the ages of two and two-and-a-half, libido towardsmatremwas aroused; the occasion must have been the journey with her from Leipzig to Vienna, during which we spent a night together and I must have had the opportunity of seeing hernudam… and that I welcomed my one-year younger brother...

    • 8. Freud’s Family Dynamics
      (pp. 80-87)

      The first three years of Freud’s life were characterized by loss or threat of loss of his mother. This situation appears to have resulted in his problems of separating and individuating. Not only did Freud have difficulty establishing firm boundaries between himself and his mother, but he had difficulty dealing with his ambivalence toward her for fear of further loss. In addition, the ongoing postoedipal relationship with her probably continued to bind him to her and fuel his anger. As mentioned earlier, Freud (1900) felt that being his mother’s favorite child had instilled in him “self-reliance and an unshakeable optimism.”...

    • 9. Omitting the Mother and Preoedipal Period in Freud’s Theory
      (pp. 88-94)

      Psychoanalysis arose from Freud’s self-analysis during the time he was mourning the death of his father. Jacob died in October 1896, and Freud started analyzing himself in July 1897, nine months later, after buying a tombstone for his father’s grave (Jones 1953). The theory sprung from the insights of this self-analysis, which dealt primarily with Freud’s oedipal relationship to his father. Freud did not analyze his preoedipal relationship to his mother until the end of his life, and even then it was incomplete. Since Freud’s traumatic early relationship to his nanny and mother remained repressed, he did not include the...

    • 10. Female Sexual Development in Freudian Theory
      (pp. 95-102)

      Two important factors contributed to Freud’s formulation of a theory about female sexual development. One was his fear of seeing women as sexually active, and the other was the fear of his own aggression. Freud did not acknowledge that women have their own sexual desires and seek gratification. In his unconscious mind, seeing his preoedipal mother as a temptress would probably mean to him that she would be sent to hell as a sinner, and he would be abandoned. A reason for Freud’s subsequent rejection of the seduction theory may have been a denial of the seductive sexuality of his...

    • 11. Preoedipal Development in Girls and Boys
      (pp. 103-112)

      The original observational research of preoedipal development in infants was conducted by the psychoanalyst Margaret Mahler and her colleagues (Mahler and Furer 1968; Mahler, Pine, and Bergman 1975). They believed the earliest preoedipal developmental phases were similar for both sexes. For the first few months after birth, the infant was supposedly autistic, or unconnected with its surroundings. However, modern infant observational research by Stern (1985) and others have found the infant begins relating almost from the moment of birth onward, and there is no autistic phase.

      Mahler then noted that from four to six months of age, the infant proceeds...

    • 12. Maternal Merging in Society and the Family
      (pp. 113-123)

      Freud (1921) totally ignored the importance of women in his writing on group psychology, emphasizing attachment to a powerful male leader. Therefore, in this chapter we will explore the importance of the infant’s merged relationship with the preoedipal mother as the prototype for social and family organization.

      The formation of the family group enhances the chances for a child’s physical survival. In most primitive societies, gender roles in the family were strictly separated, rigidly defined, and encompassing. These roles were originally determined by biological differences. Since women gave birth and lactated, child rearing was generally assigned to them. Since men...

    • 13. Freud’s Support of Career-Oriented Women
      (pp. 124-137)

      Although Freud was no admirer of feminism in his writings, in his personal and professional life he promoted the growth of a number of women who were career oriented and feminist. Characteristically, these women were either unmarried, separated, or if they were married their husbands were not important to them (Roazen 1984). Freud welcomed them into the psychoanalytic group; he found them less difficult and competitive than men. He enjoyed being closely surrounded by this group of talented, assertive, and ambitious women, and maintained not only professional contact but established sincere friendships with many of them that lasted through his...

    • 14. Controversial Relationships with Women and Freud’s Art Collection
      (pp. 138-148)

      One of the most intriguing riddles that has mystified many of Freud’s biographers is the relationship between Freud and his wife’s younger sister, Minna Bernays. Minna could be classified as another Gradiva. Peter Gay (1989) commented that “Freud’s sharp-tongued, sharp-witted sister-in-law had been his confidante in psychoanalytic matters far more than his wife, even though he did not initiate Minna into all his intimate medical concerns.” Almost from the moment when he fell in love with Martha, Freud was also drawn to her intellectual sister.

      Gay (1989) traced the intimate relationship that Freud developed with Minna through a study of...

  7. PART THREE Current Issues

    • 15. Freud and Jung
      (pp. 151-159)

      Many feminists have rejected Freud’s work because of the patriarchal values reflected in his feminine psychology. Other women have turned away from psychoanalysis because of Freud’s negative attitude toward spirituality. Thus, some women have turned to Jung in the belief that his analytic psychology favored females. According to Jung both sexes had masculine and feminine aspects to them, which he called theanimusand theanima, respectively. In addition, Jung did not adhere to Freud’s libido theory, which was a masculine sexual drive that was supposedly applicable to both sexes. For Jung, the libido was a more general life force,...

    • 16. Modern Changes in Psychoanalysis
      (pp. 160-173)

      Freud’s quest for psychoanalysis was that he would discover the objective truths and general laws of nature for human behavior as existed in other sciences. Logos would replace myth, man’s reason would overcome woman’s irrationality and emotion. However, Freud presented a contradiction to these polarities. Paradoxically, the most outstanding contribution that psychoanalysis made was the discovery that unconscious irrational forces were more powerful than conscious rationality.

      Psychoanalysis during Freud’s lifetime evolved considerably from what he originally formulated around the turn of the century in Vienna. Despite a marked intolerance for any deviation by others, Freud repeatedly changed his own psychoanalytic...

    • 17. Toward a New Feminine Psychology
      (pp. 174-187)

      A new psychology of women is gradually evolving in psychoanalysis as a result of research findings and the acceptance of analytic approaches that emphasize the mother-child relationship, the family, and the culture. These newer psychoanalytic theories do not view child development solely from an intrapsychic perspective. Bonding to the mother during the preoedipal phase of development is emphasized, and the quality and appropriate timing of mothering is considered crucial in child development. Freud’s concept of bisexuality upon which he based his feminine psychology can no longer be considered valid. Sexual orientation is probably in most cases a biological given, and...

  8. 18. Epilogue: The Evolution of Feminism and Integration with Psychoanalysis
    (pp. 188-204)

    In the eighteenth century, the early feminists had focused on the constriction and injustices that women suffered. This was part of the more general movement of the time for political emancipation and equality that spread throughout Europe and America. It was a reflection of Enlightenment thinking, which considered that social reform could occur by an appeal to reason and education. The first feminists were characterized by profound idealism and by the trust that writing about the social injustice suffered by women would bring about change.

    Unlike the first feminists, nineteenth- and twentieth-century feminists did not restrict themselves to an appeal...

  9. References
    (pp. 205-216)
  10. Name Index
    (pp. 217-222)
  11. Subject Index
    (pp. 223-240)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)